“My job before producing was to advise the prime minister on international threats to the UK,” Aubrey Whitfield laughs, aware that her route to music production wasn’t the most conventional. She has had an incredible journey, working with the likes of Simon Webbe (Blue), Little Mix, Kelly Clarkson and James Arthur, among others, over the course of her vast and varied career. Although she is more often than not the only female producer in the vicinity, she can see the landscape changing, with more and more women undertaking music production courses and applying to intern with her.
Whitfield is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of being a modern artist, having played a part on both sides of the glass. She’s been making music since age 11, whether that was performing in bands, recording in studios or teaching herself how to use analogue equipment. But as an artist with a career in government, how did she find herself being a producer full-time?
“So, I was in the team involved in the government’s COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) meetings,” she explains. “We worked on the responses to Grenfell and the terrorist attacks on London Bridge, in Brussels and Paris. It was quite a high profile job. I’d worked there for 10 years, had a good salary, and I was using all my earnings for equipment to build up a studio. It reached a point where I was becoming so successful at producing that I couldn’t do both jobs, so I resigned from the cabinet office two and a half years ago. I’ve been doing it full time since then.
“I was an artist first and foremost,” she continues. “Most female producers tend to be artists first, but I realised I wasn’t enjoying being an artist anymore. I had all these skills, so I thought, how can I use them without it all going to waste? Producing was the most obvious course of action.”
So why is it that female producers are usually artists before? Whitfield ponders: “I think it’s really complex, because I’ve seen loads of female artists who have production skills. If they developed it a little bit more they could be producers, but a lot of them don’t think of that transition, including myself. It was only when I was about 32 that I thought, maybe I should produce.” While some might assume that this was due to it being a male-dominated field, Whitfield says that’s not the issue. “I think if someone loves producing enough it doesn’t matter if it’s male-dominated, there just needs to be more awareness,” she explains.
“People like Lauren Deakin-Davies, etc. are promoting what we do and I think that’s the way; to show females are doing it and if you have the skills as an artist, you can. If you sing and song-write, you’re probably just thinking about being an artist because it’s a ‘sexier’ route than being a producer, but producing is actually where you can earn more money, and you can do incredible things.”
It appears to be a common theme that many women aren’t made aware of career opportunities in audio early on in life, while their male counterparts are. This seems to correlate with the fact that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) school subjects and subsequent careers are traditionally male-dominated, while girls are more likely to be encouraged into and/or drawn to creative and humanities subjects at school.
Whitfield elaborates: “I’ve seen loads of male artists who are thinking about producing, but women don’t even seem to consider it. But I do think it’s changing. When I do masterclasses at colleges, you can see maybe two or three females in the class now rather than one.”
As for challenges along her journey in this “tough industry”, Whitfield points out that while rare, she has been subject to sexism. “When I first started I had emails sent to me saying that I shouldn’t be cooking beats in the studio, I should be cooking in the kitchen. That there is a reason why there are no female producers, because we’re not good at it. I found that hard at first, but I didn’t really care because I love doing music.”
She also explains that producing is difficult as competition runs high. Nonetheless, Whitfield has a glass-half-full approach: “If you love what you do, are passionate about it, are good with your clients and produce good music, you can achieve good things. Your confidence develops to the point where you think, ‘I don’t care what people say, I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m good at it, so who cares what people think.’”
Find the full version of this interview in the digital edition of the mag (pp28-29), and keep your eyes peeled for more Whitfield insights to come!