Manners McDade’s Jenna Fentiman on the structural barriers facing women composers and an exciting new resource
17% of musicians who collect royalties via the PRS [the UK’s royalties collection agency] are women. Of these musicians, how many are media composers? And of these media composers, how many write music for advertising?
It’s a line of questioning that led Free The Bid
and Manners McDade to conduct some in-depth industry research. If we were to ask around for women composers with three or more advertising credits to their name, how many would we find worldwide? We reached out via shesaid.so
, a women-in-music-business network, to supervisors, agencies, publishers, production libraries and more. Worldwide, we hit a wall at the mid-40 mark.
Since then we’ve broadened our search, with the help of contributions from representatives from P&G, shesaid.so, Women In Music, Hear Her Music, Publicis, SixtyFour Music and Leo Burnett, to include women composers for visual media who have TV, film, branded content and games credits. We currently have 115 profiles completed. These 115 scoring women composers have been added to the Free The Bid website’s brand new global database of women composers, as of Friday, September 28th, when the launch was announced by Free The Bid's founder, director Alma Har’el, at the #SheIsEqual Summit presented by Global Citizen, P&G, and #SeeHer in New York. We look forward to discovering more talent through this network and generating more profiles actively on an ongoing basis.
It’s a fantastic and important resource for creatives, highlighting the female talent currently working, and creating space for new sounds and voices in the industry.
And it’s sorely needed. It’s hard to pinpoint the moment the gender imbalance occurs. Institutions such as the NFTS [National Film and Television School] work hard to balance their courses, often achieving a 50/50 split across their prestigious Composing for Film & Television course. Established media composers often look for assistants to help with their workload, and this can be a great foot-in-the-door for aspiring composers. But somewhere between this level and the point at which the composer is established enough to have a network of clients and regular work, there is a drop-off.
Most agencies are hands-on and in tune with their music choices. They seek the best creative work, and have a streamlined process in which to work closely with a composer and their demo to the point of delivery. But there are some inconsistencies to this rule that can make a young composer’s introduction into the industry increasingly challenging.
To get an idea of the challenges, let’s compare composers with directors. With directors, the process is typically talent-led; agencies and brands are thinking about the person they want to work with. In the UK, directing jobs are typically triple-bid and, under Free the Bid, agencies who have taken the initiative’s pledge commit to making sure that at least one pitching director is a woman. With music composition, a typical agency music brief could be sent out to any number of different music companies, each tasked with supplying three or four demos in 48, or even 24 hours. In this landscape, the odds of a composer winning a pitch are small - often a demo is judged at face value, and diversity may be the last thing to register, when listening through a large quantity of demos.
We hope with greater visibility, and awareness of this imbalance in the industry, that these women on the Free The Bid site will become the role models for tomorrow’s composers. With agencies’ help, with an open minded, talent-led approach to pitching, the chicken-and-egg trap of reel-and-talent can be negotiated.
The exciting news for agencies is that their contribution to any composers’ careers is directly feeding back into popular culture. Composers are more and more versatile, often working across media projects and their own recording artist releases. Agencies’ expertise in crafting a demo to their vision, alongside the expertise of the supervisor or agent, can help that composer win a pitch. That then feeds back into their career in the form of an album, a concerto, a tour or a film score. The benefit for male and female composers alike, and therefore popular culture as a whole, is tangible and exciting.
The addition of women composers to the Free The Bid database is an incredibly exciting step for popular culture, as well as the creative industries, and we look forward to its use as an inspirational resource. As a result of the Free The Bid research, a collective of women composers, the Female Composers’ Forum, now meet regularly to inspire and support one another, and they welcome any guests from the supervision or advertising worlds.
It’s an exciting time for fresh creative voices, and with the help of the entire industry we can all use this fantastic new resource as a catalyst for change.
Jenna Fentiman is music & composition producer at Manners McDade