Female artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B and Adele seem to have been dominating the music industry for years now, and why wouldn’t they be? It’s common sense to any marketer with a brain that 50% of the world market is of course female.
Given this assumption, it’s hard wrapping our heads around the fact that women actually only constitute 22.4% of artists, 12.3% of songwriters, and a shocking 2% of producers, all figures generated from a 2018 study examining five years of data from the top 600 songs on The Billboard Hot 100 Charts as well as analysis of the Grammy nominees from 2012-2017.
Read More: How Women Made The Grammys Matter Again
That 2% figure is an especially surprising number; and can most likely be boiled down to one of two things. Either not enough women want to pursue a career in the field, or not enough women are being taken seriously as producers/engineers by artists, studios and labels once they do. It feels reflective of an industry that doesn’t see women as technically capable in designing sound behind-the scenes or contributing to the creative process in the same way men do, instead decidedly more suited to be dressed-up, marketed and monetised as artists and brands in a predominantly male-run image-obsessed business.
In turn, this attitude has meant that historically, women have been less welcomed into these more technical spaces, and a male-dominated field once synonymous with being an intimidatingly hostile environment, still plays to this day as a less inviting or glamorous career path in the eyes of the modern woman.
Today we meet the producers who are transforming preconceptions about careers in production and actively redefining what it currently means to be a woman in the music industry - some established and receiving the accolades they rightly deserve, some still under the radar and working hard to become a household name. They’re indifferent when underestimated and they don’t let being the only woman in the room prevent them from demonstrating their skill. Some of them have been part of historic studio sessions, others have graced legendary stages and all of them in their own unique way are paving the way for the next generation of women in production; proving unequivocally that it’s a women’s game too.
“A lot of people don’t take you seriously. Once they figure out who I am and what I’ve done, they have a lot more respect for me,” Wondagurl tells BETNetworks in a 2018 news story. The talented producer sounds a lot more like a superhero than a producer, and in many ways she kind of is. At only 23 years old, Nigerian-Canadian producer Ebony Oshunrinde has already bagged production credits with some of the most esteemed hip hop artists in the game: Drake, Travis Scott, Young Thug, Big Sean, Rihanna, Don Toliver, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, NAV and Bryson Tiller, to name a few. She worked on Rihanna’s club anthem, Bitch Better Have My Money, four Travis Scott albums (being the mastermind behind his 2015 hit Antidote) and got her first break producing Crown for Jay-Z’s album Magna Carta Holy Grail when she was just 16. 16! It’s all impressive, especially considering she started out learning through YouTube in her bedroom and was nudged to enter The Battle of Beat Makers competition when she was only 15. She took home a trophy and has gone on to design the sounds behind some of the biggest hip hop artists of the decade. In 2018 she was even selected as a member of the Forbes Music 30 Under 30 List, alongside superstars such as SZA, Hayley Williams and Travis Scott.
To add to her success, Wondagurl also happens to be a very grounded and down-to-earth artist. She is a well-known and highly respected member of the hip hop community due to her relentless drive, talented ear, and a little help from producer and mentor Boi-1da; the inspiration for her producer tag Wondagurl (who now refers to her as one of his favourite producers on the scene.) She’s a self-proclaimed introvert as she confesses in an interview: “I’m nervous, like always. Every single time I make a beat in front of like, any producer.” Despite her nerves, Wondagurl knows that every artist doubts their ability at times. Her studio essentials are ones we could all relate to and include a bottle of red wine, a blanket, sweats and some nice fairy lights. This young legend is living proof that production can be a space where introverts thrive; a shining example that you can be shy, socially awkward and still be out here winning, creating, collaborating and at the top of your game.
In the video below Wondagurl talks getting into production, entering The Beat Battle, working with Travis Scott and how she deals with people not taking her seriously- by letting the music speak for itself.
The Korean-American producer/DJ and record label owner is a boss among the LA electronic and dance music scene. Tokimonsta (otherwise known as Jennifer Lee) began as a classically trained pianist who transitioned to learning production in college, inspired by her love for West Coast hip hop and budding fascination with how it could be married to electronic music. Her talent has placed her in studio sessions with several renowned creatives such as soul king Anderson.Paak, hip hop duo EarthGang and EDM producer and singer ZHU.
In 2015 the young producer’s life turned upside down when she was diagnosed with the rare blood disease Moyamoya. The condition caused reduced blood flow to her brain, and forced Tokimonsta to make a life-altering decision regarding her health, which she goes into more detail about in an interview below with Great Big Story. “I decided to go and get these surgeries on my brain and they left me unable to talk and unable to speak; unable to understand anyone, unable to understand music, unable to make music.” This time in her life is something not many of us could ever comprehend, similar to a career-ending sports injury for a professional footballer, here’s a woman who had dedicated her life to music and all of a sudden lost complete connection with her craft and passion.
Despite the hurdles life threw at her, Tokimonsta defied the odds and decided she would not let her condition end her career. After a painstakingly slow recovery, she began gradually regaining her comprehension of music, allowing her to go on to produce her now Grammy-nominated album, Luna Rouge. Her incredible story is one of defiance, determination and loyalty to her craft; an inspiration to anyone who has been knocked down, that they too can harness the power to get back up again and come back twice as strong at that, as poet and journalist Paulo Coelho says, “You drown not by falling in the river, but by staying submerged in it.”
In the video below Tokimonsta speaks on her journey with music and overcoming her condition. She also discusses the making of her album Luna Rouge and the incorporation of samples from a beach to create unique sounds in her music.
American hit-maker, Shakari "TRAKGIRL" Noles, is a woman who has put her heart and soul into making the most out of her platform and position within the industry. A composer, songwriter and entrepreneur, she’s on a mission to promote equal gender representation within the production and engineering sector. TRAKGIRL's versatility has facilitated collaborations across the board taking her to studio sessions with prominent artists such as Luke James, Omarion, Timberland and band Mansions On The Moon. Among her most successful endeavours was the opportunity to produce Belly and NAV’s single Maintain in 2019 and more notably working with Jhené Aiko on her critically acclaimed album Trip back in 2017. Her sound is dark, brooding and as she confesses, takes a lot of time as she never rushes anything with her music. Shakari takes influence from some of the greats: Quincy Jones, Prince, Timberland, and Missy Elliot to name a few.
Speaking with Forbes, Shakari explained the common misconceptions she confronted when she first entered the production industry. “At the beginning of my career, when I would go to studio sessions and asked, "what do you do?" They automatically assumed that I'm a singer or a rapper. They don’t believe I produce music.”
Being underestimated only motivated her to succeed even more. Tired of women being underrepresented in studio environments, she took the initiative and went on to found a number of movements such as The 7% Series in the hope that one day she would no longer be the only woman in the room but one among many. As she told Stem, “The mission for The 7% is to help create a platform for women to come together and be more unified. We’re lacking representation, especially for women producers and engineers.” This vocal trailblazer has a strong vision of evoking change in a greatly gender-imbalanced industry. “I really want to increase visibility and create opportunities because we as women are out here. We are talented and qualified. We have to continue the conversation and help each other.” She also continues to encourage women to be their true authentic self and promises that this is what sells best, not switching it up trying to be somebody you’re not.
Watch TRAKGIRL discuss her background, musical influences, creative process, women in the industry, working with Jhené Aiko and meeting mentor and inspiration No I.D in the interview below.
When we talk about female producers changing the game, it’d be criminal not to mention the legendary Rezz, who at 25 years old is a heavy-weight in the bass music scene and the leader of a devoted fanbase, The Cult Of Rezz. (Disclaimer: not actually a cult.) The Canadian producer started DJing when she was 16, but only in the capacity of spinning other artists’ music. It was only after moving to Canada as a kid and witnessing Deadmau5 live in concert that young Rezz realised making music of her own was her true spiritual calling. She was discovered by Skrillex on a music blog and went on to be the first woman ever signed to DeadMau5’s imprint label, Mau5Trap, in 2016. As both a producer and a touring DJ, Rezz is now well on her way to becoming a household name, having played some of the biggest venues and festivals in the world such as; Coachella, Ultra and Red Rocks, and shared stages with the likes of DJ Snake, Martin Garrix, The Chainsmokers, Marshmello, Major Lazer and Tisto in just last year alone.
Whilst Rezz credits mentor Deadmau5 as her main sonic influence, in her dedication to pushing forward her own distinct sound she has created a new lane solely for herself. Rezz has helped shape mid-tempo as the genre we know it today, rife with industrial techno influences and accompanied by some of the craziest and darkest graphics in the EDM scene. Her shows are designed to be an audio-visual experience like no other, intent on taking you through a vivid and hypnotic trip to the world of Rezz, a kind of alter-ego shared with the world exclusively through her music. As she told Pilerats in 2017, “I definitely see REZZ as a character but also a dark part of my brain that I enjoy exploring.”
A disrupter in the EDM game and a DJ-producer of a different caliber, Rezz proves how producing and DJing combined can amplify a producer’s original music and help establish them as an artist in their own right. She is a convincing illustration of how gender has absolutely no influence over talent and that women in music do not have to be mainstream to be loved by millions of fans.
Watch Rezz talk inspiration, her signature goggles, and the keys to putting on an incredible show below.
The next producer on our list is a home-grown treasure representing Australia on the global stage, as well as at the forefront of the EDM scene on home soil. Alexandra Sholler better known as Alison Wonderland first entered the music world when she discovered the cello, making for one of the most interesting backstories of a now hugely successful DJ and producer. She has made history in many instances in her career so far, the first woman to ever headline Electric Daisy Carnival, the highest paid female DJ to ever play Coachella, and the two albums she’s released have both been #1 hits on the US Dance Billboard Charts.
Her 2018 project Awake was a deeply personal work of art, and Alison speaks very openly about the devastatingly abusive relationship that inspired the lyrics to the album. Like the rest of her music, Awake was an honest reflection of her life at the time, serving as an anthem of positivity for those living through emotional abuse and depression that there would always be a way out. As she told Billboard, “For me, I think if you're not writing lyrics or music that actually mean something and you're only writing stuff to get big, then you're pissing on art. Because there are kids out there that are listening to what you're doing and they're struggling with stuff and they're feeling stuff too and like, to know that someone that they listen to is going through that as well, is so important.”
Making music that’s important, that makes a difference in society, is at the heart of Alison’s personal ethos. She also deserves enormous credit for being in many ways a one woman show, not just writing her own music but also singing and recording her own vocals, playing the cello on her tracks, producing all her songs herself, releasing the finished product and then playing her own music on some of the biggest stages in the world. Her authenticity, undeniable skill and fighting spirit illustrate what a real role model in the 21st century should look like. She is undeniably and unashamedly herself - and in our books, that deserves the absolute world.