Vem Kan Bli Producent is a programme that takes aim at the historic gender imbalance in music’s tech and production industries. Run by the non-profit music education group Popkollo, the programme aims to help female, trans and non-binary people get into music production by running education courses in the practise’s equipment, techniques and more. They’re about to accept a new draft of applicants for the autumn 2018 season, so we spoke to lecturer Brenda El Rayes about the course.
To start off, can you give us a brief history of the VKBP project, how it started and its development throughout the years?
Popkollo is the non-profit organisation who’s been running VKBP since the start in 2015. The idea to remove the gap between genders with music production already came to us in 2003, when we started Popkollo, but for VKBP the project was realised in 2015 when we got funding to develop the program amongst other things. The programme started as a response. It still is a response. A response to the exclusion of women and transgender people of all genders that has been going on in the music industry and especially the tech-side of it. We’ve been able to run the program with support from Riksmixningverket, MXM Music (Max Martin) and Propellerhead and others for three years now. The fourth year is coming up this fall and new this year is that we are starting programs in Malmö and Gothenburg. We’ve hundreds of applicants and are expanding with evening classes in hopefully spring 2019. We’ve had a support from Robyn to build a studio and we hope to proceed and move closer to our goal starting next year.
Obviously the entire music industry has problems with structural sexism. But has it been particularly bad within the technical side of things with production and sound engineering? And what are the most important steps to counteracting this structural sexism?
Historically in music, women have never gotten the jobs that are highly praised or (and this is very important) highly paid, if they got any job in music at all. The same goes for transgender people. And this is unfortunately still the case! The technical part of music has its heritage in war and war equipment. It was mainly men that operated these machines and that created a gentlemen’s club that is incredibly hard to even elbow yourself into. There’s a lot of power in being able to handle the technical part of music. And with power I mean money. This is not different from other technical sides of other occupations. We see this in programming, in engineering and in the technical side of media (film, theatre, journalism). One way to fix this: creating safe spaces for women and transgender people. Creating a space where no one feels that their lack of knowledge in certain area is a obstacle, but feel instead that it is an opportunity to learn. Creating a space where you’re not afraid of being sexualised, discriminated against, mansplained to or honestly, even abused. Creating a learning space where we learn together and from each other and where the competition is not over being the token person in this gentlemen’s club. Other ways to fix this: This gentlemen’s club that I talk about need to take responsibility. On both a micro and a macro level. Studios, labels and bureau should strive to hire more women and transgender people, pay women and transgender people equally and educate cis-men on how to create these safe spaces for us. On a micro level, cis-men active in this field should look inwards and question themselves in an honest way: ‘Is my behaviour both in work and privately building or demolishing the structural sexism?’, ‘Do I have the knowledge to change my and other cis-mens behaviour?’
What kind of profile are you looking for in the applicants to the programme? You’ve mentioned that no previous knowledge of production is absolutely necessary, but that a little background in production like familiarity with programmes like DAW is ideal. How should people go about applying to VKBP?
We want to create a diverse group of people from all kinds of genres and backgrounds. We’ve had applicants who are 60+ and applicants who come from different work fields that are not connected to music. The most important thing for an applicant is to have the will to learn and the passion for music and an ambition to work in the technical and creative part of music.
So what, in practical terms, does being accepted into the programme mean?
The programme stretches from October to May, mostly three hours a week. We also meet up four full weekends to do different workshops and activities in different places. We divide the program in different blocks where one block could be different workshops in analogue signals or a dive in to DAWs or studio recording. We will be in amazing studios such as Rixmixningsverket (Abba-Benny’s studio) and Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) where they have a great and retro Buchla-synthesizer (yes, we’ll have a workshop on that too). As a participant you’ll get small and big assignments to help you understand the workshops better. But the best thing is the network you’ll later have access to after the programme. I for example have a studio collective with people I met when took part in the programme in 2015. Others have created amazing groups and projects together. And friendships for life.
Is it inspiring to see your participants learn and develop as producers through the programme?
Of course! Music is such a huge playground and it’s the same in the technical field. You can be a world famous producer and still not know everything in the music field. Even though I don’t like to say this but music production is hard. Especially at first. No one knows everything and you can create music and sound in so many different ways and that, for me, is inspiring to be a part of. As I mentioned earlier, we learn together.
Finally, how would you like to see VKBP develop in the future? Would you like to expand the intake of people, or expand the workshops to cover more areas?
Honestly, I hope that the programme will shut down in the future. That it won’t be needed anymore. This is a reaction to the injustice in the field. A lot of people in the programme have witnessed how hard it is to learn production in institutes that are not safe spaces. This a reaction to this. Hopefully, in the future, it would be more balanced so we don’t have to create these safe spaces anymore. But for the near future I hope to see a growth in the programme, absolutely. I hope to see some kind of level 2 of the program that is more focused within a specific block. That if someone wants to dive in into microphone building after the program, we would have a level 2 program for that.
Applications for the Stockholm autumn 2018 programme of Vem Kan Bli Producent are open until September 23. Interested participants can apply here.