Music Producers: Let's talk about the 5%
By Maya Kubisa
Photo Credit: Anthony Citro
‘In the music industry only 5% of all music producers and engineers are female’
The lack of female representation amongst those who produce music is something that is only just being discussed within the industry and there are very few articles on this matter in mainstream media.
It's been almost 16 years since a woman had been represented in the producer of the year category at the Grammy Nominations. The production of a record is a fundamental part of the creative process, could it be that women are not creative?!? We know that’s not the case! The Grammy’s have a huge gender gap over overall, 10.4% of Grammy Nominees from 2013-2019 were female and 89.6% were male (data gathered by Dr Stacy Smith for the USC Anne Berg Inclusion Initiative: assets.uscannenberg.org ).
A lot of notable albums have all been produced by men. Famously, George Martin produced Abbey Road with the Beatles in the 70’s and yet virtually no women have done anything on that same, seismic scale? Why is the number of women producing popular music still so low? The technical side of the music industry is still associated with men as said by producer Alex Hope, "We just learn early on that it's a man's job to be at the mixing desk." (for billboard magazine; billboard.com/female-music-producers ).
As part of my dissertation research on the "under representation of female producers" (2019) at Birmingham City University I came across statistics gathered by SoundGirls Organisation. Amongst a variety of damning figures, the killer stat was that female producers and audio engineers only account for 5% of all producers/engineers. I found that a lot of the reason for such lack of female representation is largely due to societal assumptions about women. Women are seen to be incapable or uninterested by technology. (see study by Tara Rodgers Pink Noises: Women On Electronic Music and Sound).
Additionally, there are plenty of female producers around who are producing fantastic work but with little recognition: Lind Perry (Pink, Christina Agulara), Sylvia Massy (Tool, Red hot Chilli Peppers), Parnell (Bjork, The XX), Emily Lazar (Foo Fighters, Sia) and Catherine Marks (The Killers, Wolf Alice) to name a few!
Georgia Barnes, known by her mononym Georgia is a music producer, singer song writer and drummer, she’s just come out with a brand-new album seeking thrills. Georgia’s been producing in the industry for a long time, yet it’s only this year that I’ve seen her name pop up in the media. It seems to take a lot more work for women to get the recognition they deserve as if it wasn’t already hard enough to be in the music industry.
From my reading and interviews with female produces, what I found was a call to educate young girls about the fact women can be music producers. This was summarised beautifully by Becky Willard, music producer and owner of Vox Fox Studios, in her interview with me: “Education is so crucial! Even now, in this very year, young women are not being targeted by commercial music programs for engineering and producing. Many young women who are interested in music as a career only see the option as “artist” when I’ll bet there’s a good handful of them that would absolutely love the studio process more than cutthroat world of being a performing artist. But the option is never shown to them so they don’t envision themselves going there.”
Sexual harassment is also rampant within the music industry and it is hard to ignore the link between this and the male majority. According to the report by USC Annenberg (Inclusion Initiative) 83% of the 75 songwriters and producers they interviewed felt that they or another woman experience discomfort in the studio and 39% of those women felt objectified. The production process is creatively challenging and an intimate process between the artist and producer. It seems this intimacy can be taken too far. Despite this I do think things are starting to shift and change but it’s taking a while for female producers such as Ebonie Smith and Georgia to be recognised for their great work. The conversation is growing even if the industry is slow to catch up.
USC Annenberg Report: http://assets.uscannenberg.org/