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Artists make push for gender equality in music industry with all-female production teams

Lindsay Kay's upcoming debut album For the Feminine, By the Feminine was made by an entirely female-identifying team of producers, performers, music video directors and promotional staff.

Anastasia Lebedeva/The Canadian Press

Singer Lindsay Kay recalls the pushback she felt while preparing to make her debut album with only female musicians and sound engineers.

The Calgary-raised performer says she was never told outright that recording without the help of men in the studio was a bad idea, but it was often implied by her peers.

“When I specifically asked for female engineers, there was a lot of, ‘Oh hmm, a woman engineer? Hmm, I don’t know any,“’ Kay said.

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“Or comments like, ‘It’s too bad you’re only working with women, because I know this great guy who’s amazing.“’

Kay felt people were missing the point.

When For the Feminine, by the Feminine was completed earlier this year, the album was done by rejecting the misogyny she feels lingering in the mindset of many people in the music industry. Every layer of the project was made with only female and female-identifying people.

“It makes me sad that women think they can’t create things without men,” she said.

“There’s something deeply unsettling about that to me.”

Kay isn’t alone in wanting to elevate female talent in the creation process. A number of Canadian musicians have started work this year on albums built exclusively by women from start to finish. In many ways, it’s an effort to reject the perceived boys club behind the scenes in the music industry.

Earlier this year, Juno winner Lights consulted her massive following on social media seeking recommendations of lesser-known female producers. She hopes to recruit an entirely female production staff for her next album.

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Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimienta took a similar approach with her upcoming album, which she self-produced and says will be released in both a pop version and one recorded in “just brass and voice.”

“I’m not gonna have men included in that album,” she recently told a conference at Canadian Music Week.

“To me, it just makes sense that I have a bunch of women.”

Hiring an entire roster of female-identifying people took considerably more time and research, Kay acknowledged, because the pool of candidates is much smaller.

The experience inspired her to continue working only with women after her album’s release in October. She recently filmed a music video for the song Too with a female director and cast, as well as clothes made exclusively by young women in the fashion industry who she discovered on Instagram.

She expects over time she’ll be able to grow her circle of women in music.

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Plans don’t always run quite that smoothly, as Toronto hip-hop act The Sorority can attest. The four-person group was named after the comradery they felt was “missing in the industry,” said Phoenix Pagliacci, one of the members.

After they formed two years ago, their objective was to support women in as many ways as they could – often hiring female photographers and directors. But when The Sorority set out to make their 2018 debut album “Pledge,” their plan to hire all women was met with confusion by their peers.

“A lot of males didn’t understand exactly why we wanted to do this,” Pagliacci said.

They struggled to find a roster of female beat makers, and while The Sorority managed to get two of them onto the album, the rest of the tracks were produced by men.

Pagliacci said the experience was a lesson for the group about the knowledge they lacked on the experiences of women in the industry, particularly in hip-hop music.

She points to the 1990s as a bygone era where rap labels believed in bringing female voices into the mix. Bad Boy Records, the label owned by Sean “Diddy” Combs, elevated the career of rapper Lil’ Kim while Ruff Ryders Entertainment invested in putting Eve at the forefront alongside male stars like DMX and Swizz Beatz.

These days the rap industry is dominated by men at labels like Drake’s OVO Sound, which doesn’t have a female signed to their roster.

While Cardi B is the first woman rapper to have two No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, she did it by first building her reputation on her own through social media and reality television before being considered a serious force in music.

“We have to stick together as females and grow those networks and resources ourselves,” Pagliacci urged her peers.

“Because if we don’t grow them, they don’t grow – that’s what we’re finding.”

It’s an experience echoed by Vancouver electronic musician Soledad Munoz, who four years ago launched Genero, an all-female indie record label.

The idea materialized when she became frustrated over what seemed to be a lack of women interested in modulation synthesizers. She set out to discover some who were.

“For me, it was trying to make a world where I fit in and where I felt comfortable,” she said.

“The thing about visibility is that a lot of times the people are there, but they’re just not being showcased.”

Munoz said often the message gets interpreted as women trying to undermine their male colleagues.

“We’re not even trying to go beyond it or else it would be patronizing,” she said.

“We’re just trying to get to equality – and that is achieved by focusing 100 per cent on what we’re lacking.”

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