Ebonie Smith: Why Are Female Music Producers Everywhere, Yet So Invisible? (Guest Column)
Women music producers are... EVERYWHERE!
In 2006, when I started producing records in my dorm room at Barnard College, I wondered, "Are there other women like me out there, women who yearn to produce records and use music technology to express themselves?"
Led by my curiosity, I did the logical thing… I Googled "female music producers." I learned about women like Trina Shoemaker, DJ Cocoa Chanelle, DJ Jazzy Joyce and Wendy & Lisa, all of whom had credits on prominent label releases. That was 2006! So when Billboard recently published the article entitled "Where Are All the Female Music Producers?," I was disappointed. As a professional engineer/producer and the founder of Gender Amplified, Inc., I decided to speak up.
First, I would like to answer the article's title by publishing a list of nearly 100 women music producers (included below). I would also like to highlight some amazing women's organizations, such as Women's Audio Mission, SoundGirls, Gender Amplified, Inc., Girls Make Beats, Female Frequency and others that are aggressively working to balance gender-based inequities in studios and in the audio industry at large. And finally, I would argue that a better question to ask is: "Why Are Female Music Producers Everywhere, Yet So Invisible?"
In 2011, when DJ Diamond Kuts scored a Billboard Hot 100 single for producing "Stupid Hoe" by Nicki Minaj, I was perplexed by how little attention she received. In 2015, I watched as Travis Scott's single, "Antidote," shot to the top of the charts. It was produced by WondaGurl, a teenager who had already been awarded a Grammy for her work on JAY-Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail. Yet she still lacks the visibility of her male peers such as Metro Boomin, Zaytoven and DJ Mustard. And when I learned that Nova Wav, a Grammy Award-winning female production team, produced Kehlani's single "Crazy," I shouted their praises from the rooftops. I continue to be surprised by how few people know about these producers, despite their chart-topping success.
Why are women's accomplishments in music production and technology being ignored? Why are they not receiving the same recognition for their contributions as their male peers? One reason is that many women producers do not always receive the full public support of the artists they produce. Pharrell Williams's public endorsement of Maggie Rogers in 2016 resulted in instant virality and acclaim when he praised her work at a student seminar hosted by the Clive Davis Institute at NYU. And it is particularly alarming that more female artists do not publicly praise the women with whom they work. There are artists like Janelle Monáe, Milck and Madame Gandhi who actively acknowledge their female collaborators, but more established artists should do the same.
However, even though there are many women producers, it is clear that there is still a long road ahead for women to achieve true balance in the recording world. Education and mentorship are integral to the development of women producers. And the importance of safe spaces where girls and women can learn about music production is critical. In Brown University professor Tricia Rose's 1994 analysis of hip-hop studio culture, Black Noise: Rap Music & Black Culture in Contemporary America, she explained that "young women were not especially welcome in male social spaces where technological knowledge is shared. Today's studios are extremely male-dominated spaces where technological discourse merges with a culture of male bonding that inordinately problematizes female apprenticeship." As a result, many girls start their journey in music production later than their male counterparts, if at all, because of a lack of encouraging studio environments, access to specialized equipment and fewer mentors in their developing years.
Rose goes on to suggest that, "One of the ways around these deterrents is to create female-centered studio spaces." In my position as the head engineer and producer at Atlantic Records' in-house studio in New York City, I have provided internship opportunities to deserving and driven young women enrolled in various college music programs across the country. I have learned that it is wrong to argue that a lack of interest accounts for why there are fewer women producers than men. I receive an enormous amount of correspondence each month from young women who are aggressively seeking internships and professional advancement in music production. The women-founded audio organizations I noted earlier and others are tirelessly working to combat inequality by providing studio time, mentorship and professional development opportunities for young women. This STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, "Art" and Mathematics) approach to female development not only fosters gender balance for the music business, but for society at large.
Merely questioning the state of gender-based inequality in the recording world fails to acknowledge the women who are accomplishing so much and fails to offer real solutions to achieving balance. As we continue this conversation around women music producers, we have to do a better job of spotlighting the community of women producers who are EVERYWHERE and to do everything we can to grow that community today and in the years ahead.
To illustrate, here are just few female producers everyone should know:
Dot (Kate Ellwanger)
R Y A T
Georgia Ann Muldrow
Pri Tha Honeydark
Running In The Fog
Camille Gainer Jones
Feral Is Kinky
Fatima Al Qadiri
Wendy & Lisa
Maya Jane Coles
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Ebonie Smith is currently an audio engineer, producer and studio coordinator at Atlantic Records’ in-house recording studio in New York City, where she has worked on Grammy-winning recordings such as Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) and Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Ebonie is also the founder and president of Gender Amplified, Inc., a non-profit organization that celebrates and supports women and girls in music production. She holds a master's degree in music technology from New York University and an undergraduate degree from Barnard College, Columbia University.