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Empowerment: From “Female Producer” to “Producer”

I Am Snow Angel
Photo credit: Glamglare

By Julie Kathryn a.k.a. I AM SNOW ANGEL

I’m a songwriter, recording artist, musician, and producer. I’ve self-produced two EPs and one full-length album under the moniker I AM SNOW ANGEL. In 2015, I co-founded an all-female musical collective called Female Frequency. I’d like to note that I do not consider myself an expert on the topic of “women in music,” and that the following is based solely on my own personal experience.

If I had written this article twelve, or even six months ago, I probably would have focused on glaring inequalities in the music industry — the oft-quoted estimate that women account for less than 5% of all music producers and audio engineers, or the reality that, even in 2016, the vast majority of artists (male and female) depend upon male audio professionals to produce and engineer their music. I might have elaborated on the array of subtle — and egregious — injustices that women often face in studio settings and venues.

Indeed, all of these realities must be publicly discussed if we are ever going to level the playing field in the industry. I’ve recently read several articles in which women have described their experiences, and I’m grateful for their courage and honesty in doing so. (I found this piece particularly illuminating and validating.)

However, when I sat down to write this essay, I discovered that my personal perspective has shifted over the last few months, without my consciously realizing it. Suddenly, I no longer feel like a “female producer” trying to make it in a male-dominated industry. Yes, I happen to be female, and I’m certainly an advocate for women in music. But when I walk into a studio these days, I usually just feel like a producer — no prefix. This feels really good.

At some point, in the midst of creating and learning and advocating, I stopped feeling defined by my gender.

My journey into audio production had a slow beginning; as a female singer-songwriter with no formal training in audio engineering, I never imagined that I could explore music production. I had met and worked with several men who lacked formal audio training and worked as producers nonetheless; but I didn’t know any women who were doing it. Lacking female role models, I was delayed in realizing my potential.

Ultimately, I did find my way into the world of music production, and I immediately realized that: 1) I love it; and 2) I’m good at it. Right off the bat, the tracks I produced for myself sounded authentic and compelling, even if they were rough around the edges. I felt connected to my own recordings for the first time. I was suddenly excited about music in a way that I had never been before.

I’ll admit that, at moments, I felt like an imposter — not a real producer. But I mostly ignored those feelings and instead focused on learning as much as I could about audio production and generating as much material as possible. I met other female producers, including Erin Barra, a self-made audio production guru who taught me how to use Ableton Live. I joined female:pressure, a world-wide Björk-inspired network of female producers, engineers, and DJs.

I began working with other artists, and I found myself particularly interested in helping other women on their own musical journeys, whatever those might be. I co-founded Female Frequency along with two other artists — Dani Mari and Claire London — with the goal of raising the visibility of women in music and creating music that is 100% female-generated — i.e., music that is entirely crafted by women, from songwriting and performance through production, mixing, and mastering. (Historically, very few fully produced albums have been created by an entirely female team of musicians, writers, singers, and audio professionals.)

As I allowed myself to become more visible in the music industry, I began to garner attention from other musicians and producers. Several female musicians told me that, because of Female Frequency, they had become confident enough to produce their own material, which made me happy beyond words.

I realize that my feelings of personal empowerment do not negate the inequality that is still rampant in the music industry. However, if my journey is in any way a microcosm of the larger picture, I have hope.

I am now regularly approached to collaborate, produce tracks for other artists, generate electronic string arrangements, and teach audio production. I’m busy, challenged and stimulated — and I have more work than I know what to do with. The more music I create, the more I want to learn and improve as a producer and engineer.

At some point, in the midst of creating and learning and advocating, I stopped feeling defined by my gender.

I also stopped feeling like an imposter, and I stopped doubting myself. When artists approach me to produce a track, or co-write a song, or teach them Ableton Live, I assume that they simply like what I do. When people compliment me on my live set, I take them at their word, rather than wonder if they are patronizing me because I’m “a girl.” If people praise — or criticize — my work, I don’t automatically assume that my gender is a factor in their opinion. I realize that it very well might be a factor in some people’s opinions of me, but I no longer find myself spending time worrying about whether or not it is. Instead, I spend time thinking about the Kush outboard compressor that I’m going to start incorporating in my mixing process. I think this must be what empowerment feels like.

If this article helps even one person to feel more confident in her musical journey, then I’ll be glad I wrote it. I realize that my feelings of personal empowerment do not negate the inequality that is still rampant in the music industry. However, if my journey is in any way a microcosm of the larger picture, I have hope that the sands are shifting towards a more equitable and diverse musical landscape.

+ Up next on Flypaper: “Rock Legend June Millington: Study the Blues, Be Empathetic, and Run Your Own PA”

iamsnowangelI AM SNOW ANGEL is a sound that fuses digital and organic elements, that’s both earthy and ethereal. The music is composed, performed, produced, and engineered by recording artist Julie Kathryn. Kathryn is also the co-founder of Female Frequency, an all-female collective “dedicated to empowering women and girls through the creation of music that is entirely female generated.” Her newest EP, Desert, is a project that illustrates the subtle complexities of desire, passion and longing. Keep up with I AM SNOW ANGEL here: Facebook // SoundCloud // Instagram // Website .

 

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  • You are a great producer, period! Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t make any assumptions based on gender.

    That said, I remember when Imogen Heap’s “Speak for Yourself” came out in 2005. I was pleasantly surprised to find she produced the whole thing, but that’s mainly because I came to her via her Frou Frou project with producer Guy Sigsworth. I mistakenly assumed he was the only one with production chops.

    I’m also a long-time fan of Grimes, but what impresses me the most about her is her age! Imagine what she’ll be doing in 10 years.

    Anyway, now I’m sure I’ll start noticing that other producers I admire are female. ??

  • spampoets

    Word! Great essay. I especially like, that you are simply calling yourself “producer” now, dropping the “gender description”. I hope there will be many more like you. And let’s face it – most of us felt like a fraud at one point. I certainly did. Not gender-specific at all… 🙂

    Cheers from Germany!

    R

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