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[Editor’s note – as with all the articles in this month’s social justice issue, the following is a first-hand essay from a music industry professional. Their experiences and opinions are their own, and we encourage you to join the discussion in the comments section below or on our social media pages.]
Author’s note: When I was asked to write this piece, I thought it best to ask the people who work with me about the gender issue. Elena and Gio are just entering the industry and were kind enough to put their thoughts in writing.
It’s not something I usually think about in the middle of a session, but as I reflect on my experiences as a woman (both in and out of the studio) I have realized that my femininity is an innate source of self confidence and power. When I was first learning how to be a recording engineer I thought that if I was going to be taken seriously by my hypothetical future boss, I would have to hide that part of myself. One of the best parts of working with and learning from Cookie is that I don’t have to do that. I can just be myself without having insecurities about if I actually deserve the position that I have at the studio.
As a producer and engineer Cookie specializes in creating a safe place for artists to capture the most compelling recordings. I’m lucky enough to be right in the middle of her business and can’t imagine a better learning environment. And of course this is because on top of her production skills, she is also a wise entrepreneur who values the people who work for her — she figures out what you’re good at and challenges you to hone those skills. So yeah, besides the personal comfort and sense of awe that comes from knowing my boss had the guts to establish herself and her business in a male-dominated industry, not much else really has to do with the fact that she’s a woman.
At the end of the day, what matters is how the music sounds. So understandably, we don’t waste much time around the studio fretting over what privates our employers and coworkers have. The truth is, women in male dominated fields have to put in more blood and sweat than their male counterparts to achieve the same level of ‘success,’ so they often develop valuable knowledge and perspective that others lack. For me, Cookie stands both as an employer and a mentor, with a pair of ears and decades of experience that exceed any other audio engineer or musician I’ve met. The kind of passion that she radiates is refreshing and inspiring for the rest of us. So, to answer the question ‘what is it like to work for a woman in a male dominated field?’ — it’s an absolute pleasure.
My advice – don’t let ‘gender’ be a trap or excuse. If someone has an issue whether age, gender, race or religion, that’s their problem. Avoid continually running into brick walls and seek out those who appreciate your skills. Focus on positive relationships turning into more positive relationships. Drop the negativity and move on.
Being an audio engineer or producer is a tough career choice whether you’re a man or a woman. I coach both sexes in what it takes to survive in the business. You have to excel to succeed. If that means becoming an expert in your field, being able to lead a team, showing up on time or shoving your ego to the side to get along with everyone – that’s what you do.
I don’t often write about being a ‘woman in a man’s industry.’ I’ve always felt that actions speak louder than words. I’ve been called on by more men than women to lead audio teams or participate in innovative music strategies around music. I hope their first thought isn’t “she’s a woman, so let’s hire her.” I hope the reason is “she’s the best person for the job.”
After 30 years as an audio engineer, I can count less than one instance where my being a woman was an issue. I shrugged it off and looked forward to the day off for not having to do that session. Since no one else was available that day, he hired me. That fellow never stopped requesting my services after that.
The last 5 years, I’ve taken a strong stand on high resolution audio and pioneered delivery of 5-10 gigabyte album files called DSD (Direct Stream Digital). Neil Young’s people called me prior to releasing Pono. I’m sure they weren’t thinking… “She’s a woman… isn’t there a man around?” They contacted me because I was outspoken and discussed high resolution audio issues with a base of knowledge.
The good news about being a woman in a field dominated by men is that you’re going to be remembered more easily and singled out. Many men find it refreshing to have a woman’s energy in the studio. If you act like a professional at all times, you’ll be treated that way. In baseball language, when the ball is hit to you, try to catch it… don’t shy away.
And ladies, don’t get upset when you’re work is assumed to be by a ‘man.’ Forgive and forget. A few months ago, a popular music publication signed my name as “Mr. Marenco” (not the first time) on a fairly technical article I wrote about using tape in the recording studio. And how could you blame them? There’s a 95% chance of being right if you say “Mr.” The staff was very apologetic, immediately corrected the online tag…and forever I will live on as Mr. Marenco in the print version of the article. We all had a good laugh over it.
Bottom line…Be sensitive to all those around you regardless of gender. Always be ready to respond when you’re needed. Do good work and you’ll be rewarded.