The second of its kind in the nation, a women-led recording studio will open in Des Moines
A women-led music recording studio is coming to Des Moines. The Des Moines Register
The Grammy Awards established in 1975 a “Producer of the Year” award — an opportunity to recognize the brightest minds behind the year’s most prolific songs.
Each year since, The Recording Academy, the group behind music’s biggest night, has handed off a gold-plated gramophone trophy to the year’s behind-the-scenes leader in production.
In those 43 years, how many women have won? Zero.
A recording studio opening in Des Moines wants to help change that.
Girls Rock! Des Moines, the local branch of an international nonprofit organization empowering young women through songwriting and music education, plans to open in 2019 a women-operated educational recording facility, the second of its kind in the country.
The Des Moines studio plans to provide opportunity for middle and high school-aged girls to learn the science behind record production, DJing, sound design and podcasting, organizers said, combating gender imbalance in audio engineering and exposing young adults to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career opportunities.
In its sixth year, Girls Rock! Des Moines offers two annual local summer camps that teach girls ages 10 to 16 on how to write, rehearse and perform original music. Each camp culminates with a showcase at a local music club.
It’s a revolutionary time for women in music, said Sara Routh, Girls Rock program director, and opening an educational studio gives the next generation early exposure to industry technology.
“It all comes down to even having the knowledge that this is available,” Routh said. “That this is a possibility, right? ... Something else to do, other than school. (That) you can spend some time in the studio, make some music.”
'Cut the barriers to access'
The project launches in an industry facing a steep gender imbalance. A 2016 survey of Audio Engineering Society, reported by the Atlantic, showed that 7 percent of the leading professional association members identify as women. The society launched in 2017 a diversity committee aimed at encouraging broader membership.
And the Women’s Audio Mission says that number may be lower, at roughly 5 percent. The San Francisco-based nonprofit and first women-led recording studio educates about 1,500 women annually in audio sciences, with graduates earning positions at companies such as Google, Pixar and NPR.
The mission created a network of women engineers who help aspiring professionals earn internships and entry-level work, said Angelo Duncan, Women's Audio Mission development and communication associate.
“A lot of people get stuck on the question of ‘Why is there this imbalance?’ We’re just trying to cut the barriers to access,” Duncan said. “When I was growing up I didn’t know about a lot of these careers. … (It’s about) even presenting these as possible career options and showing where the industry is going.”
Imbalance comes in part from a “good old’ boys’ club” mentality, said Karrie Keyes, longtime monitor engineer for Pearl Jam. For example, live sound employers could carry an unconscious bias on the idea that women can’t carry heavy equipment, Keyes said.
Keyes founded SoundGirls.org in 2013, an organization that provides resources and networking to women in professional audio.
A Girls Rock studio could be a space for women to create art without being subject to workplace harassment, she said.
“These spaces and businesses allow women to be in charge and write their own rules and it adds diversity to a profession that sorely lacks diversity,” Keyes said via email.
Similar to the Women’s Audio Mission, Girls Rock! Des Moines plans to offer year-round audio courses: Recording 101, Beat Making and Experimenting with Sound, to start.
Studio courses introduce STEM opportunities outside of the classroom, said Jen Carruthers, vice president of the Girls Rock! Des Moines board of directors.
In Iowa, 43 percent of female high school seniors meet college readiness test standards in math and science, compared to 53 percent of male seniors, a 2017 study said. Eight percent of the graduating high school women interested in STEM said they were most interested in technology and engineering, compared to 38 percent of the men in that criteria.
“In a field where it is male-dominated, if you don’t get young females involved, we’re going to continue to see this happening,” Carruthers said.
Girls Rock! Des Moines raised $20,000 — $10,000 from a Variety children’s charity grant and $10,000 from local entrepreneur Jeff Young — to begin building the studio in the former Franklin Junior High School building.
Young owns the building, which he plans to develop into a boutique hotel and entertainment space. A local music fan who one day hopes to host Girls Rock performances in the building, Young offered to donate the studio space and cover renovation costs, leaving Girls Rock to purchase software and recording equipment.
Routh and Carruthers know $20,000 won’t fund everything; the group plans to continue fundraising into next year. Long-term goals include hiring an in-house engineer and offering income-based recording sessions, welcoming all community members to use the space.
And, with plans to open in 2019, it could be the start of a studio that one day cultivates an award-winning producer.
“(A studio’s) the next step for us,” Routh said. “We don’t want (the girls) to have these magical two weeks of camp, have a showcase, produce a record and never see each other again."