Singer/songwriter and producer Xylo Aria recently launched online educational platform Music Production for Women (MPW) to encourage more women into music production. With only five per cent of producers currently being women, and having bad experiences with producers herself, Aria saw a missing link in the educational process. After the tragic and unexpected loss of a close friend, Aria quit her job and began developing a platform that takes students through the basics of producing on Ableton Live, from creating a beat down to mixing. Although it was created with women in mind, the course is open to all, as Aria believes it’s important not to alienate anyone when trying to make music production a more welcoming field.
Here, we chat to Aria about the impetus behind the initiative and why being able to self-produce is so important in today’s industry…
What was the inspiration behind launching Music Production for Women?
The reason I launched it was because I needed something like this when I started producing. I started off as a singer/songwriter and my experiences with producers were not the best. They were always men – I don’t want to generalise, people do have good experiences – but mine always ended up as a weird power struggle. After enough of those, I thought ‘I don’t deserve this, I need to do something about it’. The only option I could think of was to learn to produce.
Once I’d made that decision, I didn’t really know where to go from there. There are so many things to consider, from what software and gear to use, how much you should spend… it all feels very overwhelming. I was working full-time so I didn’t have the capacity to join a course. I went to heaps of production forums and they were really helpful, but it’s not the best setting for learning because I was one of the very few girls in the room. People would always ask ‘Does anyone have any questions’ and I’d think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have so many’ but I didn’t want to be that person that doesn’t understand. I realise now that’s not the best attitude to have, you should just ask.
I kept getting help from people and slowly things started falling into place. I started releasing music I had produced myself and it was such a freeing experience. I wasn’t forever waiting for the right producer to come along and feeling like I didn’t have control over my own project. Even when I collaborated – which I still think everyone should do – I felt a lot more equal. But the process to get there shouldn’t have been that hard. And I knew that there were many other female artists going through the exact same process, but not having the confidence to start because of those hurdles.
How did it evolve from there?
I realised there needed to be an educational platform that’s available from anywhere to anyone that wants to learn, but in an encouraging environment where no one feels like they’re asking the wrong question. Then I started doing some research, and I couldn’t really find what I was looking for. When I didn’t find it, I felt like it was my responsibility to create it. For a long time I faced the thoughts of ‘who I am to do this’? I’m not a Grammy winner, but it’s probably better that I’m not because I can speak in a language that’ll make sense to those who are really new to production. It’s always that initial start that puts people off the most, so I wanted MPW to eventually take people who had not considered production before or been a bit scared of it to take their first steps into it and realise it is fun.
Then I started building this platform, and at the moment it’s based on Ableton, but I have some people helping me create a Logic version, so it’ll keep growing down the line. Aside from that portion, we have a really nice online community, everyone’s really lovely and supportive. Outside of that, we’ve started doing workshops around London in partnership with Novation and Ableton.
How important do you think it is as an artist to be able to produce your own music?
Honestly, in today’s age, I think it’s vital. Even if you are not doing it yourself and are working with another producer, I think it’s so important to understand what they’re doing because at the end of the day, it’s still a service you’re engaging someone for, and in order to not be taken advantage of, you should be able to understand the basics of what they’re doing. So when they come back to you on whatever they’ve done, you can, in a language that shows you are informed, tell them what needs to be changed. That immediately changes the power dynamic that some people can experience.
When you don’t have the budget for it, a lot more can go wrong when you’re trying to get people to work with and it’s a ‘doing favours’ situation. If you have the budget to get an established producer, it’s probably going to be more of a professional environment. But people have even told me in that environment they’ve come away with things that are really not what they were after.
What do you think deters women from becoming producers?
I think there are a lot of different aspects to it, one being that there aren’t many role models. So when you look out into the music space and you think of typical producers, it’s white and male that comes to mind. For a long time, I didn’t even consider it as something I could do. I was producing before, but I would always tell people it was a demo. And they were like ‘why don’t you keep working on it?’ And I used to say, ‘Ah, I can’t produce. I’m just making something to give to someone else.’
I think step one is having the confidence to call yourself a producer, even if you don’t feel like one. That can really start changing things. Guys just seem to have that confidence to give themselves that title and women don’t, and that’s something you find across the board in workplace situations.
What do you think can be done to change this? Is it mainly about education?
I think so. Things need to start from an earlier age. One thing I’ve started doing is talks/classes in schools because it’s really important to show that a woman is in this role. I always contact people on the MPW platform and social media and ask what stopped them from producing before, and it’s very rarely that they don’t have the money for gear or something like that, it’s pretty much always ‘I don’t think I can do it.’ It’s that confidence thing.
I’m also working on a podcast at the moment and I’ve spoken to a few experienced producers, and one of the things producer Catherine Marks said is ‘I don’t consider myself a techy person’. You hear that quite often from really experienced producers, which makes you realise you don’t need to be that typical person we think of. If someone shows you what to do, you will be able to do it. It’s about taking that first step with the right environment around you. Honestly, if I can produce my own music, I really think anyone can.
How important do you think creating a community will be in helping women flourish in the industry?
Extremely. That’s one of the things that really sets MPW apart – the fact that there’s a safe space where people feel completely comfortable to ask anything. But even in that space, everyone starts their question with ‘This is probably a stupid question’, even though it never is a stupid question. But, you know, maybe in another environment they wouldn’t have felt able to ask that question at all.
That sense of community is really important, but I think at the same time it’s also very important not to alienate people within that community. So, all the workshops we run are for everyone, it’s not women only. I don’t think a community that does the same thing that we’ve been screaming and shouting about the other way around is really the right solution. As soon as we can bring men into the conversation, that’s great. Why shouldn’t guys be taught by a woman? The more we include everyone, the quicker we can create change.
What do the workshops and course entail? How are they structured?
The course has six modules. It goes through the basics and main aspects of a production software. We start from creating a drum beat and the various different ways of doing that, and then go into synths, then recording, then audio effects, building right up to mixing at the end. I wanted to make sure that it’s not an information overload. There is enough information for you to feel comfortable with the basics of how to use the main tools, but after that there’s so many resources available on things like YouTube. But I believe if people start there, they might get overwhelmed and not continue with it.
In addition to that we do monthly catch-up calls and people can email me anytime. I never wanted it to feel like people had bought into this thing and were left on their own.
Why did you choose to work with Ableton Live?
That was my production software of choice, mainly because I wanted to be self-sufficient in every way, which included playing live. It’s called Ableton Live for a reason – it’s the best for live performance. And I’ve found from talking to other people, whoever’s using other software, like Logic, ended up having to use Ableton anyway for live performance.
How can male or female producers help to encourage more women to take up music production?
I think it’s almost a responsibility for women to be a bit more out there, whether that’s going into schools or universities and talking, or being more active in the community so that young people can see you. And it’s equally as important for young men to see women doing a great job because sometimes I think in the studio setting guys can go into it possibly feeling a bit superior. As far as guys in the industry are concerned, it’s all about giving women opportunities and just being really encouraging.