Music technology: not just a man’s world

Lack of female representation and undercompensation burdens the music industry. Female music technology students are taking note.

NYU+Steinhardt+School+of+Culture%2C+Education%2C+and+Human+Development%27s+female+Music+Technology+students+are+taking+note+of+the+lack+of+representation+and+under-compensation+for+women+in+the+music+industry.+The+female+music+technology+students+are+deprived+of+student+diversity+and+role+models+within+their+field.+%28Staff+Photo+by+Nicolas+Pedrero-Setzer%29

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer

NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development’s female Music Technology students are taking note of the lack of representation and under-compensation for women in the music industry. The female music technology students are deprived of student diversity and role models within their field. (Staff Photo by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer)

By Candace Patrick, Staff Writer

As Women History’s Month comes to a close, we turn our attention to powerful women who have made vast contributions to the music industry. However, a lack of representation still plagues the field, leaving those hopeful of breaking into the music industry questioning whether they will have the opportunity to do so. Three female NYU music technology students have shared that the scarcity holds true even before the professional level, as they all agree that women are underrepresented in their major.

The endless number of talented female performers might portray a music industry that is above average in gender diversity, but recent studies show less than 3% of music producers are female. Attending her male-dominated music technology classes, Steinhardt first-year Raquel Delgado finds this statistic daunting. As a woman, she doubts her ability to succeed in the industry. 

“I can’t see myself in any of these careers because I don’t see representation in any of them,” Delgado said. “Where is the safe space? We don’t have one.”

While Delgado finds being a woman in music technology intimidating, her peer Oriana Valcamp, another first-year at Steinhardt, embraces her role as an underdog.

“I wanna go through and prove a whole bunch of people wrong,” Valacamp said.

She is determined to overcome the adversity she and so many other female music technology students face daily. Reflecting on her past experiences working with men in music technology, she notes their standoffish nature and skepticism toward her skills because of her gender.

“I want to be a part of the growing number of women doing that,” Alejandra Tran Rosado, another Steinhardt first-year, agreed – referring to the gradual rise of female music professionals. 

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the trends of salary inequality across many other fields, women in the music industry earn a salary of approximately $20,000 less than their male counterparts. This is not restricted to backstage producers or songwriters. Even famous female musicians face unequal compensation.

In 2017, sister pop trio HAIM fired their agent after discovering they were being paid 10 times less than a male performer at the same event. While they, and many others, have taken a stand against this injustice, the unequal compensation on the basis of gender in the entertainment industry persists. 

To Valcamp, it has nothing to do with quality. She said that all of the music produced by other women in her major has been “absolutely amazing,” suggesting that the wage gap discriminates purely on the basis of gender. All three women agreed that as female students studying music technology, they deserve to work in an industry that compensates based on their talent, not their gender. They also agreed that NYU can do more to promote gender diversity within the music program.

They collectively voiced a desire for their university to welcome more female students and invite more diverse guest speakers within their classes to offset the primarily white and male-dominated group of presenters they have had thus far. All agreed that if the music technology program were to take these simple steps toward inclusion, it would not only enhance their educational experience, but also fuel their pursuit of this passion they share.

Yet, longer term solutions are required to address these inequities, according to the group. The predominantly male students are being taught by a predominantly male faculty, putting the burden on women to talk about these issues. “This is something that I dare to do … men are given the blueprint, women have to figure it out for themselves,” Delgado says. 

Tran Rosado also adds to this, noting how she constantly observes condescending ‘mansplaining.’ “[Men] go on to explain things that they just assume we don’t know,” Tran Rosado says. Delgado notes that this behavior can trigger imposter syndrome, leaving women doubtful of their capabilities and void of confidence. 

It’s not all bad, according to Tran Rosado. She notes that one of the pros of a small percentage of female music technology students is the strengthened sense of community and solidarity they share as they attempt to dismantle the misogyny of the music industry together. 

In recent years, it seems some headway has been made. In 2016, Emily Lazar, an NYU Music Technology alumna, became the first woman to win a Grammy in a music mastering category, further proof that women in music production have long been excluded from public recognition. While there have been a handful of other female nominees for music production, that number is limited. Yet, the progress is slow going. The 2021 Grammy Awards once again saw a male majority in categories involving music technology such as Best Engineered Album and Producer of the Year, by all appearances, a step backwards. These snubs not only deprive female music producers and engineers of the recognition they deserve, they also deprive up and coming female music technology students of role models to look up to.

The underrepresentation and undercompensation of women remains prevalent in many fields. While it’s disheartening to hear that young and aspiring female musicians feel dampened by gender inequality, it serves as all the more reason to advocate for a more inclusive and accepting future that values people for their merit.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 29, 2021 e-print edition. Email Candace Patrick at [email protected]