Everybody, Everybody: Looking For Gender Equality Among Bristol Music Producers?

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Jasmine talks to female music producers in Bristol about industry sexism and collectives combatting it.

…the number of female producers is pretty shocking…

Bristol is full of music producers – a lot were born here, a lot moved here because of the city’s reputation. Although you still sometimes come across a ‘there’s something in the water’ type mysticism in articles about Bristol music, most people here agree that this city’s passion for electronic music has been inspired by a powerful legacy of sound system culture and a strong DIY ethic. Despite this high concentration of producers, the number of female producers is pretty shocking; trying to track down women to interview, I ended up with a list I could count on my fingers.

I visited Access to Music in Hengrove to speak to some women studying there about music production and to try to work out whether this imbalance is beginning to shift. Most of the women I met there were singers. It was striking how similar their experiences were when it came to collaborating with producers; they’ll get sent a track, asked to write something for it, maybe ‘something that has a slow, relaxed feel’ and the day the recording is finished is the day their involvement ends. I know this set up well; I remember going to a producer’s house to record something and being asked to make him a cup of tea, then being told that he’d finish the track after I left. I had no say in what happened to my vocals after that, and I was too nervous to challenge what was happening.

I remember going to a producer’s house to record something and being asked to make him a cup of tea…

The women I spoke to were worried about this too, ‘I don’t really know how to handle it… how much I can be involved’. In these kinds of collaborations, the singers are given the task of writing lyrics, melodies, maybe harmonies and recording their vocals. They are the experts in these things, and offer so much to these tracks, yet they often still don’t feel like they have much of a say in the process. If you know the story of Martha Wash’s ‘Everybody Everybody’ or Darlene Love’s ‘He’s Sure The Boy I Love’ you’ll know that this kind of dynamic has always been lurking in the culture of studio recording. It is alarming to see echoes of this culture making their way into DIY bedroom recording of Bristol’s new generation of producers.

If this is how some singers are made to feel when they know only they can bring their voice, their words, their musicality to the tracks they work on with others; it is no wonder that some women often feel dispirited and ‘questioned at every step’, or suffer men ‘slipping into judgement mode’ when they start producing their own tracks. Speaking to producers and sound engineers, we agreed that the more women begin to be visible in these fields the more women will be encouraged to join them.

Speaking to producers and sound engineers, we agreed that the more women begin to be visible in these fields the more women will be encouraged to join them.

I spoke to Emily, who’s studying Sound Engineering at Access to Music. She said, ‘You have to be brave to push yourself into those situations. Society doesn’t really push girls in those directions but I think more and more girls are starting to think, oh.. I can actually do this. When a track is finished it feels so good. I think it does take a lot of trial and error to get this stuff right, you’ve got to be not scared of failing… you’ve got to be up for getting it wrong before you can get it right.’

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Although it feels like there is a lot of work to be done here, it has been encouraging to see the rapid rise of a number of Bristol born initiatives that are working hard to strengthen our network of female DJs, producers and sound engineers. BWIM and Intervention have been organising amazing workshops for those who want to learn to mix. 6 months after finishing a BWIM Mix Nights course, Amii Little and Ngaio Anyia were booked to DJ at Glastonbury. I was on the course with them and I know most if not all of us have been playing sets regularly since. It is such a good feeling to walk into a club and see someone you learnt side by side with playing the tunes they love and getting payed for it. The impact of these workshops is undeniable.

Female youth record label Saffron Records has been steadily growing the number of projects it is running to tackle gender imbalance in the music industry, from label to co-working space (Saffron Space) to Music Tech school.

I spoke to founder Laura Lewis-Paul about their work. ‘I used to run Temple Records as part of the Creative Youth network,’ she told me. ‘I remember talking to some girls at a recording studio about how they felt working in a male dominated industry and they were like , “surely we’ll get noticed for being a woman” my heart sank… That’s not necessarily how it goes, you probably have to work a lot harder being a woman, and through experiences of being a black woman and how hard you have to work on top of that, I knew I wanted to be able to make something that was supportive and an alternative option for young women in this industry.’

I knew I wanted to be able to make something that was supportive and an alternative option for young women in this industry.

Saffron recently launched Saffron For Sound, a series of workshops for aspiring 16-24 year old sound engineers and music producers. Laura went on one of these courses herself.

‘We learnt about mixing tracks,’ she said. ‘Forming structures, layering up, dynamics, plugins, there was a lot to learn. I had so many ideas of what I wanted to produce, I’ve got really eclectic tastes, so first of all I was like I really love manipulated and remixed old school RnB, so I brought in some samples and started slowing them down (chopped and screwed!) At the end of the course, I’m not a massive house fan but I came out with a banging house track! It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it helped me to get really inspired. I listened to Song Exploder a lot, it’s a podcast talking to artists about how they build their tracks. I got completely obsessed with it. it completely changed the way I listened to music and thought about sound, everything becomes the potential to be put into a creative process.. felt like I wanted to have a dictaphone on me all the time.’

The next wave of Saffron for Sound music production and sound engineering courses have just been announced, find out more here and email info@saffronrecords.co.uk to book your place, there are concessions and bursaries available.

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