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The Sound of Equality: why the creative music industry needs more women

Diversity across gender, ethnic, cultural and societal backgrounds is essential to creating the most innovative work

Phuong Boi Nguyen

Music Producer & Audio Engineer, MassiveMusic

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Not many people can say they accidentally rolled into their job. For most people, their careers typically start when they leave university, having done some research around what jobs might suit their interests, and planning out the necessary steps to get to their dream role in the future. But for me and many others in my industry, the paths to our current careers were a little different to most.

I first learned about music production when I was in my first band. We were in the recording studio and I found myself fixated on what was happening on the other side of the glass. When I got home, I researched exactly what the ‘behind the scenes’ of music entailed and saw the incredible range of roles on offer – from sound engineering, to music design, to producing, and so much more. I knew that this would be perfect for me.

But it wasn’t until I got to university to study music production and engineering that I realised how few women were actually in the industry. We hear all the time about other industries like STEM that have a gender diversity problem and a lot of attention has been given to promote initiatives to help tackle this issue. We often just assume that the creative industries are the opposite but they can be just as male-dominated.

I’ve found myself in scenarios where I’ve met with clients as the engineer working on their music and sound, only for them to immediately assume I’m the vocalist and my male colleagues the engineers

Phuong Boi Nguyen, Music Producer & Audio Engineer at MassiveMusic

The good news is, there has been some progression. We’re witnessing a huge growth in the audio landscape thanks to the plethora of audio-rich platforms and touchpoints we have now, like Spotify, TikTok and even smart speakers. More brands are realising the incredible impact of having a solid music and sound strategy on business ROI. Paired with the fact there is a new wave of crazy talented and creative female musicians coming through the ranks, together we’ve got the perfect recipe for defining this new era in the music industry – one that is more equal.

I’ve found myself in scenarios where I’ve met with clients as the engineer working on their music and sound, only for them to immediately assume I’m the vocalist and my male colleagues the engineers. Or, in other instances, I’ve had musicians try and explain technical things to me, because they think I don’t know, despite being a musician myself. It’s challenging enough often to be the only woman in the room or on a team, especially when we know visibility is so important for encouraging more women to enter our industry.

Women getting proper recognition in the music industry is not a new challenge. A recent example that comes to mind is when Damon Albarn, Blur frontman and Gorillaz co-founder, claimed in an interview that Taylor Swift doesn’t write her own music, which she of course does. And, unfortunately, this has been much the same behind the scenes, as well.

Women getting proper recognition in the music industry is not a new challenge

Phuong Boi Nguyen, Music Producer & Audio Engineer at MassiveMusic

This was the focus of my graduate research paper in university, where I also found the reason why there are so few women in our industry is because a lot of young people don’t know this is a job they can do. So it’s our responsibility, as women currently working in the industry, to help bridge this awareness gap.

This is part of the pro bono work we are currently doing for Project Fearless that focuses on empowering young girls. At MassiveMusic, the world’s biggest and most established creative music agency, we are working with a videographer and an AR filter designer to create a music video that exemplifies Project Fearless’s mission. Showing the girls the kind of work we do at Massive is part of the workshop.

Part of making our industry more equal is also rethinking how we approach and define ‘gendered’ music. We might think of certain ‘masculine’ sounds or genres like heavy guitars, EDM or even hip-hop, or more ‘feminine’ sounds like soft pianos. I’m of the belief that sounds can’t have genders, but also we need to stop thinking in such binary terms.

We flipped the conventional masculine/feminine sounds on its head for our recent work with UEFA Women's Champions League, when MassiveMusic helped create the competition’s first ever women’s anthem. You would no doubt be familiar with the men's Champions League anthem, even if you are not a football fan – the most iconic sound in football and synonymous with the absolute pinnacle of excellence in European football. But for the Women’s competition, we had to start from scratch, finding something that would symbolise the rise of the competition and the progression of the amazing women playing in it. 

We can’t wait for our future industry leaders to stumble into the studio and rely on their own curiosity to find out about us – we need to be there first

Phuong Boi Nguyen, Music Producer & Audio Engineer at MassiveMusic

Using a predominantly female orchestra and conductor, the result is an anthem that is more rousing, almost a warrior-like war cry which conveys mighty strength and resilience – not often things evoked from typical ‘feminine sounds’. UEFA’s chief of women’s football, Nadine Keßler, put it best when she said at the time of the launch, “The UEFA Women’s Champions League is a competition in its own right, with its own sporting and commercial set-up, with its own uniqueness. So why shouldn’t we have a separate anthem and brand attached to this competition?”

Having more women in our industry inevitably helps with work like this, as it challenges brands to think outside of binaries and, as their advisors, we need to give them the most informed advice for what their brand should sound like. How is this possible when you only have one gender, and therefore one perspective, doing the thinking? This isn’t just limited to gender, either. We need better diversity across ethnic, cultural and societal backgrounds in order to have a more holistic view of the world.

The opportunities for creative women in music are growing at an incredible rate. But we need to ensure we are spreading the word about what’s on offer. We can’t wait for our future industry leaders to stumble into the studio and rely on their own curiosity to find out about us – we need to be there first. And the more women and diversity we bring into the industry, the better work we are able to produce.

Guest Author

Phuong Boi Nguyen

Music Producer & Audio Engineer, MassiveMusic, MassiveMusic

About

Phuong is a Dutch-Vietnamese music producer, songwriter, sound engineer and musician. After finishing her studies in music production, Phuong moved to the vibrant city of Los Angeles for an internship with Warren Huart. After discovering the ins and outs of the LA music industry, she landed a job at MassiveMusic Amsterdam where she is now running the MassiveCatalogue department. On a daily basis, Phuong produces music, writes songs and creates sound designs with MassiveMusic and her own company VOON Music. That’s not all – aside from her regular jobs, Phuong is also active in the music industry as the lead singer of her electro-pop band ‘D A R K D A Y S’, part of the ‘NEW’ jury and a spokesperson for women in the music/audio industry.