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When looking at the music industry, a couple of archetypes often come into view. In mainstream music we see females like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, powerful performers supported by the technical knowledge of mostly male producers. But, like most things in our modern world, gender cannot be categorized so easily. Women are taking more technical roles, taking control of their own ideas and changing our perceptions of gender in the music industry. Though there are challenges when facing a male-dominated world that often resists change, these girls won’t be told they can’t. They’re doing their thing, doing it well, and you can too.
Before I go on to the great empowerment stuff, why has it been so tough in the past for females? Well, as detailed in Feminism 101, it is linked to the hideous evil that is the patriarchy. Really though, when a woman’s role was almost strictly homemaker during the economic boom of the 1960s, most emerging industries were being established entirely by men. Advancements in music-related technologies and software began emerging around the 1980s and 1990s, during which time second-wave feminism was also in boom. However, the music industry was already very comfortable in serving the perspectives of an ‘all boys club’, therefore making audio engineering an out of reach and intimidating prospect for women. The position we were designated was instead as the pretty face to satisfy the male, voyeuristic gaze.
Before we get the pitchforks out, it’s fair to say we’ve come quite far since then, and things are definitely changing. So what is encouraging females to enter the production game now? Well, we can give a nod of appreciation to the beautiful thing bestowed upon our generation—the internet. With professional audio software only a download click away, and eons of YouTube tutorials about every aspect of the process, we now have as much chance as any dude to sonically express our ideas. Emma Logan, also known as October, has been taking the NZ music scene by storm with her dark synth pop tones. “I had been messing around with GarageBand ever since I was a kid and I was always writing songs on my piano, so I just wanted to translate these acoustic pieces into a more electronic setting.” October could’ve hired a male producer to help with this process, but with the opportunity to do it herself so easily accessible, she took it on for the benefit of her own creative integrity. “I’m very much a firm believer that females are absolutely capable of sitting at home and teaching themselves… I didn’t see the point of taking my songs to someone else where my initial idea was going to be filtered through theirs.”
It’s also through the support of others that females are rising to the challenge. Katherine Anderson, known by her stage name K2K, makes vaporwave-influenced, ambient house music. At first, she was a little intimidated by the idea of production. “I didn’t start until I was 22 as it seemed so unattainable and unclear how to begin.” But with the help of YouTube tutorials as well as a boyfriend at the time to help her with any added questions, she realized just “how easy it could be.” It might be a bit scary asking others for support, but it can definitely simplify the process. Now K2K has a strong following on SoundCloud and has even gone on to work with the prestigious Red Bull Music Academy in Paris, proving that dedication pays off. “Having someone help you at the early stages isn’t vital, but it does make the process a lot easier.”
On a similar note, an interesting initiative getting popular is all-female introductory production and DJ classes. There have been many workshops like this popping up everywhere, including New Zealand when Misfit Mod ran classes in Christchurch last August. It provides a friendly, informative space that lets females who are a little intimidated by the practice give it a go. After seeing classes like this across America and Canada, K2K notes that, “so many females want to make music but don’t want to be judged at the early stages of learning… many male producers and DJs can be pretty judgmental and expect you to prove yourself, which is a scary and unproductive environment to learn in.” With such high pressure on girls to be good enough, it’s understandable they might not want to continue something that induces such stress. By providing this space, girls can now relax knowing they will not be judged and can cross initial hurdles with confidence.
Though this is fantastic progress, we still urgently need to change the out-of-date sexism that a male-dominated industry perpetuates. “Nothing outward is really said but you’re very aware of the fact that you’re female.” K2K tells me of various assumptions that are “standard” for girls in the scene, such as assuming she is only the singer, that someone else produces for her, and people even question who the girl in her SoundCloud picture is, because surely it couldn’t be a girl making such good music right? Could you even imagine?
Wellington-based Stephanie Engelbrecht, also known for her experimental electronic project as Altar Elektra, has experienced many similar cases during her time as a producer/percussionist. “I’ve had a few paid jobs where I’ve made music for people and either not been given the follow up work I was promised or not been paid at all after I’ve refused to go to dinner with them, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” She also mentions how often during her solo gigs she’s asked if she received her spot because another act playing was her boyfriend. “It can be pretty frustrating. I’ve got a degree in Sonic Arts and spent thousands of hours learning how to do this. I’m here because I work hard and people like what I do, just like any other act.”
But, please don’t let these stories get you down my friends, because they show just how important it is do something and change the culture for the better! As October puts it, “we need female producers to show we can be just as creative, as technical, and as boundary pushing as men in every aspect of our lives.” By giving it a go, we can deconstruct misconceptions and show that anyone can do anything regardless of what sits between their legs. By creating a more diverse, accepting culture, we create a place that accepts all ideas, that shares and collaborates to create a higher grade of music that expresses a broad range of perspectives. When asked what females bring to production, Altar Elektra makes a great point saying: “it isn’t as clear cut as females can do this and males can’t. We all have unique musical voices based on our experiences, and it’s important that all of these different perspectives receive equal opportunities to be heard.” It’s not just about females, but non-binary and members of the LGBT communities, who need to be represented so that we can connect with their realities and unite for what we are—humans on planet Earth, having a good time dancing together to great bangers.
Sounds great right? So what can we do to get into this utopian nightclub? Well first off, if producing music has always been of interest to you, get on it! If you feel a bit hesitant, find a friend who will learn with you and take inspiration from current badass female producers. It won’t happen all at once, but if you stick at it you’ll definitely see results. Be the change you wish to see in the world, carpe diem, etc. October goes on to say this: “we are all perfectly capable, intelligent, and able enough to teach ourselves… be bold, be fearless, be fervent, and simply dgaf what others think.”