As part of our commitment to amplifying women in the dance music industry we are shining a spotlight on our collective members by showcasing their contributions and work.
Back in December 2018 we connected with SISU an ‘artistic community providing a platform to showcase womxn in electronic music’, and through SISU we met the awesome force that is Sam Warren.
Our Collective Spotlight Series begins with Professor Sam Warren, founder of ‘In the Key of She’ and someone we believe is on the cusp of creating real change in the dance music industry.
Why? Because Sam is currently undertaking research which focuses on women producing dance music. By exploring the careers of female electronic music producers through an academic lens Sam aims to understand the social, gender and cultural barriers to music production, increase the visibility of women in dance music production and manage the world’s first global survey of electronic music scenes to map women’s participation and activity in the industry.
Having recently been awarded much coveted funding from the Leverhulme Trust for her pioneering research we couldn’t wait to catch up with Sam and find out more.
What do you do?
I am a Professor in the Faculty of Business and Law, Uni of Portsmouth and I research and teach the ‘people’ subjects in business and management that relate to the experience of work and how best to manage. I’m particularly interested in emotional and aesthetic aspect to work. Why do we love or hate our jobs? How can we manage beautiful? and what do we consider ‘ugly’ behaviour? As part of this I explore the relationships between art and organizations – particularly creative occupations, which is where the music producers come in.
What inspired you to take on this research project?
I have been a life long lover of electronic music and club culture I’ve often been on the dance floor at 3am wondering what it must be like to DJ as a career. A couple of years ago, after stepping down from a university management role and finding myself with a bit more time, I decided that it would be a really interesting research project to find out more about DJing as a job and the electronic music industry in general, so I started interviewing DJs in the underground tech-house, techno and psytrance scenes to find out. Business and management studies often doesn’t explore these more ‘unusual’ or creative occupations and I have always tried to write about and give my students case examples from contexts that will inspire them and help them learn that the corporate world is not the only option!
From these early interviews it became apparent that female DJs were hard to find (in my circles at least) and interestingly those I did come across didn’t seem to produce their own music – their soundcloud/ mixcloud pages were full of mixes from club nights but no original tracks or remixes of their own. The importance of production as a necessary skill for a modern day DJ had come out of the initial interview data loud and clear. Without producing your own music it is hard to gain a good reputation. And without that. Its hard to get bookings and therefore earn a living. So it seemed extra important to find out why female DJs seem so under-represented as creators of electronic music because thismust be limiting their chances of success. So I decided to start talking to female producers to find out how they were making it in the industry – high, lows, their stories and plans. I put some of these out as monthly radio shows in collaboration with SISU, a female DJ & artist collective – so everyone can get the benefit of these amazing women’s advice and I see it as my opportunity to showcase their music and help them be promoted. That’s how In the Key of She was born!
I have since been lucky enough to have been awarded a highly competitive research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (a charity that fund socially worthwhile, innovative academic research) which has freed up some of my working time to concentrate on the project – this will run for two years.
How did you go about getting started (and getting your foot in the door to create the project and the relationships you are nurturing in the industry)
Really by just putting my ideas out there. I started by writing a blog post back in 2017 and sharing it on Facebook. I was really pleased that so many people responded positively to the ideas I wrote about, and from there my male producer friends put me on to women I could interview. It just kind of snowballed from there really, and from the press release we put out when SISU and I launched the first radio show. I’d already discovered the Association for Electronic Music (of which I am now a member and working with) and their contacts have been brilliant. But the biggest development was coming to Brighton Music Conference this year, and you lovely people at Women in Dance Music Collective, connecting me with so many fabulous organizations – many of whom have agreed to be project ambassadors. Its all very exciting!
What has surprised you about the industry?
Quite early on in the original research I learned about ghost production and I was so shocked! I’ve since found out a lot about it and it’s a fascinating and complex issue. Some people see it as dishonest or cheating, ‘buying’ their way to success in scenes where authenticity is a prized trait, but is it all bad? Why do we expect good DJs to inherently have the technical skills or inclination, or even time to produce as well? This is one of the illusions of technology – just because we canhave DAWs on our laptops for less than £100 doesn’t mean everyone will automatically be a good producer, or would want to be. Engineering for other people is also alucrative income for many small independent producers, and without it they couldn’t survive. And of course there are degrees of involvement that the engineer has with the creator which makes a straight good/bad split more complex too.
What has been the biggest challenge to your research project?
I think it’s just been getting to grips with the craft of DJing, production, how the industry works and what all the different roles and terminology means! As a researcher I am naturally curious, and I pick things up quickly - one of the nicest things about what I am doing with female producers is I now have quite a decent stock of knowledge about how things work as I have talked to so many different people doing different roles in the industry. So I am able to tap people into networks and other contacts I think might be able to help them. A lot of the women I have interviewed work in a very isolated world and its a wonderful feeling that I am in a position to be able to make a real difference to their projects.
What’s your favourite track at the moment (electronic)?
Blimey, that’s a question and a half that is! I devour music to be honest and have really wide taste, with a new favourite every couple of weeks! Can I give you a few? ‘Ottaker’s Sky’ by Tunnelvisions (released last year but I only discovered it the other week in a mix by Lucid Stannard), ‘Crazy Trip’ (Ben Sims remix) by Paula Cazenave which I first heard at Berghain last December and is insane, ‘Trees’ (Butch Remixes) by Butch, Tuvaband which Just Her played in her recent guest mix for me, and ‘Dance in Tongues’ by Dave Seaman. Better stop there I think!
What has been a highlight for you of the project so far?
All the amazing, talented people I have had the privilege to meet! And how willing people are to get involved – the support has been amazing – being featured in Mixmag was pretty special, I have to say, and at the moment I’m connecting with three huge labels which I hope will mean I’ll be able to interview some seriously big names to get the view from ‘the top’ as well as grass roots. And if that wasn’t enough, I’m making plans with folks to speak on a panel at ADE later in the year, and maybe even run one myself at IMS next year.
As a dance music fan, could there ever be a better job? Seriously? It’s awesome!
What do you hope to achieve with the project/research?
There’s an academic answer to this and an industry one. Academically, I’m hoping to develop more ‘gender-sensitive’ understandings of technological, cultural production so that we can start educating our young people to blast open outdated stereotypes and inspire girls to get involved with tech. There’s research that girls as young as 8 think that they won’t get boyfriends if they like computers. That’s just unacceptable and I want to be part of trying to change that.
For the industry, I see my role as shouting about female producers as loud as I can – amplifying and bringing women’s music to a wider audience and dispelling the myth that there aren’t many female producers (there are loads I have discovered! Another surprise…). I want to distill the reasons for women’s ‘hidden-ness’ in the industry – on line-ups, charts, labels etc. and get that message out there so we can change the things we are doing in order to make women more visible.
And why is that important?
Because girls and women are just as passionate about electronic music as men, and they need to see role models up there on stage, in the press and in the charts who are like them in order to ‘give them permission’ to follow their dreams. I hear a lot about the music women make being different to the guys’ – I don’t know about that so much (have you heardRebekah’s tracks? Nothing ‘girly’ about them, LOL!) but that aspect of a balanced music industry is less important to me than the human side – its grossly unfair that women don’t feel able to do what they love, or feel unwelcomed in an industry if they do try. Based on what you’re learning and your new journey, whats the best bit of advice you have for someone looking to break into the industry and what to expect?
Just do it. Whatever it is, now’s the time. All the producers I have spoken to have just ‘felt the fear but done it anyway’. Whether that’s asking for feedback from other producers who inspire them, sharing their mixes and production online, saying ‘yes’ to gigs before they felt ready, setting things up so that you have to do them otherwise you will look very silly (this was my strategy with the radio show).
A common thread is that they all accept that things might not be perfect, but they probably never will be! I’m finding this too in my own journey as a DJ and fledgling producer – its terrifying at the time, but great to look back and see how far you’ve come as well, we are not so good at doing this as we are so future focused.
The other thing is to get out there and meet people in the real world. There are loads of meet-ups, collectives, and of course the music conferences if you can afford to go– don’t be afraid, take a deep breath, just go with a bunch of cool business cards, an ‘elevator pitch’ and a smile and make connections. People are so lovely!