Electronic composer Amy Milner and producer Tim Larcombe (Lana del Ray, The Hunna) discuss the importance of having more females working in studio roles.
Amy: I am by no means an all guns blazing watch-your-back-if-you-try-to-open-a-door-for-me feminist. However, I cannot help but acknowledge the fact that, having spent hitherto the best part of a decade in and out of the studio environment—from bedroom to garage to complex—working with a plethora of producers, writers and audio engineers therein, I have encountered the sum total of three members of my own sex.
Upon arriving at a new studio, I never find myself anticipating a female presence there, only being pleasantly surprised in the unlikely event that there is. This is not necessarily a problem for me personally, at least not now….
But rewind a few years to when I was in my teens/early twenties, and it was quite a daunting prospect being shipped off to sessions with often older, nearly always male strangers in foreign environments. The gist of the ensuing process, initiated by my ostensibly superior other, would usually be: “OK, so why don’t you see if you can write some lyrics pertaining to your personal experiences, while I fix your melodies, and handle all the production decisions on my computer here with my back to you and keep you largely in the dark about everything I’m doing”. Speaking from my own experience, my creative output varies drastically depending on how comfortable I feel, so this wasn’t brilliant for my creativity to say the least. Even if I clicked well with the person or people, I would rarely feel confident enough to interrupt the process and speak my mind, and when I did, my opinion was not always listened to. The hierarchy was crystal clear.
I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with producer/writer Tim Larcombe, who I’ve been working with the last 18 months. I knew I loved his production style before we met, but what I had not anticipated was how considerate his method would be. There is no pecking order. He always values my ideas and asks my opinion as we go along. He makes me feel appreciated as an artist and generally worthy of equal human being status. He gives me the space to write exactly as I like to. I always feel free to change things, add things, try things. He lets me wear my own producer cap. I genuinely believe that we make our music as equals, and that he would say the same.
When Tim and I spent some time recording at Real World Studios, we came across assistant engineer Katie May who could not have been a better rep for the girls. She was on it: super efficient, knowledgeable and wonderful to be around. To this day, the word “engineer” has such intrinsic masculine associations, yet we can do it so well too. (Sidenote: Patrick—of course we loved you too, but this article isn’t about you, sorry)!
By no means do I claim to generalise on behalf of everyone. It is certainly important to note that I have forged many great working relationships with men in music, and made some fantastic friends along the way. But I bet there are, and will continue to be, so many young female artists out there who could benefit from a slightly gentler introduction to the industry, and indeed who would love to continue throughout their career to work with fellow talented ladies. Let’s at least start giving the boys a little bit of a run for their studio space?
Over to you, Tim.
Tim: As long as I have been working in studios, they have always been male-dominated places. Back in the glory years of the late '90s—1998 to be precise—landed my first job in a recording studio. It was a neat little setup in a church building in Brighton. I was the tea boy and then assistant engineer. I worked at the studio for around three years and only ever encountered two females. Both were artists who hired the studio. And that was it.
Around the same time I also studied at the School of Audio Engineering. This was a great place and I learned so much from all of the tutors; they had years of experience in the industry and so much knowledge to pass down to us. They and we were all male.
From 2002 to 2006 I was part of the Xenomania team, writing and releasing tracks for the likes of Girls Aloud, Gabriella Cilmi and Sugababes in a kind of pop factory/torture chamber, but that’s another story for another day. There was an array of different roles: top liners, lyricists, engineers and producers. The interesting thing is that all of the engineers and producers were male, and all of the top line writers and lyricists were female. Still, in the traditional “studio” roles, we were all male.
The years following were spent as a producer at Tap doing pop sessions. During this time, I encountered an increasing number of female artists involved with the production of their music and bringing their own production ideas to our sessions.
The studios of the past, and the way in which music used to always be made, was so male-orientated that you simply never came across a female engineer or producer. But these roles themselves are diminishing. Commercial studios are closing left, right and centre. The whole chain of production for making a record has evolved to a place where you need not necessarily ever visit a “studio” in the traditional sense. The way in which people are making and consuming music is breaking down the era of male supremacy in the creative process, and I don’t see this pattern ever reversing back.