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The lack of female winners at the 2024 APRA Awards has sparked a conversation in the Australian music industry

The 2024 APRA Music Awards have highlighted issues of gender disparity in the Australian music industry.

The 2024 APRA Music Awards took place in Sydney last week, and saw Australian acts including Troye Sivan, Dean Lewis, and the Teskey Brothers take out the biggest awards of the night. The catch?

Only one Australian female artist was recognised with an award - and that was Sia, who won Most Performed Australian Work Overseas. It's important to note that the selection of the winners of "Most Performed" categories is based purely on a statistical analysis of APRA's database.

The lack of female winners understandably sparked both outrage and a deeper conversation across the music industry and beyond, especially when the nominations list released in April revealed several female artists in the running for an award. Sarah Aarons led the nominations with three nods, while the likes of Ainslie Wills, Amy Shark and MAY-A were each nominated for two.

Nominated women of colour included the likes of Beckah Amani for "Emerging Songwriter Of The Year" and Sampa The Great and Tkay Maidza – both for "Most Performed Hip Hop/Rap Work".

So what is APRA?

APRA is a national body that represents over 119,000 members, consisting of songwriters, composers and music publishers.

APRA licenses organisations to play, perform, copy, record or make member music available, and then distributes the royalties to its members and to international affiliate societies who then pay their members.

APRA's response to the lack of female winners

In a statement published in response to the lack of female winners at the 2024 awards ceremony, APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Ormston said:

“In recognising the incredible talent in Australia's music landscape, it’s important to acknowledge that as an organisation that champions gender diversity through advocacy, funding and creative opportunities, there’s more to do to address the disparity in the industry of male to women, non-binary and gender diverse award winners."

“We must continually question the absence of diversity in every facet of the industry—whether in rooms, executive offices, on stages, or across airwaves and streaming platforms—and commit to amplifying the entirety of Australia's musical brilliance.”

Responses from female musicians

Tess from The Buoys, whose song I Want You was nominated for Most Performed Rock Work (it's a banger, go listen to it), says "Of the 11 performance-activity categories, one was won by an [Australian] woman. ‘Most Performed Australian Work Overseas’ was awarded to Sia. That is amazing and we’re so proud that Australian female artists are getting played overseas."

"The disparity is not the fault of APRA. These awards are data driven," Tess told Missing Perspectives. "It is a direct reflection of a broader industry problem, that men are given more opportunities than women in Australian music.

"How does this make a difference to us and our careers? When more opportunities are given to men, it means they can make more money from music. They have greater capacity to leave their day jobs and write, record, tour and promote their work," she says.

"Not having the same support means it is substantially more difficult to dedicate ourselves to our musical career to the same degree as men. We turn down tours because we can't take time off our day job. We rehearse after work, we write and record on weekends, we take personal leave to tour."

In a similar sentiment, CLEWs (an Indie pop-rock duo formed by sisters Lily and Grace Richardson) wrote on Instagram: "We want to acknowledge that the 2024 APRA music awards made us despair....Lily and me have been making music together for years. And we’ve been in exact situations on tour or at shows where men literally outnumber women 17 to 2. Not wanting to sound like a broken record but on stage, off stage, there’s just so many mascs and not enough fems.

"That’s a simple truth. Lily is doing her DAMN PHD on gendered harm in the music industry for crying out loud. As Lily says, there is a tangible connection between high rates of gendered harm in music and the underrepresentation of women in this industry," they wrote.

In an op-ed for The Music Network, Lily Richardson from CLEWS noted: "When women’s contributions to the industry are erased and excluded like at this year’s APRA Awards, progress is washed away and replaced with the status quo.

"And let me make something crystal clear about the norm: male dominance is a known risk factor for sexual violence. The connection between the 'boys club' and high rates of sexual violence in music is not a long bow to draw because sexual violence is born from gendered power structures," she says.

So what was it like to be a female musician attending the APRAs and seeing such a lack of representation?

"It was disheartening for sure, and even more so as the night went on, when no award recipients shone a light on the lack of representation," Tess from The Buoys told Missing Perspectives.

"Taylor Swift also won an award, but this was not presented on the night, so what we saw was that every award except one, was received by men. Further, Sia won an award for her music played overseas, not even in Australia. It reminds us all of what we know to be true, and that is that we still have quite a way to go before we see more diversity in the industry as a whole," she says.

Does the underrepresentation of female winners point to a broader problem in the industry? "Absolutely, it’s numerical evidence of the gender disparity in the industry. Our experience is complicated, because we feel deeply supported by our community in so many ways. We still get billed below male artists who have less streams and less social media followers than us," Tess tells Missing Perspectives.

"Rarely on a line up is there more than one all-female band. Perhaps it’s time to think about why this is? Are all-women bands seen as similar to each other, but all-man bands not?" she says.

"There’s definitely strength in us all being able to lean on each other when this stuff happens, and we keep on keeping on because the more diversity we see in the industry, the more inclusive it can be for people who want to get involved."

So what needs to change?

In their post on Instagram, CLEWS wrote: "The good news is that change might happen if we meaningfully platform women and marginalised groups. APRA does great, leading work in this space. But the bad news is these awards are a reminder of how potential solutions aren’t being put into practice."

To Tess from The Buoys, the action that needs to change in the Australian music industry is clear. "We need women and gender diverse artists to be given equal opportunities to men so that when these statistics are recorded, it adequately reflects the diverse talent we have here in Australia," she says.

"The highlight of the awards ceremony were the musical performances curated by Julian Hamilton and Milan Ring. The advocacy by Elefant Traks on this night, as well as their legacy as a label, show that we all have agency to listen, to make space and create a more inclusive music scene."