Women in Pro Audio Vol. 2: Lisa Simmons, Songwriter/Producer at HeatRox Entertainment.
[Lisa Simmons is a Los Angeles native who began her musical career while attending the Los Angeles County High School For The Arts. Production Team SoulShock & Karlin, best known for Whitney Houston’s “HeartBreak Hotel” and Fantasia’s “Truth Is,” together with Elektra Records, signed Lisa to a joint record deal under Sylvia Rhone’s direction. It was during this time that Lisa discovered that she could write, and ended up writing nine out of twelve songs, including her first single to be released on Elektra Records. Her most recent placements include JoJo's "Coming for You" and "Good Ol'" Fantasia's "Said I Wouldn't No More," Kelly Rowland's "Tell me," and Ross Lynch's "Living in the Moment" from The Disney's Channel's Austin & Alley.]
Kudos to the PreSonus team for wanting to shed some light on women in audio production! Ironically, I was just speaking to our publisher’s engineer (who just happens to be female) about this very subject during NAMM, so you could not have checked in with me at a more perfect time.
First, I would like to say that I am a former recording artist who became a songwriter around the same time, so my experience with audio production did not necessarily begin in a traditional sense—I grew up playing the violin and a little Casio keyboard. So, naturally I envisioned myself playing both these instruments on a recording, with my vocals accompanying them, I just didn’t envision that I would be the engineer—I had never heard of a female engineer back then.
Fortunately for me, at a certain time in my career; I could not obtain any backing tracks, so by the grace of God, I was forced out of necessity to make my own and record them myself. I had a lot of ideas, and I needed to at least record them and see if it was something useable. Even then, when I was trying to create a home studio, I had no other female peers to assist me. All of the questions I had were answered by male peers in the industry—of course, I was thankful to get the assistance.
Since then it’s been a recurring theme to see more male engineers than female. I have only personally met two female engineers, and of course heard the work of one, Marcella Araica, who has made a huge impact over the last few years, as a mix engineer for Timbaland and DanJahandz. Why is this? I have asked so many of my female peers in the music industry: songwriters, vocal arrangers and producers. We all feel that there is a need to learn as much as we can, and we have individually made steps personally towards that goal, and towards empowering other women and men to do the same… but what about the other 95%?
Maybe engineering schools should seek more women through outreach programs in schools and performing arts centers. Perhaps if they were to engage more women in a career towards audio production it might help. It’s like what I remember in elementary school: each student had the option of playing a musical instrument, and every instrument you could think of was presented, and all a student had to do was test each instrument and see what works best for them. This type of introduction and education could serve as a great starting point for any studio seeking more female engineers. Furthermore, this approach shows students how fun the production process can be! I started off wanting to be in the forefront, but there was always that part of me that wanted to be involved in the creative process.
I’m sure if more woman knew about music production early on, were instilled with a desire to learn the craft, and had the opportunity to work in some of the major recording studios after completing their required certificate for audio engineering, there would be a higher percentage of women in production. When I meet new songwriters and artist, I try to instill the value of learning how to produce their own vocals, and learning a DAW. (Studio One, by the way is amazing, so I have been telling everyone about that!) This way, if the aspiring songwriter just wants to put a idea down, or record a entire song, they will have that option. Of course, it takes away from me being the writer in that sense, but it does something far greater—it empowers others to learn to bring their music to life on their own.
Music has no gender or color, its a beautiful gift that everyone should experience and learn more about.