Pictured: Enno Cheng

By Chen-Yu Lin

Ever since the 1970s, Taiwan has been renowned as a central hub for Mandopop, shaping the musical tastes of the Chinese-speaking world and nurturing a diverse indie music scene spanning various genres. Such is the familiar narrative surrounding Taiwan and its eclectic music scene. Yet, the island’s significance has in recent years extended beyond its musical prowess. As one of the freest places in Asia and one of few that support gay marriage, Taiwan has increasingly become known as a beacon of freedom, democracy, and marriage equality in Asia.

Within this dynamic landscape, numerous musical works celebrate principles of equality, exemplified by iconic pieces like Jolin Tsai 蔡依林‘s Womxnly and A-Mei 張惠妹‘s Rainbow. In recent times, the indie music scene has also seen the emergence of influential companies founded and operated by women, such as LUCFest 貴人散步 and In Utero 子皿. From a birds’ eye view, Taiwan’s music seems to embody progressive and liberal values, reflecting the spirit of a nation that champions freedom and inclusivity.

However, in 2023 Taiwan’s #MeToo movement reverberated through the broader music and entertainment sectors, unveiling long standing issues that have historically been overlooked at the policy level in Taiwan. The resounding success of the Netflix series “Wave Makers 人選之人:造浪者” further amplified this conversation. The show’s profound public resonance shed new light on sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. 

Notably, renowned musicians like Bobby Chan 陳昇 and Ayugo Huang 黃連煜, along with the host of music radio and TV programs, Mickey Huang 黃子佼, faced allegations of sexual misconduct, sparking outrage. These concerns regarding the vulnerabilities of women working in the music industry are not unique to Taiwan and have been highlighted in various studies, encompassing gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and the entrenched ‘boys club’ culture that marginalizes women.

Pictured: Cast of “The Wavemakers”

In the contemporary music industry, this imbalanced dynamic is most clearly represented in production spheres. Music producers are esteemed as the creative architects, frequently assuming pivotal roles in shaping both the technical and aesthetic aspects of the recording process. 

Such patterns of underrepresentation are clearly seen across many global music awards. For instance, since its inception in 1977 no woman has ever received the Brit Award for British Producer of the Year. Additionally, only nine women have garnered Grammy nominations for Producer of the Year (Non-Classical), with none securing a win.

Similar trends apply to the Taiwanese Golden Melody Awards too. Historically across three production categories (Best Album Producer (Vocal category), Best Song Producer (Vocal category), Best Instrumental Album Producer), the percentage of female-presenting recipients does not exceed 20%, with the lowest recipient percentage belonging to the Best Song Producer (Vocal Category) at 9.09%.

Best Album Producer (Vocal Category)Best Song Producer (Vocal Category)Best Instrumental Album Producer
Female recipients%19.56%9.09%19.35%
Female nominees%19.26%12.94%19.86%

Table 1 Percentage of women winning or being nominated for the Best Producer category at the Golden Melody Awards until 2023 (Group recipients or nominees are counted individually)

Pictured: A-Lin and HUSH at Golden Melody Awards 2023

Nevertheless, women producers persist in shining and challenging norms through their creative, poetic, and impactful expressions. Take, for example singer-songwriter and producer Sandee Chan 陳珊妮, a three-time winner of the Best Album Producer Award who actively explores, interrogates, and challenges women’s life experiences through her music. 

In her music video for “Beautiful Sin 罪美” Chan depicts how even the most renowned women can historically be targeted and labelled as witches. Her music delves into a myriad of issues related to women, ranging from body shaming to female sexualities. As a prominent music producer in Taiwan, Sandee Chan compels her audience to grapple with diverse and thought-provoking topics.

This lack of representation also seems to extend itself to the live sector, despite minimal data available on the topic. A rare example appears in a 2018 piece for White Wabbit Records Magazine tabulating statistics on female representation across five leading Taiwanese music festival lineups, including Megaport Festival (the only currently active festival), BeastieRock, Winder Music Festival, Witch Festival, and Wake Up Festival. The representation percentages range from 12% to 25%, revealing a consistently low representation of women across the lineups.

Other than LGBTQIA+ icons Jolin Tsai and Amei, many other artists are outspoken about women’s unique life experiences. In a recent ten-episode video project initiated by queer singer-songwriter Enno Cheng 鄭宜農 titled ‘Women Who Walk and Sing (邊走邊唱的女子)’, she invited ten female artists as guests, including Anpu 安溥, Yoyo Sham 岑寧兒, and Whyte ?te 壞特 to walk, talk and perform on her platform; discussing issues musicians and women face such as biases and discrimination.

However, while artists are often at the forefront of discussions on gender equality, what about behind the scenes? According to a 2018 report by the Ministry of Culture, there is a greater percentage of women working in the music industry in Taiwan compared to men. However, the distribution of women across entry-level positions and managerial roles remains unknown. In lieu of this, some female industry leaders have shared their own experiences and insights with us.

Hung Weining and KK (Yeh Wan Ching) co-founded LUCfest in 2017, a festival and conference that has garnered international attention by bringing curators, labels, and industry professionals to Taiwan. While discussing widely accepted standards for measuring gender equality in the workplace and the challenges they encounter in the real world, KK stated:

“In my opinion, these standards primarily gauge whether women can earn and whether they possess leadership capabilities. I work with many women, but the powerful stakeholders, such as funders, are not considered music industry professionals yet hold significant power and are often male.“

Pictured: Weining Hung

 Additionally, Weining addressed another blurred area, suggesting that traditional ‘roles’ within a workplace often blur due to individuals multitasking in music. She remarked, “These roles are challenging to define“.

In the case of Taiwan, there has been insufficient research and data regarding the gender pay gap in the music industry. However, female professionals often recall feelings of exclusion, inappropriate gender-related jokes, and dismissive attitudes toward their presumed lack of physical strength, which may affect job performance. 

Pictured: May Wu, In Utero

May Wu (Wu Meng Hsuan) and and Meng Gu co-founded In Utero in 2014, offering event planning and marketing services for musicians, and representing acclaimed alternative artists such as Panai 巴奈 and Prairie WWWW 落差草原. May recounted her early experiences of predominantly male interactions with various collaborators, emphasising the need to exert extra effort to integrate. Echoing these sentiments, LUCfest’s KK highlighted the influence of gender roles, noting instances where she felt isolated in social gatherings that reflected prevailing norms within male-dominated Taiwanese indie music circles.

Many scholars and industry executives alike emphasise the significance of social networks as a crucial determinant for growth and development opportunities in the music industry. When decision-makers share similar social, economic, and cultural backgrounds, those seeking entry into such circles may find themselves needing to exert greater effort to assimilate or adapt their behaviours. 

This is where women’s struggles often originate. By leading companies with more female members, KK, Weining, and May all agree that company cultures differ, yet they bring innovative approaches to the market with their unique perspectives. These women are striving to pave the way for the next generation of female industry executives, so that emerging talents may not have to endure the same levels of self-doubt and lack of support.

Pictured: Jaguar Jonze at LUCfest

In response to the #MeToo movement which has brought higher visibility to the issues women in Taiwan face, the Taiwanese government has implemented several measures, including amendments to three gender equality acts that came into effect on March 8, 2024 on International Women’s Day. 

These amendments aim to expand protections for victims of all forms of harassment by placing greater responsibilities on employers to improve reporting systems and provide support. While the amendments require companies with 10-30 employees to establish formal reporting and punishment mechanisms around gender-based harassment in the workplace, many companies in the music industry are smaller, and numerous industry workers operate on a freelance basis. It remains to be seen how these amendments will address these particularly casualized sectors.

At an industry level, Taiwan’s Bureau of Audiovisual and Music Industry Development (BAMID) oversees activities and subsidies supporting popular music. Since 2022, BAMID has been pushing for at least 40% female representation among committee members reviewing government contract bidding and the Golden Melody Award juries. 

Golden Melody Awards 2023 graphic

Alongside these efforts, BAMID also disclosed information regarding the female employment rate in the bureau. Currently, out of 80 identified employees, 67 are women, accounting for 83.33% of the bureau’s workforce. However, for positions at the highest grades (Grade 10+), there are more men (3) than women (2). This reveals that despite having more women employees, there are still more men in managerial positions within the bureau.

Although statistics regarding funding recipients or contractors are not disclosed, and most analyses are still conducted through a gender binary lens, BAMID’s efforts to address gender imbalance and improve female representation are commendable gestures that may pave the way for future changes. However, the extent to which they can influence the private sector remains uncertain. There should be opportunities for BAMID and wider public sectors to take further affirmative actions. 

We are now closer than ever to acknowledging that Taiwan grapples with pervasive gender inequalities, echoing challenges faced by various music industries globally. While Taiwan’s popular music scene reflects some dedicated support structures for supporting gender equality, the blind spots of a casualized, male-dominated sector should not be overlooked. 

One crucial step is for both public and private sectors to continue tracking statistics, make information public, and consistently interpret them. By empowering future female musicians and industry workers, we can ensure they become wave makers both in Taiwan’s music scene and abroad.

We still have a long way to go.

Note: The interviews with KK, Weining, and May Wu were featured in an article commissioned and published by Blow Media (吹音樂) on March 8, 2023. The interviewees and editor agreed to include the content in this article.

Listen to Mia Yen’s Ladies of Taiwan Playlist