Agnethe's Blog

International Women's Day 2023 (Danish version below) 

Today’s post is an extended version of a speech I gave on International Women's Day, March 8th 2023. 


The topic is the Myth of Meritocracy. 


What is the meritocratic myth? 

It is for instance when people say “We don't need quotas to get more non males into management, or more non male artists exhibited in the museums, or promote more non male authors etc. - we just need ‘the best’”. As if the two are mutually exclusive to each other. 


Meritocracy means that you are chosen/valued based on your merits. And in theory of course this sounds fair, but we all know that the reason why there’s only one female author represented in the Danish literary canon, isn’t because female authors aren't as good as male. But because the people who are deciding who should be a part of the canon have a lot of unconscious biases. 


I hope this is not news to you! 


In spite of this there is still a strong narrative that it’s always ‘the best’ candidate who gets the job, the grant etc.

That it is possible to be objective in a hiring or selection process. 

Despite the many surveys, statistics etc. stating the opposite.


And that’s the Myth of Meritocracy - right there! 


If we take a look at the business I’m in, which is the music business, there's also a strong narrative that the one who makes the best music, plays the best and/or works the hardest gets the gig, the success, the career etc. 


So how do you assess what is the best?


A report from 2022 by KVINFO (The Danish Knowledge Center for Gender and Equality) on gender inequality in the Danish music industry states that more than a third of the women and almost every other non cisgendered experience that their gender and look has a large influence on the assessment of their talent and musical abilities. Which is a lot higher than among the men, where 4 percent have the experience that their gender and 11 percent that their looks have an influence on the assessment of their abilities. 


Another issue addressed in the report is that women often experience contradicting expectations. On the one hand they are expected to act feminine and use their gender to advance their career and on the other hand not to use their gender because it’s not viewed as professional. And that puts women in a very locked position; You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't! 


Women also often experience having to receive criticism based on their gender. Often with expressions like “demanding”, “creating conflict” and other things that have nothing to do with their musical abilities or work ethic. 


Another important issue is the streaming services and their algorithms, which not surprisingly have a lot to say about how we consume music. And also how it is created - but more about that a little later. 


Someone might intervene and say that algorithms are artificial intelligence and therefore not biased. Of course we all know that is not true. 


When talking about algorithms, we should take a really good look at the large - especially North American - tech companies. In other words: Silicon Valley. 


Here too women only make out a fourth of the employees and only 11% have managing positions. 


And parallel to the report by KVINFO I mentioned before, an analysis of 248 performance reviews from different American tech companies show that women get negative personal criticism that men don't. Women are told to watch their tone, to step back, are called bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional and irrational. Again a lot of adjectives that have nothing to do with their talent and work ethic. 


On top of this you can make the observation that more than 40% of women leave the tech industry after 10 years compared to men where it’s only 17%. A report from Center for Talent Innovation shows that the women ​don't leave the companies because of family reasons or because they don't like the work, but because of ‘workplace conditions’, ‘undermining behavior from managers and ‘a sense of feeling stalled in one’s career’. An article in the Los Angeles Times also highlights that the women left because they kept getting passed up for promotions or had their projects dismissed. 


Now why is that important to us? Of course because a great part of our lives involves some kind of technology and because algorithms play a huge role in our everyday lives, and both feed off of and control our behavior. Algorithms that are developed and programmed by people. Most often white middle class men. 


Think about the people who treat our data and make money on them. These people who are developing and improving our products on the basis of our data, all more or less belong to the same demographic, and have the experiences and world views similar only to a very limited amount of people in this world. And that's when it becomes problematic and relevant to us. 

Because whether we want it or not, the algorithm controls a huge part of our lives, and it probably won't be less in the future. 


I can also recommend watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver from February 26th 2023 where the topic is AI. Among other things we’re introduced to the term “Pale Male Data”. This occurs for instance in self-driving cars that don't recognize darker skin as well as lighter on the pedestrians they should be trained not to hit! The problem is the lack of diversity in the data used to program the algorithm. And that brings us back to the people handling the data, and their experiences and world views. 


Let us return to the streaming platforms. As mentioned earlier there are studies that show that for instance Spotify not only influences what we hear, but also how the music is created. 


The goal for most artists is to be included on the big playlists which is why more and more artists take that into account from the very beginning - even when they are writing and producing the music. Pertaining to both genre, length, production style and so on - but especially length is important. Most new pop songs don't last more than 3 minutes because everything over 30 seconds counts as a stream. So if a user listens to your track for more than 30 seconds, it counts as a stream and then it pays. Which means the more songs you can have people listen to the more money you can make. 


Furthermore studies show that male artists are played more often than non male artists. This is both due to the fact that a lot of the people curating the big playlists are men, but it’s very much also because of the algorithm. 


This is from the New York Post: “An analysis of 330,000 streaming music listeners over a nine-year period showed that only 25% of songs played were led by women. Their observations revealed that “on average,” the platform will start by spinning six tracks by men before choosing a female artist.” 


At the same time the algorithm gives the user more of what they're already listening to, turning it into a vicious cycle: if you listen to a male artist you will most likely be introduced to more male artists. 

And we can hopefully all agree that this has nothing to do with merits, hard work or talent - right? 


This of course begs the question: What can WE do? Well there is one very easy thing you can do. Go and press play on a lot of non male artists and this way you can teach the algorithm about diversity! 


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Kvindernes internationale kampdag 2023 

Dagens indlæg tager afsæt i en tale jeg holdt til kvindernes internationale kampdag d. 8. Marts 2023. Dette er en lidt udvidet udgave, da talen kun måtte vare i 5 minutter;) 


Temaet er: Myten om meritokratiet


Og hvad er så myten om meritokratiet? Jo, det er fx når folk siger “vi skal ikke have kvoter for at få flere ikke-mænd ind i ledelsen, eller flere ikke mandlige kunstnere udstillet på museerne, eller flere ikke mandlige forfattere ind i litteraturkanonen - vi skal jo bare have de bedste”.

Som om de to ting udelukker hinanden! 


Meritokrati betyder jo, at man bliver bedømt på sine meritter. Og i teorien kan det jo lyde helt fair, men vi ved jo alle sammen godt, at grunden til at at der kun er en kvinde med i den danske litteraturkanon, ikke er at de kvindelige forfattere ikke var og er lige så gode som de mandlige. Men at dem der har siddet og valgt navenene ud, simpelthen har haft nogle uhensigtsmæssige forudindtagelser og påvirkninger, eller biases som man siger. 


Det håber jeg ikke er en nyhed for nogen! 


På trods af det, lever der stadig en fortælling om, at det altid er ‘den bedste’ der får jobbet, pladsen, legatet osv. Altså at det er muligt at være objektiv i en ansættelses/ udvælgelsessituation og lignende. 

Til trods for, at der findes talrige undersøgelser, analyser og statistikker der modsiger dette. 


Og det er myten om meritokratiet  - lige der. 


Hvis vi lige vender blikket mod den branche jeg selv på er en del af, nemlig musikbranchen, så er der her også en stærk fortælling om at den, der laver den bedste musik, spiller bedst og/eller arbejder hårdest får succesen, karrieren, jobbet osv. 


Men hvordan vurderes det, hvad der er bedst? 


En rapport fra 2022 bla. udarbejdet af KVINFO slår fast, at mere end hver tredje kvinde og knap hver anden ikke-ciskønnede oplever, at deres køn og udseende i høj eller meget høj grad har betydning for vurderingen af deres evner. Hvilket er noget højere end hos mændene hvor kun 4 procent oplever at deres køn og 11 procent deres udseende har betydning for vurderingen af deres evner. 


En anden problematik der omtales i rapporten er den såkaldte Linedancerproblematik. Den handler om, at der eksisterer modstridende forventninger til kvinder, som på den ene side forventes at opføre sig feminint og gør brug af deres køn for at fremme karrieren og på den anden side ikke bruge deres køn fordi det ikke er velanset eller professionelt. Og det sætter ofte kvinder i en ret så nederen og meget låst position. You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't! 


Kvinder oplever også i højere grad at skulle modtage kritik på baggrund af deres køn, og det ofte med ord som “krukket”, “krævende” og “konfliktskabende” og andre ting, der intet har at gøre med deres musikalske evner eller arbejdsomhed. 


En anden vigtig problematik finder man på streamingplatformene og deres algoritmer som efterhånden har ret meget at sige i forhold til hvordan vi konsumerer musik og faktisk også hvordan den bliver skabt! Men mere om det lidt senere. 


Her kunne man måske få lyst til at indvende, at algoritmer jo er kunstig intelligens og derfor ikke kan være biased. Men det ved vi selvfølgelig godt ikke passer. 


Og når vi taler om algoritmer, er der et andet sted vi bør interessere os meget for, nemlig de store - især nordamerikanske - tech firmaer. Med andre ord Silicon Valley.


Her udgør kvinder også kun en fjerdedel af de ansatte - og kun 11% af ledelsespositionerne er besat af kvinder. 


Og parallelt med den undersøgelse fra KVINFO jeg refererede til før, så viser en analyse af 248 performance reviews fra forskellige amerikanske tech firmer, at kvinder får negativ personlig kritik som mænd ikke får. Kvinder får at vide at de skal passe på hvordan de taler, at de skal være lidt mere tilbageholdende, de bliver kaldt bossy, irriterende, stride, agressieve, følelsesladede og irrationelle. Igen en masse adjektiver der intet har med deres talent og arbejdsomhed at gøre. 


Ydermere kan man se at mere end 40% af kvinderne forlader techindustrien efter 10 år i modsætning til mændene hvor det er 17%. I en rapport fra Center for Talent Innovation slås det fast at kvinderne ikke forlader firmaerne pga familie eller fordi de ikke kunne lide arbejdet. De gør det pga vilkårene på arbejdspladsen, undergravende adfærd fra ledere og en følelse af at blive bremset i deres karriere. En undersøgelse foretaget af Los Angeles Times fastslår også at kvinderne skred fordi de gang på gang blev forbigået i forbindelse med forfremmelser og oplevede at deres projekter blev afvist. 


Og hvorfor er det vigtigt for os? Det er det jo selvfølgelig fordi så stor en del af vores liv efterhånden involverer teknologi af en eller anden art. Og fordi algoritmer spiller en kæmperolle i vores hverdag og til en hvis grad desværre også både lever af og styrer vores adfærd.

Algoritmer som jo i første omgang er udviklet og programmeret af mennesker. Og de mennesker er overvejende hvide middelklassemænd. 


Når man tænker på, at dem der behandler alle vores data og tjener penge på dem alle mere eller mindre tilhører den samme demografi, og at dem der på baggrund af de data skal udvikle og forbedre vores produkter har et verdensbillede og en erfaring som begrænser sig til en lille del af jordens befolkning, så bliver det problematisk - og relevant for os. For om vi vil det eller ej, så styrer algoritmer en stor portion af vores liv - og den bliver nok ikke mindre med tiden!


Jeg kan også anbefale alle at se Last Week Tonight med John Oliver fra 26. Februar 2023 hvor temaet er kunstig intelligens. Her introduceres blandt andet begrebet “Pale Male Data”, som til eksempel i selvkørende biler ikke genkender brun hud ligeså godt som lysere hud på de fodgængere de skal prøve ikke at ramme! Problemet er manglen på diversitet i den data der bliver brugt til at lære algoritmen at se forskel. Og der er vi igen tilbage ved dem, der sidder med dataene og deres erfarings- og verdensbillede


Men tilbage til streamingplatformene. Som nævnt tidligere, så er der undersøgelser der viser, at blandt andet Spotify ikke bare har indflydelse på hvad vi hører, men også hvordan musikken bliver skabt. 


Målet for de fleste kunstnere er at blive optaget på de store playlister og derfor er der flere og flere der allerede når de skriver og producerer musikken tænker det med ind i processen. Altså genre, længe, virkemidler - men især det med længden er afgørende. De fleste nye popsange i dag varer ikke over 3 minutter, fordi alt over 30 sekunder tæller som et stream. Altså hvis en burger lytter i mere end 30 sekunder tæller det som et stream og giver derfor indtægt. Så jo flere sange du kan få folk til at lytte til, desto flere penge kan du tjene. 


Derudover er der undersøgelser der viser, at mandlige kunstnere bliver spillet meget oftere end ikke mandlige. Det har både noget at gøre med at de fleste af dem, der sammensætter de eftertragtede playlister er mænd, men i høj grad har det også noget at gøre med algoritmen. 


En amerikansk undersøgelse viser, at der i gennemsnit bliver spillet 6 sange af mandlige kunstnere for hver gang der bliver spillet en ikke mandlig. Samtidig fodrer algoritmen brugerne med mere af det, de i forvejen hører. Så på den måde bliver det en ond cirkel hvor hvis du sætter en mandlig kunstner på, vil du efterfølgende blive præsenteret for flere mandlige kunstnere. Og vi kan vel alle blive enige om, at det ikke har noget med meritter, hårdt arbejde eller talent at gøre, ikke? 


Så er det store spørgsmål: Hvad kan DU gøre? 

Der er i hvert fald en ting du kan gøre: Gå hjem og lyt til en masse ikke mandlige kunstnere og oplær algoritmen i diversitet! 


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A song a day keeps the ...something away (huh?) 🍎 🤪 

Hello and welcome to my blog!  

Today’s topic is songwriting.  

Back when I studied music, I was a pretty productive songwriter. Few people know this, but I actually have a bachelor's degree in songwriting.  

And for my bachelor’s thesis I decided to write about the art and technicalities of writing songs.  

To do that, I was gonna write a bunch of songs so I could reflect on the process in the final paper. 

So I decided to write - or at least start to write - a song every day for 5 weeks, and for every week there was a new topic. I don’t remember all of them, but I know one week I was supposed to write about other people than myself (!), another week I tried to write songs with a political topic and so on.  

What I found out all those years ago (can it be 15 years? Oh gosh…) is that if you set aside time to write every day, the muse will find you. Inspiration will strike!  

Now, will it always bring you your best work to date? No, most definitely not. But writing is in many ways like most other art forms, crafts, sports etc: The more you do it, the better you get.  

I think a lot of people have this misconception, that you can only write if you feel inspired to, and hey, inspiration is an awesome thing. But you can't build a career around waiting for inspiration to find you. So you have to have some other tools in your box - as they say (do they say that? 😅)  

Fast forward to now, and I’ve decided to repeat my little exercise from back then. This means that this whole month (which is February 2023) I’m gonna write a song a day.  

And share it with the world.  


The plan is to release an album later this year, and I need some songs to put on that album. 

So come March will I end up with 28 shiny new perfectly polished songs ready to release? Nope, not at all. But I will get back into the groove of writing every day thus letting the muse know that I’m here and I’m ready to receive.  

Ps. Just a small addition to the story about the thesis. One of my mentors was Denmark’s best and most famous (according to me) songwriter Steffen Brandt. And after having heard a couple of my songs he was like “I don’t think you should worry about that paper. You are going to be a songwriter”. Whuuuut? Thank you, my biggest idol!! 

If you're interested in hearing all the February songs, go here.  

If you are a songwriter and looking for a producer, find my production company here.  

If you are a songwriter looking for songwriting tips and tricks, check out my free mini couse here.  

I’m also on Instagram 

And on Facebook