Nextup discussion: Lack of female producers in the music industry

Think heavyweight music producer and you probably think of the geekily obsessive music anorak. Encyclopedic knowledge of the technicalities of genres you didn’t know existed pieced together through a life spent trawling through record shops. The image that springs to mind is influential producers – the Phil Spector or Frankie Knuckles stereotypes, or younger producers – such as Jamie xx or Four Tet. Crucially, you probably picture a man.

Frankie Knuckles

Frankie Knuckles

It’s pretty difficult to think of any female producers that have reached the stratospheric heights of their male counterparts, in fact, this discrepancy is true all the way down the food chain. Only 5% of producers and sound engineers are female. So why is the music industry still such an old boys club?

A few recent articles have asked this question, including a great piece in The Fader, where 13 female producers weigh in on the issue and possible causes. Most cite the surprisingly conservative nature of the music industry.

Detroit techno pioneers

The Belleville Three: Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Juan Atkins

The outright sexism encountered by women trying to make their name in the industry is also an issue. Asma Maroof mentions the ‘you’re good for a girl,’ attitude that starts to grind down would-be female producers. Blatant sexism is, of course, the most easily fixed. Its much easier to call out, for a start, and publicising some of the females who are doing amazing work at the minute will start to shape the prehistoric attitudes towards females in the industry.

The world of production and sound engineering is a technological one and the insidious, deeply rooted sexism that exists in all technology careers is a more complicated problem. Tokimonsta discusses the ‘systematically ingrained idea that technology is more of a man’s thing’, so girls begin on the back foot. The tired old trope that boys play with cars and girls play with dolls has some way to go in explaining the massive under representation of females across the board in technology.

The other side to production is the decision-making aspect. The negative way that controlling women are seen (Nicki Minaj’s ‘boss/bitch’ quote, anyone?), plus the small numbers of women in any technology related field, means women are much less likely to pursue a career in the first place. A tectonic shift in the way genders are seen across the whole of society would level the playing field, but we all know there’s no sign of that happening anytime soon. In the meantime, initiatives that get girls involved at school level are doing something to combat this side of the problem, so there is hope.

As well as the behind-the-scenes type of sexism, the upfront ‘Miley Cyrus flying stark naked through a construction site’ type may also be contributing to the problem. As a factor that holds women back behind the scenes, Fatima Al Qadiri mentions the ‘repulsive reality that women are expected to be the commercial object for sale in music,’ since their sexuality can be cashed in on. But she stops short of saying that this ‘sex sells mentality’ creates an industry where women are devalued in the first place.

Nicki Minaj made a valid point in her recent twitter post-turned-Taylor-feud about the double standards for black and white bodies in the music industry. But when she linked a Marie-Claire blog post, detailing the naked lengths that white women had gone to for an MTV awards Best Video nomination (not just for themselves, but also Robin Thicke), it highlighted a deeper problem about the commodification of female sexuality in music.

The hyper sexualised performances popular in recent years are a depressing regression from trailblazers like Chaka Khan, Kate Bush, The Slits, Missy Elliot and even Pink, who celebrated female sexuality in an empowering, refreshing, original way and show just how conservative attitudes to women in the music industry really are.

As long as female success in the music industry depends on female nakedness, the power imbalance behind the scenes will persist.

– Rachel Connolly



  1. Mike C · · Reply

    Perhaps one of the great things about the underground is that people are much more likely to be judged entirely on what they make – the ‘good for a girl’ attitude can’t set in when marketing is scant and the work is all that’s really traded on.

    I guess most of the progressions and new sounds of past years have been driven by men (K-Hand is the only female producer I can think of from the 90s?). But now I think of Holly Herndon, Karen Gwyer, Helena Hauff, Lena Willikens and a score more who are pushing boundaries and making some of the hottest music. Hopefully the underground can facilitate some bottom up change and we’ll see woman pulling the strings, influencing and creating, as much as they do in other areas of the arts.


  2. Rowley Birkin · · Reply

    Oh good, another post about sexism & feminism. Really interesting. Maybe guys are just better.


    1. Thanks for your feedback, as this post says, sexism is only a small part of the issue.


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