February 27, 2019

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Music Production and Gender Equality

March 8, 2018

"#MeToo" spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

 

Variety reported that when it asked The Recording Academy president Neil Portnow about the lack of female winners at this year’s Grammys (best new artist Alessia Cara was the only woman who received a solo trophy on the main telecast), he said this:

 

“It has to begin with … women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level … [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”

 

Although he added, “I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious,” you can imagine how the first part of that quote went over on the Internet.

The last 5 months has galvanized women in the media and entertainment industries. Messages like Mr. Portnow’s miss the point entirely. He believes women don’t reach high enough when women are, in truth, held down. The music industry remains largely unaffected, at least as of now.  I recall the mission statement of an NGO (non-profit) I worked with. I am paraphrasing here, as to how when the world’s attention always shifts away from the headline moments, the crisis, the problem always stays behind and the NGO’s work and efforts is for the long term recovery. It is much the same way with these type of movements. The press grabs the story, pumps the headlines and then moves on to the next crisis. While the problem, in this case, women not being represented in the music industries upper echelons like engineering and producing goes on – it has been and remains a man’s world.

 

Already we have seen the attention shifted away from the headline moments. And the music industry is now in a period of critical self-awareness and evaluation.  

 

Over the last few years, women have dominated the music industry. From Adele to Lady Gaga, to Rihanna. Rihanna is a one woman powerhouse. She gets up in the morning to recording another hit single, create a makeup line or do any other number of projects that empower women. But their contributions are in front of the audience they dominate as the recording artists – their hits are almost exclusively produced and engineered by men, sometimes many men.

 

But the story is not being replicated on the other side of the mixing board. The people who direct and shape how the final music will sound have almost exclusively been men.

 

While George Martin, The Beatles or Pharrell Williams are household names, only three women have ever been nominated for best producer at the Brits or the Grammys. Not one of them went home with the prize.

 

Recording artist Regina Spektor, promoting her album Far in 2009, admitted to the BBC she had "never even seen the names" of female producers on her record company shortlist. I like her observation:

 

"It didn't enter my mind to look for one," she said.

"I should put out a call and say, 'Where are you?'"

 

She must not have found any - because when her follow-up album What We Saw From the Cheap Seats came out in 2012, she was the sole woman with a production credit, alongside Mike Elizondo.

 

"It is a sad case," says Steve Levine, chairman of the UK's Music Producers Guild. "I've only ever worked with one female studio engineer."  There are C suite females (Chief executive officer, Chief financial officer, etc.) in record companies. There are almost none in the technical areas.

Trina Shoemaker became an apprentice to Daniel Lanois, who helped shape the sound of U2 and Brian Eno, and, in 1998, was the first woman to win a Grammy for sound engineering. She won the Grammy (Best Rock Album Engineer) for her work on Sheryl Crow's Globe Sessions album. So, there is one woman engineer – token, anomaly or, in fact, the best engineer that year.

 

So okay we have our first woman Grammy winner for engineering. That is one for the women. But that isn’t producing. All the big producers are men. George Martin, Rick Rubin, Quincy Jones, Bob Ezrin, men. I think that is pretty ridiculous. The reasons are myriad, but in this author’s view its source is sexism. The music business is a man’s world. Sure women can play instruments, sing, be song writers and occasionally occupied the C suite offices. But producing and engineering? That is a man’s world. Why? Because it is, or always has been.

 

The experts say among the reasons we don’t see women in the producer ranks is women don’t go into engineering or production and their absence means the producer ranks are filled with men. That’s a cop-out. It’s the same argument Neil Portnow used.

 

You see this in the computer tech industry (women see it in many industries) – you see this in science – the story of the African American women whose contribution to the US Space Industry was so entertainly presented in Hidden Figures was a hit movie. Women are viewed as more suited to wear an apron and stand over a hot stove. Did you know women own more restaurants in France than men but are hugely underrepresented in the arena of Michelin starred restaurants.

 

It’s a Man’s World

 

We have Larry Summers (his remarks made at a January 2005, Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research) stir the pot with his perceptions that a women’s nature doesn’t suit her for scientific or engineering jobs. He provoked his audience and whether or not he believed this is determined by your own bias.

 

Women behind the mixing desk – I found on the internet a list of women behind the mixing desk.  I quote from a great article:

 

Why are female record producers so rare?

By Mark SavageBBC News entertainment reporter

 

Here is Savage’s list of women behind the mixing desk.

 

  • Cordell Jackson founded her own record label, Moon Records, in 1956, and produced early rock'n'roll singles

  • Sylvia Robinson produced the hip-hop classic “Rapper's Delight”, for her own Sugarhill record label

  • Susan Rogers was the engineer on Prince's biggest albums, including Purple Rain and Sign ‘O’ the Times. She also worked with Crosby, Stills and Nash and Barenaked Ladies

  • Leanne Unger Produced and engineered seven albums for Leonard Cohen, and scores for TV shows such as The Wonder Years

  • Sally "Louder" Browder emerged from the California punk scene to make records with Rocket From The Crypt and Dwight Yoakam

  • Trina Shoemaker, winner of three Grammys, best known for her work with Sheryl Crow, Queens Of The Stone Age and Emmylou Harris

Ahead of this year’s 60th Grammy Awards ceremony, a new study published by The University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that more than 90 percent of Grammy nominees in the past six years have been male. Stacey Smith, co-author of the study — titled Inclusion in the Recording Studio? -- says there is an "epidemic of invisibility" in the music industry, particularly in songwriting and producing.

 

The #MeToo movement. It will beat a slow drumbeat in the music industry. The low percentages of women songwriters, and even lower percentages of women producers will affect how fast the industry will embrace change.

 

Music has been a male dominated world. Those in power always resist change. And in that world there are probably a dozen male songwriters with the clout to turn out consistent hits. I assert the change will not be seen in the Grammy’s or at the big labels but in the grass roots arena. Like the android David said in the movie Prometheus “Big things have small beginnings”. The tide will change from below and not the top. This fan is looking forward to the voyage.

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