Inside In Kolab: an innovative project launched by Women Produce Music

The project is aimed at bringing together a diverse range of composer-producers in a variety of studios and locations. Founder of the initiative, Katia Isakoff, tells us more
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Left to right: Anil Aykan, Marta Salogni and Katia Isakoff

Left to right: Anil Aykan, Marta Salogni and Katia Isakoff

In March 2019, Women Produce Music launched its most ambitious initiative to date: In Kolab, a new collaboration series bringing together established and emerging composer-producers to collaborate in various studios and pop-up locations. Supported by the PRS Foundation’s Open Fund, and a growing number of ambassadors from the independent music sector and community, the first group of composer-producers are preparing to make waves with Moog Music Innovation Award recipient Suzanne Ciani. Ciani is a five-time Grammy award nominated composer, electronic music pioneer, and neo-classical recording artist whose work has been featured in countless commercials, video games, and feature films; over the course of her 40-plus year career, she has released 16 solo albums, including Seven Waves, The Velocity of Love, and most recently, her impressive comeback quadraphonic Buchla modular synth performance recording LIVE Quadraphonic.

Composer-producer Katia Isakoff and founder of In Kolab fills us in on the initiative... 

The title for this first series is Making Waves. Anyone who knows anything about Suzanne Ciani will know that she lives by the sea, loves the sea and waves, and named her first album Seven Waves. Then there’s the connection with sound waves, and our hope that there will be positive waves of change rippling through as we make this journey. 

In terms of format, each series will have four members. For this pilot we’ve invited emerging artist Anil Aykan of Fragile Self and award-winning recording engineer Marta Salogni to join us. Our preparatory session at Marta’s studio in London, Studio Zona, a couple of weeks ago was really quite special; we bonded rather naturally and excitement has started to build about the future of In Kolab and its potential to become a global network of collaborators. It should be noted that this is not a genre specific series or initiative. 

At the end of May this year, we’ll compose and record in an iconic London studio where we’ll assist Suzanne while she patches her Buchla and talks us through her process. I’ll bring along the three Mother32s kindly donated by Moog, my DFAM and other instruments for us to try, and Anil will bring her voice and other rhythm machines. Marta is due to provide her three reel-to-reel tape machines, processors and effects. We will be filming throughout, capturing conversations, insights, gear talk, studio vibes and fun… with a few surprises for all to enjoy. And, most importantly, we are making an album. 

This will be a rare opportunity to hear the sound of the Buchla, Moog, tape looping, delay and echos, rhythm and voice combined in one long movement. At the end of these sessions there will be hours of recorded performances, so I will take the session files to my studio to start working and experimenting with arrangements with the group remotely. We will next converge at Marta’s studio to mix, after which, we will commission the remixes or re-imagined soundscapes, with the names of the sound artists to be announced very soon. 

The final stages will be to master the mixes (the mastering engineer will also be revealed soon), design the album cover and graphics, then send it off for pressing. All of this is in preparation for the incredible launch event we have planned, which will include live performances, a screening of the ‘making of’, followed by an interview and Q&A. 

Plans are already underway for In Kolab Berlin, Prague, New York and our next UK location. The aim is to build a global network with women composerproducers at the helm, with no gender restrictions otherwise; we will be collaborating with men too. 

WPM is a self-funded non-profit organisation. If you or your organisation would like to be involved, partner with us, or support us in any way, we would love to hear from you. You can also sign-up to receive our news and follow us on our social media accounts: @in_kolab and @wpm_org. 

Background and Stats: 

When we launched Women Produce Music (WPM) in January 2015 we had a number of objectives, which we later presented at the 2016 The Great Escape music festival in Brighton. 

Our first objective was to understand and alter the factors preventing women entering and progressing within the profession. Being one of the first female professional producers in the UK – contracted by Mute Records/EMI in 2002; a partner in a West London commercial studio for 12 years; composing and producing my own album; as well as collaborating with others – gave me first-hand insight into some of the challenges faced by women in music. I also spent eight years designing and delivering undergrad and postgrad music technology and production courses in a department where I was the only female music tech lecturer working in the same department as my partner with 15-plus guys – now that was an experience! I was also a full professional member of the Music Producers Guild for a number of years, serving two as an elected director of the board. 

What we already knew when we launched WPM:

• In 1980 at the 66th AES Convention, Pamela W. Patterson postulated a primary reason for the lack of women in audio as “a historical separation from the practice and theory of technology combined with a gruesome lack of entry-level positions”. 

• In 1995 AES formed a Women’s Audio subcommittee, which launched the Women in Audio Project: 2000, to focus on researching “the disproportionate number of women in the field of audio engineering”.

• In 2000 Cosette Collier of Middle Tennessee State University wrote to the AES educators group announcing the dissolution of the AES Women in Audio Committee, of which she was chair, saying: “Our research showed that the average number of women in recording or audio engineering programmes was about 10 per cent. The problem did not seem to be within the industry, but actually something more related to society and early education; the AES didn't feel that this was something a technical standards organisation could effectively address”. 

• In 2011 Katia Isakoff and Richard James Burgess (CEO, A2IM) presented the outcomes of a first stage research project in which student recruitment of 505 UK music technology and production courses for the six-years prior revealed that despite the availability of these courses within HEI’s in the UK, it remained a fact that 90 per cent of students enrolled on these courses were male. We also looked at representations on boards, membership numbers, in-house studio engineer numbers and interviewed several, along with studio managers and producers in the US and UK. Access to technology and courses had not greatly impacted the number of women in the profession.

Since Patterson presented her paper 39 years ago, we have witnessed a technological evolution, which has rendered a personal studio both feasible and reasonably cost-effective. There is also a plethora of music and audio courses, therefore, should we have witnessed vastly increased numbers of women entering the profession? Well, we haven’t witnessed vastly increased numbers of women who record and produce the work of others. However, we have seen vastly increased numbers of self-producing artists and DJs who consider themselves ‘music producers’. Therefore, more work needs to be done to support and promote what we are doing, rather than focusing on what we are not. Articles asking “Where are the Phyllis Spectors?" and ‘’Where are all the Female Producers?’’ and variations thereof, whilst valid questions, remain focused on a historical model that privileges male dominance and artist co-dependency and discounts self-producing artists. The glaring fact is that many women appear to favour self-producing over producing the work of others or ‘being produced’. This is what access to technology has afforded all music-makers, but it does not mean that we all always want to work solo and don’t miss the social aspects of collaboration. 

To encourage and support more women into the profession, we must also look to the pool of talented self-producing artists and acknowledge them as producers and not second-class producers. All too often the narrative looks to the next generation, or those at the peak of their career, and talks about it taking another 10-20 years before we see more women in the profession. There is a blind spot that falls outside of these two categories, and much of it stems from ageism and a lack of knowledge or recognition of the fact that the generation that encountered these obstacles that these industry initiatives are designed to tackle are still making music. And they really don’t need another 10-20 years to progress, they just need some tailored support and to be seen and valued.

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