When thinking about producers and engineers, it’s almost second nature to associate the roles as being unique to, or at least dominated by, men. Fortunately, that stereotype is changing, as women have clearly stepped forward from clerical and assistant positions to running the boards and shaping the final sounds: Sylvia Massy, Marcella Araica and Trina Shoemaker are among the names that come to mind.
The Women’s Audio Mission (www.womensaudiomission.org) plays a tremendous role in educating and encouraging women and girls who are interested in audio technology. The Bay Area nonprofit provides access and training, as well as career counseling and job placement services. Additionally, W.A.M. offers an online support network for its 850 members, which is key to building a strong system within a small segment of the pro-audio market.
Planet Ill spoke with W.A.M. executive director Terri Winston about her start in the pro-audio world, why she launched W.A.M., and what the organization offers.
Planet Ill: Let’s begin with your start in the recording industry. How did you go from Point A to Point B — the college degree to that first job?
Terri Winston: I have a degree in electrical engineering, and when I got out of college I was in a band that was signed to Phonogram/Polygram. I had done a lot of home recording with my band, and as an electrical engineer I was comfortable with the technology. After our band was signed, we started recording in studios; I was lucky to work with some great producers and engineers, and it became obvious to me that the combination of engineering and musical chops worked really well for me in studio production. I started engineering and producing bands who had heard the first records that I had engineered/produced for my own band.
Planet Ill: What were some of the challenges you faced as you climbed the ladder into the producer and engineer’s chair? Would you be a few inches taller if not for having your growth stunted by repeatedly slamming your head into the good ol’ boys’ glass ceiling?
Terri Winston: I was actually very lucky. I was mentored by men (especially Patti Smith collaborator Lenny Kaye) and they were very helpful to me. My father is an engineer, so I was used to being in this environment. There is definitely an art to navigating this industry, but I like to focus more on getting better and better at what I do. I am competitive by nature and I like a good challenge; these two things fuel the constant upgrading of skills and knowledge that keeps everything exciting and propels a career.
Planet Ill: What has changed in terms of opportunities for women to enter the pro-audio world?
Terri Winston: There are definitely more opportunities to get high-quality training, and the industry is more interested than ever in having qualified women on their team.
Planet Ill: Where can a young woman go to pursue producing and engineering? Local colleges usually don’t offer classes; your hometown may not have a studio where you can intern. How do you start, especially if you don’t hold a degree in engineering, and attending Full Sail or Belmont is not an option?
Terri Winston: I started Women’s Audio Mission for this very reason. We offer audio production certification courses here in our recording studio in San Francisco, and will be offering courses online this fall. So naturally, my advice would be to become a member of Women’s Audio Mission, take our classes, network at our member meetings, which we webcast, join us at the major conferences like AES (Audio Engineering Society) and then take advantage of our job board.
We have over 850 women from all over the world that are part of our growing community. In addition, I run the recording arts program at City College of San Francisco, which has a great two-year degree program. There are many local community colleges that offer great programs. AES has an education listing at www.aes.org.
Planet Ill: Let’s talk about stereotypes that won’t go away: Women aren’t smart enough to produce and engineer, they lack technical skills, and of course they only enter the music industry to meet musicians and get laid. These stereotypes can easily destroy a woman’s dreams or keep her from pursuing her goals. What do you say to these young women, and where does W.A.M. come into the picture to offer help and support?
Terri Winston: I find that I don’t run into those comments much at all. The industry in general is very supportive of women; once in a while there are a few bad apples that ruin it for the remaining 99 percent, but that’s true of any group of people, really. I think if you have obvious skills and training, and pursue opportunities to learn out in the field, you will build a natural confidence that doesn’t make any room for these types of comments.
You definitely have to have a thick skin, but this is true for any industry that has mission-critical or time-sensitive activities that have to be done right on the first pass. I have had such great experiences in this industry. It is male-dominated right now, but we’re changing that as we speak. Put on a W.A.M. t-shirt and walk around a major audio conference and you will find a lot of friends there — and they are a lot of men, but they are friends.
Planet Ill: “Our daughter wants to produce records. We’re sure this is just a silly phase she’s going through, and eventually she’ll return to her senses, get a nice, respectable office job and forget this nonsense.” To these parents, you say …
Terri Winston: If she really wants to do this, she will do it. You can’t stop someone with a clear vision. I was supposed to be a traditional electrical engineer, and look what happened to me!
Planet Ill: W.A.M. is in the Bay Area, but some of our readers are in the Midwest, the South and the East Coast. What can W.A.M. do for them and why should they join?
Terri Winston: Membership is only $40 a year and $30 for students and it pays for itself in benefits. Members receive major discounts on our classes both in-house and online, access to free W.A.M. events — many, like guest speakers and member meetings, are webcast, access to a job/internship board, access to free advice on our tech/gear forum, free AES conference passes, and heavy discounts on trade publications and gear. More important is the community building of women from all over the world. At our member meetings that we webcast, it is so awesome to actually connect with women from all over the U.S., Italy, Canada, etc. joining in on their webcams and talking about audio and what they are up to. We have such great interactions on our Facebook/MySpace/Twitter pages. It’s a fabulous time to jump in and be a part of a growing community.
Elianne Halbersberg is a freelance writer whose work has also appeared in Mix, Premier Guitar, Electronic Musician, Audio Media, Ink 19 and many other magazines and websites.
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