Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Studio of One’s Own: music production, the music industry and gender.

Paula Wolfe is a wonderful singer-songwriter and music producer who will be performing at our members’ event in May. She also has a PHD, which documents the work of women artists, producers and music industry professionals, from The Institute of Popular Music, University of Liverpool. 

Here is a short article which Paula’s written especially for our blog about A Studio of One’s Own:

‘Music production is the technical and creative process that helps form an identifiable ‘sound’ of an artist and contributes significantly to the creation of a career.  Subsequently, music production is regarded as one of the most powerful areas of practice within the music industry - it is also a sector overwhelmingly male dominated.

Music production is a gendered field of practice, the commercial recording studio a gendered working environment. A woman artist who produces her own ‘sound’ by developing music production skills at home challenges the gendering that has taken place. A question arises however: to what extent does an artist’s creative control aid the navigation of a career in a music industry fraught with contradiction for the woman musician and performer? Apparently women artists dominate the market place and yet they form the minority at every major music festival, are assumed to be ‘just the singer’ until they state their case as otherwise, and their bodies remain the primary marketing tool for major record labels.

When positioned in a historical and cultural context, the situation of the female artist-producer invites comparisons with readings that have been awarded creative women in other fields, in particular in literature. In her essay A Room of One’s Own (1929 in 1985 ed.) Virginia Woolf established connections between the historical challenges women encountered in their efforts to pursue careers as novelists and as classical composers observing, ‘So accurately does history repeat itself’. Music critic Lucy O’Brien referenced Woolf to suggest that women started to excel as singer-songwriters in the 1960s, in the way that women excelled as novelists at the turn of the nineteenth century, because they could access a guitar or piano in much the same way that women could access pen and paper (2002 ed., p.179). In the digital era the woman artist-producer not only accesses pen, paper, guitar and piano, but a digital audio workstation (DAW) on her laptop to get her work done.

Over ninety years after Woolf’s comments, however, history continues to ‘repeat itself’. For example, in a recent conversation on Radio 2 Lily Allen and the editor of Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, discussed the role the music producer plays in the perception of today’s women artists. Allen commented, ‘you’ll notice that of those big successful female artists there’s always a “man behind the woman” – you never get that with men…it’s never a conversation that’s brought up’.

The gendered associations of music production have been used to undermine the contributions of women performers but the art and craft of music production offers much potential. From young women experimenting with songwriting and production in their bedrooms to high-profile women artists sustaining and developing their careers, A Room of One’s Own has been transfigured into A Studio of One’s Own from which creative women, empowered by their own sound, are entering the marketplace and marketspace in increasing numbers.’

To read more, click here 

Paula Wolfe is an artist-producer who has been described as ‘a splendid songwriter’ (Uncut), and her production ‘the work’ of a ‘genie’ ( Her last album Lemon was received as ‘a mood-shifting, musically inventive piece of work’ (Mojo). Her live work has been described as ‘Mesmeric’ (The Guardian Hay Festival) and ‘Brilliant’ (Sky Arts 1).

Wolfe has given papers at international popular music conferences on a wide range of issues that concern the female singer-songwriter working in a current music industry context, and has a chapter, discussing media representation of the woman singer-songwriter and artist-producer, included in a forthcoming edited volume on the European singer-songwriter (Ashgate Press). Wolfe is currently reworking her thesis - A Studio of One’s Own: Music Production, the Music Industry and Gender - for publication and is completing her third album, due for release 2015.

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