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Spotify Amps Volume to Get More Women in Music Production

Laurel Sheppard headshotWords by Laurel Sheppard
Leadership & Transparency
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The popular audio streaming platform Spotify recently announced it is boosting efforts to recruit more women seeking careers within the technical side of the music business.

This announcement comes at a time when the fact remains that, as with many other technical and engineering fields, music production has few women. According to a 2019 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report, women comprise only 2 percent of music industry producers. The report cited other alarming statistics:

  • The ratio of male to female producers across 400 popular songs is 47 to 1
  • Only four out of 871 producers were women of color
  • Only one in eight songwriters are women

Only six women have ever been nominated for the Producer of the Year Grammy. Similarly low numbers are found in live sound and live event production.

Why the low numbers? Women producers face many of the same challenges as women in other male-dominated technical fields: the lack of role models or mentors, sexism, and lack of recognition. Fortunately, more music companies are implementing programs to deal with some of these issues, including Spotify.

Spotify residencies could open the doors for more women

In 2018, Spotify’s Social Impact Team partnered with Berklee College of Music (Boston) to form the EQL Studio Residency. Three full-time, paid residencies were offered to women and gender non-conforming individuals from across the world. Darla Hanley, the first female academic dean at Berklee College of Music, led the program. The Berklee Women Chairs Forum group, which represents many areas of the music industry, provided mentors.

“We know that hands-on experience, access to established networks and mentorship are critical to more women succeeding in audio,” says Kerry Steib, Spotify’s director of social impact. “We recognized that by activating Spotify’s network of Secret Genius studios and partnering with Berklee College of Music, we could create a residency program that would provide those kinds of opportunities.”

During their paid six-month residencies, one participant in each of three cities (London, Nashville and New York) worked in studios and gained access to such opportunities. The EQL Residents were also full contributors to the day-to-day running of Spotify’s Secret Genius studios. They set up sessions and worked directly with artists.

“We need to continue to staff these spaces,” Steib says. “Now, we’re thinking about how to do so in an intentional way that can support equity in the industry.”

Music residencies offer both support and and an outlet for creativity

But what’s most important to Steib is that EQL Residents stay in the field and continue to work. In addition to their experience and contacts, they found value in a supported, creative environment where they gained confidence in their own talents.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the EQL residency final project had all three residents work with the recording artist and record producer Ivy Queen to reimagine her anthem Quiero Bailar. “Working with Ivy Queen at the iconic Electric Lady Studios was an amazing way to cap off the program, to bring the residents together and to make sure the world saw the level of work they could do,” Steib points out.

The 2019 residency begins in September and also offers paid, six-month residencies in three cities: Los Angeles, Nashville and London. Feedback from the first class of EQL Residents was incorporated to improve the program. Steib says that Spotify is continuing to invest in the mentorship side with women leaders from Berklee College of Music because such mentorship was critical to the success of the first year. Spotify is also evaluating how to incorporate personal projects and interests into the work.

In addition, the company partnered with SoundGirls, a nonprofit with the goal of expanding opportunities for girls and women in music, to establish the EQL Directory. SoundGirls was founded by Karrie Keyes (the live-sound engineer for Pearl Jam) and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato (house engineer for recording artists including Gwen Stefani, Goo Goo Dolls, Kesha and Jewel). SoundGirls initiatives include scholarships and music camps for women.

A surge in numbers for women working in all functions with the music industry

The EQL Directory is a global database of professionals working behind the scenes in music and audio. Any person can add his or her name and resume for free. After launch, The EQL Directory was able to double the number of professionals listed to approximately 1,500, and it continues to grow.

“The EQL Directory is really a community space for the women working in audio—and the industry looking to create a more inclusive creative team,” Steib says. “We work with others like Women’s Audio Mission, Gender Amplified, Yorkshire Sound Women Network, the Upfront Producer Network and Instituto Criar to ensure that whatever Spotify is developing and supporting, we’re doing so in conjunction with the organizations who are on the ground.

“We know that the only way to drive change industry wide is to work together with other companies and organizations who believe in the power of providing women with more paid, hands-on opportunities in audio,” Steib continues. “We’re starting to think about how we can help other companies host their own EQL Residents and look forward to the progress we can make as an industry.”

Spotify’s efforts are aligned with like-minded initiatives across the music sector. The Recording Academy's Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion recently launched the Producer and Engineer Inclusion Initiative, which requests musicians, record labels, and others to consider at least two female producers or engineers when working on a project. More than 200 have already pledged their commitment, including superstars like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Pearl Jam.

With Spotify’s efforts and others, we can look forward to future Grammy Award ceremonies showing more diversity across the technical categories.

Image credit: Andrzej Rembowski/Pixabay

Laurel Sheppard headshotLaurel Sheppard

Laurel has extensive experience writing about energy efficiency, clean energy, sustainability and green building. She was formerly Senior Energy Content Specialist for a digital marketing firm serving the utilities industry where she generated story ideas and wrote content for several e-newsletters. Laurel is also a member of the Ohio chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and participates on several committees for the Central Ohio region. 

Read more stories by Laurel Sheppard

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