Meet nine non-binary and women musicians who produce and mix their own work
There aren't a lot of musicians who produce their own work, let alone mix it too. Here are nine musicians - all female-identifying or non-binary - who buck this trend.
Article written by Becki Whitton, who makes brilliant music as Aphir.
One of the best things about my work as an audio engineer is getting to see the rich multitude of ways it’s possible to work as a musician. Every artist adds different strengths to their songwriting and musicianship - some are compelling leaders, co-ordinating large teams to work on their vision, some have lush visual artistic work that they integrate with their music, some bring in dance and physical movement, some have a genius that lies in technical experimentation and the use of tools like machine learning.
Developing an ear for production and mixing is another unique skill that artists can bring to their craft, but one that tends to be either overlooked entirely, or assumed to be strictly the province of men. In my experience working in the industry, however, I’ve discovered that these skills are anything but rare amongst non-binary people and women who make music.
It’s easy enough to trace this lack of visibility - a behind-the-scenes skill coupled with a generally less visible gender identity suggests a fast track to an artist’s strengths going unacknowledged. It’s important to shed light on these skills and the gender minority artists who are practising them, though, to empower more artists to embrace mixing and production as a joyfully rewarding ‘side strength’ to their musical work.
Production and mixing can be hard to talk about with people who aren’t familiar with the music-making process. When talking to people outside of that world I’m often asked what the difference is between these two skills, so I want to provide a quick outline as a helpful context for these artists’ strengths.
The term ‘production’ generally refers to the creative choices around the arrangement of a song: the decisions that are made around what instruments will be introduced and when, and what kind of emotional expression and tonal quality they will have. This often goes hand in hand with the technical skill of using music software, but the role of ‘producer’ tends to be allocated on the basis of who is calling the creative shots rather than who is programming notes into Ableton. There can be a strong overlap between production and mixing in the crafting of sounds in a piece of music - both roles involve making choices about how the different parts of an arrangement will sound - but while a producer generally focuses on creative choices, a mix engineer is more concerned with the more technical process of making sure that a song translates on a range of different playback systems, and familiarity with music software programs such as Pro Tools, Logic, or Ableton, is necessary.
The artists highlighted here are just a few of the many who are practising both these skills in Australia, and it is a list which will continue to grow.
Evelyn Ida Morris (Pikelet)
Before the pandemic hit I was very lucky to be sharing a studio with Evelyn, and the opportunity to share our work, as well as feedback and encouragement, has been deeply valuable to me. As well as their solo projects under their own name and Pikelet, for which they are best known, Evelyn has also received an ARIA nomination for their film composition work, and their sensibility for creating a cinematic sound world carries through to their mixing and production practice. Evelyn is a master of creating dimension and texture in a piece of music while paying all respect to the raw feeling motivating it.
Last year Sandy hung out with me in the studio for a bit, watched me mix one of the tracks on her EP (She Comes To Me In A Fever Dream), and then confidently polished off all the rest of the mixes herself. I’m in awe of her quick ear and the emotional insight present in her songwriting and production style. She has often spoken in interviews about how her lyrics are the mainstay of her work, and her approach to both mixing and production always honours the importance of her voice and her story.
Lonelyspeck is already respected internationally for their emotionally honest songwriting and the elegant synthesis of genre influences captured in their production, but I want to draw attention to their mixing, which is often overlooked. It takes a really intuitive ear to make blending elements of diverse genres (in this case PC-pop and nu-metal) feel true to their traditional roots while also feeling cohesive, and Lonelyspeck’s work achieves that in a truly moving way.
Arrom is one of the most underrated mix engineers in the country, with two largely self-mixed LPs and a 7-track EP to her name. Her production style is deeply textural and experimental, supporting her Bjork-reminiscent voice, and her mixes are exquisite, showcasing all the potential drama and nuance of her careful arrangements.
Lack the Low
No one other than the artist herself could venture to produce and mix Lack The Low’s work. She is a self-described math-rock influenced maximalist orchestral composer and, embedded in the adoring praise on Bandcamp for her 2018 record One Eye Closed are statements like “Phew, this album surely is demanding”.
It takes real technical ability to make so many layers of strings and horn parts and syncopated drums have their own distinct space and emotion in a mix, but Lack the Low’s uncompromising vision demands that space they shall have, and cathartic tears we shall cry when we hear how it all comes together.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how the pressure of making music in a capitalist system robs artists of a certain innocent joy that could accompany the release of new songs. We feel the need to strategise about the best way to release a track and to wait until the right moment in the hopes that a broader audience will hear what we have to offer, when often our first instincts are often to show people what we’ve made in that same moment it first feels complete and worthy of pride.
NAIF doesn’t give a fuck about that kind of pressure, or if they do it doesn’t show. The prolific regularity of their releases has an organic honesty to it - you can tell they are singing about very recently-felt emotions, and the strength of the mixing and production on their recent LP i am plenty comes from the way it perfectly corresponds with the simple, beautiful humanity of their lyrics.
Sia's journey as a producer and mix engineer has followed a winding path. Establishing herself over a decade ago as a respected pillar of the DIY scene in Australia, Sia produced and mixed her own work for many years, as well as mixing many of the releases on her Canberra-based label, hellosQuare. In recent years she has taken a step back from mixing (her most recent solo album, "quiver", was mixed by a number of other engineers) to focus instead on touring and honing her craft as a frontwoman. However, her forthcoming album, A Body Full of Tears - to be released under her new moniker, Sia Xray - returns to her DIY roots and is a self-produced, self-mixed sound world of lush and gritty industrial beats.
Elise Reitze-Swensen of Feels was nominated for a AWMA Award for studio engineering in 2019, and the accolade was well deserved. Elise and her collaborator Rosie produce all of Feels’ tracks together, and Elise was responsible for mixing all the instrumental songs on their debut LP, Water Level. Her voice as a producer and mix engineer is distinct and fresh - Elise’s work is consistently danceable, bright and clean and her ear is finely attuned to a modern pop sound.
I can’t stop thinking about how Tamara Valmar (who previously released music under the moniker of Freya) literally sounds like a five piece band that got in the studio with an expensive producer, when she is in fact one individual person. Tamara’s mixing skill makes all the elements of her lush pop arrangements feel effortlessly cohesive, letting the production take you into a dreamy and nostalgic space.