The music industry studio scene is the largest sausage party I’ve ever been to. I used to think being “one of the guys” was pretty cool and counted myself lucky to be included in all the inappropriate conversations, which mostly revolved around the objectification of my gender.
But as the dick jokes run out, the question I find myself asking is, ‘Where are all the chicks?’ Well, I’ll tell you where they are… they’re on their way, and when they get here, I suggest the guys find something more interesting to talk about.
Over the next 15-20 years we will see a massive shift in the number of female producers, engineers and DJ’s on the scene. Similar to other professions (doctors, lawyers, executives) the ratio of males to females will be more balanced over time. We’re already starting to see the shift on the DJ side of things, albeit in a typically sexualized manner, and the tipping-point isn’t far away.
Until then, being one of the few women in music technology, I am often asked why there aren’t more of us. For me there are three answers to the “why:”
- Lack of Role Models
Although there are a number of us out there*, very few women have become household names, in the manner of musical males, like Pharrell, Skrillex, or Bob Moog.
One of the only females who has truly penetrated the spectrum is Santigold, who has been in the game for roughly 15 years. Imagine there were 10 other Santigolds out there producing and programming/engineering the most popular tracks on the radio. Don’t you think more little girls would be asking for MPC’s for Christmas instead of Barbie’s? I do!
The lack of role support is huge and one of the biggest reasons why there aren’t more Carole King’s to our Burt Bacharach’s. I’ve read blogs that claim — and many more people say — that “women aren’t interested” in these technical roles, but I don’t think that’s accurate.
Too few female tech-mavens exist to let the rest of us know we even should be interested. I think there are plenty of women out there who would love to make beats or dream of producing music, but don’t because it’s not something women typically do. (Paris Hilton recently named herself one of the top 5 DJ’s in the world… even though she may not be a prime candidate for role model of the year, I can’t hate on her for at least being out there…)
- Women are from Venus
You didn’t have to read the book to get the message that ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’, but as a metaphor in this context, that idea is both so true and so false.
Women get stereotyped as “emotional” where men get to keep it “professional.” The boys don’t want us in the studio because we’ll kill the vibe, the girls don’t want to be in the control room because they feel out of place. We are inherently very different creatures, but the bottom line is that we both have ears and the six inches that lie between them, and that makes us all music creators.
The fact is, many women are deterred by the pressure to conform to a male-dominated paradigm and simply don’t make it into the rooms where the sessions are taking place. This also translates into the rooms where the skills are being taught. I’ve had many women tell me they feel uncomfortable learning in situations where they are the only female (or one of very few).
It would be wrong for us to try and hide who we are or become filtered versions of ourselves in order to succeed or fit into the boys club. There are enough professional women out there to prove that we are capable of knowing when to turn the emotional faucet off, and my point is knowing the value of when to turn it on. We have no place trying to act like the men… the road to success is us acting like women.
Furthermore, women listen to their worlds in a completely differently fashion then men. When a man hears the sentence, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ they interpret it literally. But a woman hears what lies behind the literal words: for example, the hint of the current bad day that explains how the words were delivered, or the undertone of loneliness that was written between the lines. Not only that, but it’s scientifically proven that women hear better than men and are genetically predisposed to being more aurally attuned to their surroundings.
- Bumping that Bump
Of all the women seen in the studio, the pregnant woman is the rarest of them all. The obstacles of simultaneously being a mom and a professional require a huge time commitment. The hours of being a producer, engineer, or DJ are very demanding, and for most of us getting pregnant would seem to be career sabotage.
Personally, I pray that by the time I’m ready to go from producing to reproducing, my career is at a point where I can take a break that isn’t permanent. Needless to say, as a woman in my late 20’s, it’s something I think about often and can understand how this is preventing many women from exploring these career paths.
Here’s to all my ladies making moves in the music industry, whether inside the studio or out. We are a unique sisterhood and one that I’m proud to be a part of. And as a side note to everyone at the sausage party, we’re having all you can eat buffet over here and you’re all invited!
* (To name just a few) Producers like Santigold, Peaches, Grimes, Tokimonsta, Bonnie Hayes; engineers like Trina Shoemaker, Ann Mincieli, Emily Wright, Susan Rogers, Hillary Johnson, Emily Lazar, Heba Kadry, etc, etc.; DJ’s Nervo, Maya James Cole, etc.
— ERIN BARRA is a singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist/Ableton-enthusiast/nationally-touring-aritst. She is the founder of Beats By Girlz, a creative and educational recording-arts campaign developed in cooperation with the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York. The ‘female-powered intro to music tech’ program (scheduled to begin in Spring 2014) will be open to students of the Lower Eastside Girls Club between the ages of 8-18 and also to a group of young mothers. Visit her on Facebook or Twitter.