The Female Gaze
Headliner meets artist and producer Xylo Aria, the founder of Music Production for Women, who explains why removing the fear factor is a crucial step towards welcoming more women into the world of music production.
“I was reading this thing about unconscious bias recently, and I think there is a lot of that in the music industry with regards to women getting hired for certain roles,” begins artist and producer, Xylo Aria.
“But I think that is slowly changing. It’s funny because I was cleaning up a bit recently and I found projects that I worked on and had produced about eight years ago. They were actually quite decent but I remember at the time thinking that I would never call myself a producer. I would just be like, ‘Well, that's not something I can do – I’m just making a demo for a real producer to work on’.
"But I don't know why it never crossed my mind that it was something that I could do. I think it would have helped from an early age to have more visibility about other women being involved in the field.”
In early 2019, Aria set about changing that mindset by launching Music Production for Women (MPW), a global movement, community and online learning platform which aims to encourage and empower women who are taking their first steps into music production.
Founded in East London, MPW aims to provide an environment where women can feel comfortable and supported through their production journey. Since launching, MPW has been included in university studies, featured in numerous podcasts and included in various articles on the topic around the world.
Aria remembers once hearing a statistic that claimed that only 5% of music producers are female.
“It is a crazy number and to be honest – I think that's been floating around for ages, so hopefully it's actually a little bit higher than that now,” she adds. “A lot of it comes down to mental limitations, and that was a big thing for me. By starting up MPW and speaking to a lot of people, I'm realising it seems to be mental drawbacks as to why women don't get into production.
"And it's interesting thinking about why that is the case. Is it because there's not much visibility and people just don't see other women doing it? Then they perhaps feel like it's probably not a space for them. Or is it just the fact that it is such a boys club, and that puts people off a bit as well? I'm trying to tackle all the bits that I think kept me away from the industry through MPW.”
Writing music since age 12, Aria eventually took the decision to produce her own music, and after a period of experimenting and tutorials, released her first self-produced music in 2018.
Her own experiences as a female musician relying on other producers and the challenges of learning a skill in an area which is so heavily male dominated planted the seed to empower other women in similar situations:
“I came across a few barriers,” she admits. “I hate to generalise because of course there are some amazing male producers out there. But for whatever reason, I always felt a bit powerless in those situations. I let myself be treated in a way that I wouldn't in another situation just because I didn't feel like I had any other option, or I felt that by having a strong option I would annoy a producer with my attitude – and then I wouldn't be able to continue with my music, which is a really shit position to be in.”
Headliner points out that if there were a Music Production for Men, there would certainly be a negative response to this from women; are men supportive of MPW?
“I’ve had a mixed reaction,” she smiles. “There have been some really strong male advocates who are really behind it and really like the cause and everything – they are good allies. But then there'll be some that'll be like, ‘Why do you need this? Why can't you use normal resources for men?’ I'll just respond to that in a nice way because I think it's not helpful to be derogatory. Plus it doesn't bother me – they're not my target that I’m trying to help. And I was expecting that.”
Aria points out that she in no way wants to exclude men, and that they are welcome to join MPW:
“If any male wanted to join, he'd be more than welcome,” she nods. “I know it says ‘for women,’ but I put that in the title mainly because I wanted it to be a place which would be in the majority for women, because every other production class is made up in the majority of men. We do have a couple of guys, actually.”
Aria teaches the two online classes herself, the first being a free intro to music production masterclass, which runs periodically throughout the week and is open to anyone that is interested in learning to produce.
No previous experience or equipment is required, and it is designed to be an introduction to electronic music production for those who have an interest in the area but may be unsure of where to start.
As a follow-on to the free intro class, MPW offers an 'Introduction to Music Production' online course, which uses Ableton Live as the teaching DAW – taking students through the basics of what each section of the DAW does, to setting up a track, through to the stage of mixing.
The course is designed for individuals who may not have previously been introduced to music production and need a learning platform that fits around their schedule. The masterclass consists of seven modules, including an introduction, and sections on drums, synths, sampling, audio effects and recording and mixing.