5 Music Producers Killing the Game*
*Who happen to be female.
Whose your favorite male vocalist female producer duo? How about just your favorite female producer? No one comes to mind? This may not be surprising, as the beat making scene has historically been a boys club. The pairing of female vocalists and male producers is as prevalent as hi-hat rolls in a Drake song.
The most up to date stats read that only 5-10% of music producer are female. And in fact, no woman has ever won the Gammy’s Producer of the Year award in a non-classical section (grr). This is not a reflection of the quality of work that women are producing, but the inclination of women to lean into (or be pushed into) performance roles instead of the technical ones. It’s a chicken and egg situation: women stay out of production roles because it’s a man’s world, and in turn we have less females eligible for the award, female producers remain undetected, and the cycle continues.
To dispel notions that women aren’t competent in the technical side of things, and to provide strong female role models for aspiring producers, we must spotlight successful female producers. Here are 5 ladies who are helping to break the patriarchal cycle.
Syd tha Kyd
Syd is the producer, singer, songwriter and frontwoman of neo-soul group The Internet. At 14 she decided she’d rather be taking credit for her favorite songs than listening to them, and proceeded to set up a studio in her home to work on songwriting and sound engineering. She then became a DJ and engineer for the LA hip hop collective Odd Future. Syd said she grew up like one of the boys, and never felt discriminated against in the band because they don’t judge each other based on gender. That’s tight. She shared in a recent interview that she’s grateful to be an inspiration for aspiring producers: “I’m glad that I can inspire other people to be comfortable in their own skin.”
Claire Elise Boucher, stage name Grimes, is a Canadian producer with influences ranging from electronica and pop to R&B and medieval music. Grimes started producing after getting in the studio to do backing vocals for a friend. She then started learning garageband from a friend in exchange for food and began writing her own music. When she began to record with male producers in the studio, she confronted music industry sexism when they wouldn’t let her edit her own songs. Angered, she took control and now undertakes every step of production. Grimes spoke to Rolling Stone about how she was pushed into performing, not production, roles as a youngster: ”Everyone thought it was so important for me to have a band. That’s a traditional way of thinking about a female vocalist. I’m definitely a vocalist second to anything else. I’m a producer first. If I went on American Idol, I would definitely be kicked out immediately. I’m a passable singer, but I definitely cannot chill with a piano player and sing a ballad and have people be impressed.” Grimes tours internationally and is actually a wizard.
Jennifer Lee is a LA native (word up) and classically trained pianist. She studied business in college, but started beat making and attending workshops by Project Blowed and Low End Theory in college. In 2010, she became the first female to join Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label. She also was rated the LA times #1 hottest lady DJ (note to the LA Times—“hottest” may not be the best descriptor for females wishing to be seen past their looks and gender). TOKiMONSTA says that her “biggest obstacle was and is to overcome people’s disbelief that it could be done — you know, be a girl, Asian, and a fairly good producer. Generally speaking, the belief I go by is that it shouldn’t matter if I am a female or Asian because it should just be about the music. Of course, reality doesn’t work that way.” Props to this badass lady for wading through the bullshit and making killer music.
Wondagurl (Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde) is another Canadian who shot onto the scene. She started producing at age 9 with a piano and drum pads, and at 15 won the 2012 Battle of the Beat Makers competition in Toronto. Since then, she’s gone on to work with Travis Scott and has produced music for Drake and Jay Z. She’s one of the youngest female producers to be credited on a platinum hip-hop album. At a recent music industry event, she recalls speaking with Jill Scott, who reminded her to stand up for herself as a woman in the music industry. Wondagurl says that “before all of the beat battle stuff I thought there were a lot of female producers. Now that I am in the industry, I see that there are none. It would be great to see more females in the game. You are never too young to just do it.” Nothing but a bright future in store for this one.
Merrill Garbus is a New York native. She comes from a musical family and played ukulele as a kid. After studying theater in college, she moved to Oakland in 2009 to pursue music and be with her musical partner in the duo tUnE-yArDs. Merrill acknowledges her privilege as a white, college educated female with a relative degree of financial security, but has still faced the same insecurities that plague many female musicians. Not being formally trained, she felt an “aversion towards technology and to the technical parts of making music.” She has overcome these insecurities with time and patience, and recommends that young musicians “Keep playing. Don’t worry about what you don’t know and what you think you’re supposed to sound like,” and to “Play what you want to hear.” Merrill hosts a monthly radio show, CLAW (Collaborative Legion of Artful Women). After heads of the 4AD label to which she is signed couldn’t find one female producer for her to work with, the necessity to bring women to the forefront of the music industry really hit home. The show features an original song from two female artists every week, and emphasizes the importance of female collaboration.
After finishing the music production semester at Beat Lab, I was reflecting to a male friend about my accomplishments throughout the course and my vision for the future, to which he replied “Awesome! Now all you need to do is find a producer!” Eye *fucking* roll. The expectation that women are to perform, men are to produce is alive and well, folks.
So, ladies, let’s keep killin’ the game and supporting our fellow sisters. Make like an 808 and kick ASS.
Want to meet other beat ladies in LA?
December 11th in Santa Monica join Beats By Girlz at their #WIMinTechLA – Voices of the Community event. Come chill with industry professionals, hear presentations, ignite conversations, and give the silent auction and raffle a shot. It’s free, but RSVP here.
Also, look out for events by the Athena Collective. We’re a group of ladies producers dedicated to connecting, inspiring and empowering female DJs and producers across the globe. Workshops are held at at the Beat Lab and beyond, so to stay up to date, follow us on Facebook.