Exploring the Networks Promoting Gender Equality in the Audio Industry

Words by Sophie McGraw

Hear from some of the industry’s leading females on how they got to where they are today and learn what support networks are available to help you get ahead. 

For women just starting out in the audio industry, it can feel like a lonely place. It’s no secret that female representation in professional sound roles is limited, but the statistics might still surprise you. According to WAM (Women’s Audio Mission), a not-for-profit organisation that supports women working with sound, the number of females in the pro audio industry stands at less than five per cent. A survey carried out in 2017 by the UK-based Music Producers Guild (MPG) estimated that just six per cent of its members were women.

Isabel Gracefield, Audio Engineer

Isabel Gracefield, Audio Engineer

Understanding what effects this gender imbalance has had on female professionals can be difficult. Isabel Gracefield, a prominent music engineer who has worked with the likes of Adele, Snow Patrol and Radiohead, recognises that there’s a problem but can’t quantify its impact, telling us that she doesn’t know what she’s missed out on ‘because you don’t see the opportunities you don’t get.’

Yet for Isabel, she believes that being a woman has given her a memorable quality, which in some ways has incurred a benefit. Next month, she’ll be engineering a session at Abbey Road studios after an artist requested a female engineer, and they didn’t have one on their books.

It's this ‘strong, affirmative action’ whereby women are deliberately given work that Isabel believes will redress the imbalance. Imparting knowledge and sharing contacts is what she sees as being the catalyst for change; ‘I’m happy to mentor anybody but particularly women, people of colour or the LGBT community. People who I see as needing more mentoring maybe than others. So I want to share work with those people and open doors for them if I can. Equally, I want people ahead of me to do the same.’ 

There’s a growing number of organisations that have been set up to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing between women working in the industry. Last year, Red Bull started running its #NormalNotNovelty workshops to encourage female DJs, engineers and producers, giving women at all stages of their careers the opportunity to share insights and learn from industry leaders. 

On an international scale, SoundGirls is making huge waves in creating a more inclusive environment for women. The organisation seeks to inspire the next generation of female audio professionals by creating a supportive community whereby women can find the tools, knowledge, and support they need to further their careers.

Clare Hibberd, Sound Girls (Glasgow Chapter)

Clare Hibberd, Sound Girls (Glasgow Chapter)

Clare Hibberd, Sound Lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland, became involved with SoundGirls while working at the Opera House in Oman, when she began to feel isolated and in need of female support. Clare documented her experience training Omanis to work in the Opera House on the SoundGirls blog.

By doing so, Clare found a group of women with similar interests in the area and together they began to run workshops at a local music school. The community opened new doors for Clare and revealed mutually beneficial opportunities; ‘It helped me as much as it helped other people.’ Upon returning to the UK and landing a job at RCS, Clare saw an opportunity to continue her work supporting other women and opened up the Glasgow branch of SoundGirls. ‘It’s really refreshing. It’s a really nice community and people ask for help all the time. Whatever your question, you’ll always get a response,’ Clare told us.

Finding this support and assistance is crucial in an industry where freelancing is commonplace and where making connections is vital to gaining work contracts.

MPG’s Producer of the Year 2018 Catherine J Marks’ route into the industry came about four years after a conversation with music producer Flood at a Nick Cave Gig in Dublin in 2001.  Having completed her degree in Architecture, Catherine knew that she wanted to pursue a career in audio and accepted an offer from Flood to essentially intern for him at his studio in London.  This work-based learning has proved to be invaluable for Marks, giving her ‘an insight into studio dynamics and psychology as well as an understanding of the technology in practical applications.’

Catherine J Marks, MPG Producer of the Year 2018

Catherine J Marks, MPG Producer of the Year 2018

For Catherine, anyone starting out in the industry should keep their goal in mind and not get dissuaded by any setbacks they may encounter. When asked what advice she’d give to others looking to pursue a career in audio, Catherine said: ‘Like anything in life, if there is something you want to do, don’t let the first obstacle quash your confidence and prevent you from pursuing your dream. Keep persevering. There is always a way.’

Exploring the technical aspects of working in sound and learning what works and what doesn’t in digital music technology is something that the Yorkshire Sound Women Network (YSWN) actively promotes. Through events, creative meet-ups and mentoring opportunities, YSWN provides women in Yorkshire and beyond with the chance to hone their skills and meet other women, girls and non-binary people who share a passion for sound.

There’s a lot to learn and having the space to do that is vital. But it was refreshing to hear from Isabel Gracefield that for her, finding a point of difference and embracing her individuality was just as important. When she was at university and began making music with no formal training, it was her experimental and ‘really weird’ approach that got her noticed. Isabel learnt quickly that ‘you didn’t necessarily have to be better, if you were significantly different from the people around you. Just be yourself and often that will get you just as far.’  

At the Edinburgh Festival of Sound, our team is over 50% female and we’re proud to have  joined the #AudioEquityPledge. We’re committed to working with female-led communities such as YSWM, SoundGirls, That’s Sound and The Malta Sound Women Network to create a more gender balanced audio industry.

If you’d like to learn more, join us from 15:30 – 15:50 on Friday 16th November at The Study (located next to the Exhibitor Zone), when we welcome Heidi Johnson from YSWN to the festival to talk about the organisation’s recent advocacy work and how we can encourage more diversity in the industry. You will also find Sound Girls and YSWN upstairs in the Exhibitor Zone if you would like to go and have a chat.