Producers are the backbone of every song listeners grow to love—especially amid the lilts and thumps of Latin genres like reggaetón, dembow, Latin trap, and R&B en Español—but too often this musical vertebra is constructed by cis men. In fact, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 2% of producers in the music industry are women—a figure that drops even lower for Latinas and non-white women.
It’s not that women are disinterested or even new to audio. For decades, Black women producers like Sylvia Rose Moy, Sylvia Robinson, and Missy Elliott have been behind major commercial hits. More recently, Latinas like Ali Stone, Claudia Brant, and Ella Bric have worked with artists like Camila Cabello, CNCO, Ximena Sariñana, and Kat Dahlia. But despite producing classics like The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper's Delight" or Mariah Carey's "Babydoll," non-white women continue to face challenges entering the world of production, creating a name for themselves in the industry, and building lucrative careers that match their male colleagues. For those who do make full-time careers or find part-time passion projects in music production, it’s often a lonely road, riddled with microagressions, sexual harassment, and pay inequality.
“I want to meet more women producers and collaborate on music, especially Latina producers,” Perfxn, a Bronx, New York-based Dominican-American experimental producer, tells Refinery29 Somos. “Being one myself, I think it's important for the culture to be a part of that creative space.”
Like Perfxn, a growing number of frustrated women producers and industry folks have a keen interest in seeing more gender inclusivity in audio. But real change will require all players—including labels, artists, music journalists, studio spaces, music programs, award shows, and brands—to strip themselves of bias and use their power to uplift marginalised talent.
“I think male producers and artists have a huge role in making the music industry more inclusive,” Grammy award-winning producer Boi-1da tells Refinery29 Somos. “I know what it means to have genuine allies within this industry—it’s hard for any artist to break through, and no doubt even tougher for women to break through the male-dominated portions of the industry like producing.”
Boi-1da’s walk matches his talk. This year, the Jamaican-Canadian producer, who has worked with the likes of Drake, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Leslie Grace, and countless others, teamed up with Bacardí in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for Music Liberates Music, a programme the rum company designed to champion underrepresented voices in the music industry. Its latest iteration specifically focuses on women. Through the initiative, Boi-1da hand-selected three women artists that he coached over the course of the summer.
"It’s hard for any artist to break through, and no doubt even tougher for women."
“I want to continue giving opportunities to talent,” says 1da, who also famously mentored and co-signed award-winning Canadian hip-hop producer WondaGurl. “Their music needs to be heard.”
Among 1da’s latest mentees is Perfxn, an artist he first came across on Clubhouse during a beat battle in 2020. Through the Music Liberates Music program, they produced tracks, like “On the Way” with vocalist Niqa Mor, that were later minted into non-fungible tokens (NFTs). That a musical powerhouse like 1da would partner with a company that has the resources to invest in emerging women talent is critical. According to Denise “Nice” De’ion, a Black Canadian producer who was also selected to participate in the program, the scale is tipped in men’s favour. “So when someone like Boi-1da, who is a leader in the industry, gives the co-sign, people see that [and] are automatically like, ‘Oh, she's dope. She's cool,’” De’ion says. “It helps because it's a huge brand standing behind women saying, ‘we see what you're doing, and we want to be an ally and help to increase that number.”
But even when women producers of colour get their foot in the door, there’s often a slew of microaggressions, paternalism, ego, and other barriers waiting for them on the other side. During a Zoom call from her home in Los Angeles, Stone, a 29-year-old Colombian producer, recalls the moment a music journalist asked her if she was sure no one helped her produce a yet-to-be-released Mary J. Blige track that she let him preview. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ And I had my laptop there, so I literally showed him the session,” Stone recalls.
Throughout Stone’s 10-year career, she has fought to remain true to her aesthetic and sound, despite the unsolicited suggestions of men. Spewing wild anecdotes with a smile from cheek to cheek, the independent artist explains why she has decidedly remained so after a label attempted to sign her. “They were like, ‘What if we signed you, but like, maybe you did reggaetón,’” she says, laughing. “That's [not] the music I make.” As an independent producer, Stone has worked with Mexican actress and pop star Danna Paola on “Valientes,” legends of the aughts RBD during their reunion concert, Grammy-nominated artist Cami, and, most recently, beloved Chilean multi-instrumentalist and singer Francisca Valenzuela.
With self-taught lessons in mixing, DJing, and song making, and a handful of women mentors along the way, Stone is guided by the motto: “Expect the unexpected.”
Distinctly, as twin sisters, DJs, and eyewear designers Coco & Breezy transition into music production, they have decided to go the label route. This year, the dynamic Puerto Rican duo from Minnesota signed a deal with WME. Now, the pair is getting ready to release an EP in 2022. Even though their path is different from that of Stone’s, they agree that women-to-women mentorship and collaboration have been key to their success.
“If you're the only person or if you're the only woman [in a space], some people don't like to share the knowledge because they feel like they work so hard to get there, and there's a little ego,” Breezy says. “You can't have an ego. Just [own] the space that you want to be in and figure out ways to put in those hours so that you can continue to be greater.”
"Yes, you are supposed to be here.”
The shared experience of being the single woman in the room, or in some cases one in a handful at best, has not squashed any of the ladies’ hopes for the future. Women like Stone are passionate about making themselves seen and heard in those rooms as well as leaving the door open for others. The producer has worked with Working for Women and Grammy-winning mastering engineer Emily Lazar’s nonprofit We Are Moving the Needle.
“I feel like the ideal future would be having that equality—total equality in participation, seeing that inclusiveness in the credits, [and] the making of music,” Stone says. “Also, equal pay and making sure it's a safe space for women in general.”
Another necessity: recognition. In 2018, Venezuelan producer, songwriter, and musician Linda Briceño became the first woman to take home the Latin Grammy for Producer of the Year. (The first woman ever nominated in the category was Italian singer-songwriter Laura Pausini.) In the U.S., a few women have received Grammy nominations for Producer of the Year, but none has taken home the coveted prize. In 2021, Toronto-based hip-hop producer WondaGurl made history when she became the first Black woman to win Producer of the Year in Canada’s Juno Awards.
The lack of women producers of colour winning awards, gaining recognition for their work, or becoming household names like Tainy, Sky Rompiendo, or Swizz Beatz paints an image that only men are or can be music producers, further facilitating the gender disparity in the industry.
“When it comes to anything where you don't see a lot of people who look like you in the space, you feel like, ‘should I do this,’ ‘am I able to do this,’ and ‘am I supposed to be here,” Coco says. She replies to herself, and all emerging women producers: “Yes, you are supposed to be here.”