by Stephanie L. Carlin
In January, the Grammys happened, and the director of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, made an interesting comment after the show regarding women in the music industry and #GrammysSoMale. Portnow commented in a statement to Variety that women in the music industry would be “welcome” and, for those who want to be at the “executive level” in the music industry, they would need to “step up” to get the recognition they deserve.
So… like… they have for the past, I don’t know, six decades since the Grammys began?
Originally, this article was going to consist of eight women who represented a variety of musical roles. Upon research, I found even more than expected that I just can’t let go without notice. These women don’t necessarily have Grammys or Emmys. In fact, most of them don’t. What they lack in awards, they have gained in humility, great bodies of work, and hopefully, recognition in some form. These women aren’t just in music, however. I’m including women in film, theatre, and television because we can all agree that there is more to the Recording Academy than just hit records.
Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one. Yes, she is an actor and television personality but as a songwriter, she is hilarious. Best known for the critically-praised musical comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, this woman has dominated mainstream television with well-written songs featuring the highs and falls of relationships, feminism and mental health. Not only do they parody the genres that they reference but just about all of them are stand-alone songs that will be shared for years and I’d be skeptical if she remained a cult-classic.
If you’re a Berklee student and you don’t know Missy Elliott, I would almost suggest dropping out. You’re not going to survive here without knowing SOMETHING she’s produced and she’s produced a lot. Everywhere in pop and hip-hop from P!nk to TLC to Jay-Z to Demi Lovato to Pharell Williams to FREAKING DESTINY’S CHILD, this woman has dominated the music charts. Not to mention she’s an amazing rapper, releasing 7 studio albums and 74 singles.
A prominent figure in EDM and pop alike, Claire Elise Boucher, also known as “Grimes,” has written and produced some of the most unique music in recent years. Experimenting in genres like dubstep, R&B, dream pop, synth pop and art pop, she has toured around the world with the likes of Lana Del Ray, Florence and the Machine, Diplo and Skrillex. Her 2012 album, Visions, was critically acclaimed and cited as “one of the most impressive albums of the year” by the New York Times. She’s yet to release anything new due to legal complications with her label, but here’s hoping her she releases something amazing in the months to come.
Ann Hampton Callaway
Jazz. So. Much. Jazz. Working with Broadway singers like Barbara Streisand, Liza Minelli, and Patti LuPone, Ann Hampton Callaway is a show-stopping composer and songwriter, with 36 album credits under her belt. She even obtained permission to write music for an unreleased Cole Porter song “I Gaze in Your Eyes.” Ms. Callaway has performed and written television themes for hit-sitcoms such as The Nanny.
Earning an honorary degree from Berklee in 2009, this country “Bluebird” has eight gold albums and one platinum album, with note-worthy singer-songwriters Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. With 14 Grammys also under that belt and collaborations with noted music artists like Bob Dylan, John Denver, and Neil Young, this country gal has proven that her tall voice is worthy of recognition is places such as the Country Hall of Fame.
Before receiving two Grammys for producing mainstream artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande, Imogen Heap made her big break with her self-produced 1998 album, iMegaphone. The album received massive acclaim, and would help her collaborate with indie artists like Jeff Beck and Frou Frou. She has since produced her other albums: Sparks (2014) and Tiny Human (2015), composed music for the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Her biggest hit came with her single “Hide and Seek.” It was later sampled in various pop songs without credit for a brief time.
Do you love Tool, System of a Down, Alanis Morissette, Savoy and Johnny Cash? Sylvia Massy is the producer to thank. Working on platinum-selling albums like Undertow Massy has been known for her inventive and unconventional production skills in rock and has worked for legendary studio Sound City and RadioStar Studios. In addition, she is a visiting professor at Berklee and has a book called “Recording Unhinged” which you can purchase here.
This 52-year-old LGBT singer-songwriter was a crucial part of the 90’s and 2000’s music scene, writing for debuts of artists like P!nk with “Get This Party Started,” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” She has 70 writing and producing credits in the span of two decades. Besides also being the lead singer for her band “4 Non Blondes,” and co-writing “Recording Unhinged” with Sylvia Massy, Hans Zimmer and many others, she still keeps her music chops sharp to this day, writing for successful albums like “25” by Adele and “The Element of Freedom” by Alicia Keys.
You may have heard her name tossed around in music history, and with good reason. Pottinger is the single most important Jamaican producer in history, not just because she’s noted as the first female Jamaican producer, but her production skills brought dancehall music to the forefront of pop and hip-hop. After acquiring her record label Treasure Isle, she produced for Delano Stewart, The Ethiopians, Toots & The Maytals, Bob Andy, Culture, Big Youth, U Roy and so many more.
“Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang is cited as the first commercial rap song, and was produced by a 44-year-old Sylvia Robinson. I’m honestly surprised this woman does not come up often when talking about rap and hip-hop because, not only did she build the very first rap label Sugarhill Records, but she went on to produce herself, Grandmaster Flash, Big Bank Hank and many others.
Highlighting more of the amazing professors at Berklee, I argue Susan Rogers was absolutely pivotal for Prince’s career. She engineered six of his best-selling albums, including Purple Rain and Sign o’ the Times and went onto produce and mix hit singles for Jeff Black, Rusted Ford and Tevin Campbell. She is still here teaching classes at Berklee and I recommend you take her if you can. But, if you can’t and/or her class list has filled up–because she’s a popular teacher for a reason–you can check her out here, highlighting her work with Prince, as well as talking about the classic 80’s gated reverb on vox.
GIVE THIS WOMAN A RAISE. NOW.
Laura Sisk is literally on EVERY pop album currently coming out. On Vice, she was noted as “pop music’s secret weapon,” collaborating with Jack Antonoff, and recording and engineering pop albums like Carly Rae Jepsen’s E-MO-TION, Sia’s This Is Acting, Lorde’s Melodrama, and Taylor Swift’s hit Grammy-smashing album 1989. Not to mention, she is extremely prominent in hip-hop, recording and engineering artists Eminem, Big Boi and tUnE-yArDs. She spoke with Vice about the sexism she has experienced in studios, and while she says it’s unfortunate, she also hopes to see more women in the control room so that she isn’t asked “who’s the engineer?” You can check out her interview with Vice.
This is an under-appreciated songwriter if I met one. With one Grammy out of fifteen nominations, an Emmy award, and nine Academy Award nominations, Diane Warren has written songs for so many people. Where to begin? How about Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Marcia Hines, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, TLC, Aaliyah, Elton John, Cher, Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, Selena, Air Supply, Olivia Newton-John, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton, NSYNC, Gloria Estefan, Reba McEntire, Enrique Iglesias, Paloma Faith, Russell Watson, Rod Stewart, RBD, Aerosmith, The Cult, Kiss, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, LeAnn Rimes, Lady Gaga and yeah. There’s more. Not to mention a recent collaboration with Common called “Stand for Something” from the movie Marshall which, guess what, is also nominated for an Academy Award. If I were you, I’d check out her recent interview with TIME magazine.
The youngest producer on this list, 21-year-old WondaGurl is stepping up the game. Experimenting with computer programming and beat machines in middle school, WondaGurl is now a major producer and the engineer behind hip-hop and pop artists like Drake, Young Thug, Usher, SZA, Rihanna, and Kanye West. In less than a decade, she already has 35 production credits in her discography, including Grammy-nominated albums.
To learn more about women in music, and even find some job listings if you are an aspiring woman in producing/engineering/songwriting, I’d suggest visiting Soundgirls.org.