Beats and Heels: Life As a Female Producer


By: Chris “May Day” Rucks

With in-depth knowledge of the life of aspiring producers, I happen to know that any man who aspires to produce records fulltime is slightly batshit – a functioning lunatic – a necessary quality to dedicate yourself to such a task and lifestyle. That’s because, becoming a producer means a life of hardship, challenges, failures and defeat, until one day, if you work very hard and you’re a little lucky, the clouds part and the luminescent rays of opportunity graciously shine upon you. But, to be a woman aspiring to be a fulltime producer, you’re not slightly batshit, you are fully deranged – padded rooms, jackets that help you hug yourself, and detailed conversations with your invisible friend Selma.

Over the last decade, the craft of production has exploded upon populace like a creative virus while plummeting technological costs have allowed many to enthusiastically embrace their infections, and year by year, more of this population is female. Yes, if you peer closely, looking just beyond the hoards of beards and mustaches, listening intently to sift through cacophony of baritone voices, as you squint intensely, you’ll notice a few smooth, beautiful faces, and that hairy chests are replaced by Victoria Secret push-up bras. By the day, more and more brave females are instructing their nail technicians to maintain a shorter length, so that they can more accurately strike the rubber pads of their drum machines. The old stash allocated for luxury items – maybe a Louis Vuitton bag or perhaps a pair of Michael Kors shoes – that bread is now being spent on Logic 9, Reason 6, and a souped-up Macbook Pro. What does the world of female producer look like? Unlike the ladies who have made production their lives, it isn’t pretty. It is full of uncertainty–no popular females have laid a clear pathway. It is full of challenges arising from incredulous artists, overcritical A&R’s, and disingenuous managers. And sex. Gobs and gobs of sex.

Why hasn’t there been a well-known, successful female producer? In 2012, there is no female Just Blaze. There is no female Dr. Luke. There’s no bizarro, female version of The Justice League, consisting of Ms. Rook, Lady Colione, and Kendra, three beautiful ladies serving up heaters throughout the industry. Why would a woman want to pursue a craft where no woman has succeeded before her and what is so appealing about climbing the mountain first? Unbeknownst to most, despite the lack of popular femme beatmakers in the current music industry, there have been successful female producers throughout the decades. You have to sift through the dusty annexes of the record industry to uncover the sporadic gems of female producers that have taken the reigns, commanded sessions, written lyrics, arranged music, and directed musicians. Courageous musical belles of note include divas like Missy Elliott, Angela Winbush and Sylvia Robinson’s (RIP). But, these lady producers have always been something else first, an artist or singer/songwriter. The suits making decisions have no financial benefit in supporting and marketing a female as only a producer. Also to blame is that the coolness of women making beats has yet to evolve. Kels, an attractive dame with dark brown hair and beats as bananas as she is beautiful, had this to add, “Female producers are just generally overlooked as household names. No up and coming male producer is going to say they look up to Missy Elliott or Sheila E. Artists generally aren’t going to be in the studio and say I want a beat from Linda Perry or Mary J., but if they hear one, they will jump all over it.” Perhaps it’s not just simply that it isn’t cool to want to emulate a female producer, but also that men don’t want to be outdone by a woman who makes beats. Have you ever watched a man lose to a woman in a beat battle, seething and disgruntled, clomping off stage, mumbling profanities under his breath? Would industry turmoil ensue if prominent female producers were securing placements over their male counterparts?

Peering deeper into the situation, further evidence reveals more reasons behind the lack of female producer success. Changing dirty diapers; getting BA’s, BBA’s, and MBA’s; starting and raising families; getting promotions; paying for car insurance; putting your better half through law school–life’s wonderful responsibilities all heavily influence any man or woman’s ability to become a producer. “…Women tend to focus more on finding love or getting married or maybe even finding a “stable” career to help support their family. Trying to crack into this music industry demands much of ones time, energy and dedication. It challenges all of those previous listed feminine family-oriented focal points! I don’t feel like male producers really have this problem with focus. I do believe that the new upcoming females understand the grind and are coming for the throne. The focus is shifting,” explained Ms. Instrumental, a milk-chocolate-skinned producer with an angelic face and a demeanor as sweet as a bag of Skittles. Mastering the production craft and marketing and developing your business is extremely time-intensive. Optimal music-producer-career-development time, collides violently with blossom into mommy-wife-career-minded-woman time, thus derailing most aspiring lady producer’s opportunities at finding production success.

However, these issues are also a concern for male producers, boys have to become diploma toting, baby making, promotion receiving, family supporting men; but society let’s us chase women, sample our passions like hors d’oeurves and experiment with success and failure before buckling down and growing up. Women don’t have that luxury. Society barks, “What!?  You’re 28 and you don’t have kids?  Do you want to be an old maid?  You like men dontcha?”  You can hear Grandma Johnson, echoing over the phone, “Are you working on some grandbabies for me? You know granny won’t be here forever!”  Regardless of the endeavor, societies standards have the potential to become the sharp, pointy needle aimed towards a woman’s balloon of dreams.

In spite of those pitfalls, for the brave souls that remain, unintimidated by the lack of road before them,who have organized their lives during optimal producer-success-making time, the journey only just begins. Ms. Instrumental explained that when she ran into people who listened to her music, they’d ask, “‘So YOU (really) produced that beat?’ I’m like, ummm I clearly just told you that I’m a producer and told you that these are my tracks lol! That’s one of the reasons why I started recording myself making beats and posting them on YouTube. ‘Sometimes you have to see it to believe it,’” said Ms. Instrumental.  (What’s sad about this is that, as I processed her quote, I face-palmed because I wasn’t entirely sure that I hadn’t done the same thing to several women beatmakers in the past. I hope those ladies understand, it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe a lady is capable of cooking up bangers, it’s just, because lady producers are a rare breed, hearing great beats from women is not something you often come across, like Bigfoot, or The Lochness Monster. So, as a man, you’re just a little incredulous, and the first thing out of your mouth, without even thinking, is ‘YOU DID THAT?  BY YOURSELF?’). Yes, across the nation, in seedy and dank venues where music industry networking occurs daily, stands a horde of women, in the midst of conversations they’ve had a million times, in unison, collectively explaining to incredulous men, that the CD they are handing them, contains music that they actually made.

Subsequently, after she’s stood before her male client, breathless from convincing him that she in fact did make that piece of outstanding music, a woman must prepare herself to be judged more harshly than her male counterparts. KB Da Beat Goddess, a veteran producer from Virginia, quipped that, “I feel that people almost expect me to perform some type of life-altering miracle on a track because I’m a female….I literally could make the same type of track as a male producer and he would get all the props in the world but all I would get is a ‘Oh, that’s cool.’”

If that isn’t enough for you, a female producer faces the run-around from potential male clients that onlyact interested in purchasing a beat. Kels extolled that, “People that would never come at another dude without offering compensation for services don’t think twice about coming at females crazy. They automatically assume that it’s easy to get over on us… that we’re less threatening, not as smart, or naive and don’t know when we’re being taken advantage of. That is the hardest part of conducting business; getting anyone to take me seriously. It’s a task just to get someone to even listen to a track let alone purchase a beat or co-sign a female producer, no matter how dope they think the track is. I can’t even count the number of people who have written me off, ignored me, or came at me crazy, and then completely flipped the script once one of their favorite producers said I was dope. It’s the same music, but that one co-sign changed their way of hearing it, and their whole demeanor.”

This circus of female beat-hustling culminates in a continuous balancing act, a constant juggling show, that forces female producers to measure out the correct recipe of sweetie-pie and asshole, thus sending some to teeter-totter off the edge into the ominous land of “the bitch.”  “When we put our foot down and demand respect we are called bitches and then people try to blacklist us as being ‘too difficult to work with.’ Hence you have to work even harder because now someone is making your name out to be mud. [It’s a] Constant up-hill battle,” explained Queen. Kels added, “We have to work to maintain a professional demeanor at all times, while trying to be likable, but not too likable… firm, but not firm enough to be considered a bitch, which is the conclusion that people jump to all too often with women who demand respect.”  Ah yes, the old female catch twenty-two – let us exchange some respect for being labeled as a bitch. Men take the social aspects of hustling beats for granted. While becoming a producer is no picnic for a male, we are free from being bogged down by the complex social/gender issues derived from the male/female dynamic.  And this is all before females have to contend with the issue of sex.

The attempted acquisition of sex is the sun upon which a female producer’s solar system revolvesIt lustfully penetrates every area of a female’s business and networking. A female producers has no choice but to analyze and plan each frivolous modicum of minutia pertaining to her look, her demeanor, and her speech; all carefully designed to keep men focused on the business at hand. She stands in front of her closet, tossing aside titillating frocks, chucking provocative pumps over her shoulders, and instead lays out her humdrum selections that will keep eyeballs on the pro tools session and off of her nooks and crannies. Nothing goes without consideration. Ms. Instrumental explains, “It is extremely rare to have a conversation that does not deviate from selling beats. The questions inquiring about my relationship status or my sexual life will always pop up.” Another female producer both attractive and talented, Queen of The Beats, supplemented:  “There are few who will conduct business and keep it at that. But most will always question if you are available for a date, etc.”

Once a female producer leaves the comfort of her studio and steps in the jungle of lascivious men, much of how she conducts herself will boil down to her knowledge that many of the men she will deal with will be interested in figuring a way to finagle foreplay. To be a master networker and business woman, a female producer must master the art of conversation wrangling, essentially becoming a verbal cowgirl, constantly keeping the bull of sex from lustfully stampeding into the discussions of music and business.

Unfortunately, female producers are burdened by having to spend a great deal of their time playing dingaling dodge ball and not all of them are successful. Many aspiring females in the entertainment industry have been hit and tagged, thus men in positions of power know there is a chance of sexual success, making it all the more difficult for ladies who do not want to achieve through sleaze. The more honorable of these ladies invest their time into cleverly maneuvering through the minefield, but many often come close to accidentally stepping in the wrong place. “I have had people try me to the fullest extent, straight up tell me that they will place my track or use my beat if I ‘spend the night with them’ or ‘come to the studio and have some fun.’ Other than the few propositions though, I have been pretty lucky compared to some of the stories I’ve heard from my female friends who produce or sing.“

SeanTre, a talented producer and head-turner from Alabama, usually adorned in fitted jeans and bedazzled shirts and jackets as she stands victorious over her male beat battle victims, described her heartbreak after a male A&R at a now defunct Atlanta-based record label promised her significant work, but was more interested in working on her. Ms. Instrumental explained the story of a successful gentleman in the industry – a father, husband and prominent member in the church (and quite old) – that feigned interest in her career for the sole purpose of fixing himself a sexual feast with her as the main course. “An hour of conversation led to him saying, ‘Well I think you need to have an affair so that you can have something interesting to write about in your songs.’ I pull the phone back and look at it and mouth, ‘What the ffff……’ ‘Well I think you’re very attractive and if I was 25 I would LOVE to be the person you have the affair with! As a matter of fact I would like to be that person anyway…You can close your mouth. Call me and I can come over and be that person you have an affair with…’”  This episode crushed her; realizing that many of the men she encounters will want her romantically or sexually was like a wrecking ball into her heart, momentarily smashing her faith in her ability to complete her mission.

These situations represent only the PG-13 version of what other female producers and songwriters have experienced. You can imagine what the R-rated situations are like. Much to their dismay, sex plays a major role in how a woman goes about becoming and being a producer. It lustfully lurks around ever corner of the business, waiting to discourage the hell out of them and suck the wind out of their sails. But, the smart ones develop a system and a plan to help them wade through all the bullshit they are sure to encounter.

A Lady’s Rules of Engagement

The ladies I’ve spoken with have identified the plethora of pitfalls laid out before them, mostly because they have unsuspectingly fallen into them. Learning from those mistakes, they have changed their professional tactics.

1) Develop “Bullshit Radar.” Smart women learn to weedwack through worthless business inquiries. As they pan for gold, they quickly size up potential customers, extract the pseudo-serious, and clear out frustration, thus re-routing time saved towards fleshing out serious business.

“Through thousands of people wasting my time over the years, I have developed a pretty good sense for when someone is bullshitting, but you can never be sure (and its rare that someone give us that chance so I’d hate to miss out on an opportunity) so I try to hear everyone out. You have the guys who act interested in beats as an excuse to talk to me, which is the worst because they go as far as picking out a track and putting me off on payment, giving excuses, etc., to prolong the time they have [as] an excuse to try and get in my pants. 90% of those never intended to use a beat and 99% never make a purchase. The other time wasters are just generally asking questions because they are curious or want to test me and make me prove that I do this for real, like its a freak show…” Kels

2) Change your marketing. Queen of The Beats elaborates: “I stopped promoting that I sell beats. I don’t send ‘check out my beats’ messages. I work with select artists and if someone wants to work [with me] it’s because they heard what I did for someone [else] and want the same quality. That’s how a brand gets built… by someone else talking about your product, not yourself.” She understands that the world respects results, so she devotes herself to making the artist shine. Queen recognizes the wisdom in attaching herself to a rocket ship of an artist and supplying them with the most superb production that she possibly can. That way, there is no female producer, only the absorption of phenomenal music and severe head nodding until one’s neck is sore. Queen’s tactic removes all the doubts, the convincing, the games, the trolling for booty. It removes the emphasis on the chick producer and places it rightfully onto the song. Now it’s the song pumping squats and presses – essentially doing the heavy lifting for you.

 3) Be mindful of how you attend meetings, sessions, and whom you bring with you:  “If I have to meet someone in person or work in the studio, I dress conservative. I’ll never come to the studio all dolled up because I don’t want that type of attention. I discuss the business up front before any music is created so they know where I stand. If I’m selling beats online, I let the music speak for itself. I don’t show my face unless necessary. I’ve found that it’s easier for potential online buyers to identify with your work if you keep it simple,” KB. As explained, it is a damn shame that a female producer can’t just go out as she pleases because of the circumstances of the game and instead, must purposefully turn down the sexy dial to bland. “The main thing I changed was being very careful who I brought into meeting with me. I found that that can make or break a meeting by just who you have with you,” instructs SeanTre. So if you go to a meeting and you bring your homegirl who is a stripper at Magic City and she knows everyone in the session, through one way or another, that’s probably not going to serve you too well.

4) “Sugar and spice and all things nice” ain’t always gonna cut it. “I’ve had to stop being as nice as I was when I started doing this….as ladies we are automatically looked at as naive, and that makes people come at us with BS offers, constantly [asking] for stuff on the strength, people will promise you the world when they ‘get on’ or make you feel like you need them, and they are doing you a favor by being on your track. I’ve been taken advantage of in plenty of situations because I wanted to be nice; I thought that was the key to building relationships. I have had to stop entertaining the flirting or bullshitting and acting like they want to purchase a track, call them on it when I see it happening, and get down to business. They respect me more now for standing my ground and demanding what I deserve.” Because it’s so terribly difficult to break through the industry, producers feel the need to endure people’s nonsense because they don’t want to blow a precious opportunity. This kind of thinking can have a very adverse effect on how people treat you, so it is essential that one draws a line and keeps clients on the right side of it.

6) Closed mouths don’t get fed. Ong, a bashful producer from Cali of Hmong descent, who is as deep as she is lovely explains that, “I learned to be more assertive because hardly anyone will approach me. I find myself being the one who does the approaching and introducing. And you know what, I have major social anxieties. But it’s something I have to overcome and get used to. Next, how I present myself is important in how people treat me because I’ve noticed that people tend to ignore me if I’m dressed like a common person. Honestly, I always wonder what a female producer’s supposed to look like and I have trials and errors to see what works and what doesn’t. Being stylish is important. I also have to think like a man, but act like a lady. ALWAYS. When I inadvertently act like one of the boys, it gets lost in translation and folks get mad at me as a result of their confusion.” I remember years back at a Dynamic Producer conference in LA, I spotted Ong standing in the middle of the conference, amid a sea of panelists and guests, speaking to no one. I could see the hesitation and fear rising off of her petite frame like an aura. I gave her a quick pep talk to inspire her to start shaking hands and kissing babies. Female producers don’t have the option of being silent and on the defensive. As Ong said, she learned to be more assertive and I suspect that many female producers will need to do the same.

7) Watch out for claws and paws.Yes, you must concern yourself with how you deal with both sexes, as if the men don’t give you enough to be concerned about. “When you walk into a session or meeting and there’s another female there, you would think that they’d be supportive of what you do as another woman in this industry trying to make a name for themselves, but they are usually the opposite. A lot of them are jaded because of sessions where groupies show up and get in the way of business, but even when they find out that you’re there for business they still act like you are the enemy or the competition and try and make things difficult or uncomfortable. Another case where this applies is working with males who have significant others that HATE the fact that you are in the studio with their man.. that’s all bad,” warns Kels. Amid your obstacles will lie disenfranchised female songwriters, producers, managers, etc., as well as jealous girlfriends, protective fiancés and vigilant wives who don’t appreciate tantalizing and shapely female producers, alone with their man, in a 8×8 studio, at 3 o’clock, working on a sexy R&B track. Prepare yourselves for looks as frigid as a Chicago winter wind and attitudes as funky as an old batch of collard greens.

Anyone who wants something bad enough will find a way to get it. They will endure what they must, resolute in achieving that dream. Women producers are driven by the purpose of leaving their mark on the music industry; whether that means laying the road for the female producer behind them or becoming that first success-sustaining lady beatmaker. I respect female producers for constantly occupying themselves with extraneous details completely unrelated to creating fantastic music. I respect them for having the patience to contend with things like being just nice enough but not too nice, or just assertive enough, or if they’re showing just the right amount of much cleavage without showing too much cleavage, or if a dude is telling me he wants my track only because he wants me, etc. You ladies are amazing for maintaining your vision amid all of that unnecessary and redundant nonsense as you operate daily in the jungle of the music business.

Chris “MayDay” Rucks
twitter.com/maydaythemonsta

Ladies, thank you for being involved and helping me let my curiosity wander. I appreciate all of you and I wish the best for you as you move forward. Everyone, please take a minute to check out the ladies’ personal pages and links to their music!

Queen Of The Beats
Time In The Game:  1998
  Hailing From:  Cleveland
  Using:  started out using MPC and Korg Triton, but now I use Reason 5  
Can be found at: queenofthebeats.com/

KB  Da Beat Goddess
Time In The Game:  7 years
  Hailing From:  VA  
Using: Logic
  Can be found at:
soundcloud.com/beatgoddessproductionz
beatgoddessproductionz.bandcamp.com
twitter.com/kbdabeatgoddess

Ms Instrumental
Time In The Game:  On and off for about 7 years (I started in the fall of 2004)
  Hailing From:  Jamaica Queens, NY but I’ve been living in Charlotte, NC for over half my life.
  Using:  Logic Studio 9, M-Audio 61 key controller, Komplete 7 and other AU’s/VST’s
  Can be found at:
youtube.com/MsInstrumentalBeatz
MsInstrumental.com
soundcloud.com/MsInstrumental

Kels
Time In The Game: 6-7 years
  Hailing From:  Tampa, FL but now in ATL
  Using:  Currently using Logic  
Can be found at:  http://itsmyurls.com/kelstn2

SeanTre
Time In The Game: 8  years
  Hailing From:  Alabama
  Using:  Logic, Reason, ProTools
  Can be found at:wix.com/manifesttime/seantre twitter.com/seantre

Notorious Ong
Time In The Game:  Actively since 2004  Hailing From:  Merced, CA  
Using:  Reason
  Can be found at:
notoriousong.com

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