Producer Girls: Eradicating sexism in the music industry

Photo credit: Vicky Grout for The Fader

Usually, when you think of a music producer – you usually think of a male, right? It’s usually a dude, probably wearing a beanie or a cap (they always seem to be wearing hats, for some reason), with his hand clasped around his jaw area, thinking pensively.

Think this analogy is bullshit? Well, dear reader, I wrote this out with purely just the words ‘music producer’ in mind, and then googled the same phrase, and then clicked Images.

Keep my description in mind.

Music producer: Male, pensive, hat.

This is sixth image that comes up:

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Here’s the screenshot of what comes up when you google ‘music producer,’ so you have proof that I am, in fact, not shitting you about this.

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READ IT AND WEEP. The most popular photos in the world’s most used search engine, when you search up ‘music producer,’ throws up in the first 10 pictures – seven pictures of males behind the sound boards. See what I mean about the hat thing, too? There’s six hats in those pictures.

This past month, the team behind Producer Girls were able to hold another beginners music production workshop in Glasgow. What these workshops do is allow for the female participants to receive guidance from established (female) music producers and artists.

It also allows participants access to free software, courtesy of both FL Studio, which is a complete software music production environment and Ableton, a company which makes hardware and software for music production, creation and performance.

The project was born out of non-hat (probably) related frustration by London-based music producer and DJ, E.M.M.A.

“I started it because i was quite frustrated with the industry and how it interacted with me. the music “industry” (if you can call it that)  – wasn’t a very friendly place and it’s quite difficult to navigate. on top of that, all my interactions were with men. while some of them are great, some of them aren’t. some of them are very difficult to deal with and have an ingrained superiority complex because they subconsciously think electronic music is their space. this doesn’t make it a very welcoming place for women.”

She also went onto talk more about what happened at the most recent workshop, held in SWG3, where she teamed up with Glasgow-based DJ, Nightwave.

“She took the lead in our Glasgow workshops as she’s got the local knowledge of how the scene works and what the likely barriers are to women getting involved in production. In both workshops, everyone brings their own laptop and we walk them through the process of making an electronic track.

Music production is a self taught discipline really, although most people get started because a friend shows them the ropes. But if you don’t know anyone who can show you how to get started, online tutorials are long and boring and often a turn off.

So we show them the way we do things, so they can go off and explore further. The second session included more talking – i.e. me and Nightwave talking about our experiences of the industry as well as the practical/technical stuff. I think it’s important to give people the tools but also the context of what it’s like out there if you want to get on.

For example, there’s a misconception that you need a “label” or someone else’s platform to get started – when you don’t. You’re better off starting your own label and building your own scene.”

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What is so inspiring about this project is that, by holding these workshops, they are opening doors that probably felt closed off these women before.

I spoke to one 20-year-old Marie Coyle, who briefly studied HND Sound Production at Glasgow Kelvin College in 2016, spoke about her experience as of the 4 females in that course. She had originally studied Media and Communication, and after 4 months of trying out Sound Production, she moved back to her original course.

“It was so daunting walking into a class full of boys, trying to prove yourself as a student within the course; never mind as a female student. All course tutors were male, the majority of references to musicians were male musicians and the majority of the class was male.”

What I want to ask, is how then, is how is Marie, and what I can imagine are many, many other girls like her, supposed to feel like there is any room for her in this type of industry, if that is what she is faced with just at an educational level?

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As this above graph will show you, time and time again — it is majority male students who are choosing to study up music technology courses. I would argue then, in the case like Marie’s, does she feel as if it’s a boy’s club, and not a place for her? She also spoke to me about the hostility she received:

“I had a guy in my class repeatedly ask questions surrounding the course and the entry requirements, like, “how I got in, and he didn’t?”

I don’t know if the negativity was pure jealousy or did stem from my being a female being accepted into a male dominant course, as opposed to him being a male and having who had been rejected.

However, after attending for a few weeks, I got question after question, asking if the course was male dominant and how that made me feel, asking questions like “Do I feel out of my depth?”

When I returned back to studying media a few months later, the same guy who questioned me basically told me he knew I wouldn’t last and how he would’ve been much better in the course as opposed to me as he would’ve ‘tried to get on with everybody.’”

I don’t think this is a case that Marie didn’t try — it’s a case that clearly, there is a case of toxic masculinity that’s rearing it’s ugly head. How could Marie, a female, possibly ever be accepted into this course? Why not a male, instead? Someone, who clearly must be more capable – because they are male.

But really, think about it. The reason he thinks this circles back to my hat point, and to what Marie said before. When you think of music producer – you see a man. When you go to the class, you get male references. So as ignorant and shitty as that guy was being, he has been conditioned to this think this way – because the correlation between ‘man’ and ‘production’ is clear.

Women need to be equipped with the skills first, in order to feel comfortable enough to get behind the decks and show the boys how it’s done. Projects like Producer Girls will then be able to create non-male dominated environments for girls to learn and grow as producers and musicians. Girls, like Marie, are finally be able see representation of people of their gender, who are also confident and excelling in their field.

This is what makes the Producer Girls project feel like something that the music industry has been crying out for. It feels like a step in the right direction. It feels like finally, my god, we might actually be able to encourage young women to actively making and producing their own music.

Someone who has experience with this, is one Liam Gourlay, his moniker is just Gourlay. Though male, I wanted perspective from someone who has experience making, producing and then playing his tracks to an audience. He is one of the residents of an underground house music fixture in Glasgow, Mindset.

Mindset has been active since May 2016, and runs regular club nights in Glasgow music venues such as Broadcast, La Cheetah and Indigo Room as well as “occasional secret parties in intimate spaces”. I want to ask Liam what he thinks about the gender representation in the underground house music scene.

“There’s a good few very well known female artists from Glasgow; Rebecca Vasmant & Nightwave to name a couple. There are a few other female artists who I’ve heard of who do well for themselves too.

We had Lisalööf warm up for our 1st Birthday party in June and she’s pencilled in for our Christmas party, too. We get her to play due to her skills as a DJ, not because she’s a girl, just like we don’t book other people just because they are males. We book people on their own merit. That’s how it should be.

Personally, I don’t feel there is gender equality in our scene. I think generally there’s just a lot more guys involved than there is girls – but I don’t think it’s because anyone thinks guys are better than girls, there’s just not an equal balance in the number of each sex doing things and that’s the reality of it, really.”

But has he heard of Producer Girls?

“Yeah I have actually! I think it’s a great platform for any female wanting to get any help they require with the workshops that they put on. I’m sure they do it for both producing and for DJ-ing. I would have been grateful for an opportunity like that so I hope people take advantage of it.”

In a now unavailable audio file that is posted on the Producer Girls website, E.M.M.A wrote about talking with LA-based music producer Alluxe, to which their conversation concluded with the sentiment: “work your ass off, build your own empire, be brave, learn your craft and most importantly, find your own voice and give yourself the space to be unique.”

It feels that with the very existence of Producer Girls, and hopefully with it’s continuation – that young women everywhere can feel like they can, and will: work their asses off, build their own empires, be brave, learn their craft, find their own voices and thrive in spaces; as women, who have every damn right to be there.

By Alisa Wylie