Celebrating International Women's Day at The Church Studios

The Church Studios hosted a female-identifying only initiative for budding producers, engineers, and mixers on International Women's Day 2019. Fiona Hope spoke with the studio manager, Alys Gibson, and SA Recordings' label manager, Harriet Pittard about the innovative project
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L to R: Alys Gibson, and Harriet Pittard

L to R: Alys Gibson, and Harriet Pittard

The Church Studios, situated on London's Crouch Hill, launched a female-identifying only initiative to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 9, 2019, joining forces with Spitfire Audio and Foundation FM to support rising engineers and producers. The day gave attendees the chance to experience a track progress through its recording, mixing, and mastering journey with a finished, mastered product at the end. 

The event consisted of a series of workshops that facilitated the recording of Homay Schmitz's newly composed contemporary string quartet piece by Fiona Cruickshank, mixing by Marta Salogni, and mastering by Katie Tavini. The finished track was officially released via Spitfire Audio’s recently launched SA Recordings on April 5, kicking off its new ‘Singles’ series. The track can be preordered here.

We caught up with studio manager, Alys Gibson, and SA Recordings label manager, Harriet Pittard about the special event and the inspirations behind it... 

What inspired this female-identifying only initiative? 

Alys Gibson: It seems like there are lots of mixed events happening in the audio engineering and production world, but as a studio we still don't have many female-identifying people coming forward with CVs. We went out of our way to shout about it, encouraging women to come forward, and they still weren't, which we were quite surprised by. We launched this initiative as a way to let people know opportunities are out there, as well as providing an environment where people can grow, network, and make contacts. The interest has been overwhelming; we hit our ballot number within 12 hours of launching. 

Tell us about the gender imbalance you have seen in the music industry? 

Harriet Pittard: PRS says only 17 per cent of female identifying people are registered as songwriters, which is the biggest motivation to keep pushing initiatives like this. I do see quite a few ‘women in music’/artist-led events, but there are less for ‘women in audio’. AG: There are only 2 and 3 percent of female-identifying engineers/producers and mixers, respectively, across the globe. 

And there must be a lot of female-identifying people that are actually interested, but perhaps feel intimidated... 

AG: Perhaps opportunities haven't been there in the past, but that is changing. The process of becoming a recording engineer or producer is an incredibly long one. You're working two or three years behind the scenes before you even get into a room, so it can be a five or six year process before you're a fully-fledged engineer. A lot of the commercial studios in London now have female-identifying people working for them, they're still in the minority, but that'll grow. 

Has being a woman ever impacted you in the industry? 

AG: I’ve been treated differently to my male peers in the past, it’s something I try not to focus on. You’ll find that studio managers are generally female, while everyone else in the building is male. However, at The Church we're about 50/50 male and female. We’re working hard to ensure we're a balanced team. 

HP: I've sometimes noticed how I've been treated differently from an artist perspective. At gigs, and if it’s a male-dominated space, there’ve been multiple times when I've been shifted on a line up. In that case I've wondered if I had been male would I have been dealt with in the same way. From an industry professional perspective, I've felt very supported, particularly at Spitfire Audio as there's a real push to bring more women in. 

Do you see that things are changing? 

AG: On an awareness level. The domino effect is slow, but it’s happening. 

What is the impact of this initiative? 

AG: With this project, we hope to show other studios that we need to be more proactive in supporting female-identifying audio engineers, and producers. We've got these amazing spaces that aren't always being used, it's great to open them up to people who wouldn't normally see them. We had lots and lots of people interested – it means that there is that interest there for events like this, so we'd definitely do them again. Another thought process behind this initiative is that this studio is owned by an incredibly successful producer, and with that on your CV is really helpful, as you've trained under Paul Epworth [the studio owner] to a point. 

Do you see an imbalance with female-identifying musicians in the studio? 

AG: I think statistically, it's slightly more balanced, but it's definitely not equal. It's a little bit closer to what it should be. 

Do you have any advice that you'd give to women in audio and music going forward? 

AG: Put yourself forward. There are opportunities out there, you've just got to look for them. If you want to work in a commercial studio, you don't necessarily have to start with a sound engineering qualification. Our brilliant engineer, Chloe Kraemer, started with very little studio experience and worked her way up. You've got to be patient and up for committing to the long road of becoming a recording engineer or producer, it's very much a lifestyle choice. 

HP: Once you have your foot in the door, persevere – in the first few years of my career, often I felt like I wanted to be doing more, but it does get better as you go.

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