Over the past few years, it looks like women are dominating the music industry. From Adele to Beyonce, these superstars apparently can’t leave their studios without recording a hit single. Yet on the other side of the sound booth, the story can’t be more different. Award winning music producer and audio engineer Ebonie Smith strives to shake up the industry with Gender Amplified, a movement celebrating and supporting women music producers and engineers.
There are so few female producers and audio engineers in music production, that nobody bothers to count. Since 1974, only six women have been nominated for Producer of the Year at the Grammy Awards.
Everyone likes to quote the convenient statistic that claims only 5 percent of the people working in audio production are women. But even that number was an old estimate made by the Women in Audio Committee of the Audio Engineering Society back in 2000 when a budding future producer Grimes had only just hit puberty. Till today the actual number of women working in music production remains a mystery that is more intriguing than an actual unicorn sighting
Despite the overwhelming odds, there is a small but growing badass group of female producers who are working actively to dismantle the stereotypes about women in music. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, the once aspiring basketballer Ebonie Smith chose music over sports in college and there is no turning back since. Now she is an audio engineer and producer for Atlantic Records in New York and has worked with the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Santigold, much to our envy.
Ebonie Smith is also the Founder and President of Gender Amplified, Inc, a nonprofit organisation that celebrates women in music production, raises their visibility and develops a pipeline for girls and young women to get involved behind the scenes as music producers. The movement started out as a senior thesis paper, way back when she was studying at the Barnard College in New York.
Inspired by music producers such as Leon Ware, WondaGurl, and Mark Ronson, Ebonie built a studio in her dorm room where she was producing music all the time. She began to wonder: Are there any women like me out there? Motivated, she set out to find them and built her thesis around identifying and interviewing these women.
After she heard their stories, Ebonie felt that she had to share them with rest of the world. This led to the first Gender Amplified conference and the rest they say is history. 2017 is an exciting year for Ebonie and Gender Amplified as they are in the process of raising money for another festival and organising workshops, panels and showcases for other female producers and engineers.
Recently we caught up with this very busy music producer who sent us amazing photos of her taken at the studio. Visual representation is very important as we need to start visualising women producers and engineers at work in the actual recording studio. So join us and find out the roles of music producers, how Ebonie wants to address the lack of women in the industry and what is it like working with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Santigold.
TT: HOW DO YOU BECOME A MUSIC PRODUCER AND AUDIO ENGINEER? WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO JOIN THE INDUSTRY?
Originally, I wanted to go to the WNBA and spent much of my youth playing basketball. However, I had this latent interest in getting into music. Once I started college, I started a work-study job as an audio/visual technologist on campus (Barnard College, Columbia University). This job exposed me to live sound, basic recording, and sound reinforcement technologies. It also gave me access to recording gear. I started experimenting with recording my own music, and I fell in love with making my own recordings. The rest is history!
TT: TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR JOB AS AN IN-HOUSE PRODUCER/ENGINEER FOR ATLANTIC RECORDS IN NEW YORK CITY.
My job at Atlantic Records encompasses three main areas:
1) Engineering: Recording, Mixing and Mastering recording sessions that come through the space.
2) Production: Working with the artists on original demos, songs, and tracks that end up being released commercially on albums or as singles.
3) Administrative: Working to make sure that the studio runs efficiently on a daily basis. This can often mean sending lots of emails and being the liaison between the artists, artist management, labels and studio.
TT: WHAT IT IS LIKE TO WORK ON THE HAMILTON RECORDINGS? HOW IS SANTIGOLD LIKE IN THE STUDIO?
Working on Hamilton taught me that I could make meaningful music, touch the masses and profit. It is always a pleasure to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s super inclusive, uber smart and very intentional about his art and its place in culture.
Working with Santigold was amazing. She is very creative and particular about capturing her sound as she envisions it. She brought in several other engineers and producers who I learned a lot from during this process.
TT: WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ALBUM?
My favorite album of all time is I Want You by Marvin Gaye. It was produced and written by Leon Ware, who recently passed. The songs on this project are well-written, and the musicians really achieved amazing arrangements. It’s a classic.
TT: WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE MUSIC PRODUCERS?
Leon Ware. WondaGurl. Mark Ronson. Willi Colón. Salaam Remi. Clams Casino. Flying Lotus. Sylvia Massey. Paul Rothchild.
TT: HOW DID GENDER AMPLIFIED COME ABOUT? WHY DO YOU WANT TO START A MOVEMENT TO CELEBRATE AND SUPPORT FEMALE PRODUCERS?
Gender Amplified started as a senior thesis paper when I was in school at Barnard College. I built a studio in my dorm room, and I was producing music all the time. I wondered if there were other women like me out there, so I set out to find them. I built my thesis around identifying and interviewing these women.
Once I identified all these amazing women producers and heard their stories, I felt like others should hear their stories as well. The first Gender Amplified conference and all of our subsequent events have aimed to fulfill this mission.
Today Gender Amplified is a nonprofit organization. Gender Amplified is important because women music producers need to have their narratives highlighted for the purposes of building community among women, inspiring younger generations of girls to pursue music production, and celebrating the women whose great work is being overlooked by the traditional music industry.
TT: WHY DO YOU THINK THAT THEY ARE SO FEW FEMALE AUDIO PRODUCERS IN THE INDUSTRY? HOW CAN WE IMPROVE THE SITUATION?
Many factors (social, cultural and psychological) affect why there are fewer women in STEM professions (science, technology engineering, and mathematics). Our job as change-makers is to identify these factors and work to create balance. I have identified that education, a lack of women role models and fewer professional opportunities affect the presence of women in audio engineering and music production roles. We can better the situation by improving outreach to girls during the formative years to ensure that they know that engineering is a viable career path for them.
TT: WHAT ARE THE UPCOMING PROJECTS FOR GENDER AMPLIFIED IN 2017? ARE YOU BRINGING BACK THE GENDER AMPLIFIED MUSIC FESTIVAL?
Another Festival is on the way! We are in the process of raising money for our next major Festival event. At the moment we have an audio engineering and production workshop planned for April 8th, 2017 in partnership with Art Girl Army.
In partnership with Pushing Buttons Collective, we are co-sponsoring an All-Female Live Instrumental Showcase on March 23rd, 2017 in NYC.
Finally, in partnership with The Dialogue Series, we will be co-sponsoring a Women in Music panel at the Wix Lounge in NYC, also on March 23rd, 2017.
TT: WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE WITH GENDER AMPLIFED?
I hope to inspire as many women and girls as possible to take up the challenge of working in music production!
TT: ANY UP AND COMING MUSIC PRODUCERS WHOM WE SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR?
Laura Escudé (Alluxe)