Where are the Women?

My first semester “Introduction to Audio Engineering” course has 40 students. I’ve been a faculty member in the California State University system since 1978 and a full time, tenured professor in charge of the Audio Recording area at the Dominguez Hills campus for over 20 years. As you might expect, during all of those years the gender balance has skewed heavily male. Of course, there have been a few female students in our program but the numbers have always been small…I think the most I’ve had in one class was 4 a few years ago…until this term.

There are 7 female students in the class this term. And while that’s still a long way from parity with the guys, it is the most that I’ve ever had. There are two international students…one from the UK and another from France. These ladies came a very long way to be part of our program and are doing very well! The other female students are also working hard to succeed in the class. And it is a tough program. As you might expect, I’m considered a very tough instructor by the students (I think that’s probably true). However, the new cohort accepted the challenge, busted their buns studying and 11 students received an “A” on the midterm exam. I’ve never given that many before…and 3 of them went to the ladies. I’m very impressed with this group!

Audio engineering does contain a reasonable amount of technical knowledge but at my institution it’s doesn’t require a lot of math or physics knowledge. I tell my students that “no prior experience” is required to succeed in the program. I assure them that I will provide all of the information that they will need to succeed in the class AND hopefully secure a job in the industry. Of course, it does require that they attend class, take comprehensive notes and study hard for the exams. And the women can certainly learn the subject just as well as the men…but there are always less of them.

Perhaps there are not enough female audio engineering professionals to inspire these young women. If you look at the cover of MIX magazine or read the credits of your favorite albums, there aren’t a lot of prominent lady engineers. But they are out there. I ran into my friend Leslie Ann Jones, the Head Audio Engineer at the Lucas Facilities in northern California, and of course, I’ve mentioned my friend Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records previously on this site. When I was invited to give the keynote address at the Latin American Audio Engineering Society in Bogota, Columbia a few years ago, I met a number of very talented female engineers. I’ve managed to stay in touch with a few of them. And Martha de Francisco is a faculty member at the prestigious McGill University in audio recording as well as a successful independent audio professional. She was there too.

I think the trend is positive. The CSUDH Digital Media Arts area will be looking for a new faculty member next spring and I will be very proactive in encouraging women to apply for the job. Having positive role models for all students helps to inspire them to achieve. And the more ladies that are involved in the profession, the more it might invigorate women to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

I love it when I get comments from the guys saying something to the effect that “even the ladies in their lives were drawn into the recordings” when they usually don’t care at all about audio fidelity. There’s still hope.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

6 thoughts on “Where are the Women?

  • Robert

    Interesting and one hopes the women entering this industry do have a real interest in music as opposed to a number of men currently, who go into the music industry, whether producing or mixing live concerts I’ve met who honestly don’t own a Hi-Fi, never played an instrument and lucky to own a CD but may have mp3 downloads on an Ipod. Some off these characters think its all glamour I suppose and hope to rub shoulders some day with the stars. The number of live concerts I’ve witnessed and the sound was appalling pays testament to this let alone poor studio recordings.
    Here is an interesting article on women producers: http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2003/apr/producers/

  • Gordon

    I found the content of your most recent article profoundly depressing! Men and women have different aptitudes and interests. The reason there are fewer women in the audio engineering field is simply because it is of less interest to them. There is a disturbing tendency to ‘roll the red carpet out’ for women, encouraging them to join fields that don’t interest many of them. This is particularly true where the jobs pay well. By contrast, fields that are dominated by women, are not pushed as a good occupation for men.
    This leads to increasing one-way discrimination against men in many areas.
    Women don’t need more preferential treatment in further education! Merit should be the only important factor, not someone’s genitalia. By all means, please draw the faculty post to the attention of any candidates you think are suitable, but please don’t push discrimination against the men!

    • Gordon…I don’t think I stated anywhere in the post that I give women “preferential treatment” nor do I lower the bar in my classes for the ladies (just ask any of the current female students). There may be systemic reasons why females don’t gravitate to audio engineering not just because they “have different aptitudes and interests”. I can assure you that the women that I’ve known who are successful engineers have an aptitude for the subject AND the interest. When asked how they became interested in the subject, many reply because they love music, had someone in their life encourage them to pursue an education in the field and because they had teachers and professors that were gender neutral in their career advice. I believe that’s how it should be.

      There’s nothing in my post about “rolling out a red carpet” or doing anything else that would treat females any differently than the guys in regards to the class, tests, lab projects or in hiring a new faculty member. I was judged on my background, education, experience and abilities…the same will be true for any prospective new hire at the school. However, I will notify my network of associates about the job AND make sure that women are encouraged to apply. But I think that’s what I said yesterday.

      • Gordon

        My comment was largely a reference to a general societal push to advance women, at the expense of men. I have no problem with the idea that the women on your course are able. Nor am I suggesting that you give them an easy ride with regards to course work. You are however, choosing to make a point of encouraging women. If this situation were reversed, and you were making a point of encouraging the men; this would rightly be considered discriminatory!
        This is an article I’ve just read that touches upon this issue:
        I live in the UK, hence its focus on Britain. The US is as bad, or worse, in these matters. e.g. Title IX

  • steviev

    Audio engineering and production are typically freelance or piece-work jobs, and demand entrepreneurship, right? So that means, at least here in the US, that you don’t get medical care insurance or paid time off as benefits, and these are the two hugest concerns of 99% of working women. Women aren’t really interested in working, in my experience; they’re interested in going to the doctor and getting paid (or unpaid) time off to care for the health of their self, their children, parents, pets, and extended family. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a woman at work say “The pay here is [expletive], but the bennies are great, and that’s why I keep working here.”

    Also, women aren’t interested in audio engineering because it’s a nerdish, wonky, beta-male type of profession. Women, when they’re not obsessing over their job’s “bennies,” desperately want to brag about their job, and that means: doctor, lawyer, and/or upper management, etc. It’s a form of projection in which she brags about and concerns herself with the things she would like to have in a husband (so she could brag about him to her girlfriends, sisters, and mom), and so she thinks men will be impressed that she’s a [prestigious job title]. It’s delusion, though.

    Also, women generally prefer to deal with people and soft, warm, fuzzy things, and generally do NOT want to deal with objects and gizmos — that’s beta male stuff.

  • Robert W.

    @STEVIEV: Your generalizations, fabrications, stereotypes and biases both reveal your ignorance and obscure the fact that the post was simply a factual observation that women are finding yet another profession at which they can excel. Their entry into countless new-to-them fields over the past decade has been brought about by technology, increased education, and changing societal values and possibilities… but not a change in their abilities or IQ––that was never required.

    It sounds like you are 100% satisfied with all aspects of your employment––that’s great, but most people are not. And having good insurance these days is a fully justified reason to keep a job––ask my son-in-law who manages a national fast-food restaurant.

    Given the facts that more women graduate from college than men, that women are filling an increasing number of CEO positions, and that they have successfully entered nearly every occupation, then there’s no question, unless you are a professional sperm donor, why you have every reason to worry about losing your job to a chick––any chick.


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