How women in audio are combating the gender imbalance in the industry

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With only 3% of audio production professionals being women, this is far from a level playing field, and the music industry so often overlooks.

A study from the University of Southern California, as part of their Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s annual report which was updated earlier this year, clearly shows that there is not much to celebrate in this regard. which concerns the acceptance and advancement of women working as audio producers and engineers.

These statistics highlight that besides only 3% of female producers, only 21.6% of artists and 12.6% of songwriters are women, demonstrating how women are lacking in all areas of the creative process. music.

A driver of entertainment and sometimes social change, the music industry has always pushed the boundaries of societal norms and yet, does little to provide opportunities for women who wish to work behind the scenes.

“I think this perception of the industry and the nature of boys’ clubs making it a fairly unattractive space for women to enter and maintain in the long term.”

Xylo Aria is an artist, producer and founder of Music Production for Women. A pioneer in the fight against gender disparities within the industry, her organization aims to educate and empower women to take their first steps in production. She says:

If we think about the impression we have of the industry over the past decades… the positions of power from artist managers to label directors were almost entirely held by men and the objectification of women was part of the operation. Of the industry.

Factors of inequality

One of the main drivers of this inequality, as Aria pointed out, has been decades of objectification and harassment faced by women working in the industry. Not only is there an essence of wrestling to be taken seriously, but also the experience of unwavering sexual advances or degrading comments – a potentially unsustainable environment to support any form of career longevity.

According to Independent digital music distribution company TuneCore, which worked with MIDiA Research to release its 2021 survey, said nearly two in three creators, producers and engineers identified sexual harassment as a major challenge. In turn becoming one of the most widely disclosed issues.

The survey explores how issues of sexual harassment and objectification are the consequence of deeper issues rooted in the industry, most importantly the imbalanced power dynamics. The survey says:

“These major challenges are symptomatic of deeper issues of systemic male dominance that permeate the attitudes and behaviors of the industry; over 90% of our respondents said they had experienced unconscious bias. “

This comes at a time when the releases of new musical equipment only fuel such disparities in treatment.

In May, a new plugin was released featuring a hypersexualized “anime” woman on the front. Nani is a warp plugin and as the user increases control of the player, the female UI character begins to undress, eventually becoming completely naked on her top half.

Its release has met mixed reviews on online platforms, with many calling its function disrespectful.

Youtuber White Sea Studio was among those who criticized the plugin, saying: “I have spoken to many talented female engineers, ‘What is it like to be a female engineer in the audio industry? Literally, everyone is saying it, there is no respect for us and a plug-in like Nani proves it.

This further calls into question how working conditions and better opportunities for women in audio production and engineering can improve when equipment releases are somewhat exclusive for male use while they are covered with hypersexualized female images.

Last week, new allegations were also made the subject of new allegations against synthesizer giant Moog by a former employee, who is suing the company for “Extensive misogyny, discrimination and even physical aggression”.

Hannah Green, a former employee, recently revealed to her local newspaper, The Asheville Blade, that she would sue the company for discriminatory acts and seek $ 1.1 million in damages.

This narrative is still all too familiar when it comes to the male-dominated field of audio engineering, where sexist jokes and the “boy club” attitude are seemingly welcome in these workplaces of the world. ‘industry. Aria shares:

“Women often talk about needing thick skin to survive in the industry, but I’m sure it gets tiring after a while no matter how much you love the product.”

Clearly these experiences act as a preventative measure for women developing sustainable careers in industry, but Aria also points out that the lack of role models and exposure to female influences working in production are also symptomatic of the imbalance between sexes.

I know that personally I couldn’t even fathom the idea of ​​myself as a producer for an incredibly long time and I think one of the reasons was that by looking into the industry I just didn’t saw no one I could really relate to. So I think it’s important to have female role models that young girls can admire in this space. “

As in many STEM-oriented fields, engineering and audio production are dominated by men, which opens up another factor of inequality as exposure to this training is not advertised or aimed at young women.

According to the National Industry Data Report released on May 3, looking at Australia girls’ and women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and math, they found that women made up less than a quarter of students studying STEM. Although these statistics have increased since 2015 by 2%, the numbers are still disproportionately low compared to students male counterparts.

Among other key takeaways, five years after graduation, men with a STEM qualification were 1.8 times more likely to work in a STEM-skilled profession than their female peers. The gender pay gap also remains large in these industries, higher than the national average. In STEM-skilled industries, the gap was $ 28,994 in 2020, compared to $ 25,534 in other fields.

When numbers like this pop up, it’s no surprise that there is such a gender imbalance in audio fields, with many women feeling helpless to run for such roles.

Stand up for change

However, this is where a whole host of initiatives come in to shake things up and provide the opportunities that girls and women interested in audio have been waiting for.

Similar to Aria’s Women’s Music Production, which aims to create an empowering educational space for women entering audio production, other organizations have supported the same issue. Together, they are fighting to achieve greater equality and safer working environments for all women engineers and sound technicians.

One of those longtime supporters is the Women’s Audio Mission, founded in San Francisco. For the past 16 years, they have been the only professional recording studio in the world built and operated solely by women and non-conforming people to attract women, girls and non-binary individuals into the fields of STEM technology and creative.

Photo: Women’s audio mission

SoundGirls.org recently launched its Australian branch to its already visionary organization, with the aim of inspiring the next generation of audio technicians, seeking to expand opportunities for girls and women and share knowledge through cooperation, collaboration and diversity.

And earlier this year, Spotify launched its global initiative named ‘The Equal Commitment ”, dedicated to promoting equity in industry and promoting women’s contributions. The platform will provide a space in which listeners can celebrate and continuously broadcast the creations of women musos and producers.

It is clear that gender equality in the music industry is not a new issue, but rather an issue that has been neglected for years. However, it is also evident that through greater media exposure and global initiatives people are ready to tackle it head on and women are fed up with feeling silenced.

For Aria, she thinks there are two main things that will really help evolve these ideals so strongly “accepted” within the industry to create a level playing field.

First, we really need men to engage in culture change. I’ve met a lot of amazing male allies, and I also feel like a lot of men don’t particularly want to do the wrong thing.

“Second, as a society I think it’s really important for us to show young people of all genders what their options are growing up. Let’s stop putting people in boxes.

As Aria and many other pioneers working to overcome this problem suggest, there are no quick fixes, but small steps in the right direction can generate the change that many women, for decades, have been striving for.


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