women in

One of my friends from high school posted this on Facebook:


It sought to answer, “why aren’t there more women in music production?” And a lot of the answers were like, “people at the top tend to boost others like themselves; it’d be nice if we could get out of the loop of the same 10 (men) and let some new talent rise to the top” “I think our culture has systematically engrained this idea that technology is more of a man’s thing. Men were ones that fixed the VCR, women were the ones that watched the VHS of Titanic on the VCR” “Getting more girls exposed to introductory production workshops at a young age before they get into that teenage headspace of learning that they can’t.”

Gosh, doesn’t this sound familiar?

Yeah, in the discussions of why there aren’t more women in STEM / computer science, I’m always the one harping on about how it’s not maximally productive to ask people who have made it through, and are in STEM / CS — you should ask the people who were on the fence and decided to go for some other field, and ask why they chose that other field!

So here’s an opportunity: I can ask myself why I didn’t go into music production. It’s not an especially fruitful path because music production and computer science are not the same, with respect to my family’s socioeconomic status, but the comparison still reveals some insight.

I was taught about Phil Spector, the Beatles, the “wall of sound,” the recording of a piano and then recording it backwards to create that pseudo-harpsichord sound in “In My Life”, in 8th grade. Before that course, I’d never listened to the Beatles, and I was annoyed that that music appreciation class didn’t cover the classical composers that I already knew very well, but instead forced me to listen to Jelly Roll Morton, hot jazz, cool jazz, prog rock, ska, grunge, … All I wanted was some Scarlatti and Clementi and the smug feeling of ‘already knowing’ that I had in my other high school classes.

But no, listening to all this new music was very good.

And then in high school, I was in language classes where we’d have to submit recordings of our pronunciations and spontaneous speech; I was in orchestra and had to submit excerpts of our parts; in all of these, I was better at Audacity than I was at language or music, and, eh, did a lot of strategic editing. I’m sure it fooled no one.

My viola teacher told me that he wanted to write an audio processor that would give his recordings the same golden, warm sheen that old recordings had. In senior year, I got really pretentious and did an entire “linguistics” project on how people pronounced “cone”, cepstra and lifters and all — I didn’t really know what I was talking about and don’t even remember my conclusion from that project, except that I downloaded something to Audacity to help me get the spectrograms.

By all accounts, I had plenty of exposure to audio. Similarly, young women probably have plenty of exposure to technology. However, I had no idea that there was a job in editing audio, and maybe young women have no idea that they could be the creators as well as the users of their daily utilities / distractions. On the other hand, neither of my parents were computer people in China, but in order to secure a middle-class upbringing for me, they got the credentials to be computer people in the USA, so I always latently knew about computers as a profession.

Ultimately, I think the kicker was that being a music producer is more risky: if you’re a middling music producer, you’re waiting tables. (actually I don’t know, but I assume Hollywood is very competitive, like any of the arts.) Whereas if you’re a middling econ student, you’ll get a middling banking / consulting job, and if you’re a middling developer, you’ll still make enough to be free of student loans in 10 years.

Class trumped gender in my “decision” not to go into music production (or maybe more accurately, my decision to go into something that wasn’t music production). Making class irrelevant, it seems that we need to make it known (to girls) that computers / music production is an actual career.


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