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.
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.
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