Awards and the Gender Gap

Music award ceremonies can be a fantastic way of rewarding success and promoting excellence, but every year they seem to face increasing amounts of criticism. In this article I look at the reasons why this is the case and wonder if there are certain methods that could be employed to make the award season a less contentious one.

Last month, the CMA announced their nominations for this year’s awards. It wouldn’t be unkind to say that the nominations weren’t popular in all circles, especially for supporters of female country artists. Yes, there was some female representation – Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Golden Hour’ in ‘Album of the Year’ for example, but overall the nominations were male dominated. Particularly striking was the fact that the Entertainer of the Year category featured five male artists and no female artists. The situation led us to send out the following, tongue-in-cheek tweet…

Now of course, we’re not saying that the CMA are doing anything underhand here. They have a fixed voting process and it’s consistent and it’s very clear. Members go through three rounds of voting, whittling down the process to a long list of nominations, then the actual announced nominations and eventually the award winners.

All of the people who are allowed to vote are members of the CMA, who are a group of people who make a living primarily through country music. So, yes, these people know their music and are very much part of the scene – the perfect judges of talent you might say.

However, there is a problem with this scenario. There are many more males than females making a living primarily through country music. There are many more males receiving radio play in the country music industry. There are many more males being included in festival line ups. If you’re a voting member and you’ve been bombarded by male artists on all fronts, who are you going to vote for? It’s not rocket science. Therefore, it’s very much expected that the nominations are male dominated – it can’t be anything but.

This leads on to an additional problem. Male artists gaining nominations for and winning more awards, is seen in some quarters as some justification for the lack of festival places and radio play. This a catch-22 situation at it’s very worst.

What is the solution to the situation? That is the tough part. You could talk of positive discrimination, where a certain percentage of female artists are nominated/considered – but that wouldn’t do anything to rectify the situation, and you would have a situation possibly where artists are nominated despite receiving less votes than their peers. Nobody would want that.

Before I come to a solution, I’m going to look at the way some other awards are nominated – an open, public vote. While this once again is a completely fair system, it can have its problems. First, they can become something of a popularity contest. Some voters might have only heard of one or two artists in a particular category, especially if they are the only artist/s to receive significant radio play. These artists will be a shoe-in every time in this case. These types of awards can also turn into a ‘which artist is drumming up the most interest on social media?’ contest. In both cases, it won’t necessarily be the best artists who win the awards. Which is surely what we want, right?

Now I come to a solution, as to what I would consider the best way to come up with nominations and award winners.

  • First, you need experts in the field, who you’ll know will have a wide understanding of the industry. Use independent radio DJ’s who are not handcuffed by playlists, use bloggers, use reviewers and use people who put together non-commercial radio country music playlists.
  • Second you need a range of ages voting. If many of the vote come from the over 60’s you might get a very different vote than if the voters were all in their 20’s. Mix it up and ensure that a range of all ages is represented.
  • A geographical spread. Ensure that people all over the state/nation/world get to vote as applicable.
  • Finally, ensure there is a 50/50 male, female split in the voting. Although radio play might be male dominated, the people listening to music isn’t. Why have a male dominated vote, when the people listening, streaming and buying are a male/female mix?

I don’t think for a minute that the CMA would embrace these changes. Part of the reason for membership is to vote, so the whole CMA would need an upheaval for this to take place. Identifying such a range of people would take a lot of work too and would there be an appetite for such a job? However, if nothing changes, the criticism will continue to grow year on year. I guess the CMA had better brace themselves…

The above solution would be my personal blueprint for a successful set of awards. Of course, you’d get criticism. Every time a vote is announced, there will always be fans of artists complaining their favourite isn’t there. However, for a rounded and fair system of shouting excellence and rewarding real talent, is there a better way?


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Article written by Nick Cantwell (

Title photo by S Alb on Unsplash















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