To Achieve Gender Equality in Music, We Need More Female Producers and Musicians

When women aren't writing, producing, and playing their own instruments, when they're singing words they don't believe in, or when they're feeling uncomfortable around all-male recording and production teams, how could they be making their finest work?

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Fact: 21.7% of artists in the music industry are women*.

Additional fact: only 2.1% of music producers are women.

Recently, there's been a lot of discussion about the lack of female representation in the music industry, but there's been less emphasis on the startling lack of female producers. This has to change, because in order for women to achieve real equality in the music industry—not just illusory representation in the form of overt sexualization and commodification—they need to be producing their own music.

They also need to be playing their own instruments, working their own sound systems, and signing artists to their own labels. In short, more women need to be taking control of their work.

In a recent interview, producer and artist King Princessstated that "it's tough out here for women who have a vision, and I think that the most important realization I came to in music was that I need to be the person responsible for my vision. I need to hold myself responsible and learn this shit. It's not hard, it's just daunting to be a tech god."

Miquela interviews King Princess | Coachella

She's right. Many women, for whatever reason, find themselves deterred from production, resigned to the idea that only men can adequately mix and master their tracks; but, in order to totally take control of their images and sounds, women need to hold themselves accountable and learn.

After all, just because a woman sings in a band and poses for press photos does not mean that her success is a victory for women on the whole. Women have been featured as vocalists in front of all-male bands since time immemorial, propped up as pretty faces while men rail on their guitars, fiddle with the levers on their soundboards, and pull the strings of the entire situation.

Plus, female frontwomen—especially in the commercial cover band industry—are often held to disturbingly sexist standards. Just look at the ads for artists on Craigslist and you'll notice that many of the calls for female vocalists specify that the candidate must be "in good shape" or even "slim," a disturbing and archaic requirement that throws the standards and requirements that haunt the music industry in stark relief.

This isn't to say that all female frontwomen are nothing more than pretty faces. It is to say that if we want to achieve gender equality in the music industry, underrepresented parties need to take up space not only behind the mic but in all aspects of performance and creative development.

First and foremost, female producers would create space for many female artists who might have otherwise been deterred from pursuing music. After all, recording studios and concert halls are dark, intimate spaces where sexual assault occurs far too often, and it's impossible to know how many women have left music industry due to bad experiences at the hands of men who feel they have the power to take advantage of them. Earlier this year, a bassist named Ava revealed that she quit the music industry because of abuse she received at the hands of Ryan Adams when she was underage; and her story is far from an isolated incident. According to The New York Times, Ava "never played another gig" after "the idea that she would be objectified or have to sleep with people to get ahead 'just totally put [her] off of the whole idea' of being a musician." Her experience is not an isolated incident.

This is a tragic but all-too-common story. But if more women were to take up production, claiming these traditionally masculine spaces as their own and creating safe environments for young female artists, who knows what kind of alchemy could occur?

As things are now, the lack of female producers—and the concurrent number of female artists who have left the industry due to assault and intimidation at the hands of powerful men—could explain why women have been so underrepresented on end-of-year lists and in awards circuits. Plus, even if you do remain in the industry, it's quite difficult to create work that's true to your vision if you're not writing and producing at least part of it. (Rihanna can do it, but then again, Rihanna is an ageless superhuman, so that argument is irrelevant). Many pop songs with female vocalists—especially the kind that are getting pumped out by increasingly desperate LA's producers—were clearly not written by their singers, and so they're weighed down by a kind of synthetic detachment. When women aren't writing and producing, and when they're singing words they don't believe in, how could they possibly be making their finest work?

The same is true for instrumentalists. Though there are millions of extraordinary female musicians, a video of the top 10 greatest female guitarists features only a few female shredders and mostly includes songs with vocals, whereas every man in the top 10 is shown shredding on their rather phallic axes in full-on rock god mode. As long as women aren't shredding, their rock music is simply not going to be as effective as Mick Jaggers. (On the other hand, whether we really need more shredding is a topic for another discussion).

Top 10 Female Guitarists of All

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Of course, this definitely isn't to say that women can't rock—they can and do. Many women have annihilated all expectations and gender norms, despite impossible odds, using their traumas as rocket fuel. Courtney Love transformed her anger and pain from a 1991 assault into the song "Asking For It," and she's been destroying sexist expectations for her entire career. The entire Riot Grrl movement was dedicated to bucking gender norms and bringing unruly, powerful women to the fore.

Hole With Kurt Cobain - Asking For

Plus, some of our greatest, most innovative (and most criminally underrecognized) guitarists and songwriters have been women—take Big Mama Thornton, the original writer of Elvis's "Hound Dog" who received precisely zero of the royalties he received from it; or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose work was a fundamental precursor to rock and roll; or anyone on She Shreds' list of 50 Black Guitarists and Bassists You Need to Know. So, so many female greats—women of color in particular—have been wiped from history or are just beginning to receive their due.

Similarly, though they comprise a tiny percentage of the whole, there have always been female music producers. The problem isn't that they don't exist, but that they're not recognized, argues producer Ebonie Smith, citing many who are doing excellent work but who are not receiving adequate acclaim. These include WondaGurl, the teenager who produced Travis Scott's "Antidote" and part of Jay-Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail; Nova Wav, who produces for Kehlani; Nicki Minaj's producer DJ Diamond Kutz; and hundreds of others.

Things seem to be moving forward, at least. Initiatives like Smith's Gender Amplified, Inc. are encouraging women and nonbinary people to take up production and music tech. In terms of instrumentalists, a recent Fender study found that roughly 50% of guitars purchased in 2016 were bought by women or girls; and with publications like She Shreds elevating the voices of diverse female guitarists and bassists, we'll most likely be seeing a whole new generation of players rising from the ashes, the angry cries of their foremothers ringing in their ears. For some, that generation has already arrived—for example, LA Mag recently published an article with the self-explanatory title "Women Are Saving the Electric Guitar."

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Still, as of now, the statistics show that far too few of the instrumentalists, composers, conductors, and record label executives who occupy positions of power are female. Of course, women are not at fault for their own historical marginalization. For a long time, women have been quietly discouraged from railing on guitars, instead advised to sit quietly at pianos or to sing prettily while men did the work. Plus, the tour and studio life often wasn't viable for mothers (though naturally, it's always been perfectly acceptable for fathers). The dearth of women in the music industry is the project of age-old systems of sexism and classism.

But things are changing. Sexism still exists, but with women comprising roughly 50% of the workforce, we can no longer use sexism as the sole excuse for why there are so few female producers. On the whole, as a society, we've moved past second-wave feminism, wherein the only goal was to get women into the workplace. But in the realm of music producers, it's like we're still living in the 1950s, when it was radical for women not to want children. Women—as well as men—are to blame for the lack of female producers in the modern era.

Perhaps the issue stems from mindset. "What the experiences of women reveal is that the biggest barrier they face is the way the music industry thinks about women," said Professor Stacey Smith, whose studies generated a report called 'Inclusion in the Recording Studio?' Smith writes, "The perception of women is highly stereotypical, sexualized and without skill. Until those core beliefs are altered, women will continue to face a roadblock as they navigate their careers."

After all, production requires a unique combination of attention to detail, technological savvy, artistic vision, and brash fearlessness. You can learn literally endless amounts about how to produce, how to mix and master and EQ every fiber of every note; but ultimately, production is taking shot after shot into the dark. It's about believing in your own ability to hear and shape the music into the form you want it to be in. It's about taking control, the kind that will remain largely unattainable to women as long as the aforementioned perceptions exist.

Hopefully, someday this dissolves and we all realize that we're all floundering in the dark together. Maybe someday we'll all understand that gender is a fluid concept, and the ability to create art is one of the things that binds us together as human beings.

But that is not the world we live in. And until that world exists, we desperately need more women behind the mixing board.

*This article recognizes that trans and nonbinary people have often been more erased and marginalized in the music industry to a much greater extent than cisgender women.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, and the Sexist Backlash Against Female Sadness

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Billie Eilish's sophomore LP, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is significantly darker than anything she's released before. Even "idontwannabeyouanymore," the most serious track on her debut "dont smile at me," was an indictment of damaging beauty standards.

Her music has always been melancholy, pulled from whatever spring of velvety, neon-saturated darkness that Lana Del Rey and Lorde first drew from. But When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? dives deeper. It stares into the far reaches of the subconscious, and somewhere along the way, it moves into the realm of explicit suicidal ideation, raising the question—should we be concerned about Billie Eilish? And what do we do with music that isn't just sad, but sounds like a genuine cry for help?

Although lyrics like "I want you to worry about me" and "call my friends and tell them that I'll miss them / but I'm not sorry" express new levels of desperation, Eilish has long been open about her struggles with mental illness. She told Zane Lowe on Apple Music's Beats 1 that depression had "controlled everything in [her] life," adding that "I've always been a melancholy person… I feel like there are some people that neutrally they're happy." When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? doesn't shy from this at all, visually and lyrically. Despite a few exhilarating tracks like "you should see me in a crown" (accompanied by one of the most magnificently creepy pop music videos in recent memory), it's mostly about depression, heartache, and death.

Billie Eilish - you should see me in a crown (official video by Takashi Murakami) -

Eilish is no stranger to death, and it's clearly not a joke to her. She publicly mourned the passing of her friend XXXTentancion, who was shot in June, and by the sound of it he's not the only one; songs like "bury a friend" and "ilomilo" excavate these painful experiences.

But "bury a friend" and especially "listen before i go" both veer into explicit ideation at points; the latter is a veritable suicide note. It sounds like giving up, like a last call at the end of the night when plans have already been made. And that's where it goes too far.

Obviously, Billie Eilish not the first musician to write and speak out about these themes. Everyone from Billie Holliday to Elliot Smith has detailed the intricacies of their struggles in the public eye, and the media has been glamorizing the trope of the troubled young star since time immemorial. A new generation of emo-rappers, from Lil Peep to Lil Uzi Vert, has also brought raw, unfiltered honesty about mental illness into the mainstream.

Since extreme emotion is a shared aspect of the human experience, it's no surprise that these themes are so pervasive. Ours is a strange world—and especially for those growing up with unlimited access to the Internet, faced with pending environmental catastrophe and ever-more-insidious pressures from a voracious media-industrial complex, it's not an easy place to be. So all this definitely is not meant to criticize Eilish and her peers for feeling these things and for creating sad, furious, disconcerting art.

This also isn't a damnation of sad music. Sad songs and other forms of public honesty about mental illness can do a lot of important, often subversive work; they can interrupt the media's simulacrum of false happiness or function as catalysts for discussions about mental health. Those conversations are vitally important, especially in light of the fact that many reports say there's a higher level of depression and anxiety in teens than ever before, and when one in five adults struggles with a mental illness.

But there's a difference between being honest about mental health, and creating work that threatens actual self-harm and could be potentially triggering, especially for vulnerable fans who view artists as cult leaders who they'll follow, quite literally, to the end. Billie Eilish's new music goes too far because—coupled with her too-cool-for-you ethos and pending superstardom—she not only glamorizes mental illness; she glamorizes suicide, packages it up in a bundle of synths and bass and sells it for $200 a ticket.

So what are we as listeners to do with music that's explicitly suicidal? In truth, there's not much we can do except trust that Eilish has a solid support system. She's in a band with her brother, and a whole bunch of people had to be involved in creating her album; hopefully, someone is taking steps to get her the help she needs. Of course, often with things like depression, even if you're close to the person, there's not too much you can do aside from validating their feelings and encouraging them to seek professional support. And even with professional help, there's no easy solution for mental illness, no neat way to sew it up; it's a monster that ebbs and flows, changing shape and requiring individualized treatment and attention.

This is most definitely not meant to criticize Eilish for speaking out, or to say that should just try yoga and get better. In fact, she's truly brave for speaking out so candidly about her feelings, for continuing to create and for staring fearlessly into the eyes of her demons.

But part of the issue here is that Eilish's music is so flat-out beautiful, her persona so magnetic. She's a bona fide star, with a huge amount of power that's sure to only grow with this release. In light of the huge amount of sway she holds over deeply impressionable kids across the globe, she now has a responsibility—or at least a tremendous opportunity—to speak out and share messages of support, to promise that it's okay to feel and struggle and that healing is possible, to inspire others not to give up, no matter how much pain they're in.

Billie Eilish - when the party's

After all, there are ways to talk about depression and mental illness without glorifying and aestheticizing them. Lana Del Rey has long been the poster girl for the "sad girl" trope, which came to a head when she received blowback from Francis Bean Cobain after telling an interviewer that she "wished she was dead already." Since then, Del Rey has released a hopeful Trump protest album followed by the empowering "Mariner's Apartment Complex." This shift in her approach, though slight, is significant because it moves away from the passivity that made her earlier work so dangerously seductive. And Julien Baker, who makes some of the saddest music around, is stunningly hopeful and inspiring in interviews and online, constantly spreading messages about faith, community, and recovery. Other artists like Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga have been explicit and honest about their mental health struggles, but equally explicit about their healing journeys.

Lana Del Rey - Mariners Apartment

Julien Baker - "Appointments" (Official Video)

Eilish is also 17, significantly younger than any of the aforementioned artists, so she can be forgiven for not channeling her pain into some kind of larger force. It may be a good sign that she's coming to terms with her emotions early, that she's sharing them and learning how to deal with them. Often depression and mental illness stem from an inability to process deep-rooted trauma, so allowing oneself to traverse the depths of the subconscious mind and unearth repressed memories can be incredibly beneficial.

But for people as uniquely powerful and culturally influential as Eilish and her team—and for anyone interested in addressing and subverting the reasons mental illness is becoming an epidemic—simply being honest about mental illness isn't enough, especially in terms of serious suicidal ideation. Stopping the stigma should be a beginning point, the launching pad for structural changes and new ways of understanding and treating real mental health issues, not an end in itself. We should be talking about recovery, about how it is possible to live a full life while suffering from mental illness. We should be talking about how there are always options and pathways through places of darkness, and how it's definitely not beautiful or somehow more authentic and honest to give up hope.

If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255 or visit to learn more.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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Cry at Parties, and Other Ways to Become One of Jack Antonoff’s Female Collaborators

He's worked with Lorde, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Tegan and Sara, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Here's how to be next.

Taylor Swift

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Jack Antonoff is one of the thousands (millions?) of Brooklyn-based male producers, but unlike most, he has worked with some of pop music's most fascinating female artists—including Lana Del Rey, whose Norman Fucking Rockwell will be coming out at some point this spring (release date still TBD).

He has also collaborated with Tegan and Sara, Sara Bareilles, Christina Perri, Grimes, Sia, Fifth Harmony, Banks, and P!nk, and recently expressed interest in working with Kesha and Julien Baker. His ever-growing list of widely loved female collaborators has begun to provoke resistance, like Noisey's JACK ANTONOFF YOU STAY AWAY FROM THE DIXIE CHICKS.

Although these artists all have different sounds, they are eerily similar in many ways, belying an underlying method to this Antonoffian madness. Here are some of the requirements for his typical collaborators.

1. Be the subject of thousands of thinkpieces

If there's one thing that Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift have in common, it's that they've made people really angry—and very inspired to write about it. From Lana Del Rey's disastrous SNL performance and the subsequent neverending storm of outraged blog posts to Taylor Swift becoming the face of white feminism (alongside Lena Dunham—Antonoff's ex), Antonoff seems to go for singularly contentious figures.

Upon the release of "Look What You Made Me Do," Antonoff excitedly told The Guardian, "I remember saying: this is going to make thinkpieces on thinkpieces on thinkpieces!" Although Lorde hasn't provoked quite as much rage as those two, she's been spawning conspiracy theories since the release of "Royals". And let's not even start on the Grimes Internet storm following the Met Gala.

2. Have personal autonomy and/or some element of indie cred

Taylor Swift might be the exception to this rule, but across the board, Antonoff has chosen to work with artists who maintain some credit in alternative spheres, or who possess some level personal autonomy (just listen to Sara Bareilles's "Brave"). He seems to prefer collaboration rather than writing on his own or jumping on a track after it's done. He also seems to work with artists who refuse overtly sexualized imagery. In fact, most of Antonoff's collaborators are hugely successful female artists who satirize or subvert the archetypically scantily clad, shallow, love song-spouting popstar image (at least during their time with him; the promotional content for Norman Fucking Rockwell has all featured a makeup-free, T-shirt-wearing Lana Del Rey). For better or for worse, he seems to attract women who write their own words and emphasize their independence, whether they identify as feminists or not.

Lana Del Rey - How to Disappear and Venice Bitch Live at Apple Event

3. Be cool with commuting to Brooklyn

Antonoff doesn't come to you; you come to his Brooklyn studio. Maybe this is part of his brand, for Antonoff seems to have crafted a niche for himself as the go-to producer for those looking to avoid LA's impersonality; he's even been called the "antidote to Dr. Luke." This affection for homeyness seems to extend to his preferred working environment—his studio, which he modeled after his childhood bedroom, right down to the wallpaper printed with tigers.

4. Write about parties, but in a dark, jaded way

What do Lorde's Melodrama and St. Vincent's Masseduction have in common? They're both about hedonistic cultures of excess—but viewed from the sidelines, through waves of smoke and exhaustion. Melodrama takes the listener through a single party whereas Masseduction takes on Los Angeles's culture of pills and plastic surgery, but both lean into the glamour of these settings while observing them through a lens of wearied experience. Similarly, Lana Del Rey has always written about the dark sides of drugs, men, and bohemian freedom, and Banks' "Crowded Places" oscillates between love for performing and a fear of crowds. This fascination with the seam between abandon and the desire to escape it seems like a running theme for Antonoff, starting back with "We Are Young."

BANKS - Crowded Places (Visualizer)

5. Be willing to pour your heart out

In 2017, Antonoff told the Ringer that he starts his songwriting sessions with the question, "What's the worst thing that ever happened to you?" This has proven fruitful; Lana Del Rey described her forthcoming album as more "sad girl shit." Antonoff hasn't yet worked with Julien Baker, but she writes some of the saddest songs around; he clearly has a thing for emotional honesty.


6. Love synthesizers

Antonoff's music production is defined by a mix of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and slick beats cast against rougher vintage sounds, but there's nothing he loves more than a good synth, preferably sent through a lot of filters. Describing Masseduction, he said that the album is a "push and pull of wild, synthetic sounds and deeply personal organic sounds." He can create huge soundscapes or strip back to nothing but a voice and piano, but there are always those synths somewhere in the background, waiting to launch any track to high drama.

St. Vincent -

7. Be straight, white, and feminine

Jack Antonoff has primarily chosen to work with conventionally attractive, straight white women. While women in music are still underrepresented, on the whole, white women have the easiest time making it by far; and traditional beauty standards are still unfortunate and damaging requirements for many women looking to break into the pop sphere.

Based on this algorithm, Billie Eilish, Fiona Apple, Halsey, or Ariana Grande could be next, and Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Maggie Rogers, and Kacey Musgraves are also fair game. Why does he choose to work with these kinds of people? Is there something Freudian going on here? "I just want to be around women," he said in a Pitchfork interview. "It's not a sex thing — I'm heterosexual, but it's not coming from any place like that. It's just a comfort thing."

Ultimately, it's annoying that the music Jack Antonoff makes is so fucking good. If it weren't, his invasive presence beside some of the industry's most talented women would be insufferable. No matter how much he insists that his motives are pure, it's easy to intuit that there could be something off about the whole nice guy schtick, something underlying one man's desire to draw confessional narratives from and to produce music alone with so many women.

All that is speculation, but there is also a very long, real history of women's achievements in music being attributed to men. When it comes down to it, in spite of their superficial similarities, each of these women is a uniquely talented innovator and visionary, and each is the primary creator and orchestrator of her story.

And in the end, none of this matters when you're experiencing their music like it's meant to be experienced—falling into the neon blue pool of overwhelming beauty that is "Sober II" or crying at a party to "Mariners Apartment Complex" while slow-dancing with your half-drunk glass of wine.

Lana Del Rey - Mariners Apartment

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.

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"Happiness... starts inside," Travis Marsh discovers in his aptly titled new single, "Happiness."

The video for the song offers a fun, metaphorical take on feeling like an alien (or in this case, an astronaut) in everyday circumstances. Marsh, seen here dressed as the trophy from the MTV Music Video Awards, searches everywhere around LA for happiness before seemingly discovering it within himself after taking off his helmet. This journey is summarized at the end by a well chosen quote from Denis Waitley: "Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude."

Marsh is a native Los Angeles based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer whose musical journey began at the age of 10 when he received a guitar at Christmas. His taste in music is highly eclectic - equal parts folk, rock, and pop - yet all rooted in music-rich legacy and landscape of Southern California.

Songwriting seems to have become a passion for Marsh only a few years later in life. Many of those songs stayed with him as his musical sensibilities took shape, as Marsh describes: "I've been writing songs since I was about 14. These songs would [later] be released, in one form or another, on an album I released on iTunes when I was 18."

At that time, the Laurel Canyon scene of the 70's had a massive impact on shaping Travis' music taste: "My favorite music growing up was the Cali-Country / Laurel Canyon scene. Artists like the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and others helped spark my interest in strong sensory-based lyrics tied to classic country and folk story telling."

It only makes sense that the music of Travis Marsh echoes the tradition of the songwriting troubadour, of Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, but also deals in the smooth aesthetics of a pop connoisseur. The culmination of working in these seemingly polar opposite styles has arrived in the form of a string of new singles. With smooth production handled by producers D. Brooks Exclusive and Smitty Soul, these are the songs that bring out the Jekyll and Hyde qualities of Marsh's discography.

After recently living in Nashville for a couple of years, performing in various Country groups, Travis was ready to come home. Nashville had run its musical course for Travis, and his life – musical and otherwise – needed reimagining. After wrapping up a tour in 2015 with Country artist Joel Crouse, Travis eventually returned to his native Los Angeles, where he set out to focus on a new solo direction. This time around, Travis wanted to take his early love for the songsmiths of Laurel Canyon, and add a dose of sun-bleached California pop melody.

By blurring the lines between rock, folk, country, and pop, Travis is charting exciting new musical territory that captures perfectly the Jekyll and Hyde spirit of Los Angeles and Southern California. The result of this newfound hybrid sound has made itself apparent in a handful of infectious singles that will be released in the coming months, including his collaboration with Chicago rapper G-Herbo on his single "Lay Me Down."

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Brent Butler is a NYC-based rapper, producer, and guitarist. He is a regular contributor to Popdust and host of Popdust Presents. Follow Brent on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Soundcloud | and check out his debut solo EP, | L I L A C|