Thursday, July 29, 2010
For most intents and purposes, I didn’t notice my minority status at Berklee College of Music. Mostly I was in an environment with people who were just like me: obsessed with anything having to do with music. Back in 2002, Berklee’s overall student body was 80% male. It wasn’t as noticeable in vocal labs, since the majority of voice majors were women. But I vividly recall sitting in the back of music theory classes while the boys sat up front, shouting out the answers.
The area with the greatest gender imbalance at Berklee has always been the prestigious Music, Production, and Engineering department. Spots in this program are coveted and only obtained by about 2% of the student body. Of the 100 students graduating with a Berklee degree in MP&E this past May, can you guess how many were women? A whopping three. You might be surprised to learn that this percentage is just slightly below the national average of women in the audio engineering profession (roughly 5%).
Though the ratio of women to men is improving in Berklee’s general student body – women made up 29% of the 2009-2010 school population – the degree with arguably the best chance of landing you a job after graduation (or one outside of the college’s admissions department anyway) - is predominantly bestowed upon men.
Considering this, you can imagine how heartening it was to read about the opportunity young girls are being afforded this week through a day camp called Girls Rock! Seattle. Throughout the week girls ages 8-16 will be forming bands, learning to play instruments, and putting on a finale show together (at Nuemos this coming Saturday). But beyond that, these girls are learning more in-depth information about the music industry. “It’s all about girls becoming familiar with what goes on behind the scenes. You go to a show and see the performance, but then you can go to camp and see how the house sound is run, how to sound check […] you learn how important all that is to running a concert,” says local musician and Girls Rock! Seattle instructor Anomie Belle. Belle teaches a course called “Audio Recording and Electronic Music Production,” at the camp, and is hoping to help girls “take electronic music in their own hands…”
Also encouraging is NPR’s new series “Hey Ladies: Being A Woman Musician Today,” which began with a questionnaire that was sent to over 700 female musicians “ranging from American Idol contestants to klezmer drummers to metal songwriters to opera divas.” The responses have been used to craft radio pieces that began airing recently on the common struggles that women face in the music industry.
More inspiring still is the fact that I could write all day about the myriad projects that have been created with the goal of increasing female participation in music fields usually dominated by men. Listservs for women in the music industry, indie music conferences, and programs like Women’s Audio Mission - a San Francisco-based organization that provides training in the recording arts and audio technology, as well as female mentors for young girls interested in the field - are all striving to create more opportunities for women.
Will all of these programs make a difference? Might the tech-savvy Millennials be the generation to break the music industry gender boundaries? Will new studies that tell girls they’re not inferior in the STEM fields after all be the key bit of info that pushes a greater number of women into the more tech-heavy music professions? We can only hope.