There's increasing awareness that women are under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths—known collectively as STEM—but it still comes as a bit of a shock that in spite of the large number of highly successful female singers and musicians, only around five per cent of those working in the audio engineering field are women.
The good news is that, though rising much too slowly, that number is gradually rising.
Whether touring with artists as live-sound engineers, working in commercial studios as recording engineers, doing post-production for TV and/or film, working in the highly specialised field of mastering or in another area of audio production, there has been a vanguard of women who've left their mark on the industry and a new guard of women whose bold and confident work is nothing short of inspiring.
In honour of International Women’s Day, let’s continue to
#PressforProgress in the audio production field by celebrating ten pioneers and the newcomers to the field.
1. Leslie Ann Jones
There are a lot of firsts in recording engineer Leslie Ann Jones’s life.
In 1975, the American was the first female recording engineer at ABC Studios in Los Angeles. In 1977, she was the the first female engineer at the legendary Automatt Studios in San Francisco and the first female national officer of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the organisation that awards Grammys). She was also the sound engineer and road manager of one of the first all female American bands, Fanny, in the 1970s.
As if all this groundbreaking weren’t enough, Jones has been nominated for six Grammies and has won four.
In 2004 she won for Best Chamber Music, in 2006 for Best Jazz Vocal Album, in 2011 for Best Engineered Album, Classical and in 2016 she won for the Best Engineered Classical Album.
Jones is currently Director of Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound, a Lucasfilm, Ltd. company where she’s been since 1997.
In 2012, 15 year old Canadian Ebony Oshunrinde, better known as WondaGurl, beat over 30 aspiring producers in the Battle of the Beat Makers competition in Toronto, Canada, to take first prize and win her a trophy and a Roland GAIA Synthesiser.
Buoyed by her success, the talented go-getter sent a beat to Drake via Instagram, and landed two placements on his mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late.
She followed this by also sending a beat to Travis Scott, who passed it on to Jay Z, which became the song Crown on Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail.
Producing on her keyboard with drum pads since the age of nine, WondaGurl is now the rare woman making rap beats full-time. At 23, she has already produced with several prominent artists in the music industry, including Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, SZA, Young Thug, Travis Scott and Lil Uzi Vert.
She's now signed Eestbound, the man behind Travis Scott’s, Antidote, and the first producer signed to her label imprint. Keep an eye on this young woman—the best is yet to come.
3. Susan Rogers
One of a tiny number of female recording engineers in the US, Susan Rogers’s journey started when she bought a bunch of textbooks on electronics, acoustics and recording techniques. She studied them diligently and was able to land a job, advertised in the LA Times, repairing recording consoles.
She soon moved on to working in a recording studio owned by David Crosby and Graham Nash before catching news that her favourite artist, Prince, was looking for an audio technician.
Rogers boldly went after the job and helped craft some of the greatest pop songs of all time, from When Doves Cry to Raspberry Beret.
Her outstanding work with the superstar opened up other doors, and she spent the next decade working for David Byrne, Barenaked Ladies and Tricky before going on to earn a PhD in music and psychology.
Today, in between teaching at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Rogers spends her time encouraging and supporting other women to become involved in audio engineering through her work as a public speaker.
4. Cynthia Daniels
American Cynthia Daniels is a great example of someone who has managed to carve a space for herself doing exactly what she loves and excelling at it. Not only has the recording engineer won two Grammies for her work, but she has also earned an Emmy as a composer and music supervisor for the daytime series Guiding Light.
Daniels is also known for her extensive work on other TV/Film shows like World News Tonight, 20/20, MTV and for her work in Broadway musicals like The Producers and Flower Drum Song.
Her East Hampton recording space MonkMusic Studios has been nominated for a TEC Award and is home to renowned productions such as Beyonce’s God Made You Beautiful.
Besides engineering, Daniels has worked with many renowned artists such as Julie Andrews, Alec Baldwin, Paul McCartney, Chaka Khan and Sarah Jessica Parker.
5. Brinda Sreenivas
When Brinda Sreenivas, a freelance sound engineer from India, saw engineers working at large mixers in behind the scenes shots of music videos, she knew that that was what she wanted to do.
To this end, she earned a diploma in Sound Audio Engineering and after graduation found an opportunity to work as a studio engineer. It didn’t take her long, however, to discover that that wasn’t for her, and when a friend who ran a theatre production company asked her to do sound for the show that night, she jumped at the opportunity.
As it turned out, doing sound for a live show was much more her cup of tea and Sreenivas gave up her studio job and interned at the venue until they eventually offered her the job of in-house engineer.
She's now been working as a live-sound engineer for three years, specialising in front of house, and couldn’t be happier.
6. Lenise Bent
The American Lenise Bent has the distinction of being one of the first women recording engineers. After graduating from Sound Masters Recording Institute in Los Angeles, USA, Bent was hired as an assistant engineer at The Village Studios.
She eventually worked her way up to engineer, working with many iconic artists, including Steely Dan, Supertramp and Fleetwood Mac, and became the first woman to receive a platinum album for engineering on Blondie’s AutoAmerican.
She then became chief engineer for hit producer Mike Chapman, and worked with several artists including Blondie, Cher, The Knack and Suzi Quatro, recording at studios like The Record Plant Sausalito, Air London and United Western.
Bent eventually moved into post-production mixing, editing and supervising, where she still works with all types of audio from music to voice-over, ADR and foley. She's traveled all over the world for Dreamworks, supervising and producing vocals and dialogue for their foreign language versions of films including Shrek and Shrek 2.
Today Bent is a sought-after lecturer at colleges throughout the country. She holds workshops and consults with singers and songwriters to teach basic recording techniques.
7. Karrie Keyes
Karrie Keyes is an America sound engineer who spent over two decades monitoring sound for some of the biggest names in rock, including Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Keyes got her break at 18 after a chance meeting with a sound engineer at a Black Flag show. He offered her a job with his company Rat Sound, the sound company that toured with Black Flag and also did a lot of the So Cal punk rock shows.
There, Keyes started out at the bottom loading and unloading trucks full of PA systems and working every show from punk rock to gospel and everything in between. This gave her the opportunity to learn all about the gear, how it works and how to troubleshoot and prepared her for the years to follow working as mixing and front of house engineer.
Keys is the co-founder of SoundGirls, an organisation dedicated to empowering the next generation of women in audio.
8. Missy Elliott
Everyone knows Missy Elliot for her enormous talent as a rapper and dancer, but what many people don’t know is that Elliott has also carved a name for herself in the music industry as a producer.
One of the few female producers in pop music, Elliot has famously said that if she were a man, more people would know about the songs she's written or produced for other talents like Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige and Aaliyah.
A five-time Grammy winner herself, Elliot’s behind the scenes production work has earned her several top spots on the Billboard's charts and since 2008.
Songs written and/or produced by her—for Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, Monica, Keyshia Cole and Jazmine Sullivan—have all received Grammy nominations.
9. Sherry Klein
Emmy-nominated re-recording mixer Sherry Klein remembers becoming fascinated with sound while hanging out at the 2-track studio at Berklee in Boston. She took a job at Hub Recording Studios handled phone calls before eventually being allowed to become an assistant engineer.
After moving to LA in the late 1970s to take advantage of the thriving recording industry, Klein landed a job as a recording engineer at Larrabee Studios and became one of just a small number of female engineers in Los Angeles at the time.
She credits record producer Kim Fowley with becoming a supportive mentor and giving her her first solo album gig with an all-girl group The Orchids for MCA Records and her second and third albums as well.
When the recording industry took a downturn in the late 80s, a friend who was an audio mixer for TV asked her to sub for him when he went on vacation.
This gig opened up a new chapter in Klein’s life where she moved into audio postproduction work for TV, over the years working on popular shows like Bull, Queen of the South, Burn Notice, Sons of Anarchy, Falling Water, The Shield and Arrested Development.
Today, Klein is a re-recording mixer at audio production company Smart Post Sound.
10. Claudia Engelhart
Live-sound engineer Claudia Engelhart has worked with an enviable number of artists from the East to West coast of the USA.
Engelhart began her live sound career at the legendary jazz room Keystone Korner in San Francisco when she was mentored by sound man, Milton Jeffries.
She moved to New York and started working at another legendary club Country, Blue Grass, and Blues Club (CBGB) where she developed the skill of working quickly with seven bands with very different styles in 20 to 30 minute set times each night.
After CBGB, she moved onto Sounds of Brazil. While there, the Knitting Factory called her in to mix the avant-guard band Naked City. It was such a good match that she toured with them through the early nineties as well as working as the band’s guitarist Bill Frisell’s front of house engineer.
Apart from her work with the band and Frisell, Engelhart has also toured with several renowned artists during her career including Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Grover Washington Jr., Laurie Anderson and John Scofield.
These women represent just a fraction of the talented and accomplished women in audio production. I’m sure you've got your own ideas of who should have been included here, so please feel free to leave a comment below and share your own favourites.
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