Paula Wolfe Q&A

Paula Wolfe, author of Women in the Studio, discusses her publication which explores the issues that many female figures face within the music industry. 

Congratulations on the publication of your book Women in the Studio, what do you want your audience to take away from the book?

An awareness of the role self-production has played in the huge shifts that have taken place in the music industry over the last 15 - 20 years. Also, a sense of how it forms an important part of a much bigger conversation about the ways in which we create and the role gender has played in terms of how the music industry has received and represented creative women in popular music.

What inspired you to write this book?

It has been a natural progression. I first became aware of many of the issues the book addresses as a young artist but it was when I started to twin my practice with research that it became very apparent that self-production was the next big chapter in the long history of the ways women in popular music have responded to working in highly gendered arenas and to subsequent marginalisation. As an MA morphed into many conference papers, then a PhD, more conference papers, an article, two chapters in edited volumes, further conference papers and then the book itself, the core argument for creative control has strengthened with each wave of new developments within the industry that the book charts.
Two-part question: a) What are the main developments in research that you’re seeing in your subject area of expertise?

The same core question has been repeated in scholarship and in the industry throughout the period of my research, ie, why are there so few female music producers? In the last 2 -3 years, however, there has been a notable growth in support of the issue from industry trade bodies. There has also been more calls for music production and gender-related papers and chapters, so things are progressing here as well. In addition, there has been a steady growth of interest among students, though this is also a reflection of the growth of music production degree courses.

b) How does your book relate to these recent developments?

I have been watching these developments unfold both within the industry and within scholarship - whilst simultaneously producing and releasing my own music – and have been charting them and then fitting them into the overall narrative of the book. Therefore, within what has effectively been a twenty year time frame, I have observed periodic spikes of interest in music production, the music industry and gender and I have examined each one in turn. The last notable spike was last year, 2018, and so it seemed a very fitting point at which to (finally) close this chapter (forgive the pun) in this long tale I’ve been telling for quite a while now.
What audience did you have in mind whilst writing you book?

Well, due to the industry facing nature of the book, I suppose I’ve had in mind a whole range of industry professionals, within both the creative and business sectors, that might find the research interesting as well as music production scholars and feminist popular music scholars.
What makes your book stand out from its competitors?
Simply that it offers a perspective of both an insider and that of an academic in all the key areas that constitutes a career in today’s music industry, in particular within the UK independent sector. I’ve observed, and at times participated in (and endlessly recorded!) high-level core debates that have accompanied each phase of the shifts that have taken place in the industry as a direct result of the developments in digital recording technology, digital marketing technology and digital distribution technology. This has not only given me access to important industry players (some of whom took part of the research as interview participants) but has allowed me to bring back to scholarship a long term view by positioning their contributions within a pretty extensive time frame.
Is there one piece of research included in the book which surprised you or challenged your previous understanding of the topic?
No. Every piece of research has simply reinforced the core argument that I’ve known since I started producing my own songs: creative control makes everything happen that you want to happen, even if it takes a while! As I’ve got older, I’ve also come to realise how your own creativity protects you.
What did you enjoy about writing the book?
Just seeing it finally start to work as a coherent narrative that tells the story of the situation of women in popular music who, in a particular period of change and flux, take creative control of their sound.

What is your academic background?

PhD Music (University of Liverpool)
MA Contemporary Arts (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Post-Graduate Certificate of Education in English and Drama (University of Manchester)
BA (Joint Hons.) English and Spanish (University of Hull)

What is innovative about your research?

Although I do not refer directly to my own practice as a self-producing artist working within the UK independent sector, it informs all that I do. Being known as both an artist and a researcher within the industry serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it establishes a level of professional trust so that individuals are happy to talk to me. Secondly, my understanding of the creative processes, as well as of the issues accompanying the marketing of popular music , then allows me an insider’s view that helps to facilitate the conversations that take place.

Who has influenced you the most?

The late Sheila Whiteley for her commitment, passion and kindness in championing the work of women, both within popular music and within academia.

What do you think are your most significant research accomplishments?

Capturing important conversations at key moments in this important transitional phase in the music industry and giving them their due place in the story, from a feminist perspective.

Tell us an unusual fact about yourself and your teaching or writing style?

I’ve always felt (not based on any scientific knowledge of course!) that music production and academic writing use the same bit of the brain. In music production, that reaching for the absolute right sound on a given track to sonically communicate your intended meaning has always felt to me on an equal par with reaching for those connections in research and constructing a sentence to effectively communicate your intended meaning. In the book I establish an analogy between Coleridge’s famous definition of poetry (‘the best words in their best order’) with music production (the best sounds in their best order) – but you could easily extend the analogy to academic writing.

What advice would you give to an aspiring researcher in your field?

Be thorough and professional in all you do – and reference properly! I come across a lot of undergrad and postgrad essays that don’t look back far enough or wide enough and don’t acknowledge the important work that feminist popular music scholars have been doing for a very long time.

Do you have plans for future books?

Yes, a book of poetry.

What do you feel has been a highlight for you, in your career?

Getting my first 4 star rating from MOJO, closely followed by getting the PhD.

What do you see yourself doing in ten years' time?

Still excited by creating and producing music, still passionate about writing about the things that I see take place in the industry, still eager to share ideas with students and colleagues alike, still throwing myself down mountains in the winter and climbing up them in the summer.

What is the last book you read (non-academic)?

Milkman by Anna Burns.

Anything else you would like to add? 

In the book, I reference some older research that readers might find interesting:
Wolfe, P. 2018. ‘An indestructible sound’: Locating Gender in Genre. In Bennett, S. and Bates, E., eds., Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound (Bloomsbury Academic, New York)
Wolfe, P. 2016. ‘I write the songs. He’s the eye candy’: the female singer-songwriter, the woman artist-producer and the British Broadsheet Press. In Green. S and Marc. I., eds., The Singer-Songwriter in Europe: Politics, Paradigms and Place (Routledge, London, New York)
Wolfe, P. 2012. A Studio of One’s Own: music production, technology and gender.
Journal on The Art of Record Production, Issue 7.

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Paula Wolfe