Music Business

Female Music Producers – Why Are There So Few?

Photograph of the blog post author, Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson

6.1.2022

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Did you know that women make up around 20% of all musical artists, and only 2% of women are music producers? In spite of the increase of male producers and artists in the music industry, there are plenty of talented women producers generating trailblazing work. Although small in number, there are some pioneering female music producers who have all made their mark in the industry, including Sylvia Moy and Linda Perry.

How Many Female Music Producers Are There?

In certain ways, women have made a meaningful impact in the music industry as headlining performers, however off stage, the rest of the industry remains predominantly male orientated. A study conducted through USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative looked at gender, race, and ethnicity for artists, songwriters, and producers Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart discovered there were only 2.6 percent female producers between the years 2012 and 2020 and in 2020 that figure was just 2%. Although artists such as Missy Elliot, Lorde and Lady Gaga found success producing themselves, the list focused on female producers who worked behind the scenes. Sylvia Robinson and Sylvia Moy were the forces behind some of the most influential songs in music history.

female producer

Why Are There So Few Female Music Producers?

The difficulties which women face in other roles are amplified in a heavily gender-skewed field such as music producers. The hours are extensive and irregular, which can have an impact on family life. There is also a continuous pressure to stay relevant: In the competitive music world, even a brief hiatus can open the door for someone else to take your job. This lack of stability makes it even more financially risky to have a family. Most audio professionals are self-employed, which means health care comes out-of-pocket, and there are no benefits like paid maternity leave.

Some famous female music producers, the best female music producers and some up and coming ones

It is deemed quite rare for a female to oversee music production in a recording studio or to gain accolades for their production work. A handful of artists have gained nominations for producing their own albums including Janet Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Sheryl Crow.

Here is a list of some of the best female music producers:

Sylvia Robinson

Produced two of rap’s most influential songs – Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘The Message’, making her one of the most famous female music producers. In the late 1970s she was a talented R&B artist who played a vital part in ensuring the sound of the streets became mainstream. She was given the nickname: ‘The Mother of Hip-Hop.’

Suzanne Ciani

Another famous female producer and a pioneer of electronic music is Suzanne Ciani. She has been named ‘America’s first female synth hero.’ She introduced the unfamiliar sounds of the Buchla synthesizer in the 1970s with her self-produced compositions. She also created the pop-and-pour audio for Coca-Cola ads and bleep for GE dishwashers.

Sylvia Massy

Michigan-born famous female producer and engineer Massy has shaped the hard rock sounds of bands including The Red-Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down and Tool. She worked as an engineer on Johnny Cash’s Grammy-winning 1997 album, Unchained alongside Rick Rubin.

Linda Perry

Known as the 4 Non-Blondes frontwoman, Perry’s work behind-the-scenes as a songwriter and producer has facilitated in defining modern pop. She’s created hits for P!nk, Christina Aguilera, and Alicia Keys. While a female producer has never won a Grammy for Producer of the Year (Non-Classical), Perry was nominated for the award in 2019. She is one of a few females to achieve success in production and with her own music making her one of the best female producers.

Sonia Pottinger

Beginning her two-decade career in the mid-1960s, Pottinger held the accolade for being Jamaica’s first female producer. Cutting tracks with the artists such as Joe White & Chuck and Culture, her production included various Jamaican genres, from rock-steady, reggae and ska.

Ester Dean

Dean is a famous female producer who has written and produced many hits and is known as the ‘The Song Factory.’ Working considerably with Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj she gained a Grammy nomination for her production work on Rihanna’s 2010 album Loud. She has maintained a successful acting career. As a female producer she has also produced records for Leona Lewis, Florence + the Machine, and Ciara.

female dj

Catherine Marks

Classically-trained pianist-turned-alt-rock- female producer has worked from Assault & Battery studio in London with an extensive range of artists such as The Killers and Wolf Alice.

Fatima Al Qadiri

Al Qadiri’s approach as a female producer is artistic, experimental dance music with varied inspirations. A member of the GCC and Future Brown collectives, she developed an alter ego (Shaneera) for a concept album exploring queerness in Arab culture, she recently composed and produced the score for the acclaimed French film Atlantique (2019).

TOKiMONSTA

LA based DJ and female producer Jennifer Lee (aka TOKiMONSTA) creates psychedelic beats. She was the first Asian-American female producer to gain a Grammy nomination in the Best Dance/Electronic for her acclaimed 2017 album, Lune Rouge. She produces for artists such as Beck, Justin Timberlake, and Lil Uzi Vert.

Wondagurl

The Canadian-Nigerian female music producer has created hit records for artists such as Drake, Rihanna and Mariah Carey. In 2013, one of Ebony Oshunrinde (aka Wondagurl) beats was used on Jay-Z’s album Magna Carta Holy Grail for the track Crown.

Sylvia Moy

Opened the door for women in the music industry as the first female producer at Motown. She helped Stevie Wonder get noticed by the historic label. In 1965, she co-wrote Uptight (Everything’s Alright) with Henry Cosby. She also produced and wrote for various artists including Marvin Gaye. She went on the create and produce more tracks for Stevie Wonder with Cosby, like ‘My Cherie Amour’, ‘I Was Made To Love Her,’ as well as ‘Never Had A Dream Come True’.

How To Become A Female Music Producer

Knowing where to begin in order to become a female music producer can be difficult. Ask any music producer how they got to where they are and they will all have different answers. Sometimes too many stories and advice can discourage or bring self-doubt in their ability to become a female music producer. Here are some top tips on how to become a female music producer and guide yourself to a successful career:

Don’t Worry Too Much About Cost

Searching for music production equipment can lead you to products which are hundreds or sometimes thousands of pounds. Try not to let cost deter you initially. With the right talent you can make any project sound good providing you know how to use each component or whichever gear you are using. You just need three/four items to begin producing. For Macbook, learn all you need to know about Garageband. If you would rather use Microsoft Windows they download a free trial for REAPER. Begin to understand all the fundamentals for sound recording. Many basic DAWs have app versions so you can produce music while on the go. You also need a microphone and an audio interface/controller to connect the DAW in order for you to record music. Finally, you need to be able to listen back to your recordings. Monitors can be expensive, so a good suggestion is to invest in a good pair of headphones to start with.

soundboard

Network

This is definitely the top tip in every ‘How to’ guide created. You want to gain as much insight into the industry as possible. You don’t just want to meet successful and well-established individuals in the music industry, you also want to network amongst your peers who are also starting off as aspiring female music producers and artists. Many of the latest technological advances such as live and online streaming or crowd-funding have been created by everyday people which similar interests who were probably just bouncing ideas off each other. This concept applies to producers. Network with like-minded people who have similar energy, passion and creative spirit as you. There are plenty of ambitious professionals in the industry who don’t realise they are the future so begin building a network of people you want to work with and share accomplishments within the future.

Study

To be a female music producer you don’t need to have a formal music education although it might help to focus you when learning to become a music producer. There are plenty of music producers and artists who are self-taught. They develop their learning through YouTube videos, online tutorials and on the job learning to train on how to use a recording studio.  There is no correct way to learn how to become a female music producer, but you have to understand the background and basic concepts of the music you produce. Each album is created in a different way, listen to your favourite albums and study the unique production techniques. You should also research who the producers, engineers, and songwriters who worked on an album are. Read books on how to record and mix and find out more about those techniques. It is also a good idea when wanting to become a female producer to listen to various genres of music throughout the decades. Think about the history of recordings and how they have progressed throughout the years. The more you understand the industry the more thought out your work will be.  

Show Your Work

It can be daunting to put yourself out there especially on social media but it does have its benefits when launching your career as a female producer. Sometimes it is good to get feedback on your art but beware you may come under scrutiny. It is good to make yourself vulnerable and any feedback can give you the push you need to improve yourself as an artist. It also gives you the opportunity to build up and communicate with your fan base.  Make a profile on Soundcloud, use relevant hashtags on Instagram and connect as well as share your music with other up and coming artists and music producers. Arrange to meet with your network and start to put your music out there. Let your music be heard and welcome any feedback you receive.

Be Patient

It is the music producer’s job to ensure everyone works together and your project moves forward on time and budget. People skills are very important when managing others. Every creative industry requires some level of patience as you are dealing with lots of different people who are not always used to being told what to do. Make sure you have focus when you are becoming a female music producer. You want to be consistent in your approach in order to achieve the results you wish.

Stay Motivated

It is fair to say that music production isn’t a typical 9-5 job and to be successful you will have to expect long and unusual working hours. You need to remain dedicated when becoming a female music producer and be flexible in your work.

Enjoy Becoming A Female Music Producer

It is very easy to compare yourself to others but remember this is your journey to becoming a successful female music producer. Think about the part you are playing in the music industry and how your work is contributing, no matter how small the creation is. You don’t need to produce for an A-list artist straight away, as a female music producer you have a say in what people could listen to and you should find enjoyment in your art. Enjoy producing tracks and try not to let societal pressures get in the way of your success.

Summary

Music Producers are also known as Record Producers. They create vision and bring recordings to life. Female music producers are responsible for shaping the creative process and technical techniques of recordings. In order to become a successful female music producer, try not to put too much pressure on yourself by comparing yourself to others.

It is a lifelong endeavor to constantly perfect your art through learning, hard work and building a strong reputation. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time for change in the industry and ensure more female music producers are noticed for their work.

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