To be female or to be an engineer? ~ with Gabi Grella

Greetings, dear Tonemillers. We’ve had four weeks of reviews and insightful interviews with wonderful musicians and industry professionals, but now it’s time to talk about the pink elephant in the studio.

You’ve probably noticed (unless you’re gender-blind in which case…what?) that certain professions are more male-dominated than others and vice versa. Our wacky, wonderful and weird music industry is certainly no exception to the rule. Most would agree that the music industry as a whole (including instrumentalists) is heavier on the male side (we could pull a bunch of statistics and bla bla, but we’re assuming you’ve gone to at least three gigs and therefore know what we’re talking about). Today we’re zooming in on one sector of the music industry, namely the world of music tech. For some reason, music has earned a reputation as being a…well, a toxic male environment (hey you said it, not us!…but we also say it). Is there truth to this? Are women underrepresented, or simply unwelcomed altogether? Or is this just an unrevised common belief that has yet to be updated to 2020 standards?

Gabi Grella

Your Tonemamas want answers to these questions so we decide to talk with Gabi Grella – she is a 21-year old singer, songwriter and mastering engineer from New Jersey currently finishing up a degree at the Clive Davis Institute. She is also part of Sterling Sound, which for the non-mastering Tonemillers out there (yep, that includes us) is a pretty big deal in the mastering world. While at Clive Davis, she met Chris Gehringer who is a grammy-winning senior mastering engineer at the institute’s high school summer program while taking a tour of the Stering Sound building. 

“Being there and hearing him talk about mastering, I found myself being very drawn to it! And I didn’t even know what mastering was before this!” she laughingly tells us. 

Soon after, Gehringer took her under his wing and it wasn’t long before Grella became a regular at Sterling. 

We ask her why she thinks she was ‘chosen’ by Gehringer. 

“Well, I call it persistence, he would maybe call it annoying the crap out of him!” she answers, laughing again. Grella’s face lights up as she describes wearing Gehringer down until she created a new internship out of nonexistence, securing her a place within Sterling Sound’s four walls. As we admire her seemingly effortless attitude of self-sustaining motivation and paving her own way, our inner spice calls and we hunt out for some gossip stories about condescending middle-aged men. 

“So Gabi, in your experience, are there more men than women in music tech?”

“Definitely, the four chief engineers at Sterling Sound are all men,” she replies. “But! There are a lot of women! They are just not as well known.”

Sometimes, reality trumps spice.

“I used to feel very intimidated to be in such a male dominated field, but now I trust my own abilities and I trust that my colleagues see me as another engineer without the female prefix.”

And that prefix is certainly a weight to bear. 

We continue chatting and want to know if there have been certain scenarios where she feels her gender is being pointed out to her.

“I mean, some people are in the mindset, ‘that’s cute’, when I say I’m a mastering engineer and I don’t get the immediate respect that maybe a man would, but I can’t really think of any specific scenarios,” she acknowledges. 

Your Tonemamas are as surprised as you are, we were also fully expecting stories of her being mistaken as the secretary and being asked to run and get the grown men some coffee (internalized sexism is real…). 

Does Grella believe there is a toxic masculine culture in music tech in general, even if it doesn’t seem evident from her experience at Sterling Sound? Again, Grella confirms she has not experienced it first hand.

“White men were the standard for the longest time, they were used to those positions. Maybe I’m an optimist, but maybe they found themselves continuing being with other men unconsciously continuing like they were used to?”

What about generational differences – does she think sexism is more prevalent in the middle-aged boys club or does it waft through millennial male spaces also?

“I see a difference, but is it performative or not?” she questions. “How genuine is it? Do they actually believe it? I’ve definitely met people my age with all kinds of political belief systems and moral values. Men and women.”

“So Gabi, bringing it all together now: what is it like to be a woman in tech?” we ask in conclusion of our interview.

“I think it’s fun, it’s hard, and it’s difficult. But women are strong, just because it’s difficult, why would it deter us? We never let difficulty deter us before,” she articulates with a fire in her eyes that gives your Tonemamas goosebumps. 

“I do think the industry needs to do a better job of highlighting women, because there are a lot!” she continues. “I don’t want women to feel alone, I want to be a person who upcoming women and men can have a good relationship with. I know I’m knew to this, but I definitely see myself having a safe, and professional and legit place for people to grow!”

And just as we’re about to put our hands together for a rowdy applause, she leaves us with one final note: 

“Don’t be afraid to try it!” she ends in encouragement for all the young women seeking a place in the music techn world. “We can do it, a lot of times maybe even better than men. I can do what you can do, but in high heels!”

*Cue standing ovation.*

One that note, your Tonemamas wipe away a tear and stare briefly into the horizon where the future is female and it is loudly female. We may not be psychics, but we have no doubt that Grella will play a vital role in highlighting the invisible women of  the industry and create the vision she’s beautifully described to us. 

Follow Gabi Grella here

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