Sunday sit-down with… Lisa Murphy
The local music producer, instrumentalist, teacher and recording studio owner sat down with us this weekend to talk about her recent Women In Music Production project – and the documentary that’s set for release later this week
In 2019, a US study of artists, songwriters and producers featured on 700 popular songs (recorded between 2012 and 2018), found that only 2.1% of music producers were women.
This was supported by another survey later that year – this time by the UK-based Music Producers Guild, a charitable organisation that promotes and represents individuals in the music production and recording profession – which estimated that just 6% of its members were women.
Now, to us, this is baffling. We’re not quite sure how some people think gender is going to impact someone’s ability to produce music, but we’d be tempted to bet they’re probably the same people who argue that there should be an International Men’s Day in the yearly calendar, too.
But while many of us may lament the under-representation of women in the music industry, one local producer saw these statistics and decided to take matters into her own hands – and make a change that was to start right here in the North East.
In November of last year, Lisa Murphy began a six-month project called Women In Music Production, with the hope of supporting more women into work as music producers. Four female, aspiring music producers from the North East were chosen to take part: Cortney Dixon (you may remember she was last month’s HLN Meets The Musician interview), Abby Hillyer, Holly Rees and Grace Alexander. Together, they were given the chance to attend weekly development sessions, work on recording and producing projects at professional studios and learn first-hand from some of the best in the business.
But that’s not all. See, while this project brilliantly supported the development of these four fiercely-talented females, Lisa wanted to inspire more of us here in the region to think about music production as a potential career path. That’s why she teamed up with local videographers Bridgelight Media to make a mini-documentary about the project – and maybe even pave the way for Women In Music Production 2.0…
We caught up with Lisa ahead of the documentary’s release this Friday (28th May).
Why did you start the Women In Music Production project?
There really aren’t many women working in technical roles in the music industry. In fact, research undertaken in 2019 identified only 2.1% of women named as ‘music producers’ on over 700 popular records they studied.
As a woman working in music production, I felt that there was an opportunity to share my knowledge, experience and contacts with other women in the North East who wanted to learn more and access work in this area. The intention was to hopefully identify and break down barriers to women accessing work in technical roles, such as recording, mixing and producing in my local music community.
Why do you think women are still under-represented in the music industry?
Music production has traditionally been seen as a job for the guys. Some aspects of the job are closely linked with engineering, maths and science; recording sessions can be long and the hours are anti-social – it’s a historical thing really, dating back to when women didn’t traditionally work in these kinds of jobs.
For women now, it’s sometimes difficult to find your place when you don’t see any role models within the industry doing what you want to be doing. You sometimes don’t feel accepted in a studio environment. Of course, that’s not to say that all women are having bad experiences – and we are moving in the right direction to improve the representation of women in the music industry. But it’s a slow process. That’s why projects like these are important to highlight the talent of female music makers in our region and support them to develop their practice.
I also think that there are women who are doing music production work, but simply don’t call themselves ‘music producers’. This could be because they’re also working as performers, composers or teachers. Or maybe because they suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t feel that their skills are at the level to give themselves that title yet. I’m really hoping to break down these barriers and support more women to work in music production and actually call themselves ‘producers’.
What are some of the biggest myths about music production you’d like to bust?
Well, firstly – that being talented at music production has absolutely nothing to do with gender! The success of women in the music industry, however, is reliant on more opportunities being given and the appropriate support to help them grow.
Another myth is that using technology to make music is very complicated and technical. It doesn’t have to be! Starting with the approach that best suits your learning style is the best way – that might be trying out a piece of software to create beats, record and layer vocals or instruments or create your own sounds. Consumer-level technology has come a very long way in the last 20 years since I started out. You no longer need a commercial studio with lots of expensive gear to create and release music. Look at Billie Eilish – her chart-topping album was recorded in a bedroom at her parents’ home, with a very basic level of equipment.
How did you get into music production?
I started out as a musician as a child, (I’m a keyboard player). I’ve always been a bit techy and geeky and I found out when I went to Sixth Form that I could merge the two! I studied Music Technology at A level and then went on to complete my degree at university in Leeds. I then studied for my PCGE and have taught music technology, alongside working as a music producer, ever since.
How would you describe your career so far?
My career has been varied, sometimes more based in education, sometime more in the music industry recording, mixing and producing artists and bands. A few years ago, I completed a Masters degree, where I chose to research some of the more recent technological advances in the music industry, such as streaming live performances, (this was before the pandemic, so before they became our main form of viewing live music for 12 months!).
As a music producer, I work with artists and bands in a variety of ways – it can be from the early concept of a piece of work, where you’re involved in shaping a song or album sonically from the start with recording, sound design, even writing and playing parts to create the final product. Or, sometimes, I’m involved at the mixing stage to bring together pre-recorded or programmed parts into a professional product for release. I love both approaches. It’s always so interesting, working with creative people. Every day is definitely different!
I have run a couple of professional studios in the North East, but last year I set up my own studio, called Production Room, to record, produce and teach from.
What can we expect from the Women In Music Production documentary?
I really wanted to share the experience and successes of those involved in the project with others, in the hope that other people would be inspired to try out music production. I decided the best way to do this would be to team up with local video production company, Bridgelight Media, to make a mini-documentary.
The intention of the Women in Music Production project was to support more women into work as music producers – an area of the industry in which they’re under-represented. The documentary is the story of the project from the perspective of those involved.
There were four, female, aspiring music producers selected to be involved, to access weekly skills and knowledge development sessions, recording and production projects at professional studios and guest workshops from prominent local music producers. In the documentary, you’ll hear directly form these producers about their experiences over the last six months: what we did, who we worked with and what they’ll be doing next as producers.
What are you hoping viewers will take away from the documentary?
We hope that this mini-documentary is a positive insight into the journey of these music producers, and acts as inspiration for anyone wanting to pursue a career in music production – regardless of their gender.
I hope that people will see that music production is for everyone and that there are routes into working as a producer for all abilities and music interests. I wanted to demystify the idea of recording studio environments being intimidating places with lots of equipment and big mixing desks. And I wanted to show that, with the right introduction to these environments and a supportive group of people, you can quickly overcome your nerves and start creating music.
What else are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m working on production projects in my studio with local artists and bands, to get as much new music from the region out as possible over the coming months. I’m also delivering music production workshops for Sage Gateshead and We Make Culture for their Women In Music projects too – which is something that I really love doing.
I also teach some music production modules on higher education courses in the North East, so I’ll have plenty of marking to be getting on with as the academic year draws to a close!
Have you got any more similar projects lined up in the future?
Following the release of the documentary about the Women in Music Production project – which I’m hoping will reach as many people as possible – I’ll be putting together another bid to hopefully secure funding to run round two! I’m full of new ideas from working with the amazing music producers on this project and would love for them to be involved in future projects to support the next generation of female music producers into our local music industry. Fingers crossed we can make this happen.
We’ve got our fingers crossed for you too, Lisa!
If you’d like to learn more about the Women In Music Production project, or about routes into developing skills and knowledge in music recording, mixing, songwriting with technology or production, visit the project’s website for more information and links to resources.
Be sure to check out the Women In Music Production mini-documentary from Friday 28th May too