There is a need to radically address the issues facing those identifying as female in the audio technology and music production space. This paper reports on an experiment in teaching and learning in a women* only recording studio.
By 2016 the topic of sexism and misogyny in the music industry reached a crescendo, from Bjork talking in interviews about made ‘invisible’ as the producer of her own music1 to Annie Mac on BBC Radio1talking about the lack of female acts and female Dj’s at festivals. Annie Mac’s show (BBC Radio 1, March 2016)2 on the subject of women in the music industry pointed out that women make up less than 16% of writers registered at PRS3 and less than 15% of performers booked to play UK festivals.
As the course leader of the MA Music Business Management, a music manager and head of business affairs at a music label (for over two decades), I have first-hand experience of the inequality and lack of diversity within the wider music industries from recording studios to publishing houses and beyond. These new conversations in the media and on line gave us the opportunity to demand that we addressed some of these core issues.
So on the 21st and 22nd of May 2016 a group of twenty-two women*4 took over a state of the art recording studio with 48 inputs / 48 outputs, known as D9 situated on the Harrow Campus at the University of Westminster School of Media, Art and Design. The aim of the ‘studio lock in’ event, was to confront head on the issues of gender dynamics in recording studio environments in the hope that the event might kick start a chain reaction, that would include the department taking seriously the challenges faced by female identifying persons.
Participants included students from Leeds College of Music, City of Westminster College, Westminster’s MA Music Business Management, Goldsmith College and respondents from an advert put out on Facebook who had a range of experience and ability, from Goldsmiths College post-graduate audio production students with a high skill level to absolute beginners who don’t know how to get started. Studio workshop sessions were punctuated by guest lectures all of whom told their stories, shared their advice and skills.
We didn’t feel like we even scratched the surface of what could be achieved in a women-only studio environment. We found that the exclusion of men was incredibly conducive to real learning. We had been inspired by the work of the City College of San Francisco’s recording arts programme which in 2003 launched Women’s Audio Mission5, the first and still the only organisation in the world that is providing specialised training for women. Since the founding of Women’s Audio Mission, female enrolment on the City College’s recording arts program has gone from 12% to 43%, which is now the highest percentage of female enrolment in any recording arts institution in the U.S. Unfortunately, we don’t have figures to compare in the UK, but certainly here at the University of Westminster we have never exceeded 15% female enrolment on our audio production courses.