Vem Kan Bli Producent (Who can become a producer) is a Sweden-based 4-7 month educational program for women and transgender people who are active within music production and want to deepen their knowledge. We spoke to Åsa Johnsen, music producer and program coordinator at Vem Kan Bli Producent to see what it's like as a woman in music production.
What has the experience of being a female music producer been like for you?
That is a tough question to answer since I don’t have the experience of being a male music producer and nothing to compare my experience to. But something I can say is that the idea of going into music production came fairly late for me, and I’ve been struggling with even seeing myself as a musician even though music has been my life since as long as i can remember. For a long time I chose other roles around music because they fe lt more realistic and tangible to me, like organizing, promoting, booking bands etc. I’ve been my worst own enemy in allowing myself to pursue my dream, or even acknowledging I had it.
Why do you think there are so few women who are music producers?
A couple of things go into this I think. First of all we live in a deeply gendered world where certain things are just considered the domain of men and vice versa, and there is some real strong imagery connected to this that keeps on reproducing these ideas and norms. Identification is so important when it comes to forming one's dreams. The seed might be there, an interest or a talent for something, but if nothing in society around you sort of encourages you or even shows that a certain role or identity is plausible for you, chances are you’re not gonna connect those dots and you might not even know being a music producer is something you would want to be. More importantly, even if you do, you won’t think it’s possible because you have so few examples of women being music producers, so why could you?
Second of all the role of the music producer is cloaked in this sense of mystery it’s not entirely clear what a music producer actually does (and it varies of course) and it comes with a lot of power and often requires resources. To get resources and the chances to evolve in the role of a music producer you need people in positions of power to actually give you a chance and believe in you based on potential rather than track record which you don’t have yet as an up and coming producer. Women, trans people and other people that fall outside the gender norms in the industry generally don’t have that access to community, network and resources. And the image of the music producer as a man works to their disadvantage. This is all changing though on a grass roots level, and we have a completely different situation today than five years ago when we started out. Today I don’t feel like there are so few women and trans music producers because I have hundreds of them in my network, although of course on an industry and global level the numbers are still pretty depressing.
What needs to change before we see gender equality in the industry?
Because music and arts overall is not just an industry, the change needs to start broader and on a more fundamental level by working to make all roles in music making and technology accessible to everyone, especially underrepresented groups. I think the industry can work to both support initiatives and programs that do this ground work, and also work to change the norms and ways of thinking within their own companies to include more perspectives.
What are some day to day changes or actionable steps we can make towards fairer representation?
As a company in the music industry I think the most important thing is to begin with some in-house work to see what challenges and obstacles there are within the company that keep you from reaching and engaging with certain groups. If the demographic within the company, especially in creative roles, is very narrow then chances are you lack the common ground and sort of frame of reference to create or communicate a product that will speak to groups outside of that.
What advice would you give younger women who aspire to be music producers?
Find friends, peers and community that share your interest in and passion for music. Work on sharing your music and process even in unfinished stages, don’t wait for years until you let someone hear your music. Try and have fun and enjoy the process, rather than focusing on achievements and results. Hopefully you have a whole life of music making ahead of you and it will inevitably have both ups and downs, moments of learning and failing and accomplishment, and through all that I think these aspects are the things that matter and that can get you through all of it.