Female Music Producers: Beyond The 5% - An Interview With Becky Willard
By Maya Kubisa
Females only account for 5 % of music producers, an incredibly low number of women working in this part of the music industry. No women has taken home a producer of year since 1975 (Janet Jackson) and only a handful of women including Lauryn Hill, Sherly Crow and Paula Cole, Mariah Carey, Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin from Prince’s band The Revolution are the only females to be recognised for making their own music . To add to bleakness only one women has been nominated since and that was producer Lauren Christy in 2004.
Music Producer Becky Willard based in Utah, USA sat down with me to have a chat about her career in music production, what inspired her and why she feels education for young women is so crucial to make way for new budding music producers.
What inspired you to start producing music?
From a young age, I have been writing songs and finding creative ways to record them! I grew up before home computers were available so the best I had was a couple of cassette recorders. I learned how to multi-track my voice with them and would write songs simply because I loved the process of creating the harmonies and stacking them up! I was a weird kid! When I went to college, the options for music degrees were limited to Performance (either Musical Theatre or Classical) or Education and that was it. So I pursued Music Education which led me to being a vocal coach. Eventually I began helping the singers I was coaching with their songwriting and then co-producing their vocals alongside their Music Producer. I watched over the producer’s shoulder for quite a few years and was drawn to the process. I was stunned at how tedious it could be but also found it to be so rewarding to listen back to a song that started from a blank slate to now a fully produced product.
When did you first become aware of the lack of women in music production?
Once I actually started calling myself a music producer and not just a vocal coach, and the response would always be, “Really?” Often accompanied with a comment like, "That’s so unusual for a woman to do that, you never really see that”.
There are any experiences good or bad that you have personally had that stand out from your career?
I’ve only had a couple of bad experiences where people have tried to “steal” my clients or have tried to smear my name (in order to discredit me and also steal my clients). Most of my experiences have been good! My own worst enemy has always been my own mind and limiting beliefs but feel as though I’ve conquered those over the past couple of years.
There is a lot being discussed about the lack of women in producing however, what do you think needs to change in order for more women to become producers?
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 them so they don’t envision themselves going there.
Is it harder for women in the music industry than it is for men, if so can you mention a couple ways It is and why?
From my own experience, it doesn’t seem to be harder for women. I will say that it might be harder for an “older” woman than a “younger” woman, just from what I observe. I’ve had artists respond with shock that I can create “dope beats” and I think it’s because I’m as old as their mom! They see me as an old fashioned person. If I were an older man, I don’t know if I would be perceived the same way. Also, I do believe it’s harder for women generally to be entrepreneurial and establish home based businesses because often times they are “expected” to be the primary childcare provider and homemaker. It can be tough to run a business properly at home if you are also raising a family. I never had my own children so this was not my experience but I have had many conversations with women who put their music careers (whether as producers, songwriters or artists or whatever) on hold while they are raising their families. My guess is that if they were the man of the house, that expectation may not be there.
Some women have been mistaken for someone else when in a studio environment (receptionist, the singer, someone’s boyfriend etc. ) have you ever experienced this?
No, but I’ve had people assume that my husband and I are both running the music studio together, that he is also a music producer. The comment, “So, you and your husband are producers?” Or, “You and your husband run the studio?” are common. I’m pretty sure the same assumption (that his wife is also involved in the studio or music production) would not be made with him.
Do you think it’s important to have more women represented in music media?
YES! I’ve seen iZotope feature a woman sitting at the computer in many of their advertisements! So yay! Warm Audio reached out to me and sponsors me as a Warm Audio Artist because I’m sure they are trying to show women who are really rocking it as producers. So good for them! Yet, in the real world it seems the only time I am seeing women in a lineup of experts is if the lineup is specifically to focus on women in the industry! Otherwise, there might be one “token” woman in the lineup (conferences, interviews, masterclasses, etc.) It would be great if we could get to a point where gender is just a non-issue.
Is the reason for the low numbers of women in audio , producing etc due to the fact women aren’t interested in tech or is this simply not true!?!
I’ve asked myself this question a lot! I think it’s possible that women aren’t drawn to it as much as they are drawn to the performance or artistic side. For much the same reason that you probably don’t see as many women Electrical Engineers or Mechanics. The problem I see is that women might believe the engineer, mixing and producing side is much more technical than it actually is!!! I love being creative! I am a creative person first! I’ve learned how to navigate through all of the technical side at a very basic level, enough to get things to sound good. But could I lecture on the intricate details of acoustics and equalization and compression to a room full of experts? Heck no!!! And guess what. That’s ok. The misunderstanding is that you have to be a techy-nerd in order to be good at producing music and that’s just not true! You need to know how to get the results you want. You need to have the ear to hear how to shape and mold your mix to get your results you want.
How do you think the music industry would change if there were more women producing music?
I’m not really sure! I’ve never really thought about that. I wonder if more artists, especially female artists, would have a better experience working with a female producer and in turn would have more creative freedom and longer lasting careers. There are so many horrific stories of young girls being fully taken advantage of by men in their early careers. I wonder if that aspect of the industry wasn’t happening, how would that change the output?