Four Months of EqualPlay: An Update

by Jada E. Watson

Tuesday, May 12 marked 4 months of CMT’s EqualPlay pledge. Over the last 4 months, 3 songs by women have reached the #1 spot of the chart, including Maren Morris’ “The Bones” for a two-week stint in February, and Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” and Ingrid Andress’s “More Hearts Than Mine” with back-to-back #1s. Each of these achievements were particularly notable: Morris’s marked the first multi-week #1 on the Airplay Chart in 7 years since Carrie Underwood with “Blown Away” in 2012 – it was also named the longest leading #1 ever by a solo female country artist on the Hot Country Songs chart (surpassing Taylor Swift’s 10-week reign in 2012 with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”), and was the singer’s first multi-format #1 when it hit #1 on both the Billboard’s Adult Pop Songs and Mediabase Hot A.C. charts.  Barrett’s and Andress’s marked a historic first for back-to-back #1s for debut female artists. Their chart-topping success also marks the end to a dry spell for Warner Nashville, who hadn’t had a #1 with a female artist since Faith Hill with “Mississippi Girl” in 2005.

While we’ve celebrated more songs in the top of the chart over the last few months, many have raised concerned (SongData included) over the decreasing number of songs by women in the bottom positions of the chart. As the handful of songs by women at the top of the chart reach their peak and exit the chart, there are fewer songs in the bottom to climb the chart and take their place. There situation is, if this continues, on the verge of returning to summer 2019 numbers when women represented just 6% of the top positions of the charts.

There has been positive change, to be sure, but each positive has a caveat:

  1. There has been an increase in spins for songs by women – nearly double the spins from last year at this point. But the increase has been, not surprisingly, in the evenings and overnights and there has been no increase in the morning and afternoon periods when audiences are most likely to tune-in.
  2. There has been greater support (in form of spins) for current singles by female artists. But there has been no additional support for recurrent songs or an attempt to fill the gap by bringing back gold songs by women that audiences know and love.
  3. There have been more songs in the top positions of the chart. But, as stated above, with fewer songs by women entering the bottom positions there will be a hole in the chart by July 2020 when songs at the top have run their course and exited the chart.

It is not enough to build capacity for current singles if there won’t also be a practice of retaining those songs as part of a station’s playlist once they exit the chart. There has been great momentum in these first 4 months, but all will be lost if more actions are not taken now to continue to make meaningful change:

  • There needs to be more opportunity for songs by women to move into higher rotation slots in a playlist so that they can enter and climb the chart.
  • Labels need to promote more songs by their female artists so that program directors have more inventory to choose from when programming.
  • Programming needs to include more songs by women in recurrent status and to continue playing songs that exit the chart instead of dropping them from a playlist shortly after exiting the chart – as has been the trend over the last few years.

This type of change will show a commitment not just to support new songs and new female artists, but also to diversifying a station’s gold catalog and building inclusive programming practices.

Dive into the 4-month results below.