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Why are most record producers men?

It is a plain fact that most record producers are men. Odd, because there's a near 50/50 female/male split between recording artists. This surely raises a question that needs to be answered.


Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...


First I want to let you know that I really enjoy reading your newsletter and I always looking forward for the next issue. Great job!

Anyway, the article about older people listening to old music inspired me to raise another question that is difficult for me to answer. Why the majority of composers (and record producers) are men? I guess maybe it's a question for a neurobiologist. Or maybe the answer is the same as why over 80% of professors are men. But still, I wonder why women so rarely are composers and why there aren't almost any famous.

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David Mellor responds...

This is a tough question that I can't possibly pretend I can answer. But just because a question can't be answered doesn't mean that it isn't worth discussing. Clearly the number of female composers is infinitesimal compared to men. And female record producers... well just run a Google search and you will see for yourself how few relevant results it returns.

So why?

Firstly, just because there are not many female composers or record producers doesn't mean that women can't do it. Take the example of Mrs. J.S. Bach who reportedly helped him out with his work, notably by writing his cello suites for him, and perhaps a lot more. And then there is Mrs. Robert Schumann who could write a mean piano concerto when she wanted to (I know, because I once recorded it). And if we consider modern composers (not modern classical composers because neither male nor female can please an audience), then among film and TV composers it is almost patronizing to mention the likes of Debbie Wisemen because clearly she is a composer of very considerable ability and to comment that she is also female is irrelevant.

And record producers?

Well how about Wilma Cozart of the Mercury Living Presence classical label? Not only did she produce, she engineered too and created recordings four decades ago that stand in comparison with the best that is possible even now.

Clearly even these few examples show that women can do these things at the highest level. So the question becomes, why don't more women do it?

I bet if I went out into the street, explained the situation to a random selection of people and asked the question why there are so few women in these occupations, the words 'male' and 'domination' will figure prominently in the answers.

Composing and record producing are therefore male dominated industries. But are they?

One way in which an industry can become male dominated is if males consciously conspire to keep females out.

Yes this can happen, but in composing? There's nothing to stop anyone writing music if they want. But there could be a more subtle factor in play...

It could be that nothing is actually preventing women from becoming composers, but they are not given respect for what they do. So early on during the period when a woman might choose to become a composer, her early works receive scant respect and she is discouraged from continuing. This would relate to both the classical and film/TV fields. I have no idea whether this hypothesis is true, but it could be.

There is another way male domination can occur, which is by framing an activity in such a way that it suits the male mind set. My feeling is that the technical side of recording is significantly like this.

Recording equipment is designed and marketed to suit the male in the same way as a 1000 cc Kawasaki motorcycle. The mighty SSL mixing console was surely designed to appeal to the male urge for 'bigger is better' and this trend continues.

Don't believe me? Then take a catalog of sound equipment down to your local supermarket and compare the male and female sections of the personal grooming aisle, where products are very strongly polarized between male and female.

OK, so where does the styling and presentation of sound and recording equipment and software fit in? Lynx, or Timotei?

There is of course the other often-quoted answer to this thorny question, and it has nothing to do with composer or record production.

It is that when males are successful, they win mating rights. Yes, successful males get a wider choice of females. But success for a female doesn't enhance her mating prospects one little bit. On the contrary, some men can be intimidated by successful women.

So in the fields of composition and record production that demand intense effort and perseverance, the potential reward of mating rights (to the male psyche, if not always in actuality) is a significant motivator. And that's why these industries are almost exclusively populated by men.

I'm sure there are many more possible explanations. But there is one key question that needs to be answered...

Why are there so few female composers and record producers? Are they being held back, or do they just not want it enough?

By David Mellor Monday August 21, 2006