Woman recording music in a studio.

The Plight of the Female Producer

The Plight of the Female Producer

The effort to integrate more women into music technology and production is led by impressive pioneers like Linda Perry and Sylvia Robinson, but these women face the difficulty of being the vast minority in the industry. Since 2012, less than 3% of producers involved on the top Billboard tracks were women, and according to a study by USC Annenberg, in 2012 women were credited as producers on 2.6% of tracks, and this number fell to just 2% in 2020. This stagnation in women’s progress in production is likely fueled by stereotypes about occupations in the industry which are considered to be appropriate or inappropriate for women. These stereotypes make it harder for women in music tech fields to be taken seriously and discourage women from considering the opportunity of taking up a technical activity in the first place. Despite the efforts of trailblazing female producers and their supporters, the lack of more representation and visibility for women in tech fields remains an adversary of inclusivity efforts in the music industry. 

Sylvia Robinson, Linda Perry, and Delia Derbyshire remain three of the most influential female names in production to this day. Often credited as the “unsung heroine of British electronic music,” Derbyshire was a force in the London art scene of the 60s. She released sound collages and joined the experimental electronic cult group White Noise. Meanwhile in the U.S, “Mother of Hip-Hop” Sylvia Robinson founded her label Sugar Hill Records in 1979. During her time as CEO, Robinson made epic contributions to Hip-Hop, like the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message.” On the Pop side of the industry, Linda Perry began her career as the lead singer and songwriter for the band Non 4 Blondes, most famous for their huge hit “What’s Going On.” Perry continued her success going on to produce Pink’s immensely successful Missundaztood album, “Beautiful“ by Christina Aguilera, and Gwen Stefani’s “What Are You Waiting For?” This industry powerhouse, Perry, has worked with the likes of Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, and Adele since then. 

Many different players in the music industry have put in work to increase the representation of women in music tech. However, not all of these efforts have been successful. One industry solution to increase female representation in production was the Recording Academy’s Women in the Mix pledge. “The Recording Academy’s Women in the Mix pledge asks that at least two women are considered in the hiring process for any song, and an extensive list of artists, labels and other producers have agreed to do so” (Welk). This study surveyed the Top 100 songs on Billboard’s year-end chart for 2020 and found that 38 different people among the top 100 songs had taken the pledge, but none of those charting songs was produced by a woman. International music collective Stereofox has also addressed the issue by featuring female producers and beatmakers in interviews and curating a playlist called Beat Queens, focused on female-produced chill-hop, lofi and instrumental hip hop music. This collective also publishes editorial articles addressing the women in mixing-related issues to start a conversation and inspire more women to be open to explore music industry fields, beyond those traditionally considered ‘suitable for women’. Showcasing talented women in music technology will inspire the upcoming generations and provide them with inspiring role models. Reading these editorials, listening to these playlists, and having an awareness of who creates the media we consume all are ways to help support the initiative to get more women into music technology. Organizations like The Women’s Network are an integral part of this movement, providing a place for women to support each other through the struggles of emerging into male-dominated industries.