Women working with music technology
March 9, 2015 1:28 PM   Subscribe

There's somehow a notion out there that women don't make their own electronic music. In a recent interview with Bjork in Pitchfork, she brought up an instance of sexism she's dealt with for decades: journalists hardly ever credit her with composing and producing her own music. Since she's not being photographed in the studio working at her computer, the men she collaborates with end up getting all the credit. She cites MIA and Missy Elliott as other examples of this phenomenon. The tumblr female:pressure attempts to counteract this. "Here we offer a visual catalogue of female producers, DJ’s, media artists and electronic music Performers at work. These are not our press photos. This is a collective effort to demonstrate women and their use of technology in music and media production." It's also just a fantastic collection of electronic musicians, many of whom have been overlooked. Further discussion from Create Digital Music.
posted by naju (42 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also a nice facebook group: Women In Experimental
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 1:29 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Previously
posted by metaname at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]




Two of my favorite women in electronic music (and favorite musicians, period) are Vektroid AKA Macintosh Plus and Jordana LeSesne aka 1.8.7.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:55 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Men OR women, I don't expect many of them actually produce the music they release. This is after working with "composers" for years (more like sound artists) whose scores are incomprehensible, sloppy, badly notated, and devoid of any true craft. Seems anyone with an iMac and an old copy of Sibelius, Finale, Logic Pro, etc. can call themselves a composer now. And yet we musicians are the ones who are expected to bring our years of practice and honing of our craft to the table at the service of making THEM look good. It's just one of the little annoying things we encounter as freelance musicians. "Oh, the part isn't clear? I wanted it to sound like this!" "No you're playing it wrong, that's not what I wrote!"

I've actually had to tell composers what they wrote for them, because they didn't seem to know. Astounding.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:59 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


See also: Grimes
posted by oulipian at 2:01 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Apparently Kate Bush ran into this too. I heard that the song "Suspended in gaffa" (gaffers tape) was about this but I can't find anything to support that notion.
posted by boilermonster at 2:04 PM on March 9, 2015


In one of the very few interviews I've read with Bjork -- years ago -- she was talking about the sampler she was using.

I'd have made that assumption about Missy Elliot or other artists I don't know, male or female, because that just seems to be the way the business is. Unless I've read interviews where they talk about the process, I assume other people are writing and producing their material. (And sometimes, singing it.)
posted by Foosnark at 2:06 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, man, Missy Elliot, that song, "Work It" has a backwards masking sample right when she says "I put my thing down flip it and reverse it". I played the backwards masked sample backwards only to find out that it was the line before it ("I put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it") which, since it's the same line with the same steady rhythm but played backwards instead of forwards, works amazingly well so mad props to Missy Elliot. She's double plus talented and smart and that's one of the reasons why I like her music.
posted by I-baLL at 2:10 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


She cites MIA and Missy Elliott as other examples of this phenomenon.

This is a real problem and I'm totally guilty of it myself, but I gotta say Bjork and MIA are, like, the only two female electronic musicians I by-default assumed *were* writing their own music. Oh, and Lindsey Stirling, duh, but that's fairly obvious so no points there.
posted by Ryvar at 2:10 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Men OR women, I don't expect many of them actually produce the music they release.

...what? Electronic musicians don't produce music? We're not talking about people preparing scores for other musicians, we're talking about people whose end product is electronic music. I.e., written, played, sequenced, or otherwise produced with computers or gear.
posted by naju at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


I gotta say Bjork and MIA are, like, the only two female electronic musicians I by-default assumed *were* writing their own music

Cosey Fanni Tutti would like to have a word with you.
posted by item at 2:22 PM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Interestingly while walking out of Björk's Carnegie Hall performance on Saturday, I overheard a man ask "I wonder who writes her string arrangements." It was all I could do not to strike him down in my burning, searing rage.
posted by Captaintripps at 2:27 PM on March 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


Shame MIA doesn't write any of her own music really then.
*ducks*...
posted by debord at 2:39 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cosey Fanni Tutti would like to have a word with you.

Perhaps, but much like Missy Elliott I had never heard of her before today. Electronic music is an extremely wide pool - when I look at DJMag's top 100 I'm a die-hard fan of 30% of the names, and haven't heard a single track from the rest.

I guess an explanation would help: I've been a paying customer for Pandora since it began, which happened to coincide with my getting dragged to an Infected Mushroom show by some friends and discovering I like music that isn't indie rock. But if everything you know about a particular genre comes from a single well-curated matching algorithm, you can wind up with an incredibly nuanced understanding of less than a quarter of the total picture. And, honestly, it's pretty easy to be perfectly happy with that state of affairs.
posted by Ryvar at 2:40 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not surprising that female electronic musicians are assumed to be using ghost writers and ghost producers, given how common it is for popular artists to have ghost writers and ghost producers (and ghost performers), combined with how common and widely-known it is for female pop stars to be either just the face of their music or, at most, the face, voice, and dancer behind it (see, e.g., Madonna, and I'm not going to start naming other names, because I don't want to get into a derail about who does or doesn't have a ghost writer/producer/singer).

The industry has conditioned people to assume that the name artist is a figurehead and that there are writers/producers/performers behind the scenes who get little or no credit. The fact that Bjork consistently works with and gives credit to fantastic collaborating producers, writers, etc. has, unfortunately and ironically, probably fueled people's prejudice against her as an artist.
posted by The World Famous at 2:52 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


1) female:pressure is such a great name.

2) Oh, man, Missy Elliot, that song, "Work It"

It was probably someone on Metafilter who said this on Twitter so I'm not even going to pretend that this was my own, but Missy Elliot's songs from 10+ years ago sound like they could be produced today
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:57 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


...Björk's Carnegie Hall performance on Saturday, I overheard a man ask "I wonder who writes her string arrangements."

To be fair, it is probably the norm for artists of both genders to have someone else write their string arrangements (beck, classic scott walker, etc.). I wouldn't assume sexism when hearing this comment.
posted by snofoam at 3:17 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Semi-related -- I stumbled upon this project the other day: "Feminine Medicine is an original album project, stage show, and a platform to feature more female artistry in the electronic dance music industry. The album will feature 13 original songs that are collaborations between Electronic Music Producer, ALIA, and at least 16 other female vocalists, instrumentalists, and producers." It got full funding on Kickstarter recently. Should be cool!
posted by Gymnopedist at 3:27 PM on March 9, 2015


MCMikeNamara: "1) female:pressure is such a great name.

2) Oh, man, Missy Elliot, that song, "Work It"

It was probably someone on Metafilter who said this on Twitter so I'm not even going to pretend that this was my own, but Missy Elliot's songs from 10+ years ago sound like they could be produced today
"

Mira Calix's songs from 19 years ago sound like they could be produced a decade from now. (I was going to say Autechre, but since we're on the female tip, figured I'd give a shout out to a talented female producer of experimental electronic music :P). Hello, you could say the same for Bjork.

I wouldn't have guessed Missy had produced her own work, not because she's a woman, but because hip-hop, like a lot of pop, has a lot of "star producers" (think Timbaland, Dr. Dre, etc...) and the rappers are the version of pop-star/artists who are the face, but the music production often seems to go on in the background. So I am very pleased when the beats and everything else is fully done by the individuals. I look forward to seeing that list... I hope Lady Miss Kier is listed on there.
posted by symbioid at 3:38 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the subject of string arrangement, I write and produce with a few different artists, most of whom are genius-level writers, players, and producers, and only one of them (the one with the graduate degree in music composition) does their own string arrangements as far as actually doing all the orchestration, part-writing, and notation.

On Vespertine, Vince Mendoza is credited with having done string arrangements, choir arrangements, and orchestration. Bjork is also credited with string arrangements and choir arrangements, but not with orchestration.

I don't know what Bjork's skill level is regarding music notation and orchestral arrangement, but it's a completely different skillset than songwriting and arranging as part of music production. It would not be even a small slight against an artist to assume that, as is totally normal, the orchestral arrangements for their Carnegie Hall performance were written by a professional at that particular aspect of the production.

On Debut, Bjork is credited as "arranger" generally, while Oliver Lake is credited as "music arranger."
On Post, John Altman is credited for "orchestra arrangements" and as "conductor," and Eumir Deodato is credited for string arrangements.
Eumir Deodato was also "arranger, orchestration, transcription" on Homogenic.
Medúlla doesn't have any strings or orchestration so, accordingly, no string arranger or orchestration, etc. is credited.

Bjork is the sole credit for string arrangement on Vulnicura, and I don't think it would be unreasonable to suspect that, over the last two decades, she has developed the skillset to do formal string arrangement and orchestration to the point where she doesn't need anyone else to work with on it. But again, it would not be an insult at all to assume that an artist at least collaborated with a dedicated orchestration and string arrangement person when preparing a performance for Carnegie Hall.
posted by The World Famous at 3:39 PM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


I wouldn't have guessed Missy had produced her own work, not because she's a woman, but because hip-hop, like a lot of pop, has a lot of "star producers" (think Timbaland, Dr. Dre, etc...)

Missy Elliott is a hip-hop star producer.
posted by The World Famous at 3:43 PM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


The World Famous: I'm not so sure that this is easily understandable. There are many male pop stars. Justin Timberlake, One Direction, Bieber, Usher, etc. While no one expects them to write/produce, that assumption doesn't carry over to male artists working outside of the top 40 pop framework: does anyone question whether M83 produces his own stuff? Toro y Moi? Gary Numan? Has anyone questioned any male synthpop or indie electronic artist's writing credits, ever? So why does Grimes have to put up with it? How come my female electronic producer friends can't show up to a gig without people assuming they're a girlfriend of one of the acts? (This really happens.) I mean there's just something insane going on.
posted by naju at 3:46 PM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bjork wrote about the credits for Homogenic and misunderstandings around them in a 2008 note...

i have had this experience many many times that the work i do on the computer gets credited to whatever male was in 10 meter radius during the job. people seem to accept that women can sing and play whatever instrument they are seen playing. but they cannot program, arrange, produce, edit or write electronic music . ... i’ll admit that one thing could confuse things: people have to use their ears and actually read the creditlist to get this information. all the music i have made: like for example string arrangements, synthbasslines or programming of electronic patterns, i never play myself live because i want to give 100% of myself into the singing i either ask the computers to play it or i get other musicians to play it. this could confuse things .
posted by naju at 3:57 PM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've written about this on here before, but for quite a while i was pretty involved in the local electronic scene. I produced, played a ton of DJ sets, and got to the point where i was regularly doing paid gigs and starting to make enough money from shows(and getting booked/offers of being the local opener for pretty big names touring) that i really felt like i was starting to "do something". Several of my friends i played with early on grew in to touring, even internationally. I really got to see an awful lot of the back side of the scene, where the sausage was made.

This, among other things, was something that always massively turned me off.(the other main thing would be how often people got fucked out of money they rightfully deserved, but that's not a topic for now) Not only is the entire scene a gigantic dongfest... but there were just constant unstoppable unavoidable comments about women. Both just misogynistic bullshit in general, to the level of the worst hypothetical frathouse you can imagine, and whenever it came up thenespecially about women producers/artists.

Of which, locally, there were very few.

The worst thing was that there was a woman who was exposed for representing stuff she hadn't produced solo as her own work. And holy shit did the assholes ride that one in to the ground. I bet if i googled some choice terms, i could still find pretty recent comments of people talking shit on her on various small sites or go look at some facebook group pages or something. Any time someone was accused about this sort of thing post that happening, if the person talking bullshit knew of that, it would get referenced in a defense of the accusation as "hey, but remember that whole thing with her?. yea."

It was like, to the point that anything i posted online or showed someone i'd just get comments about the production, or questions about how i achieved x/y/z at that one part from technical friends. If a woman posted something, you bet your fucking ass one of the first questions would be a smug "so who made this for/with you?"

I can think of one or two women who i never saw get that treatment, but they not only played live hardware but i also bet i just wasn't around to see or hear it. I would find it almost impossible to believe they hadn't gotten it more than once in the past. It's that pervasive.

Mostly though, i was wondering when enough pressure would build that there'd finally be a big public backlash to this. The electronic music scene is fucking broken in several ways, but this is in my opinion the ugliest one.

I think i'd describe it, if pushed, as the assumption of competency. When i barely had any experience, and just a couple tracks on a myspace to show people, i was instantly getting shows and basically learned to DJ and play live PA sets by... doing it. With little to no practice. In contrast, several of my lady friends who have already played at events that are moderately to very well known in the local scene and have demonstrable experience being involved in multiple projects, a tumblr/web presence, etc barely get picked up for anything or get tentatively offered something and then dropped. For a dude. Repeatedly.

When i was involved in running an event that started bringing in out of town talent fairly reliably, myself and the only woman who was a resident DJ voiced our concerns about it being a dongfest. The solution was... to create an all women DJ/producer night, rather than just shuffle up the lineup for the main event. Because after all the main event was successful and we didn't need to change anything about it!

At this point i really can't see a solution that doesn't involve routing around the guys who do shit like this. I don't see them changing. And i hate it.

To be fair, it is probably the norm for artists of both genders to have someone else write their string arrangements (beck, classic scott walker, etc.). I wouldn't assume sexism when hearing this comment.

I would.

The entire cover these types of comments fly under is the "oh but, i didn't mean it like THAT, jeeze!" of plausible deniability. You can't divorce the fact that these comments are almost always sexist from a comment that could be not sexist. It just can't exist in a vacuum.
posted by emptythought at 3:58 PM on March 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


Has anyone questioned any male synthpop or indie electronic artist's writing credits, ever?

Ever? There are certainly examples, but I don't think they're relevant here, where nobody (that I can see) is disputing that sexism is at play where people are questioning Bjork's credits.

How come my female electronic producer friends can't show up to a gig without people assuming they're a girlfriend of one of the acts?

The short answer to that one is sexism. But there's a more nuanced, longer answer, as well, that involves a combination of sexism and the inherent problems of the electronic producer world.

Yeah, there's something insane going on. There's sexism operating in a situation that already has a dynamic where people who are deeply into more conventional music forms (e.g. music journalists) don't believe the "artist" is actually capable of creating their own art, in part because the disbelievers don't understand how electronic music is made and in part because there are an awful lot of artists who really do use ghost writers/producers/etc.

And that's where it gets extra unfair for someone like Bjork, who is a true auteur in a genre of music that is easy for people to fail to understand.

And, as I noted earlier, the fact that Bjork collaborates with and gives credit to co-producers, writers, etc. complicates the issue, because those prone to sexist assumptions take it as license to assume that the collaborator (in the most recent case the Haxan Cloak) really did everything.
posted by The World Famous at 4:10 PM on March 9, 2015


Interestingly while walking out of Björk's Carnegie Hall performance on Saturday, I overheard a man ask "I wonder who writes her string arrangements." It was all I could do not to strike him down in my burning, searing rage.

Would you have had the same searing rage if, instead, he had said "I wonder if she is still working with Eumir Deodato?"
posted by The World Famous at 4:13 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even female pop artists who don't write 100% of their material oftem do a lot more than they're given credit for. Beyonce gets some credit but not enough. Avril Lavigne's fans give her credit but not other people. Etc.
posted by subdee at 4:35 PM on March 9, 2015


I'm asking this from a genuine position of ignorance - what do Beyonce and Avril Lavigne do that they don't get credit for?
posted by The World Famous at 4:42 PM on March 9, 2015


Wasn't there a previous FPP about this issue, but maybe from a different artist? Grimes, maybe? Or maybe discussed in a comment?

The elision of women from credit for all kinds of things is so intensely angering even to just see; I can't imagine how it must feel to the person it is happening to.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:29 PM on March 9, 2015


I wouldn't have guessed Missy had produced her own work, not because she's a woman, but because hip-hop, like a lot of pop, has a lot of "star producers" (think Timbaland, Dr. Dre, etc...)

Missy Elliot and Timbaland came up in the industry together as a production/writing duo. I follow this sort of thing pretty intently so I was embarrassed that it was only recently that I learned this.

In "EDM" there is in fact popular suspicion of most any "name" touring DJ's production credits, and rightfully so because ghostwriters are a huge part of that particular segment of the industry. It's undoubtedly unfairly amplified for women though because women who DJ already get filed as pretty faces or novelty acts.

I can contribute a couple very big female electronic DJs - not producers those two but extremely influential and respected - some up and coming among the kids these days and of course a number who are outstanding producers in the sort of niche where I wouldn't dream to suggest that they are anything less than massive audio tech nerds.
posted by atoxyl at 5:37 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


While writing my comment I was reminded of this which I at first thought was the most insulting interview ever before I realized that it's a sympathetic publication giving her a chance to go off about the insulting questions she gets from other interviewers. Though she seems to think she's been treated well in the industry - except by journalists.
posted by atoxyl at 5:50 PM on March 9, 2015


I don't know from hip-hop or pop.

When I go through my collection of music, looking at solo female acts and groups that have women, in almost every case I either assume or know that the women are producers or co-producers. But for the most part we're talking about experimental, industrial, ambient, and other off-center genres where everything is basically DIY.

That doesn't change my basic assumption that chart-topping stuff is mostly written by committees of songwriters according to specific formulae, and produced by whoever the label imposes on the artist.
posted by Foosnark at 7:19 PM on March 9, 2015


Great post, i love the pictures especially the ones with people in their personal studios.

I got to ask though, what the hell is the eXistenZ looking thing in this photo?
posted by lips at 7:54 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wasn't there a previous FPP about this issue, but maybe from a different artist? Grimes, maybe?

Yes, and then some.


A few more talented female electronic producers/musicians, not yet mentioned: Marina Faib (Soundcloud; iTunes "podcasts" of various mixes and tracks); TOKiMONSTA (Soundcloud; official site; Midnight Menu and Half Shadows on YouTube; Desiderium on Bandcamp); and a one-time collaborator of MONSTA's, Suzi Analogue (Soundcloud; official site).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:04 PM on March 9, 2015


TOKiMONSTA

^^ a good one I forgot
posted by atoxyl at 10:46 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is if the guy wondering about the string arrangements was wondering about it because they were great or because they sucked. Oh and also I'm pretty much 100% sure she didn't do them. My pals were playing the fiddles there. They know.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:48 PM on March 9, 2015


I love electroclash, because it was primarily a female-dominated genre. The non-female artists are usually part of power couples, and the entire genre itself thumbs its nose at gender rigidity. All of this makes it lovable. I think it's weird how the fact that it is is such a woman-centric electronic music genre has somehow flown under the radar when people write about it.
posted by JLovebomb at 12:23 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


See also this interview with (the great) Karen Gwyer

http://thequietus.com/articles/16737-karen-gwyer-interview
posted by Erberus at 3:44 AM on March 10, 2015


I don't love that rules lawyering over one musician, and even largely over one performance, is such a large derail in this thread. It plays right into the sexist narrative being combated in the FPP. An instance of ambiguity among many positive examples should not elide the rest, and that it has for some speaks even more to the necessity of this project and others like it.

And before anyone tries to gate me with credentials: I have very close ties to the music industry, and I see women performers dismissed all the time. As a woman, you have to be twice the performer to get half the credit, in my experience. And my niche is friendlier to women than electronic music.
posted by gilrain at 5:34 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd really highly recommend following The Black Madonna on Twitter for anyone interested in this sort of thing; she talks about sexism in dance music a lot. And is awesome.

Women have been running shit in dance since the beginning. The press is late to the party.

If you have not endured sexism in dance music, use that privilege to help the women that are, because they're real too.

I know there's more but Twitter won't let me scroll back any further...
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:50 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love this so much. Thanks for sharing!
posted by bobobox at 6:43 PM on March 13, 2015


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