Have you ever wondered why you don't see many female producers in music? There are startlingly few, and one producer by the name of DJ E.M.M.A. wondered the same exact thing.
A DJ and producer of nearly 10 years, it was her mission to not only help women discover their musical passion, but to innovate an industry that needs some shaking up. With her background and experience as a signed artist to Keysound Recordings, it was a natural fit for her to tackle this problem one synth at a time.
In partnership with Radar Radio and some assistance from producer friends such as Dexplicit, Ikonika, and P Jam, she was able to kickstart an all-female producer workshop. Being the hustler that she is, E.M.M.A. also was able to convince FL Studio to send her over free copies of its coveted software for the first-time producers to work on.
In addition to the success of her first workshop and the 450 applications she received, E.M.M.A. has also announced that there will be a second workshop where even more women will be learning how to hone and discover their craft behind the boards. Luckily, A Plus was able to catch up with DJ E.M.M.A. to talk about her music, how she came up with the idea for these workshops, and why so many women face the barriers they do when trying to break into producing.
You can find out more information about the upcoming workshop at Producer Girls here.
Jason Pollak: Hey, thanks for taking the time! How is everything?
DJ E.M.M.A.: I'm doing OK. I have these workshops going on, quite a bit of music to finish, and I'm DJing out a lot. I'm also doing a fitness plan. It's my New Year's resolution and it's the longest I've kept up something fitness wise. So, I'm doing pretty well, just busy.
That’s cool. Just so we can get an idea about you, where are you from and where are you living now? How did you get into music?
I was born in Liverpool and have spent most of my life up north, and went to university in Brighton, that's on [the] South Coast. That was about in 2005, when dubstep was kicking off. I didn't engage too much in U.K. music before, I was more into [New York] hip-hop, like Mobb Deep.
So, it was really exciting to be around my friends who were making beats and getting involved in what was going on. I thought it was something I could do as well. So now, I've been making beats about eight to nine years.
Your music has a lot of different flavors in it. Is that what you’re going for, a conglomerate of different ideas?
Around 2009 is when I started to take my production really seriously. That was when U.K. funky was big around here. I liked the color and rhythm. It has a general, positive vibe to it, which is the opposite of what dubstep was turning into, which was kind of repetitive.
My main aim is to bring something to the table I'm not hearing in other music. I'm also interested in a lot of music that isn't U.K. dance music. I like telling a story and painting a bigger picture. It's something more than just something you would hear on a dance floor.
Yeah, I always enjoy music that has progression, that can take you somewhere. I think you definitely have a theme to your music, like your video for “Light Years.”
It was kind of unintentionally an all-female project — directed AND produced by Sophie Davies, starring Ria Zmitrowicz, filmed and edited by Kate Molins. I named it "Light Years" because it sounded ethereal and timeless, like the universe. It was grasping at something you can't quite grab.
Even though it has an 808 kick, a high hat and made on Fruity Loops [now known as FL Studio], it had a bit of a cinematic feel to it. I think the visual elevated it a bit. With production, some people like to show how much stuff they know and throw a lot in there, but there are also people who like to take a simple, creative idea and execute it.
Very true. You mentioned that the project was all done by women and we don’t hear about too many female producers. Were there any female producers who inspired you growing up? I think the term DJ is becoming more gender neutral as well.
On the producer side of things, historically, it was all men I looked up to — [because] that was all I came across. Particularly like Mobb Deep on "Shook Ones Part II." Especially after watching 8 Mile, that was the first time I started connecting with the atmosphere of music. Like how things are constructed.
In 2007, Ikonika's take on things inspired me a lot. When I started producing, I sent her over my material and she gave me some feedback. She's now helping me out with the workshop, too.
Tell me a little bit about how the workshop started. You did it in partnership with Radar Radio, correct?
Yeah, they are one of the gender-balanced radio stations in London. NTS is another one. They respect the talent that is out there, it isn't just about putting women on the radio. But I remember talking to one of the interns at the station, who was doing a sound degree, but she hadn't really thought about producing music.
I thought it would be a good idea for her to learn so she could make her own tracks. So, that was one girl who I tried to convince to be a producer, but I thought about how many more could do it, but haven't considered it. I wasn't sure at that point why women don't consider it, but I know there aren't many doing it.
So, I spoke to Ollie Ashley at Radar and asked him if I could do a workshop to teach girls production. He thought it was a great idea. I only know Fruity Loops software, so that's the platform I wanted to teach. Instead of using the free trial version, though, I reached out to Fruity Loops and they gave me as many licenses as I needed. We agreed that a four-month free version would be good so the girls could get a grip with the software.
I wouldn't be where I am without Fruity Loops, it's very intuitive. Before you know it, you made a beat and you go, "That was quite straight forward."
Yeah, it’s hard to find a producer out there who hasn’t messed with Fruity Loops at some point in their career. It’s definitely an easy beginner platform to learn on. Plus, you get that quick success, which gives you the confidence to continue making more music and progressing.
Yeah, that's the thing. Like grime in London, that was all born on Fruity Loops. It's something to begin on and then there are people making Grammy-winning tunes produced on it. It's quite inspiring. I've never ran a workshop before.
The Fader announced [the workshop] and wasn't sure how many people would respond. We put out some fliers and published the article, and all of a sudden got 450 emails about it in a month.
Photo by Vicky Grout
Where did you wind up holding the workshop and how many people did you fit in there?
We had 20 people, which was the perfect size. We set up a projector and a few other people came to teach. Radar also bought everyone pizza, which was cool. Before we picked the people, though, I sent out an application asking them why they wanted to get into production. I wasn't prepared for the amount of barriers people had for not doing something.
A lot of them said it was because they didn't believe in themselves, there was a lack of confidence, and they didn't have any "producer" friends to work with on it. A lot of guys work alone, but I feel women like to work together, talk to each other, help each other out. The workshop was something that needed to happen. A lot of them said the workshop was what they needed to push them to take it seriously. It's all been a very useful experience and we have some more dates penciled in.
We've had some interest in other countries, too, like the U.S. It's kind of like a start-up right now and we are trying to figure out how we can do it. The important thing is that this remains a free activity for people. Cost should not be a barrier for what needs to be achieved.
I think what you’re doing the most is innovating. You’re potentially kick-starting many careers and turning people on to a hobby they never knew they could love.
Producing is not exactly a moneymaking machine. That's not why we are doing it. We want to bring on as many people as possible, and give them the tools and the confidence to go off and produce tunes and DJ. We have a [little] community group on Facebook, so it's an ongoing thing.
That’s awesome. So, what was it like teaching and seeing the women who had interest begin to grasp producing?
It was a bit overwhelming. They were, at first, just people I put on a Google Doc for having great applications, but then seeing them all together, they were all amazing individuals. We were all responsible for teaching different parts of producing and it was really cool to hear all the sounds they put together. I feel when you first start making music is when you make the best stuff because there are no preconceived notions. You just make random stuff. Dexplict covered drums, I did synths and bass, Ikonika did arrangement, and P Jam did mixidowns and effects.
What else is going on? What’s in store for the future? Are there any female producers we should keep our eye on.
I see the workshop turning into a growing community where we can listen to each other's tunes and share ideas. It's something that I think will grow organically and encourage people to think more creatively how to solve problems within the industry.
I have two releases I'm working and I also DJ with Aimee Cliff on Radar Radio as Angel Food. There's quite a few sick producers like Mokadem, Night Wave, Ikonika, Toxe, KABLAM and Keiya to name a few.