Women behind the boards at recording studios is hardly a new phenomenon. Susan Rogers famously engineered some of Prince’s most beloved albums in the 1980s; Linda Perry first made a name for herself as a producer at the turn of the millennium; there wasn’t a console Imogen Heap didn’t command; and, last year, Emily Lazar became the first woman to win a Grammy for mastering engineering.
While the world of audio engineering still tilts disproportionally towards men (only 2% of working music producers are female), lately more women with more diversity are injecting fresh blood into a niche profession that is only growing in importance along with the constant need for content. Here are five leadings ladies manning the boards.
Yang Tan, or “Young Tan” as she is sometimes called by her co-workers at Paramount Studio in Hollywood, has a unique background as a specialist in recording orchestral arrangements (she worked with the Chinese National Orchestra back in her native China), but the now Los Angeles-based engineer has become a favorite of urban artists lately. Tan has worked with such names as YG, Wale, Kanye West and J. Cole over the past few years, and the 28-year-old has recently moved into K-pop. “I just finished mixing an album for a K-pop artist Jackson Wang from Got 7,” she tells Variety (Tan is a mixer as well as a vocal engineer). Tan says she likes to work fast, which artists often appreciate in the studio. “I love to do vocal producing and I will constantly be editing their vocals in real time as they record,” she says. “What I usually like to do is make the demos as good as possible that night [of the recording].”
Best known as the co-founder of Jungle City studios in New York, where everyone from Justin Timberlake to Depeche Mode has laid down track, Ann Mincieli is herself a gifted recording guru. She has won multiple Grammy Awards for her work with Alicia Keys, with who, she has a longtime studio relationship that continues to this day. Says Mincieli: “The best thing about [being an engineer] is being able to trade gear in for even older gear to paint the sonic picture for each song.”
Maria Elisa Ayerbe
Miami-based Maria Elisa Ayerbe may be new to the proverbial “scene,” but she has been perfecting her craft both in the U.S. and abroad for over a decade. The Colombian born audio professional honed her engineering skills near Nashville, where she procured a master’s degree at Middle Tennessee State University, then the 35-year-old went on to work with Julio Reyes Copello at his Art House studio in Miami. There, she did everything from comp vocals for Laura Pausini, to record Latin giants like Juanes. Ayerbe was recently honored by the Latin Recording Academy as one of four “Leading Ladies of Entertainment.”
A credit on a No. 1 hit can change a career. Just ask Kesha Lee whose work capturing vocals on Migos and Lil Uzi Vert’s “Bad and Boujee” launched her bookings into overdrive. The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media alumni counts Childish Gambino and Gucci Mane among the artists she’s worked with. In 2018, she landed on Forbes Magazine’s ’30 Under 30’ list and was awarded the top engineer award Spotify’s Secret Genius event.
The Grammy-nominated engineer and vocal producer, who has worked on records for Cardi B and Camila Cabello, has a stellar reputation and was most recently credited on Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Normani’s “Bad To You” from the Grande-produced “Charlie’s Angels” soundtrack (she worked on Normani’s vocals on the track). “The engineer’s job is to help bridge the gap between the technical side and the creative side,” the Atlanta-based 26-year-old tells Variety. The Berklee college of music graduate is known for her deft touch when it comes to working on vocal production directly with artists. “The trust between a vocalist and their vocal producer is of the utmost importance,” she adds.