Music recording

Women-led music recording studio arrives in Des Moines

The Grammy Awards in 1975 created the “Producer of the Year” award – an opportunity to recognize the brightest minds behind the most prolific songs of the year.

Each year since, The Recording Academy, the group behind the biggest night of music, presented a gold-plated gramophone trophy to the backstage production leader of the year.

In those 43 years, how many women have won? Zero.

Sara Routh, Programming Director for Girls Rock Des Moines;  Jeff Young, owner of the former Franklin Junior High School building;  and Jen Carruthers, Vice President of Girls Rock Des Moines, take a photo at the old school on September 17, 2018.

Opening a recording studio in Des Moines wants to help change that.

Girls rock! Des Moines, the local branch of an international non-profit organization that encourages young women through songwriting and music education, plans to open a female-run educational recording center in 2019, the second of its kind in the country.

Studio Des Moines plans to offer middle-aged and high school girls the chance to learn the science behind record production, DJing, sound design and podcasting, organizers said, addressing the imbalance between genders in audio engineering and exposing young adults to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career opportunities.

In its sixth year, Girls Rock! Des Moines offers two annual local summer camps that teach girls ages 10 to 16 how to write, rehearse and perform original music. Each camp ends with a presentation at a local music club.

It’s a revolutionary time for women in music, said Sara Routh, director of the Girls Rock program, and opening an educational studio gives the next generation early exposure to industry technology.

“It all comes down to knowing that it’s available,” Routh said. “It’s a possibility, isn’t it?” … Something else to do, other than school. (That) you can spend time in the studio, make music.

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“Cut the barriers to access”

The project is entering an industry facing a deep gender imbalance. A 2016 survey by the Audio Engineering Society, reported by the Atlantic, showed that 7 percent of members of major trade associations identify as women. The company launched a diversity committee in 2017 to encourage wider membership.

And the Women’s Audio Mission says that number may be less, at around 5%. The first San Francisco-based, female-run, nonprofit recording studio trains about 1,500 women a year in audio science, with graduates holding positions at companies such as Google, Pixar and NPR.

The mission has created a network of women engineers who help aspiring professionals secure entry-level internships and jobs, said Angelo Duncan, Development and Communications Associate at Women’s Audio Mission.

“A lot of people ask the question: ‘Why is there this imbalance? “We’re just trying to reduce the barriers to access,” Duncan said. “When I was young, I didn’t know a lot about these careers. … (It’s) even about presenting them as possible career options and showing where the industry is going.

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Girls Rock Des Moines Programming Director Sara Routh, Franklin Junior High Owner Jeff Young and Girls Rock Des Moines Vice President Jen Carruthers take a photo at Franklin Junior High on September 17, 2018.

Part of the imbalance stems from a “good ol ‘boys club” mentality, said Karrie Keyes, longtime instructor engineer for Pearl Jam. For example, live sound employers might have an unconscious bias that women can’t carry heavy equipment, Keyes said.

Keyes founded SoundGirls.org in 2013, an organization that provides resources and networking to women in professional audio.

A Girls Rock studio could be a space for women to create art without being subjected to harassment at work, she said.

“These spaces and businesses allow women to be in charge and write their own rules and that adds diversity to a profession that is sorely lacking in diversity,” Keyes said via email.

Similar to the women’s audio mission, Girls Rock! Des Moines plans to offer audio lessons year round: Recording 101, Creating Rhythms, and Experimenting with Sound, to begin with.

Studio classes showcase STEM opportunities outside of the classroom, said Jen Carruthers, Vice President of Girls Rock! Board of Directors of the Monks.

In Iowa, 43% of high school girls meet standards for college preparation tests in math and science, compared to 53% of senior men, according to a 2017 study. Eight percent of high school graduates interested in STEM said they were more interested in technology and engineering, compared to 38% of men in this criterion.

“In an area where it’s male dominated, if you don’t involve young women, we’re going to continue to see that happen,” Carruthers said.

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Franklin Junior High, Girls Rock Des Moines' new home, September 17, 2018.

Start-up funds

Girls rock! Des Moines raised $ 20,000 – $ 10,000 from a Variety Children’s Charitable Grant and $ 10,000 from local entrepreneur Jeff Young – to begin building the studio in the old Franklin Junior High School building.

Young owns the building, which he plans to turn into a boutique hotel and entertainment space. A local music fan who hopes to one day host performances of Girls Rock in the building, Young has offered to donate the studio space and cover the costs of the renovation, letting Girls Rock purchase software and recording equipment. .

Routh and Carruthers know that $ 20,000 won’t fund everything; the group plans to continue fundraising next year. Long-term goals include hiring an in-house engineer and offering revenue-based recording sessions, inviting all members of the community to use the space.

And, with the opening slated for 2019, it could be the start of a studio that will someday cultivate an award-winning producer.

“(A studio) the next step for us,” said Routh. “We don’t want (the girls) to have these magical two weeks of camp, have a showcase, produce a record and never see each other again.”


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