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Empowerment and visibility: Lifting the lid on Spotify's EQUAL program

Nadin Times Square Billboard for Spotify Equal
Photo cover by: Spotify
Written by: Rhian Jones
Published Aug 04, 2021
5 min read

In April, Spotify unveiled its EQUAL Global Music Program to amplify the work of women creators. The initiative was launched in response to a study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which revealed that just one in five artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chartt across the past nine years were women. In addition, research found that across the 900 songs surveyed, 12.6% of songwriters were women, who claimed just 2% of producing positions

The EQUAL Program consists of 35 local playlists featuring the music of artists from over 50 countries as well as a flagship global playlist. Each month, one female artist is featured on the cover of their respective local playlist in addition to receiving promotion, which includes billboards, banner ads and videos on social media. Many talented artists from the Believe roster have been included in the program, among which BOWKYLION (Thailand), Meryl (France) and Sona Mohapatra (India), who we’ll be hearing more about below. 

So how do artists get chosen for inclusion? Every month, music teams in each market at Spotify pick local artists who identify as women that they want to highlight, Julie Béhérec, Artist & Label Partnerships Manager at Spotify France, tells us. For the EQUAL playlists, she says they prefer female identifying artists who have released at least one track in the last six months and who are already being supported in their playlists. “We want to put the spotlight on talented female creators in all musical genres, both emerging and established acts, who are under-represented today”, she says.

We want to put the spotlight on talented female creators in all musical genres, both emerging and established acts, who are under-represented today

Julie Béhérec Artist & Label Partnerships Manager at Spotify France

Meryl Spotify Equals Time Square Billboard

French rapper Meryl was on Spotify’s radar thanks to Morgane Pistone, who works as Trade Marketing Key Account Manager at Believe for France and Benelux. She had put Meryl forward for Spotify’s emerging artist Radar program and was in discussions with the platform ahead of EQUAL launching, which she also pitched her for. “We built a relationship between the artist and Spotify over a long period of time,” she says.

In the week of the program’s launch, Morgane Pistone tells us that Meryl enjoyed a 122% uptick in streams on Spotify and a 215% rise in unique listeners. The visibility also led to greater engagement with media and the wider music business. “Normally, Meryl’s first job in the music industry is a topline songwriter so she works in the shadow of other artists,” she says. “Having the opportunity to be so exposed and brought to life has been a really good thing for her. It was a huge surprise and a huge step that she made personally and also for her career.”

At present, female artists are starting to stand out more in the music industry and are showing their potential, if there is any additional support I would like, the answer is wanting Spotify to continue providing great opportunities for female artists like this.

BOWKYLION

Bowkylion Spotify Equals Time Square Billboard

Chart-topping Thai singer and songwriter BOWKYLION was chosen as the first artist in Thailand for the initial EQUAL cohort, which she says was due to her total stream count for the prior year. Similarly to Morgane Pistone, Penpitcha Chongklonvanont, who works at Believe as the Trade Marketing Manager for Thailand, says she has made sure the Spotify team have been aware of BOWKYLION throughout her career. 

She says the inclusion paid dividends for both BOWKYLION as well as her peers. “Being the first artist on Spotify EQUAL in Thailand had brought a spotlight on her as well as other artists in the industry,” Penpitcha Chongklonvanont adds. “There were online news and viral coverage on her feature, as well as fans sharing the news. Her streaming numbers spiked up on Spotify from the support on the platform, along with her social media coverage.”

The inclusion also brought BOWKYLION’s music to people around the world. Going forward, she says she’d like to see even more opportunities for female artists from Spotify. “At present, female artists are starting to stand out more in the music industry and are showing their potential,” says the artist. “If there is any additional support I would like, the answer is wanting Spotify to continue providing great opportunities for female artists like this.”
 

To be a female artist, you’re expected to toe the line and not displease the boys’ club, you need to do a bunch of things to remain in the reckoning and visibility is just a start — the least you want is to be visible, right? To have such a playlist is an acknowledgement of the fact that we need to correct something

Sona Mohapatra

Sona Mohpatra Spotify Equals Time Square Billboard

For Sona Mohapatra, her inclusion in EQUAL’s list was a “validation of a journey” she’s been on throughout her career, championing women’s rights. During the pandemic, she’s released music consistently, which she says kept her on Spotify’s radar. She explains: “I think the attention came from the fact that I speak up for things and I'm constantly in the media for being one of the rare artists who do so. And I put out music regularly.”

So how important is visibility in the drive towards equality? It’s an important start, says Sona Mohapatra. “To be a female artist, you’re expected to toe the line and not displease the boys’ club, you need to do a bunch of things to remain in the reckoning and visibility is just a start — the least you want is to be visible, right? To have such a playlist is an acknowledgement of the fact that we need to correct something.”

In addition to campaigns like EQUAL, Sona Mohapatra would like to see more women working behind the scenes in music, as songwriters, producers and composers, as well as a celebration from the wider music industry and media of female voices. “All the associated media need to connect the dots to bring in many more voices and not only make them visible, but make them audible and sustain that for a long time. It can’t be a one-off thing, it has to happen month after month, year after year, to get it to some kind of equal space.”