These days, singer-songwriter, producer and DJ Tiffany Miranda boasts a star-studded client list including DJ Khaled, Rick Ross and Fat Joe, not to mention appearances on American Idol and X Factor. But despite her success, the Miami native won’t forget the times she’s been mistaken for an assistant, or — worse — an artist’s girlfriend.
It’s a common story for women in the male-dominated music industry, and one Miranda’s nonprofit organization, Girls Make Beats, aims to break down.
“It was always so strange for people to come in and be like, ‘where’s the engineer?’ And I’m like, ‘you’re looking at her,'” Miranda says. “My hope would be for [other women] to never, ever have to experience even half the stuff that I went through.”
With this hope in mind, Miranda founded Girls Make Beats in 2012, which helps young girls ages 8 through 17 hone skills in DJ-ing, music production and audio engineering through summer camps, educational seminars and other programs. This summer, the South Florida-based organization will partner with the SAE Institute to host beat-making and DJ workshops in six cities across the U.S, kicking off in Atlanta on July 3.
Ahead of the summer tour — which also hits Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami — we caught up with Miranda to talk overcoming sexism in the industry, her biggest musical role models and her steadfast belief in knowledge as power.
For more information and to register for the summer tour, visit Girls Make Beats online here.
You got your start as a recording artist at just 15 years old, with Luke Records. What early experiences can you share about being a young woman in the music industry?
Finding my voice, a lot of the direction I was getting was coming from men. “Oh, wear this, sing it like this, do this, be more seductive.” I was like, “okay, this isn’t really me.”
I did an internship at what was B.o.B’s studio at the time. I tried to sit in on sessions, but I kept on getting pushed to do paperwork. I always teach my girls that there’s nothing wrong with rolling up your sleeves and doing the dirty work. It’s definitely necessary, but I also felt like I was getting treated unfairly, whereas I saw guys who were progressing and getting to sit in on sessions, and they came in after me. I’m like, “wait, I’m putting in my work, when am I going to get my chance?”
How did you overcome industry sexism, or at least try to rise above it?
I was frustrated at some point, and I was like, “you know what? I’m just going to get my own stuff.” The producers that I was working with at the time, were Cool & Dre, and they were just getting their start. I just looked at all the equipment they had, and I was like, “okay, they have a Fantom F-88, I need one of those…” I saved every little penny, I worked overtime, and I got the same keyboard Cool & Dre had. The next step was taking the time to learn it. At that time, YouTube wasn’t really existent, so I would take the bus to the Barnes and Nobles on 88th Street [in Miami], and read.
When I eventually stuck with it, I felt like I had to be that much better [than the male staffers]. I went and got my certification, and eventually I was able to improve, and I became an in-house engineer with SoBe Records. It was always so strange for people to come in and be like, “where’s the engineer?” And I’m like, “you’re looking at her.” They’re like, “what? You know how to use Pro Tools?” It would blow their minds.
How did you go from there to founding Girls Make Beats?
I was like, this has to change. I became very passionate about trying to create an avenue. Little girls, they love making beats, they love DJing, they love editing and audio engineering. They’re just a) not exposed to it, b) if they are exposed to it, it’s not a comfortable environment, because they’re normally the only girl. So a lot of the reason why we’re here is to be an answer for a lot of those problems. To create an environment where we’re specifically targeting girls. It’s for them.
When you think about culture at large, culture is driven by music, a lot of the time. If that is the main component of culture, and music production is a main component of music, and women are not present in that very initial component that is so important, then what are we really doing? That’s why this organization is more of a movement than it is just classes for these girls.
What is it like for you to work with these girls? Has any experience with a student touched you in particular?
One that comes to mind, she’s 12 [years old], but she came to us initially when she was 11. She sings, that’s her thing, she loves to sing. The first day I met her, she was literally hiding behind her dad’s legs. I was like, “can you sing something for us?” She literally looked down at the floor and started crying. But she took the class, and she’s transformed completely. This little girl is the first one like, “everybody put your hands up in the air!” Knowing that we were not only able to help her in building a technical skill that she could use, and a creative skill, but just to help her as an individual, and really grow as a person, to come out of her shell — for me, that is the most overwhelming, most fulfilling part of it.
It’s great for me to show an 8-year-old how to use a DJ controller. But to me, it’s more impactful than that. It’s empowering her to say, “hey, I have a voice, I can make a difference. I can make beats.”
Who do you see as role models for young girls in the music industry today?
I grew up loving Alicia Keys. She, to me, was amazing. She is a female producer, she plays an instrument, even with her whole movement of not wearing makeup. I still wear makeup, but trying to show girls, hey, you don’t need to give in to what society tells you is beautiful. I really respect that, and I love the message that she’s putting out.
I also think Alessia Cara is a great inspiration for young girls, along those same lines of talking about positive things. Music is such a vehicle to have an impact on culture. Not everybody uses it the right way — or even uses it. I feel like both of them really use [music] as a positive tool to make a positive impact.
What advice would you give to young girls interested in the music industry?
At the end of the day, knowledge is power. And we have so much accessibility to it these days. We have smartphones, almost everybody has access to the internet. You can choose to use it to go on Instagram, or you can read tutorials. Or watch videos. There’s so much wealth of knowledge out there, that if you have the desire to learn, it’s literally at your fingertips. I try to be a big advocate with that, with the girls. Download some music apps, download some interval ear training, or some music theory apps, or some beat-making apps, DJ apps. I try to instill that in them from early on.