This year, International Women’s Day asks how women’s achievements can be celebrated and challenges people to take action against bias and raise awareness to help create a gender-balanced world.
A survey by the Music Producers Guild, in the United Kingdom, estimated that just six per cent of its members are women. A figure that they say is rising albeit too slowly from too low a starting point.
Award winning recording engineer Olga Fitzroy observed, “If fifty per cent of the population don’t feel that they can even take an interest in this subject, then you must be missing out on some talent.”
Fitzroy blames gender stereotypes for preventing women considering music production as a career and it starts with children and the toys they are given. Boys build and have technical toys whereas girls have dolls.
To help raise awareness and to celebrate important contributions and achievements, this article highlights ten women involved in the creative process of music production.
The list is not exhaustive, it is merely representative and I encourage you to go out and explore the significant achievements being made by an under-represented group that has an enormous amount to offer.
In no particular order:
Berlin born and spending her formative years in Germany and Scotland, Olga Fitzroy completed a degree at Surrey University before taking an internship at AIR Studios, London.
Here, she trained with experts in music engineering and production working on records for the likes of Coldplay, The Foo Fighters and Muse, as well as film scores for top composers including Hans Zimmer and Dario Marianelli.
Fitzroy says that a highlight of her career was working with Sir George Martin on the last ever Beatles recording for the 2006 album, Love.
Since 2013, Fitzroy has worked with Coldplay, Chris Martin, Ed Harcourt and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. She regularly works from the finest orchestral studios in London and around Europe often working on television and film scores.
In 2016, Fitzroy was named Recording Engineer of the Year at the MPG awards.
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia and based in London, England since 2005, Marks is an audio engineer, mixing engineer and record producer who has worked with The Killers and Wolf Alice amongst others.
After meeting record producer Flood (Mark Ellis) at a Nick Cave concert in Dublin in 2001, she trained as an assistant engineer at Assault and Battery Studios in North West London, working on the PJ Harvey records White Chalk and Let England Shake, and on The Editors’ In This Light and on This Evening.
From 2009, Marks worked alongside Alan Moulder where she engineered and mixed projects including Interpol, Foals, Death Cab for Cutie and Blonde Redhead.
An award-winning producer, Marks achieved Breakthrough Producer of the Year 2016 from the Music Producers Guild (MPG) and the MPG Producer of the Year in 2018.
Ikonika is the pseudonym of Sara Chen (formerly Sara Abdel-Hamid), an electronic musician, producer and DJ from West London.
Chen is associated with a genre known as Hyperdub, a form of music likened to “a mutation of British electronic music, infected by Jamaican soundsystem culture”, according to Steve Goodman (Kode9) who started the Hyperdub webzine and label.
Ikonika first became involved in music through drumming in hardcore and metal bands, only later becoming involved in electronic production beginning with hip-hop and dubstep.
She defined her own sound through a limited sonic palette that she puts to a remarkable number of uses through messed-up rhythms, melodies and eight-bit bleeps and synths.
Grimes is the professional name of Canadian singer, songwriter and record producer Claire Boucher.
Drawing on an eclectic mix of electronic music, synth pop, R&B, dream pop, and hip hip, Grimes’ work has been likened to a number of artists such as Björk, Siouxsie Sioux and Enya.
Grimes says that the percussive beat of music is an excellent mechanism by which to release a nervous tick, from childhood, that caused her to tap things with her foot.
Thinking that she could not properly make music, she based her music on loops. Only later was she introduced to Apple’s Garage Band whereby music can be created by constructing different loops of sound, copying and pasting together.
Grimes is a multi-award winning artist including The Rober Awards Best Female Artist and Best Pop Artist 2012, Bazaar Women for the Year Musician of the Year 2016, and the Juno Awards Video of the Year 2017 and 2018.
Known for her work with artists such as Tool, Johnny Cash, Prince, Tom Petty and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sylvia Massy is an American record producer, mixer and engineer.
Massy was an engineer, producer or mixer on recordings from artists including Aerosmith, Babyface, Big Daddy Kane, Bobby Brown, Prince, Julio Iglesias, Seal, Skunk Anansie, Paula Abdul and Ryuichi Sakamoto whilst working for Larrabee Sound in Los Angeles.
Massy has worked as an educator, first between 2015 and 2018 as a visiting professor at Berklee College of Music, Boston. In 2016 she lectured at SAE Institure’s audio engineering schools in London and Munich.
In 2017 she conducted a workshop and lecture at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Gilbert, Arizona. Boston. In 2018 Massy taught a workshop at the Abbey Road Institute in London, UK.
Another one of the few woman in the male-dominated music production world, Mandy Parnell is one of the UK’s leading mastering engineers working with the likes of the Chemical Brothers and Max Richter.
Parnell spent her youth playing with records rather than dolls where the jukebox guy would give her the old seven-inches. After visiting The Manor, Richard Branson’s Oxford Studio, Parnell knew that she wanted to work behind the mixing desk.
She returned to London and enrolled in a music production course. Despite this, it took her three years to land a paid job after completing the course. She says, “If you’re passionate about something it doesn’t matter. If you want it you’ve got to fight for it.”
Parnell worked on Björk’s 2011 Biophilia and 2015 Vulnicura albums and was short listed for the MPG Mastering Engineer of the Year award in 2014 and 1016, winning the award in 2015.
Parnell continues to work as a audio mastering engineer at her Black Saloon Studios in London where she has worked with The XX, Feist, Sigur Ros, Björk, The Knife, Frightened Rabbit and Brian Eno.
Imogen Heap is a British singer, songwriter, record producer and audio engineer involved in electronic music.
Following classical training in piano, cello and clarinet, Heap taught herself guitar and drums and produced music on Atari computers signing to an independent record label at just 18 years old.
Heap is known for innovation and has spent over six years designing and producing musical MiMu gloves that allow the wearer to create and sculpt sound with movement.
Continuing with her innovation, Heap released the single Tiny Human on Mycelia, an experimental blockchain-based music distribution platform alongside other open source platforms such as Ujo.
As of 2018, Heap has received two Grammy Awards and one Ivor Novello Award. Heap has been cited as an influence on the music of Ariana Grande and Katy Perry.
Born, and growing up, in Los Angeles, Jennifer Lee’s introduction to music was learning to play the piano as a child. Though classical, her musical preferences developed as she explored hip-hop and electronic music.
Known as TOKiMONSTa, the word originating from the Korean for rabbit, Lee now works as a record producer and DJ, collaborating with Thirsty Fish, Kool Keith, MNDR and Anderson Paak.
Lee faced creative challenges following two brain surgery procedures to correct a rare progressive vascular disease called Moyamoya where arteries carrying blood to the brain become restricted or blocked. The condition, left unaddressed, can be fatal.
After the surgical interventions, Lee was lost the ability to communicate through speech or writing whilst she recovered. After two months of recovery she once again felt cognitively able to create music again.
Lee made history when she became the first female Asian-American producer to receive a Grammy nomination for the Best Dance / Electronic Album for the 2017 album, Lune Rouge.
In 2019, she was again nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Dance / Electronic Album.