No matter how many records Taylor Swift sells, the music industry is still a man’s game. With the percentage of female music producers and engineers hovering around 5%, decisions about the overall sound of your favorite songs are overwhelmingly dictated by men.
Gender Amplified wants to change that. Founded by Barnard College alum Ebonie Smith, the movement seeks to celebrate and support women in music production by fostering a “healthy dialogue about the role gender plays in the music making process.”
This September, they’re hosting their inaugural music festival at Barnard College, featuring live performances, panels, and instructional workshops meant to inspire the next generation of women behind the mixing table.
From editing and mixing tracks to determining the subtle changes required to transform a song into a hit, producers and sound engineers play a major part in crafting the music that consumers ultimately hear. And although plenty of high-profile female musicians exist, the presence of women in these technological and producorial roles remains remarkably weak. Male producers are often household names — like Timbaland, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, and George Martin, to name a few — but it can be difficult even for successful female producers to name other women in their field.
That’s where Gender Amplified comes in. As Smith commented, “I quickly found that there were a lot of great women doing this work, but that they were often isolated and marginalized within their own field.”
By empowering women to take more control of the final product, Smith hopes the movement will “give voice to a subculture of women who are using music technology to create their own music and perpetuate their unique identities.”
Where are all the female music producers?
Why aren’t there more women working as producers in the first place? There’s no definitive answer, but some of the few women who have made it in the industry say contributing factors include a lack of recognition for their achievements along with the perception that women are either not interested or simply incapable of the work required.
The problem is exacerbated by frequent industry assumptions that male producers have had a controlling hand in albums from female artists. In a statement on her personal website, Bjork highlighted the frustration caused by music journalists casually misattributing the production of an album to a man.
"It feel like still today, after all these years, people cannot imagine that woman [sic] can write, arrange or produce electronic music," she wrote.
Beyond failing to recognize women for their talents in an industry that is extremely difficult for anyone to break into, the lack of visibility of those who have already made it no doubt contributes to the inability to envision women in these roles. In a piece in the Nashville Scene, audio engineer and JamSync owner KK Proffitt commented, "Why aren't there more women producers? It's because of the mindset. If you have the mindset that somebody will never be that, you're not going to consider them for a gig.”
Smith believes it’s vital to bring female producers and engineers together, and to begin engaging more young women in music technology fields.
“There is power and agency in giving women the tools, technical skill and knowledge to record, playback and transmit their own stories,” she writes.
The importance of Gender Amplified extends beyond music, too, as the technical knowledge gained may spark interest in other typically male-dominated arenas. Smith writes, “[K]nowledge of advanced audio concepts such as digital signal theory, audio acoustics and sound design provides excellent applications for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It is my theory that music production can serve as a gateway toward igniting young girls’ interests in STEM professions.”
You can support the Gender Amplified Musical Festival today by donating to their Indiegogo campaign. Donations will go towards equipment rental, meals for festival participants, and workshop facilitators and performers, as well as fees and miscellaneous costs.