By Amanda Valentovic
The achievements of women in the music industry have been anything but few and far between. In 2015, Adele broke the record for most albums sold in the first week of release for her record “25,” – which was last broken 15 years prior by Britney Spears. Taylor Swift’s “1989” was the top-selling album of 2014 and five years before that, Katy Perry became the first female artist to have five songs from the same album top the Billboard charts, tying only Michael Jackson.
But those women did not write, produce and record that music by themselves. Even though they might be solo performers, they are not a one-man band. A whole team goes into writing even just one song. There are songwriters, producers, sound mixers, audio engineers and so many other jobs in the music industry that listeners might not even know about. These jobs are dominated by men, and the women who also do them tend to be overlooked.
According to the Women’s Audio Mission, a non-profit organization that provides access to women in the music production and technology fields, only five percent of people in the industry are women. The San Francisco based organization started when founder Terri Winston was the director of the recording arts program at the City College of San Francisco.
“We’re addressing two issues that we think are linked together: that less than five percent of the people shaping and creating all the sounds and messages in our lives are women, and there is a lack of women in science, technology, engineering and math fields,” Winston told the “San Francisco Chronicle” in September.
With classes and workshops that are held in actual recording studios, WAM is hoping to raise the number of women in the audio industry.
Laura Whitmore, a Hofstra graduate who has worked in music marketing for over 30 years, also linked the lack of women in audio to a shortage of women working in technology in general. “I think it starts probably in school when women are not always encouraged to follow those science type paths,” she says.
Whitmore also thinks the lifestyle of someone who works in audio might steer some women away. “When I was at Hofstra I actually did a certificate program outside the school in audio engineering, and I ended up doing an internship at a recording studio,” she says. “I decided that I didn’t want to go into that field because I didn’t want to be in a room all night at the whim of other musicians. The lifestyle of audio didn’t really appeal to me.”
Karrie Keyes, a cofounder of soundgirls.org, echoed Whitmore’s point about the lifestyle of an audio engineer. “Let’s face it, it is not a career choice for many. It’s hard work, long hours and lots of travel,” she says. Even though the traditional roles of women continue to change, many feel that they can’t commit to what the career path requires of them.
That’s only one point of view, though. There are plenty of women who have no issues with the lifestyle that the audio business requires – which is why Soundgirls exists in the first place.
Keyes cofounded Soundgirls with Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato. The nonprofit website is meant to be a safe haven for women in the industry where they can ask each other questions, learn about new projects and opportunities, look for advice and once a month profile a woman in their field.
Keyes is a sound guru herself, having been in the business since 1986. The Los Angeles native would run the sound systems for punk bands at live shows, and eventually became a monitor engineer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Since, she has worked with other iconic acts like Pearl Jam and Neil Young.
“It’s not something that is presented to women. First they have to find that they can do this. There are a lack of role models for young girls and women, and most people, regardless of gender, do not realize they can do these jobs.” Despite this, Keyes says the number of women has grown since she started. “There are many more women working now versus when I started in 1986.”
One way that has made it easier for women to work their way into audio is the technology that is available today. It’s possible for anyone with a laptop and a microphone to record a song in their own house and then mix and produce it themselves. While women can do everything that a sound engineer would do in a regular recording studio, the self-proficiency makes it easier to get their foot in the door.
“I think it’s made it easier for everyone, but I would say I think that there’s more women who are recording their own stuff,” says Whitmore.
While working in music, especially writing and producing songs, is a creative job, women who are business minded can also find something they love to do in the audio industry.
“The people that succeed in the audio industry are very entrepreneurial minded. You’re not going to get the typical staff job in that field, so if you’re somebody who wants to hustle and work for themselves and build something, it’s the kind of industry that you can succeed in,” Whitmore says. .
“I think with the proliferation there’s definitely more women playing instruments, there’s more women writers, but there’s got to be more women working on recording,” she says, adding, “There’s still a long way to go.”