The future of audio engineering and production is female—which is exactly why Spotify’s Social Impact Team is partnering with Berklee College of Music to form the EQL Studio Residency. Women are often underrepresented in the music industry, so by providing three full-time, paid residencies to women and gender non-conforming individuals across the world, we are hoping to help aspiring female engineers gain the experience and mentorship needed to take their careers to the next level.
Spotify and Berklee’s first EQL Residency cohort started in October with three up-and-coming talents: Ramera Abraham, a Filipino-Canadian vocal engineer, producer, and recent Abbey Road Institute graduate based at the Spotify Secret Genius Studio in London, U.K.; Taylor Pollock, a Berklee music production and engineering alumna from the small town of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania currently at the Spotify Studios in Nashville, Tennessee; and Jeanne Montalvo Lucar, a Grammy-nominated producer-engineer with a radio background working out of Spotify Studios and Electric Lady Studios in New York. Heading up the program on the Berklee side is Darla Hanley, the first female academic dean at Berklee College of Music in Boston. In her work, she has spearheaded many music initiatives and programs and is always looking for new ways to promote, engage, and support women in the industry.
We sat down with the residents and Darla to get their takes on finding incredible mentors, the benefits of a residency for women in a male-dominated industry, and their advice to aspiring female engineers.
First off, what does an audio engineer actually do?
Jeanne: If you think of it from beginning to end, the audio engineer works directly with the musician to record an album, or a track. And [as the engineer] you’re in charge of conceiving how the recording is going to shape up; whether in a studio and what microphones you’re using, for example. They take responsibility of recording the sounds, mixing them together, and editing the final product.
Ramera: Audio engineers work across video, film scoring, video games, and podcasting—bringing the technical side of a song to life and making your favorite artist sound so good.
The music industry is a hard field to break into, no matter who you are. Who are some of the mentors who helped you get where you are?
Taylor: My teachers at Berklee were probably the biggest resource for me, because they were people who had established themselves in the industry already. Jonathan Wyner mastered “Bleach” by Nirvana. Matthew Ellard, my favorite teacher, engineered for metal bands in the ’90s. My mentor Leanne Ungar recorded Leonard Cohen in the studio and on tours. She was one of the people that really pushed me to go hard and stand up for myself distinctly from my male classmates. I spent a semester interning in LA, and Eric Rennaker and all of the staff at Bedrock Studios in LA helped push me to be bolder and more confident.
Ramera: The most important musical inspirations in my life will always be my grandfather (a bass-baritone), and my aunt (music teacher and multi-instrumentalist). I owe a lot to teachers from Carleton University in Ottawa, as well as Carlos Lellis from Abbey Road Institute, and my co-writer, AntonioEsposito, for pushing me to continue songwriting and vocal production in the first place. When I first started songwriting and was introduced to the world of music production, I was also really looking up to women like Ali Tamposiand Sarah Aarons, whose podcasts I would listen to all the time. I would just analyze the melodies they’d written, and just kind of think, ‘Wow, I want to write like that’. I also had the pleasure of meeting Sylvia Massy, a fearless engineer, unafraid to experiment with new ideas. So I’d love to find a medium between the two; to merge my creative side with my growing experience as an engineer.
Jeanne: My previous bosses have always served as the biggest mentors for me. Andreas Meyer specifically was always extremely supportive, giving me huge projects and helping me talk through my own projects—never hesitating to recommend me for something big. And my advisor at NYU, Dr. AgnieszkaRoginska, still is a huge mentor for me. As a woman, seeing another woman, who has a family, who is working in audio, and is working to bridge that gender gap to support the future women in the field has always been a great inspiration.
Why is having a residency like EQL so important for female engineers and producers?
Jeanne: I’ve dealt with the feeling that my resume is at the bottom of the pile, and realizing that a man is just going to end up getting the job. So to have been in competition [for the residency] with other women was amazing. I knew I wasn’t going to be turned down because of my sex at the end.
Taylor: In my previous experiences, when I would do sessions, it would be just mostly males. Now I have a group I can talk to, to say, ‘Hey, so this negative experience with a male coworker happened. This isn’t normal, right?’ And then they can let me know, ‘That’s not normal. It’s not something that you should put up with.’
Ramera: Last week [during the mentoring session], it was just a really great … I don’t know, it felt almost like a support group, in the best way possible. I felt the importance of women supporting women. I feel like there are so many important conversations, both about music and not, we can have in a group like this.
Darla: One of the best elements of EQL is our ability to have Berklee women leaders mentor the three recipients. The Berklee Women Chairs Forum group is so impressive and represents many areas of the music industry like production, songwriting, music business, and film scoring. Without EQL, this group would probably not be gathering to talk about supporting women in recording studios in Nashville, London and New York, or offering collective advice. EQL gives us the ability to work together in new ways and go beyond the borders of our campus.
Speaking of women supporting women, what’s your advice for aspiring female engineers, producers, and songwriters?
Jeanne: I’ve always kind of obsessively networked. Whenever there were events, I would just throw myself at them because I knew that it was an uphill battle. Not being afraid to take the plunge and jump into the deep end has been kind of the only way to operate as a woman in this business. If you do good work it will speak for itself. You may have to prove yourself over and over and over again. But at the end of the day, you’re going to earn their respect, and they’re going to want to work with you in the future.
Taylor: If you see a woman doing something that she’s doing well, but there’s a guy behind her, trying to tell her how to do it, say something. Tell them to back off. Usually that opens the door for people to work the best that they can. When that happens to me, I just tell people that I can do it. And to let me do it.
Ramera: My main advice is to never be afraid to ask for help. The only way you’ll learn to do a job well is to continue to make mistakes, ask for clarification on how something works, and never make the same mistake again. Ask for help from fellow engineers—male or female—because at the end of the day, your experience should be less hierarchical and more learning and development-oriented. Work with as many writers and producers as possible. People are there to support you!
But there’s always more to do. What’s next?
Darla: We can keep creating opportunities for women in music and put them in the spotlight as much as possible. We should also focus on teaching children that there are no gender boundaries in music so the industry (and world) of tomorrow will be different. For now, let’s showcase how women are a part of the music industry—in a way that inspires other women to take part. Women contribute as performers, creators, producers, engineers, business leaders and more. We need their voices to be amplified. It isn’t every day that we get to empower women and change lives. Wait—with EQL it is!