'But who made the backing track?' / Emilia Predebon
I tried to learn guitar for about a year and I sucked. This felt pretty discouraging. I had always been a performative person; I was that kid who was always singing in talent shows and whatever else provided some attention. As I was getting older and learning about the contemporary music industry, the verdict seemed to be that as a female musician, you could either be a singer for someone else’s track, a member in a band or a ‘chick with a guitar’. I did not find one of these very finite options appealing. Partially because I didn’t really listen to the music attached to these roles, but also my voice isn’t different or strong enough to be the centrepiece for a track, and I lack the effortless ‘chill Brunswick girl’ demeanor that apparently dictates a female singer’s appeal in a surf rock band.
I always wanted to ‘do’ music but by the time I was 16 it felt like I had no potential. I did, however, have a raging interest in modern electronic music. YouTube had ruled my taste since 2012, especially a channel-now-label called Majestic Casual. I loved Kaytranada, Lane 8, Classixx, Odesza, Mura Masa, Cyril Hahn, Snakehips, Maths Time Joy; all on heavy circulation in my iTunes, and all very male. When I started to produce myself, a subconscious discourse existed in my attitude; there were minimal female producers to look up to, and being taken seriously by the industry may be a struggle. Ingrained gender roles are no new discovery and its no surprise they have managed to influence even a seemingly neutral medium like music. How cute. Boys are the ones to get all nerdy and technical in studio, make ‘sick beats’ in their bedrooms, then eventually get famous and have Jorja Smith sing on their tracks. It’s not a girl’s job to contribute to the nitty-gritty of production, instead it feels like their job is to be the pretty face that sells the music.
Conversation between myself and a sales assistant in DJ City:
Me: Hey I’m looking to get an interface.
Him: For what?
Me: Um like to connect my computer to a sound system I guess.
Him: Like a laptop?
Me: Yeah and a keyboard.
Him: Oh if it’s just a keyboard you don’t need an interface. What do you need your laptop for?
Me: I run Ableton off my laptop and then MIDI in the keyboard.
Him: Just for vocals or do you use it for a backing track?
Me: No I use Ableton to produce?
Him: Oh actually?
The ‘chick with a guitar’ stereotype is holding women back. Not that singer-songwriters are illegitimate music makers, it’s just that as music evolves, it feels like we’re not evolving with it. The endlessly expanding universe of genres and production methods seems to only have one special corner for women, and that’s either being a vocalist or a singer-songwriter. Or a DJ, but only if you're hot. Even then you'll probably be mocked and belittled: “she is super cute but it’s really not that good...”, “Still a lot to learn about a set” (from comments on Nina Kraviz’s Berlin Boiler Room).
I understand that there are female producers, DJs and sound engineers out there, but it seems to be that for these women a defining element of their own personal art is their gender. For Alison Wonderland, Amelie Lens, Or:la, CC:Disco, Jayda G, Grimes, Tove Lo, etc., the general public automatically places a huge emphasis on “Omg! She’s a girl? Wild”. Think of a male producer/DJ. You’ll probably think of their music first. Then think of a female producer/DJ. You will most likely instantly picture their physical appearance. This is not an example of an individual’s sexist attitude, it’s indicative of the extent to which the emphasis is placed on a woman’s appearance in this genre of art.
Not one woman has won a Grammy for Best Producer. Why is this? The only reason I can think of is that making electronic music involves information technology. In production, so much work goes in to understanding not just the programs and equipment used, but also the physics behind mixing, recording and mastering. It’s the age-old sexist bullshit that states women can’t use computers or understand physics. And of course, this issue is exacerbated by the fact that there are so few female producers already; establishing a feedback loop. Women don’t produce because they’re not taken seriously, and then they’re not taken seriously because they don’t produce.
I would love to see a society where a woman’s physical appearance isn’t a denotive factor in her expertise as a musician. I think that things really have improved in the past 10 years or so, but I still sit there at kick-ons and hear male producer after male producer on the UE boom. It just feels as if gendered bullshit has infiltrated another aspect of art that should be completely neutral, for reasons I shouldn’t have to explain. So perhaps listen to some female producers? Back some female DJs in your city? As a girl about to completely devote her life to her music, I would be consoled to know that maybe in 10 years or so, I won’t be a rarity as a solo female producer. I hope that someday women will be taken seriously as producers, not sex symbols attached to a techno mix. And that is all.
Check out Emilia's Daisy Chains EP (2018) and short video below: