Only 5 per cent of music producers in 2019 were women. That’s according to a new study from Statista Research Dept. on equality in the U.S. music industry. While it’s a low number, the share of female producers more than doubled between 2018 and 2019. The reason? In part, the development in recording software and the increasing use of home studios.
“Before, maybe you’re the only woman in the room, and everybody expects that you don’t know anything,” says Hill Kourkoutis, a producer, songwriter and musician who works out of her home studio, The Lair, in Barrie, Ont. “Having your own setup opens up a world in which you have the independence to explore. It isn’t just an innovation in technology, it’s a cultural shift.”
This week, the National Arts Centre announced its new Global Network for Female-Identifying Music Producers, a multiyear international program to give women on the recording side of the music business the opportunity to connect and help overcome institutional barriers.
The participating Canadians are Kourkoutis, Montreal’s Maïa Davies, Vancouver’s Elisa Pangsaeng, Halifax’s Erin Costelo and Toronto’s Denise De’ion. Four of them talked to The Globe and Mail about their dream production jobs.
Erin Costelo believes in Cher
As a songwriter, I love Cher’s Believe. But had I produced it, I would have stripped it down. I hear it as a piano ballad with lush background singers. I would produce it more like a Nina Simone record. The lyrics are so beautiful. Part of the reason the song resonated with people are the words she was singing. I would make them front and centre.
Then again, perhaps my version wouldn’t have been right for Cher at the time. She was almost 40 years into her career and needed a hit. Dance music was super popular at the time. So, I don’t know that my instinct going in would have been the same that came out, once we had the chance to work together. Maybe I would have ended up producing it exactly as it ended up.
It’s why I base things on the artist’s vision more than my ideas going in. The biggest heartbreak you can have as a producer is being so stuck to your vision that it alienates the musicians and the singer. Hearing the moments of synchronicity and allowing other ideas come in, I feel that’s my forte as a producer.
Maïa Davies, a founding member of Montreal’s roots-rock group Ladies of the Canyon, wants to get to know Shawn Mendes
My production is based on an empathetic understanding of who the artist is. The idea is to understand the artist’s identity and to find out how to express that clearly.
It all starts with the lyrics. Just because the meaning is clear to the artist, doesn’t mean the whole world will get it. Once we talk about the lyrics and we know what we have to say, that’s half the battle.
Shawn Mendes’s lyrics are so visual and so raw. Going back to 2014′s Life of the Party, they paint this emotion of an alienated kid. He’s dealing with all these emotions and he doesn’t know where to place them, whether in his life or at a party.
His best songs are the ones with the clearest emotional message. There’s also a nice use of real instruments, which is something not always present in pop production. It’s warm. It’s expressive. It reflects well on him. He seems like a sensitive person who has a lot to say. He’s growing up, and that’s something that really interests me.
How does Hill Kourkoutis propose to remake the Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy)? Make it heavier
It’s a mashup of two songs. The first section is super suave and bluesy. It’s very clean-sounding. I would give it a Patrick Carney [of the Black Keys] drum treatment, where you get that gritty tom-tom tone. But I would also do something insane like overdubbing the kick drum with an 808 drum machine to add to the weight of it but also modernize it.
The guitar riff in the second section could be heavier. I would fuzz that riff out to make it even more dramatic than it already is. I’m also a fan of mixing vintage organs with modern sounds. So, I’d take a Farfisa and run it through a bunch of amplifiers to make it super heavy and sustained.
The outro is a loop of the same motif. It builds dramatically because of the white noise from the Moog synthesizer. John Lennon was playing with filters and opening it up until the sound took over. It would be interesting to infuse that with a crazy, epic symphonic orchestra.
And then I would end it just as George Martin did – dramatically dropping it out.
A fan of 90s R&B, beatmaker-producer Denise De’ion offers to help the American singer Brandy
I’ve always admired Brandy as a vocalist, but I’ve always felt the production on her albums didn’t always support her vocals. As far as memorable back-to-back albums, I don’t think she’s had that. Her latest album, 2020′s B7, is getting there. She’s digging in. She’s taking control.
I would want her to dig a little deeper into her life and personal struggles, and putting that into the music. And I would bring in more live instrumentation. A lot of the music in many genres is digitally based. That’s how it is these days. Analog is still there, but it’s hanging on for dear life.
I’d have Brandy sing live with strings. I would use piano and guitar – instrumentation that would complement her voice. This is where I would wear my producer’s hat. This is what I would do for her.
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