Not OK, computer: music streaming’s diversity problem


Not OK, computer: music streaming’s diversity problem

‘If you look at Spotify’s top 10 most popular artists of 2020, only two are women’

Gillian Tett

Sexism can be a subtle problem. In the music industry, for example, we have not just had #MeToo scandals, exposing the abuses of male singers, musicians and producers, but have also seen less obvious ways in which women seem to be disadvantaged.

Take people’s listening patterns on streaming services. If you look at Spotify’s top 10 most streamed artists of 2020, for example, only two are women — and Billie Eilish is the highest in seventh place. This might not seem a case of discrimination, but the way we got here raises important questions.

Now a team of European computer scientists has explored this tendency by looking at streaming services’ algorithms. More specifically, Christine Bauer of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Xavier Serra and Andres Ferraro of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain analysed the publicly available listening records of 330,000 users of one service. This showed that female artists only represented 25% of the music listened to by users. The authors wrote on The Conversation platform that “on average, the first recommended track was by a man, along with the next six. Users had to wait until song seven or eight to hear one by a woman.”..

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