Women in Production

When Will first suggested that Stereo Console should list me as producer, I balked at the idea. Not because I hadn’t been working as a producer, but because I was sure no one would believe that I had been working as a producer. Including myself.

Somehow, despite my teenage (and, at least to a certain extent, on-going) worship of Ani Difranco and her label, Righteous Babe Records, despite my love of female musicians who are obviously in control of their sound (Tori Amos, Lauryn Hill, Gwen Stefani, Bjork, Madonna, etc), I had accepted, without even realizing it, the notion that women aren’t producers.

It’s no surprise, really. Women are barely acknowledged as musicians, let alone producers. Look at this Google search and the results:

Notice a pattern? Instead of lists of female musicians, we’ve ended up with lists of female singers. Even before we start talking production, we’ve already relegated women to their talent as vocalists. It seems that the idea of a woman doing something technical–if only as technical as playing a piano or guitar–is somewhat beyond our comprehension. This despite the fact that women routinely perform live, in front witnesses audiences, while playing songs they wrote, with instruments can play the shit out of. This seems like proof that there are respected and talented female musicians on the planet, and yet, Google appears to feel otherwise.

So how can women ever get credit for production work that happens without an audience, using one of those scary boards full of all those knobs, or [shudder] really super complicated software?

Lest you think that a non-gender-specific search for “respected musicians” would turn up lists of male and female musicians,  think again. The Google-verse is full of lists of respected musicians–but I’ll give you one guess as to which gender is very nearly excluded from them.

One of the top hits, in fact, is a site dedicated to the “Top 100 musicians of all time voted by regular people.” The list, which includes both bands and individuals, doesn’t get to a woman until #27 (Madonna). Before that, if you count both the individuals listed AND each of the members of the bands that are listed, we have a grand total of FIFTY ONE men and zero women–not even one female vocalist among the bands, which include Queen, Pink Floyd, and Nirvana. In fact, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are each listed individually AND listed as part of the Beatles (#1)–so they are both on there twice before a single female musician is listed once.

I take nothing away from the talent of bands like U2 and musicians such as Mozart. (Yes, he made the cut. #6.) I take nothing away from the amazing vocal talents of women like Whitney Houston or Celine Dion (I may not want to listen to it, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have an amazing voice). I’m also not saying that vocalists aren’t musicians. None of that is the point, and it’s not about dismissing anyone’s talent. The point is that, as a culture, we are still blind to the idea that women can do highly technical work. Even female producers discount female producers–according to an article on npr.org, producer Trina Shoemaker thinks “some women are turned off by the grubby, technical side of producing. [Shoemaker says,] ‘This is a trade skill — this has nothing to do with tight pants and hairdos and makeup.'”Even when articles are written about female producers, they are almost always about the lack of female producers. Female producers are interviewed and, inevitably, asked, “Why are there no female producers?”

There aren’t “no” female producers. There are fewer female producers, perhaps, but even then it’s difficult to say–music, last I heard, is being written and recorded in garages all over the country. Who’s to say how many of those garage producers are women? Perhaps as many as 50%. Maybe more.

But it’s hard to be counted, or even to count yourself, when you are invisible.

Ugly Pants

When I was a senior in high school, I took a class that was somewhat optimistically called “Fashion Design.” Having spent over three years in the school, I was more than a little surprised to find it among the course offerings, and downright shocked to learn that our school boasted a room full of sewing machines. There was even a teacher! She came complete with denim dresses and espadrilles.

The entire situation raised several pressing questions: Who was this teacher, and why was she never seen outside of the fashion design classroom? Why did no one else know about the sewing machines? Given the retro nature of both the machines and the teacher, were we, in fact, entering a space/time wormhole of alternate reality every time we went to class?

I never got an answer to any of these questions, or figured out whether I am a “summer” or “fall.” I did, however, learn how to sew, a fact which renders Fashion Design one of the top 5 most useful classes I ever took.

The first garment of clothing I ever made was a pair of drawstring pajama shorts. These, I thought, would be stunning in a lovely black fabric sprinkled with a subtle bowling motif.

Needless to say, the project was somewhat doomed from the start.

However, I sat down with my pattern and my pins, my scissors and my fabric, and got started.

If you’ve ever done this, you know that, initially, your fabric, to which you have painstakingly pinned little bits of brown tissue paper, looks less like an article of clothing and more like the kind of puzzle people have to do in corporate team-building activities. None of the individual shapes look anything like any clothing you’ve ever seen before, and it’s nearly impossible to keep track of each of them, let alone to have any idea where they’re going to end up in the final product.

At one point, sure I’d done everything wrong, I very nearly threw the stupid thing in the trash.

Instead, something happened as I started pinning and sewing each of those pieces together. Suddenly, where before I’d had a pile of junk, I now had a leg hole. And then a waistband. And then another leg hole. And then the single most hideous pair of bowling-themed homemade drawstring pajama shorts ever to grace the planet.

And you know what? I actually wore them. I was that proud of myself.

That moment, when I looked down at this mess in my hands and realized it was becoming something, was a revelation. Where before there had been parts, now there was a whole. And, as ugly as those pajama shorts were, they were greater than the sum of their parts.

Sometimes we get the sense that creations land in artists’ laps, fully formed, delivered on a silver platter from Muse Central.

But creation, artistic or otherwise, involves work, time, and at least one moment (if not many) in which you look down at the pile of crap you’ve been sweating over for days and think, “I would be doing the world a favor if I burned this and became an accountant instead.”

But, if you perservere, you may just end up with a masterpiece. Or a pair of shorts that makes your ass look huge and saggy.

-Lex