Bit Rosie, a web series about women who work in music technology, consists of high quality mini-documentaries featuring women producers, DJs, and engineers. The artists—including Julie Kathryn, Pauchi Sasaki, DJ Shakey, Tygapaw, and more—tell their inspirational stories and demonstrate that women working in music technology is happening everywhere. As a producer myself, and the only female in my Sonic Arts MFA class, I know it’s difficult to find mentors and women to look up to in this field. Adele Fournet provides us a platform just for that.
I interviewed Adele about her web series, experiences, future plans, and, in the spirit of Tom Tom Magazine, her gear.
In the first video, Julie Kathryn mentions that it’s easy to fall into the mindset or idea of “women aren’t as musically inclined as men are on the technological side of things,” especially when questions are directed to the men in the band or staff. What are your experiences with this?
As a videographer, sound person and musician, most of my professional experience has been in New York City. And I have to say, in my day-to-day experience, I feel respected and on an equal footing with men. I direct shoots as a freelancer, so colleagues are often asking me questions because I’m in charge and know what’s going on. If I’m not directing, I usually work on a crew with a lot of other women. I know this is unusual, even in New York, and it’s really great! It has enabled me to develop my technical knowledge, especially with video, without feeling insecure about asking a lot of questions. Before moving to New York four years ago, I lived in Arkansas, Florida, and Peru. I felt so much more insecure and doubtful about my technical abilities living in these places, and I think it was because I had trouble finding female role models working in the tech side of video or music to look up to. As I produce videos for Bit Rosie, I remember my teenage self growing up in Arkansas and think: “These videos are for you!” I hope they inspire girls and women to get excited about music production, even if they don’t have role models close to home.
When it comes to producing music, I have definitely encountered the whole “Are you the singer?” thing at shows and in studios. I am the singer! But I’m also an instrumentalist, and a composer, and a producer. As soon as I get the vibe from an engineer or sound person that they don’t respect me in all these facets, I try to avoid him. And this is much easier to do now that I’m in New York, where there are more options for studios and venues. I feel fortunate to live here and be able to seek out like-minded people. For the last album I produced with my band, The Soon-Another, it was important for me to work with a female sound engineer for the live drum recordings. It took a long time to find someone, but we ended up working with Danielle DePalma at Seaside Lounge in Park Slope, and it was great! Right now I’m working on building a community of people around me who see women as equally talented artistically and equally capable technologically; honing in on that community and trying to grow it. Otherwise, if I focus on the shockingly low numbers of female music producers, or the times I felt slighted or overlooked, I get depressed and feel like giving up. So I try not to focus on that too much. Instead I’m putting energy into the Bit Rosie project, contributing my skills with video to spotlight female producers and hopefully encourage others to get involved. I also try to focus on all the amazing organizations that have emerged over the years to support women in music, like Tom Tom, SoundGirls, Female Frequency, and all the rock camps. It feels good to know that there are kindred spirits out there working towards a common vision.
Menores says there are many women in the field but that last push into bigger success, and really believing in yourself, is the hardest place to get to. How did you get to where you are?
As I look back on what I’ve done in video and music so far, there are at least a couple of transitional moments in each endeavor. First, there is the decision to do something new. For example, deciding to learn how to use a video editing software. I took the plunge to learn a Adobe Premiere a few years ago and made some experimental music videos for my band. Second, there’s the decision to try to earn money off that new skill. I think both of these decisions can be scary and intimidating, but the second one definitely is. At least for me. The first time I was editing a video for hire, I was thinking to myself: “Oh shit, I’m definitely not qualified to do this! They are going to find out and fire me!” But they didn’t, and then it got easier, and now I feel a lot more confident. Saying “yes” to as many professional opportunities as possible, even when I’m really scared, has been an important part of my journey so far. With Bit Rosie, I decided one day last August that it could be really cool and important to have a web series featuring female music producers, especially focusing on women playing in truly indie scenes and producing out of their DIY home studios. I emailed my friend and music producer Minami Kato, and we set up a date to shoot her episode. I enlisted the help of my husband, Felipe Wurst, to operate one of the cameras, and my friend and bandmate, Sebastian Apolinario, to do sound. So far, the three of us are the Bit Rosie team, working on a volunteer basis because we believe in the project. Before I could talk myself out of producing this show, I just started making it happen and haven’t looked back since. I think it’s about giving myself permission to do something instead of waiting for someone else to give it.That, and not letting the scared voice in my head talk louder than the excited voice.
There is a real sense that the women in these videos love what they do. Several of the artists stress that they are fortunate to have these opportunities in their lives. Do you feel the same way? If so, how?
So far with Bit Rosie, I have featured producers with the resources to buy computers, instruments, and software. In most cases, they also have had access to significant educational opportunities and inspiring role models. I am in the same boat. Eventually, I would like to broaden the scope of the show to feature music producers working beyond the model of a person with a computer and a set of monitor speakers. What might a music producer look like beyond this computer-centric image? How are women producing music beyond the circuits of global privilege?
But within the community of people with access to computers for producing music, I do feel fortunate to be a woman who feels competent using various forms of sound technology. It’s taken a lot of internal struggle and external encouragement to get to this point. I’m frustrated that there are still so few us, despite the increasing accessibility of technology for certain populations.Within the same demographic, men and women have equal opportunities to buy music production technology. Yet men are something like 95% more likely to use it! There are still all these social forces that funnel women away from careers in technology-oriented fields. I really hope that one day it’s not a matter of luck or remarkable circumstances that women end up producing music.
How did you meet the women in Bit Rosie?
Finding artists for Bit Rosie has been a very organic process, in which one artist suggests the next artist, and it keeps evolving that way. Some artists have been friends, friends of those friends, or people I’ve scouted out through Facebook and Soundcloud or come across going to shows here in New York. I met the Peruvian artists, Menores and Pauchi, while I working in Lima a few years ago. I’m working on a new feature for the website where producers can submit their work directly, which I think will open the project to new locations and new networks.
How do you think we can help get girls and women more interested in producing, engineering, and/or the science behind it?
I definitely believe in the idea “you have to see it to be it.” In other words, you have to see someone who looks like you doing something in order to have the thought “Oh hey! I could do that too!” In our culture we fashion our identities, at least in part, out of the media images we consume. I think that creating media images of women using technology to produce music is a big part of getting more girls and women interested in doing it. I think that a lot of the barriers we overcome in becoming producers are internal. It’s not like there are stickers on audio hardware that say: “WARNING! Dangerous for girls!” It’s just this subtle sense that these tools aren’t really made for us. This make sense if you look at music gear magazines, which are full of pictures of men.
But even with the new media images we are creating, I think it’s hard to reach the right audiences because the internet is already so saturated with media. A big question I’m chewing on now is where to screen and promote these videos so they cut through the avalanche of images and get to the people who might benefit. I want my teenage self in Arkansas to see them!
What are you working on presently?
Right now I’m finishing up a couple of Bit Rosie episodes for two Brooklyn-based producers, Marie Kim of Blank Paper and Natasha Jacobs of Thelma. These will be up in the next few weeks. I am also strategizing about how to improve our website and thinking about funding. We recently set up an exciting collaboration with the New York University library, to turn the Bit Rosie website into a permanent media archive. This means that our website and videos, along with the all the websites and materials of participating artists, will be permanently stored and updated by the library’s media team for future researchers and cultural memory. As cultural producers in the digital age, we rely on the Internet to showcase and store our art. But the Internet is an impermanent and unreliable long term storage medium. I want the work of female music producers to be showcased now and remembered in the future. I think it’s important to build new canons of musical history in which women are spotlighted and remembered instead of marginalized and forgotten.
In music, I am working on a book of solo piano pieces that I’m very excited about! I’d say the pieces are in the style of Erik Satie having an afternoon conversation with Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, but Satie is doing most of the talking. I’ve been playing in bands for a long time, which I still love, but it’s been gratifying to get back to writing for a single instrument. I also drum in the Brooklyn/Queens-based hardcore band Electro Insides, and we have been playing shows and working on material for our second EP all summer. It’s going to feature our first bilingual song, half English half Spanish, and for this EP I have a lot more call back vocal parts, which has been really fun!
Any gear or equipment that you really love working with and recommend?
I film Bit Rosie using Panasonic GH3 and GH4 cameras. These cameras have amazing image quality and are cheaper than the more popular Canon DSLRs. We use a couple of Rokinon 85mm prime lenses, which are good for low light settings and add a nice cinematic quality to some of the shots.
For live sound, I use a stereo pair of Oktava condenser mics with a Zoom H4n recorder. When it comes to producing music, I use Logic Pro and a Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 interface. I would definitely recommend any of this gear for someone venturing into small scale video or music production.
Sara Landeau is a guitarist, bassist, drummer, educator, producer, composer, and artist living in NYC. She plays guitar in punk-pop-dance-feminist NYC band The Julie Ruin . Around 2003, Sara opened Brooklyn Music Studio for Women & Girls in Greenpoint, Brooklyn NY, providing private and group instrument lessons year round. www.saralandeau.com.