There is not a single solution for fixing this gender imbalance. But women in music education roles are making a significant impact. In recent years, these educators have stepped up within the electronic music industry to create visibility, provide mentorship, and defy gender stereotypes across society at large. The work is not limited to teaching at a music school. We spoke to four women who exemplify the different paths one can take as a music educator, including organizing workshops, creating YouTube videos, and working as a professional product specialist. Each sheds some light on the challenges and rewards of working in music education, as well as gives advice to women who want to get more involved.
DJ Rachael, Founder of Femme Electronic
Tell us about yourself and your music career.
I’m a DJ and music producer based in Kampala Uganda, living in LA right for now. I was the first Ugandan and East African female DJ. I’ve been doing this for 22 years now. I was initially an MC and rapper who started out at a local club in Kampala called Pulsations then moved to Club Silk where I had the longest residence and established my name further.
What is Femme Electronic?
Femme Electronic gives members space to interact in a safe, all inclusive environment where they are then taught how to DJ, use DJ equipment and learn how to produce music. It offers workshops on a routine with different facilitators from Uganda, East Africa, Europe and beyond who give the girls exclusive knowledge on the subject. The girls also get to borrow equipment from the project to help them fine tune their skills. The project organizes events like the “Femme Famous” party, for women DJs only, which happens once every three months and the “Rapture Warehouse Rave” once a year; where some of the participants get to express their freshly learned trade DJing alongside other established DJs. The music from the collective is shared on the Instagram and Facebook pages as well. Native instruments donated some DJ equipment to the project and that’s some of what the women use on the training.
What do Femme Electronic participants go on to do after the program?
A few of them have gone to DJ in clubs and look like they are seriously pursuing it, others have dropped off completely and decided to do something else but with their knowledge intact. Others have made it like Kampire. Others choose to stay and help out with the program. I’ve recommended some girls to clubs or events before and it’s turned out well. The project spread out to Kenya as Femme Electronic Kenya and I’ve invited the DJs from Kenya to perform at the major events I do in Kampala to gain more exposure. In turn, they’ve been re-invited to other events back in Kampala.
What do you personally find exciting about the impact of Femme Electronic on its participants?
It’s a great feeling of fulfillment to work with your protegees and see them thrive. The girls are always willing to participate in event building especially of the “Rapture Rave” and “Femme Famous,” which are electronic music events. The girls come in with a different music mindset of Afrobeat and dancehall at the start, but gain a massive love for, and turn around to attend, electronic music festivals and events after the program. I’m always being asked by booking agents and clubs to refer them one of the girls from my project or any women DJs, which shows the results are forthcoming.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start educational workshops in their area?
I say go for it. It’s hugely rewarding spiritually and educationally to you and the people you are doing it for. They should probably go for something that they personally have an interest in and give it 100%. Look out for the naysayers and people who will want to put you off-track. Get the backing of another organization that works with your kind of field and community.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Femme Electronic?
Femme Electronic will probably make the next super DJ and it’s not about gender, sexuality, wealth, gatekeeping, dress-coding. It’s all about talent, work rate, diversity and adaptability. Please join us as soon as you hear the next call. Find us on Facebook and Instagram under the same name.
Jane Arnison, Musician and Educator
Can you tell me about yourself and your background in music?
I’ve always been doing music and have had a go at most instruments, but got serious when I studied at a conservatory in Australia, focussing on composition, which gave me an outstanding grounding in music from a deeply technical and theoretical level. I always played in bands, and after my studies were completed, I felt like the restraints of classical music world were too much and I escaped to an internship at a leading studio in Sydney. I worked with a renowned producer Scott Horscroft and many legendary Aussie bands, learnt the ropes of a studio environment, and was absolutely hooked with analog studio recording and production. I had a stint as an engineer for Australian Idol which is like The X Factor. I’d been working on my own music and dabbling with producing other people for many years at this stage, and then I wanted a change so I packed my bags for Europe. At some point I decided I wanted to focus myself entirely on writing music and see what happened so I moved to Berlin and that’s what I did.
What educational initiatives have you been involved in?
1) Head of Production at BIMM Berlin. Here I have an active role in the shape and development of the course. Through this I have been actively pursuing head-hunting female tutors for consideration for our positions.
2) Female Machine Jam workshop for NI some years ago.
3) Brought over to Denmark for a government run music songwriting camp as a female mentor to even things up a bit!
4) Mint/Ableton Loop moderator for female/non binary event.
5) Volunteered for a summer giving guitar lessons to female refugees.
6) Mint Ableton female production course.
7) DICE music festival female/non binary workshop.
8) Hamburg Reeperbahn speech focussing on female producers and the way that the whole industry including the many female musicians and songwriters do not use us, but feel safer to defer the big jobs to men.
Teaching is a skill set of its own. How did you prepare to lead workshops and take on a mentorship role?
It’s something that I have been developing for a while now. I have been teaching music in some form or other for about 20 years almost! And I have been specialising in production for eight. So each time I give a similar workshop or class I go over my previous notes, and see how my knowledge has improved or my opinion changed. This helps me to build on a solid foundation so I’m not starting from scratch every time, but make sure I’m keeping it fresh and updated.
I just completed a postgraduate qualification in Teaching and Learning. This has profoundly changed the way that I teach, which was a really great experience. It helps me take the focus off myself and constantly ask the question: what are the students doing? How am I activating them?
Mentoring is a bit different. It requires you to be almost a therapist, I find. It is about being present and really there for someone else, being able to spot areas of confidence and skill and acknowledge them. And then of course, look to those holes or gaps and support them being filled.
What do you personally find surprising about the women who come to your workshops?
I always am reminded that creativity does not necessarily need to be taught. So many times I work with women who say they know nothing, but they’ve managed to find their way around a program or concept in a way that made sense to them. This approach creates interesting and unique results. I like to always work with individual style and approach and teach to that. I need to get into the mind of each person’s approach,and end up learning a thing or two I didn’t know. The learning is infinite! And it’s always important that it goes in both directions, I feel.
What role to women educators play in improving the industry’s gender balance?
We act as role models for young women to see themselves in these roles. But also nurture the young women we work with, push them, counsel them and help them through. From what I see, regardless if women are starting to get opportunities, many of them falter and do not excel in the way that they would like. While I am still figuring why this is, for now my solution is to be interested in nurturing and supporting these women through the various challenges they face.
Courtney Hawkins, YouTube Creator
Tell us about your musical background.
I’m a music producer from Missouri. I’ve always been obsessed with music, from watching music videos on MTV with my sister when we were younger to reading all of the liner notes that I could get my hands on, just to see who did what on each song.
How did you learn how to produce, specifically?
I started playing guitar when I was about six or seven. My dad taught me all of the open chords and a few picking patterns, the rest was up to me learn, so I read a lot of books and taught myself. It wasn’t until I was 13 and I got my hands on a copy of FL Studio, that I got really interested in producing. There were a few producer forums that I would visit and after a trip down a wormhole. I was able to get the basics down, and then eventually producers started posting tutorials onto YouTube and that helped me tremendously.
What prompted you to start a YouTube channel?
I wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to me. I also noticed a lack of female representation and I decided that I would just get over my fears of being in front of the camera and start posting content. The experience so far has been absolutely wonderful. I get so many positive messages from people saying that I helped them and that means a lot to me.
How do you come up with your tutorial topics?
Sometimes I ask what kind of topics people want me to go over via my Instagram or by the comment section on previous videos. Other times I write down little notes of what I find might be helpful to go over. I have a whole journal dedicated solely to video ideas and topics.
YouTubers need to know visual production skills for video, photo, and design. You’re also learning tons of new music tools. How do you keep yourself up-to-date with so much creative software and hardware?
It can feel overwhelming at times trying to learn so many different medians of production. I try not to burn myself out though because that can happen and has happened to me. I try to stay organized by using a whiteboard, journals and daily tasks. That way I know just how much time I’m going to spend learning, creating or filming.
What advice would you give to women who want to start their own YouTube channel?
Just go for it. Stop worrying about what you look like in front of the camera or if you might say something wrong. Your passion will speak volumes.
Nadine Raihani, Native Instruments Lead Product Specialist
You’re a Lead Product Specialist at Native Instruments. What exactly does a Product Specialist do?
I do workshops, artist trainings, sound design, and tutorials.
What is your favorite part of the role? What is the most challenging?
My favorite part is exchanging tips with artists I admire. The most challenging part is creating music for the tutorials, which (hopefully) resonates with a wide audience of different tastes and styles.
I heard one of the responsibilities of being a Product Specialist is working with artists. Can you talk about this aspect of the role?
Probably the most inspiring part of being a Product Specialist is learning from creative artists about how they produce in unique ways, which challenges my beliefs regarding if there is a right or wrong way to go about making music (there is no wrong way, anything goes!).
I also know you also teach music production at the SAE Institute. Is there a reason you’re drawn to this work in addition to working at NI?
Personally I didn’t have any female role educators when I was a student. This was totally fine and normal to me at the time but I do believe in this day and age visibility is important to inspire diverse audiences to get involved in music production.
What advice would you give to other women who want to pursue the path of a Product Specialist?
When I applied to become a sound designer at NI, my knowledge and skills in that area were pretty limited. I really wasn’t sure I would be good enough for the job but in the end I decided to apply anyway and have a fake it till you make it attitude. It worked well for me.