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NAMM calls for more women at the console

A panel of female producers, engineers and songwriters (pictured left to right, Lisa Chamblee Hampton, Sylvia Massey, Marcella Araica and Brenda Russell) gathered for what was perhaps the highlight of Winter NAMM’s Hot Zone seminars, writes Paul Watson.

A panel of female producers, engineers and songwriters gathered for what was perhaps the highlight of Winter NAMM’s Hot Zone seminars, writes Paul Watson.

The H.O.T Zone was the brainchild of Ken Wilson and came to fruition with the help of Melanie Ripley at NAMM 2010, the idea being to deliver hands-on training and focus sessions on anything audio and media technology related, including business angles, DJ sessions, worship focus, live sound and studio.

Of NAMM 2011’s 73 classes (roughly 50% up from the previous year), one of the stand-out seminars was ‘Women Behind The Console: inside the process’, which acknowledged the contributions of women in the industry. Chaired by Lisa Hampton, CEO of Blackfox Entertainment Company, it featured input from five of the industry’s leading ladies: producer/engineers Ann Mincieli, Sylvia Massy and Marcella Araica; singer/songwriter/producer Brenda Russell; and live broadcast engineer Jeri Palumbo.

“It’s been an exciting ride,” said Grammy Award-winning Mincieli, who now works out of her own facility, Jungle Studios in NYC, and has been Alicia Keys’ engineer for 12 years. “But I made sure that I learned every aspect possible in the music industry to help my career.”

An almost all-female audience listened intently to the presentation, making notes and peppering the panellists with questions throughout. From what industry rising star Marcella Araica had to say, it seems the age-old cliché of ‘it’s hard being a woman’ still rings true in the somewhat fickle studio environment.

“As a woman you have so much to prove; even my family didn’t understand the music business, so I was also discouraged along the way,” Araica explained. “I soon realised after getting into the business that there are not many women doing it; and I have to say, I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I needed to, just to get it right.”

Araica’s determination certainly paid off, as within just two months of graduating with honours from Orlando’s Full Sail Production & Recording Program, she was working as assistant engineer in sessions for Timbaland and Missy Elliott; and she received two ASCAP awards last year for her work on Pink’s Sober and Keri Hilson’s Knock You Down.

Moving on from a young up-and-coming producer, it was interesting to hear industry stalwart Sylvia Massy speak. Massy has been producing records for more than 25 years and highlights her work in Nashville alongside Rick Rubin on Johnny Cash’s Unchained sessions as her fondest studio memory to date. On another note, her solutions in dealing with angry young men in the studio, namely members of US rock band Tool, were particularly entertaining.

“Working with Tool was a lot of fun, but they liked to torture me a bit,” she jokes. “Sometimes I’d turn up the air conditioning just to put them out of their comfort zone [Laughs]; and one time, Maynard [Keenan, Tool’s lead singer] was struggling with his vocals, so I sent him off to do five laps of the studio. He refused and was absolutely fuming, but eventually he did it; and, what do you know, when he came back, he nailed it!”

Massy’s outlook on the two very separate roles within her job was noteworthy. “You’ve got to talk to the artist. Mixing is technical troubleshooting; producing is people troubleshooting,” she claims. She certainly didn’t seem the type to reach for a handgun mid-session when things got heated…

The only recognised songwriter within the group, Brenda Russell, who penned the hugely successful Get Here made famous by Oleta Adams, had a particularly spiritual and slightly ironic take on her success.

“The passion is not about the money, it’s chasing your tail; that will bring everything you want to support yourself in this world,” she insisted. “I mean, I was living in an idyllic penthouse in Sweden when I wrote Get Here. But,” she laughed, “you have to bear in mind I was living solely on oatmeal at the time.”

This particular H.O.T Zone message was clear – ‘we need more women behind the console’ – and if those frantically scribbling females in the crowd were listening as intently as they seemed to be, perhaps it’ll happen sooner rather than later.