08 Mar 2018

Levelling the playing field for women in electronic music: one workshop at a time

In 2018, the gender gap is still a very real thing, whether that be in offices around the world, or more dynamic industries like arts and entertainment. In order to help empower women specifically in the field of electronic music, DJ/producer E.M.M.A. founded the music collective PRODUCERGIRLS in London in 2016 to help teach and encourage women to work as producers and create their own music.

Collectively, E.M.M.A. and co-founders Nightwave, Ikonika, P Jam and Dexplicit seek to “encourage more young women to take up electronic music production,” by providing free software and training resources at hands-on workshops. But for those who have yet to make a meeting, E.M.M.A. and Nightwave have shared some of their own background and tips for aspiring/young producers looking to break into the field.

As told to Caitlin White.

Who are some notable producers that influenced your style, or maybe pointed you toward the process and its importance?
Nightwave: My background is in techno/electro/house so I’m very inspired by Underground Resistance, Drexciya, Dance Mania, things like that and I’ve been very influenced by UK music since I moved to the UK from Slovenia about 15 years ago. We didn’t really have any garage, dubstep or grime back home so that was an exciting new sound to me. As a producer, I’m self-taught and have developed my own process which I always encourage others to do too when I teach.
E.M.M.A.: Producer-wise I guess I was originally inspired to start producing hearing people who brought a lot of musicality to UK club music at a time when it seemed few and far between. I’m a melody person predominantly, so the Hyperdub releases from the mid-late 2000s struck a chord with me as I was starting out. Also The Dr. Who theme song, composed by Delia Derbyshire. When I found out a woman invented electronic music there was no stopping me. People who pointed me toward the process were my friends Paul and Sim Hutchins who installed the DAW software on my computer and were there to answer my initial questions. That’s why we started PRODUCERGIRLS — to be those people who can answer the questions, free of charge, for people who want to learn and have the drive to do so.


As far as the collective, how did you first start the group and what brought you two, and the others, together?
Nightwave: I’m based in Glasgow and have put on DJ workshops, but really wanted to expand into production. When I saw what E.M.M.A. started I really wanted to join forces and work with her as she started such a fabulous workshop down South with the rest of the team. I feel it’s important to build a community rather than going at things solo, especially when you do something meaningful like this. There should be no room for ego, sensationalism or exploitation — which is why we regularly refuse working with big brands and rarely do press.
E.M.M.A.: I came up with the idea at the beginning of 2016 because I did not like the industry — it seemed weighted towards men’s favor with no real acknowledgment of the male domination. On the other side of things, there was no recognition for women who were leading the way but getting overlooked by male dominated lineups. I wanted to form a collective with other like-minded producers who were revolutionary in their own right in order to make a positive gesture and create a space where girls can learn the beginner basics off professionals, interactively, without relying on dumb, boring YouTube tutorials.

(Photo: Vicky Grout)

What are some of the basic gear, tools, or hardware that you each use during your own process working as producers?
Nightwave: We teach Ableton Live as the Digital Audio Workstation and we start with the very basics so the only hardware we show really is a sound card (we have Focusrite Scarlett) and a MIDI keyboard plus the monitors. We want them to be able to do a lot with as little as possible at the beginning so they can leave the workshop feeling like they can make a start. We also have a Novation Launchkey which we’re going to be using in our next workshops.
E.M.M.A.: I use a mixture of FL Studio and Ableton, a Focusrite Scarlett soundcard, KRK monitors and a Korg minilogue. The Korg is a recent addition, I normally use soft synths (VSTs) a lot. They’re so easy to use and sound great. I’m not a big hardware fan in general because I feel like people who have loads of gear tend to have completely different creative objectives than me, which is fine — but I’m looking for something which is easy for me to get my ideas down ASAP without spending seven hours wondering why it’s not working correctly, why it’s suddenly stopped doing what it was doing yesterday, or praying when I turn it back on it’s going to sound the same.

What kind of space do you need to produce in? What is the difference between using a studio and a less traditional space? What kind of physical commitment is it for a beginner?
Nightwave: I tour a lot so I mainly make music on my laptop and headphones and go to the studio to mix down or record vocals and instruments if needed. Most of my tunes are made on planes and in hotel rooms.
E.M.M.A.: I make most of my songs in my bedroom. My room is quite small so it functions as a lot of things — so it’s not ideal to be honest. But it’s familiar to me and I can do what I want without annoying anyone. Also my cat is my creative director so if she’s sleeping next to me I know what I’m doing is good — if her ears go back then I know it’s crap and have to trash the project. I don’t think I’ve ever used a proper studio except to collab. I would love to have my own studio at some point but I don’t really have the need right now.

PRODUCERGIRLS founding member Nightwave. (Photo: Natalie Davidson)

For a new producer, what kind of software can they start learning or get into while getting the basics down?
Nightwave: I am a big Ableton fan but another software may suit someone else. Even GarageBand is decent to make a start.
E.M.M.A.: Ableton is great because they have a website where you can learn the true basic principals in the browser. There’s also an option to import what you start into Ableton once you get a copy. FL Studio is another one which I think is very simple, and it’s what I started learning on so it will always be close to my heart.

How do you select the kinds of projects or songs you want to produce?
Nightwave: I mainly make club music but also work a lot on remixes and currently scoring a film which is an exciting new avenue for me.
E.M.M.A.: It’s quite hard to define, my creative process depends entirely on my mood. Last year a lot of what I released was quite like instrumental rap, with distorted 808s but the style was still ‘my sound,’ I just stripped back the drums to what people would have already been familiar with. But I also released a tune called ‘Glacé’ which was heavily inspired by the 1980s — gated snares and powerful drums. And then I released a club track I described as medieval funky. I just make what I want, when I want, and that’s what we’re encouraging people to do with our workshops.

How does working within a community like PRODUCERGIRLS help build knowledge and skill within individual members? Why do you think groups like this are important?
Nightwave: It’s important to connect, to share, to feel comfortable and at ease to ask questions. Not a big fan of the phrase ‘safe space’ but that’s a way of describing it. Personally I never joined a course because I found large groups of mainly guys intimidating — not all women feel like that of course, but it was what put me off. We also encourage everyone to stay in touch after, bounce ideas and build a community.
E.M.M.A.: I learn a lot about the girls from the application process and people are there for a variety of reasons. Some want to make club bangers, some want to make music to meditate to, others are singers who are sick of relying on producers. We cap the group at 20 people, with 4–5 teachers, so there’s plenty of time for one-on-one conversations, that way everyone gets as much guidance as possible. These groups are important because it’s so expensive to do a production course, I don’t know whether I would have even done it. Most people are self-taught but you need face-to-face help to get out the starting blocks. YouTube tutorials alone are difficult and long winded — and if you don’t know anyone who produces you can be kinda stuck. I hope we continue to inspire other people to do more of these — and keep access free too.

With the goals of groups like PRODUCERGIRLS at the forefront of a movement to make music more accessible to women, it’s easier and easier to envision a time in the not-so-distant future when the gender gap is a thing of the past, and instead of their identity, the only thing girls who want to produce and work in music need to keep in mind are the songs themselves.

If you’d like to discover more about PRODUCERGIRLS, head to their website, where you’ll find details of all their upcoming workshops.