Terri Winston is the Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Audio Mission (WAM), a San Francisco/Oakland-based nonprofit organization that works to close the critical gender gap in creative technology careers. With programs suited for children and adults, WAM addresses two key issues: less than 5% of the people creating sounds in media around us are women/gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals, and there has been a 70% decline in women/girls enrolling in STEM programs since the year 2000. In addition to training programs, WAM is home to the only professional recording studio built and run entirely by women/GNC individuals. Winston has thirty years experience as a songwriter, composer, recording engineer, and producer, and was a tenured Professor and Director of the Sound Recording Arts Program at City College in San Francisco when she founded WAM in 2003. She currently serves on the Recording Academy’s (Grammy’s) National Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and The Academy of Country Music’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.
Women’s Audio Mission has given over 5,000 classes to 20,000 women/girls/GNC people. What types of projects have your graduates have worked on?
WAM is home to the only professional recording studios in the world built and run by women and gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals, and this has resulted in getting hundreds of women/GNC engineers and producers critical professional credits on big projects like recording Kronos Quartet, St. Lawrence String Quartet, Angelique Kidjo, Beyonce’s Band, Margaret Cho, Tune-Yards, Neko Case for the Podcast Song Exploder, and many more. In addition, we’re extremely proud to have placed over 875+ grads in audio and creative technology careers, including at companies like Dolby, Pixar, Sony, and Pandora.
Can you tell us about some of the programs offered by Women’s Audio Mission?
We have five core programs that reach over 4,000 women/girls/Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) Individuals every year.
1) Girls on the Mic classes reach over 3,000+ girls and non-binary youth ages 11-18 with award-winning music technology studies that inspires them to amplify their voices.
2) WAM Core Classes offer certificate training programs in audio production, recording arts, live sound, and electronic music production for women/GNC individuals.
3) Local Sirens Recording Residency and Concert Series provides local Bay Area women and GNC artists the opportunity to create and record new work in WAM’s studios and perform at WAM’s Quarterly Concerts.
4) WAMCon Conferences bring an immersive recording arts conference to over 1,200 attendees across four cities, and now virtually and globally.
5) The WAM Internship Program provides professional development, mentorship, and job placement services to 30-40 early career professionals each year.
What called you to create Women’s Audio Mission in 2003 when you already had a successful career as an artist, recording engineer, and professor?
When I started as a professor at City College of San Francisco and kept getting asked by students, “Why are there so few women in this field?” I had been in the recording industry for over 15 years at that point and was ashamed to admit that I hadn’t noticed just how few women were in this industry. I could count on one hand the number of women recording engineers I knew, and I knew that if I wasn’t thinking about this, probably no one else was either.
I really started to examine this and realized that it isn’t just about the massive gender inequity–it deeply affects all of the music, media, and messaging that we consume every day. That set the course for me to re-create what made me enter this industry. My father was an engineer, and I was raised in his lab constantly surrounded by technology, but also music–basically now my two favorite things. WAM provides that technology-fueled environment in the form of recording studios, where women, girls, and GNC folks can really dream big, as well as the necessary support and encouragement from our training and mentoring programs.
Are women/GNC people facing different challenges in the industry today compared with when you founded Women’s Audio Mission 17 years ago?
Women and GNC folks are still extremely underrepresented–less than 5% of the industry. The USC Annenberg Study put it at 2-3%, so the need for this work is just as urgent as ever. The good news is that people are finally understanding that it is no longer an option to ignore prioritizing equity and inclusion in the industry, and we’re seeing a lot of important conversations happening right now.
Part of that work for WAM is about advocacy, and we always bring our strong commitment to both gender equity and anti-racist work wherever we’re at the table. I’m currently serving on the Recording Academy’s (Grammy’s) National Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and The Academy of Country Music’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, and continuing to push for changes at the national level. From this work, we are for the first time seeing 50% women/GNC folks on nominating committees for GRAMMY awards, as well as being featured in both awards shows. WAM has also continually advocated to get more women engineers/producers featured at our industries conferences, hosting numerous women-centric panels at SXSW, the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention, and NAMM.
In addition to hiring women/GNC individuals for our own recording projects, what can members of the music community do to address the gender gap in creative technology and digital media production?
I really have to underscore the importance of making sure recording, production, and live sound crews on projects include women/GNC and BIPOC folks, because we still see most people ignoring this. But also, make sure you become a WAM member or ally! We have professional and student memberships for women and GNC folks, and we also have an ally membership for our male allies who want to support and amplify this work. Follow us on social and share our messages out to your communities. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to celebrate women/GNC producers and engineers and change the narrative around who can create the media, music, and messages we hear everyday.
Once women and GNC folks get in the door, studios and companies need to create a culture of belonging so that people stay there and feel valued. There are so many incredibly talented women, GNC, and BIPOC audio professionals out there, Grammy-winning folks that have worked with everyone from Beyonce to the New York Philharmonic, that we all need to center and celebrate! We’re hopeful the changes we’re pushing for now, “changing the face of sound,” will make for a much different looking industry in the near future.
UNEVEN MEASURES is a series dedicated to amplifying today’s women, trans, and nonbinary artists on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This series is made possible through a generous grant from The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc. to the American Composers Forum and their partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. The Sorel Organization is committed to supporting gender equity in music and addressing systemic inequities by providing greater visibility for women musicians from underrepresented communities.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is a program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. Editorial decisions are made at the sole discretion of the editor-in-chief. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.