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WAM BAM! Terri Winston on the journey of Women’s Audio Mission

Terri Winston founded Women's Audio Mission to inspire and acknowledge women in the pro audio industry. Sahar Nazir spoke to Winston about her journey on educating people on inequality, and the NY WAMCON...

Terri Winston founded non-profit organisation the Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) back in 2003 whilst she was the professor and director of the sound recording arts programme at City College of San Francisco. The aim was to provide a supportive network for women working in the pro audio industry – or considering a future in pro audio – as well as the opportunity to learn, develop and further their careers. Fifteen years later, WAM is working increasingly hard to support more women in the audio industry, with the total number of women creating sound, music and media in pro audio currently standing at less than five per cent.

The organisation’s San Francisco HQ is the only professional recording studio in the world that is built and run by women, providing training for over 1,500 women every year in 127 countries through programmes such as internships, core training, and online training. And this is all achieved through donations, and the determination and hard work of the WAM team. Since launching, WAM has successfully placed more than 500 women in paid positions, such as working with Google, Pixar, Dolby Laboratories, Animal Planet, Comedy Central, recording with Mary J. Blige, and many more.

After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in electrical engineering, Winston embarked on a career as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer. With a career spanning over three decades, she’s signed by Polygram and BMG subsidiaries as a recording artist, engineer and producer, and has also toured with artists such as P.J Harvey, The Pixies, Flaming Lips, among many others.

Among her previous work, she has composed and produced theme music for KRON-TV’s First Cut series, Banana Republic and for various international film projects.

She is also the founder and member of San Francisco band Her Majesty The Baby, winning various awards including an ASCAP songwriting award, Boston Music Award and Bay Area Music Award.

Not only has WAM prided itself in training thousands of women in audio, its studio has produced albums for over 150 artists from 21 different countries, including GRAMMY winners Kronos Quartet, acclaimed author Salman Rushdie for NPR, 2014 GRAMMY winner Angélique Kidjo, award-winning singer Tanya Tagaq, and St. Lawrence String Quartet.

WAM also holds regular conferences known as WAMCON that feature guest speakers and workshops which discuss topics such as studio recording techniques to deconstructing mixes to beat-making and songwriting. The aim of these events is to continue raising awareness of the gender imbalance in the pro audio industry, as well as sharing insights with other audio professionals.

WAM’s latest activity was WAMCON NY – a training event and conference taking place in New York at YouTube Space NY and the legendary Jungle City Studios from October 19-20. It was the first ever conference for women in audio to be hosted in the city.

Guest speakers who have worked with the likes of Alicia Keys, David Bowie, Jhene Aiko, P!nk, Christina Aguilera, and Luke James, such as Linda Perry, Leslie Ann Jones, Ann Mincieli, Erin Tonkon, and TRAKGIRL, participated in the event and lead workshops on the subject of women in recording arts.

Here, we speak to Winston about the biggest challenges and opportunities for WAM, and how WAMCON has made an impact on the number of women working in the audio industry…

Tell us about the latest WamCon

WAMCON gathers the world’s best recording engineers, music producers, live sound engineers, podcast producers, beat-makers and hardware/software engineers to share their expertise and wisdom with 100 female students and aspiring engineers and producers in order to change the face of sound and advance more women in the audio industry. We have such a stellar line-up with Linda Perry, Marcella Araica, Ann Mincieli, Leslie Ann Jones, Emily Lazar, Erin Tonkon, Caroline Sanchez from SNL and Haley Shaw, Chiquita Paschal and Mitra Kaboli from the podcast world.

WAM is putting on these conferences all over the country, this is our third one in a single year, in order to bring WAM to more women (over 300 attended this past year) and explore different areas of the country to inform people about our plans for expansion.

This is the first WamCON to reach New York CIty. Why did you decide on the Big Apple this time around?

New York is a music and entertainment hub and since we did WAMCON in Boston last year and WAMCON at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles in June, we decided to bring it to New York this year. WAM is located on the West Coast in San Francisco so we wanted to bring the benefits of WAM to the East Coast so we can connect with our members and students in that area. We also have such great sponsors in New York, with both Jungle City Studio and YouTube hosting the conference in their spaces and The Recording Academy, iZotope, Eventide and Shure supporting the conference in New York.

Over the past couple of years, there have been growing numbers of initiatives and conferences around the subject of women in the audio industry. Do you think this is having a real impact on the number of women working in the industry, or taking on more senior roles?

I think that mobilising women is very powerful and it’s important to also bring more visibility to prominent women engineers and producers so that young women see their role models in the world. The Women’s Audio Mission has been doing this for 15 years now, and has so far trained over 14,000 women and girls through our programmes, as well as placing over 650 women in careers at places like Sony, Dolby, Pixar, Skywalker Sound, Electronic Arts.

We definitely are making an impact by placing women in careers and when they advance they bring in the next woman. There is a ripple effect. We have been especially effective here in San Francisco where we have at least one woman working at every major music venue in the Bay Area as well as most studios and places like Dolby, Pandora, Sony, etc. WAMCON conferences are a way to start bringing this success to other parts of the country and hopefully the rest of the world.

What were some of the key subjects addressed at WAMCON NY?

We had the Grammy-winning legend Leslie Ann Jones doing a workshop on recording vocals, Ann Mincieli (Alicia Keys) and Erin Tonkon (David Bowie) were deconstructing mixes, Trakgirl and Ms. Madli breaking down beats, Haley Shaw, Chiquita Paschal and Mitra Kaboli were deconstructing podcasts like Mogul and Uncivil, Caroline Sanchez was on-hand to talk about doing sound for Saturday Night Live and we’ll have ways to explore alternative careers at audio manufacturers with hardware and digital signal processing engineers from Shure and iZotope, as well as some of the marketing folks from Eventide.

Are you planning on hosting WAMCON in other parts of the US – and, indeed the rest of the world – over the next few years?

Absolutely. The demand for our conferences has exploded, all three conferences this year sold out with a wait list and we have had a lot of folks interested in bringing this to the UK and Europe.

We are so lucky to have the support of Capitol Studios, Jungle City Studios, YouTube, The Recording Academy, iZotope, Eventide and Shure in making all of this happen this year and this is definitely inspiring other companies to support efforts to increase the number of women in audio and help us get WAM to other parts of the country and the rest of the world.

How has the representation of women changed in the audio industry throughout your career? Have you seen any significant changes?

There has definitely been an increase in the number of women studying audio and we have placed a lot of women in careers but we still have a lot of work to do. The USC Annenberg study is pointing at two per cent women producers and engineers, so it will take a shift in all facets of this industry to move the needle on this.