Queens of the Underground
PHOTO CREDIT: Bellanova Photography
Part Four: Lauren Deakin Davies
I was going to do another Female Icons…
PHOTO CREDIT: Bellanova Photography
feature but, rather than that, I want to continue my Queens of the Underground thread. Next weekend, I will do a Female Icons piece and feature Tina Turner but, right now, I am spotlighting a great producer who warrants a lot of respect and love. So far, I have featured two D.J./presenters and one producer in this feature: Carly Wilford and Georgie Rogers; Catherine Marks yesterday. Like Marks, Lauren Deakin Davies is a fantastic female producer who is helping to break ground and bring more women into the studio. A lot of my features over the past few days have focused on women but I think it is important to champion great women in the industry as, so often, it is the men who get the focus. That is especially true when we look in the studio. The statistics still show that things are imbalanced regarding gender and production. Maybe it comes down to impressions regarding the careers women should be pursuing. We are still not talking enough about women becoming scientists, astronauts and engineers and so, when it comes to music, do we assume women should just be on the stage? So many of the biggest hits are written by men and most studio engineers are male; in terms of producers, what is the reason for a gender gap? Billboard ran a feature last year and posited a few theories:
“Why does record production remain the ultimate boys club of the music industry? There are myriad reasons, including a lack of role models. "I just don't think there are that many women interested," says songwriter-producer Perry, who, along with Missy Elliott, has been arguably the most successful female producer in pop and R&B, having worked with such hitmakers as P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Courtney Love and James Blunt. "Where are they if there are?"
But when women first start to produce, some say that uncomfortable moments can arise.
PHOTO CREDIT: CK Goldiing
"There have definitely been times you'll [suggest] an idea and the artist will pass over it and the guy in the room will say the same idea and they'll say, 'I love it,' and you're like, 'Oh, my Lord,' " says Hope. "You can't really show any signs of not knowing what you're doing. You are at the helm."
"Sometimes people are like, 'Why is this girl in the room?' " says WondaGurl. "Earlier, I would never talk; I'd just play the beat. I wouldn't give direction much, because they wouldn't take it. Now they take it seriously."
Catherine Marks, who has produced Manchester Orchestra and Wolf Alice, says the initial leap from engineer to producer was "a difficult and unexpected transition ... When I first started out I always thought, 'Ooh, I can't wait to be in that role.' And the more I learned and the more I began to understand the studio dynamics and the responsibilities that come with that role, I was like, 'Maybe I'm pretty happy where I am.' "
While many male and female executives have been supportive, several female producers expressed dismay that more female artists don't seek out female producers. "It's interesting that a lot of female artists have this feminist message and they'll make their record with all men. It seems kind of hypocritical," says Hope. "This [woman] will get up to accept an award and be surrounded by straight, white, middle-aged men".
There are great female producers around and, whilst there is willingness for change and the chance for equality, I think there are a lot of reasons why women feel discouraged. Another argument comes down to parental leave and the assumption that a female producer might not be able to balance maternal responsibilities with production duties. There is a lot we need to discuss and dispel but making production a viable and attractive career choice for women and girls is paramount. I think more female artists will want to work with female producers if we get the numbers up. An American study shows that, whilst there are some remarkable female producers around, the numbers are not rising as fast as we’d like – and there are stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes still in place:
“Turning to producers, the percentage of women working in this role remained stagnant in 2018, and only 2 percent of producers across 400 songs were female. For producers, this translates into a gender ratio of 47 males to every one female. Only four women of color have worked as a producer on the 400 songs analyzed.
"Women are shut out of two crucial creative roles in the music industry," Professor Smith said. "It was critical to understand what factors contribute to the lack of women songwriters and producers in order to open up more opportunities and create sustainable change."
Through interviews with 75 female songwriters and producers, the study explores the lived experiences of women in music. More than 40 percent stated that their work or skills were dismissed or discounted by colleagues, and 39 percent said that stereotyping and sexualization were impediments to their careers. Finally, more than one-third said that the industry was male-dominated—a belief borne out by the numbers in the quantitative report. Women also cited instances in which they had been doubted or questioned and illuminated how the recording studio is a site for objectification and place where personal safety is a concern”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Marling (Lauren Deakin Davies worked with Marling on her project, Reversal of the Muse)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
This might sound all bleak but, when turning to Lauren Deakin Davies, and she provides a perfect example of why we need more female producers. When I talked about Catherine Marks yesterday, I listed some of the artists she’s worked with (The Amazons and The Big Moon among them) and the fact she is so passionate, eclectic and dedicated. Lauren Deakin Davies is another one of these great female producers who many others are looking up to. So far, Deakin Davies has written over two-hundred commercially released tracks and seen her work played on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music. She was named producer of the year in 2017 and 2018 at the NMG Awards and is the youngest female producer to have tracks played on BBC Radio 2. Deakin Davies has this affinity and natural intuition that means she is a producer you definitely want to work with. She comes from a musical household and performs her own music as DIDI. As DIDI, Deakin Davies’ Pop-Punk sound is fresh and exciting and I think this gives her advantage in the studio. A lot of producers are not musicians themselves but Deakin Davies has that edge. She knows what is needed to succeed; she has that musician’s eye and realises what it takes to make a song shine and pop. Whilst a lot of female artists self-produce, there are standalone producers like Deakin Davies, Catherine Marks; Sylvia Massy and WondaGurl.
I am a particularly big fan of Lauren Deakin Davies’ production because it is so varied and nuanced. She can bring so much from a song and her expertise and experience really shows. I will continue on but I want to bring in an interview Deakin Davies gave last year to Music Tech:
“Working out of her impressive studio, The Den, Lauren’s productions have garnered interest from a range of high-profile artists, such as Laura Marling, Kate Dimbleby, Peggy Seeger and The Hoosiers. She also became, at the age of just 19, the Music Producer’s Guild’s youngest full member and has won two Producer of the Year accolades at the NMG awards. So how did her interest in music production begin?
“Well, I’ve been doing music since I was 11 years old and I’ve been in bands of varying sizes,” Lauren tells us. “One of the bands I was in when I was 15 started doing alright, and we ended up going to Universal Studios and Metropolis Studios and places like that. I remember walking into a studio and thinking, ’Oh my God, this is the coolest thing in the world!’, so I really got into it then. There was also a local studio called The Cream Room which had a young artist called Alexa Mullins. She wanted me to come into the studio to sort of make sure she was okay and enjoy it. She knew I was embarking on studying music production, so I ended up working at that studio for a while which gave me a lot of grounding.”
It wasn’t long before Lauren’s work started garnering high profile interest, and an invitation to join the Music Producer’s Guild landed on her doorstep, then at the astoundingly young age of 19. We ask Lauren what it’s like being the youngest member of the coveted collective.
“I’m not sure if I am still the youngest member to join, but I definitely was at the time (the youngest member now is still older than me when I originally joined though). My really good friend, who is also the bass player in my band, who is two days older than me, has just joined too. That membership was integral to when I was starting out. When I joined it meant I had a foundation and a base of people who were all willing to help. I ended up working on the Laura Marling project through meeting an acquaintance on the MPG panel. I wouldn’t have got that unless I’d been part of the MPG.”
In an already diverse career, one of Lauren’s most memorable collaborations involved the daughter of a popular broadcaster. “I think working with Kate Dimbleby on her album Songbirds is one of the most influential projects I’ve worked on. Kate is David Dimbleby’s daughter. She’d done a jazz album before, but she wanted to do something completely different, a whole album with no instruments – all just vocals. It was an interesting concept and quite challenging. All of the songs sound different but they’re obviously coherent as an album and it was just so interesting. It was like, ’How can you mix a 30-track vocal thing of random loops?’ There were 50 tracks on some of the songs, so that record was definitely one of the coolest ones, and Kate’s attitude was so positive. There are a few others: I really like the Danielle Lewis stuff that I’ve worked on; Minnie Birch’s albums as well. I’ve done quite a few albums but that’s the one [Kate Dimbleby] that sticks out for me”.
You can see the range of projects Deakin Davies has been involved with and some of the musical challenges that have been put her way. Working with such eclectic artists has strengthened her foundation and the projects Deakin Davies has been involved with its seriously impressive. The fact she worked with Laura Marling (on her Reversal of the Muse) stuns me as Marling is one of my favourite artists and someone I admire greatly. If there is a perception that many female artists do not want to work with female producers, Lauren Deakin is dispelling that. Having worked alongside Bella Gaffney, Minnie Birch; Kate Dimbleby, Roxanne de Bastion and Emily Mae Winters recently, it is wonderful seeing a great female producer working with some great female artists. If pioneering producers like Catherine Marks are working more with Rock and Alternative artists, Lauren Deakin Davies has more experience in the Folk/Singer-Songwriter/Pop realm. Deakin Davies’ advice to upcoming producers is to network and get out there. I think Marks gave similar advice when speaking with Georgie Rogers: see if there are any interns going at studios and don’t be afraid to ask around and get out there too. It may take a while to get to the position Deakin Davies and Marks are in but they both started on modest foundations. Through experience, learning and commitment, they have risen to the positions they are in now.
Lauren Deakin Davies is a producer who gets to know the artist before beginning work so that it gives her extra information and impetus when working on their material. The reason for me starting this Queens of the Underground feature is to highlight inspiring women who are working tirelessly and creating some fantastic work. I do think that Lauren Deakin Davies is a producer who will attract bigger and bigger names. I know there are girls and women out there who want to step into the studio but will feel hesitant and reserved. Maybe the wave of male faces seems daunting but producers like Deakin Davies will give them guidance and heart. I know Deakin Davies has spoken to young women about getting into the industry but I do wonder whether she has considered giving bigger talks and seminars as she has a lot of wisdom and experience to impart. I shall leave things there but I urge people to check out Lauren Deakin Davies’ work and follow her career. She is one of the best producers in the U.K. and, as I keep saying, proving an inspiration muse for women who are thinking of producing. I predict the future will see Deakin Davies producing albums for some of the biggest artists in the world and getting to work in the U.S., perhaps. Her award-winning career so far has been eventful but I think there are so many big years ahead. There are some truly fantastic producers in music but, when it comes to Lauren Deakin Davies, there is…
PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren Deakin Davies
NOBODY like her.
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