Women in Music: Ella, Veronica and Aldana
by Leah Devine and Ilaria Mangiardi
Women in Music is a MassiveMusic series, which celebrates and empowers women who are leading the way, creating equal opportunity and encouraging other women to pursue a career in music.
To say it’s been a difficult month is an understatement. A lot has changed since we began our celebratory series. We have had to adjust to a new way of living, loving (from afar) and working (from home). In times like these, we look to music.
For our third and final volume, we want to know all about the realities of starting from nothing, working 3 jobs and following your 8th-grade dream.
To answer our questions, we reached out to three women who are fighting for equal opportunity, encouraging gender diversity within the music industry. From Amsterdam to San Fran, this MassiveMusic series aims to share anecdotes, offer advice and encourage everybody to find what they love, and do it.
Word wizard and queen of noise, Ella is a music writer, promoter and UK in the field Artist Relations and Content Strategist for the legendary Orange Music Electronic Company. Born and bred in Bergen, Norway, she moved to London simply out of boredom and seeking something different. It seems she has thrived amongst the chaos and passion in the big city, as she’s thrown herself into the music world and landed on both feet (in a Lemmy Kilmister inspired pair of boots).
Audio engineer and studio manager at Women’s Audio Mission, an organisation based in the rolling hills of San Francisco that provides training for over 1,500 women every year globally. Since launching in 2003, WAM has successfully placed more than 500 women in paid positions, with clients including Pixar, Comedy Central, Google, Dolby and many more. Veronica specialises in recording, editing, and mixing a large variety of audio including (but not limited to): audiobooks, podcasts, all genres of music and voiceovers.
A lover of music and art, with a background in TV and commercial production, Aldana is our powerhouse producer at the GINGER x MassiveMusic office in Berlin. She spent the first 5 years of her career working with musicians and artists at MTV. A time full of unforgettable memories like when she interviewed Adam Levine – apparently their love story didn’t work out because he was already dating a Victoria’s Secret model.
Tell us about your relationship with music: where did it all begin and where is it now?
ELLA: Music has been a part of my life from a very young age, and it’s pretty much all thanks to my Dad. He’s massively into hard rock and punk, with my earliest musical memories being of him playing me Motörhead and Ramones. He introduced me to Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Roger Waters & Pink Floyd, which opened a lot of musical doors in my mind.
At this point, the internet was becoming ‘a thing’ which gave me the accessibility and freedom to find music on my own. QOTSA’s ‘Songs for the Deaf’ and Muse’s ‘Origin of Symmetry’ and ‘Absolution’ were all massive turning points. Around this time, I also discovered Hendrix and Zeppelin, who just absolutely blew my mind.
How were you introduced to sound engineering?
VERONICA: I grew up playing the cello and have always been intrigued by music and technology. I was introduced to sound engineering back in 8th grade when I was assigned to handling the sound for our middle school musical. Once the show was over, my music teacher explained to me that I could turn this job into a career.
So you knew from an early age that this was something you wanted to pursue?
VERONICA: I guess so. After the discussion with my teacher, I started looking more into audio, doing my research and trying to get a better understanding. Throughout high school, I made it a priority to familiarise myself with technology.
When I found out that I could study audio in college, I knew instantly that was what I was going to do! I studied Recording Arts at Indiana University and have been working in audio ever since. Some of the clients that I have worked with include National Geographic, Salesforce, Dipsea, Hachette Publishing, Macmillan Publishing, Song Exploder, Transmitter Media, and Investigation Discovery.
ALDANA: Inequality no longer has the shock factor, it’s just disappointing. Unfortunately, it is very prominent within the music industry as men remain very dominant in most roles in this business. The art world (music, film, fine arts) is an extremely competitive field but, besides that, women are judged in a more severe way on their image. We need to go through the ‘image filter’ and all the archaic preconceptions in order to be accepted.
A great example is the ‘Be a lady they said’ video narrated by the legendary Cynthia Nixon, were to be a woman is just a bunch of contradictions.
People should consider according to their talent, strengths and merits and not based on their gender. Many times and in many companies, women are hired just to meet the establishment of diversity and inclusion, not because of their talent. It is not a genuine recruit.
I was lucky, although I hate to use the word lucky in this context, to meet incredible professionals, colleagues and mentors who gave me an opportunity and respected me. However, this does not mean that I do not see the disadvantages of being a woman in the music industry. Despite this, I’m remaining optimistic. We’re already part of the change
You’re now working for Orange Amps, where did your journey in music start?
ELLA: Well, as far as education goes, I sucked at school and hated every second. I dropped out before even graduating. I knew that, whatever I’d end up doing, it wouldn’t be something I’d have learnt in a classroom. However, I did always enjoy writing, so I started my own music blog which led to writing gigs for various websites and online magazines. I had no idea what I was doing but I enjoyed it.
Eventually, I struck gold when I was introduced to Charlie Cooper, the Marketing Director at Orange Amps, back in 2015. They were looking for writers to conduct artist interviews and create content for their website, which I ended up doing on a freelance basis for four years. During this time, I also started working at The Great Frog where I worked my way up to Music Manager, before leaving in February.
As of March 2020, I took over the ‘in the field’ UK Artist Relations and Content Strategy role at Orange’s London head office, and this is where I’m at now. I’ve also been organising gigs and improv jam nights under The Jonesing Jams since 2017. It was an idea that came to mind after hanging out at friends rehearsal studios where people would just drink, jam, and have a good time.
So much great music came from it, and I thought it was a shame that no one ever heard it. There’ve been a couple of jam sessions where the musicians had never met prior to soundcheck, and I’m really stoked people are brave enough and down to get involved, it’s such a rad way to bring people together.
Approximately only 2% of music producers are female, why do you think this is?
VERONICA: I believe that there are more music producers and engineers working in this industry who are female or gender non-conforming than we think. Of course, there are evidently a lot more cis-male engineers and producers but, given where I work, the majority I know within the audio industry are women. All of the professionals who inspire me just happen to be fellow females who are working on major albums/projects that earn some of the top awards in the industry.
The major systems of media are slowly changing their ways and starting to acknowledge more women/GNC folk in the industry, which does help expose the work that they’re contributing to the world. There’s also a ton of organisations and networks (WAM included) that have been built over the years to try and improve this situation, aiming to educate women and GNC folk in the practice of audio.
The biggest challenge you’ve faced in your musical career?
ELLA: I’ve been incredibly lucky with the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve been given, but I’ve also worked my ass off. At one point I worked two poorly paid jobs alongside an unpaid internship so I could eat while also gaining some sort of relevant industry experience. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. I felt I had to put in twice the amount of work as my educated components.
What songs have been your motivation to get sh*t done?
ALDANA: It never fails to amaze me how music can give this sense of nostalgia, taking you back in time to a particular moment in your life, connecting you to people and places. Santigold’s self-titled album (2007) helped me during a period where I was working day and night on several productions. It gave me the power and strength I needed at the time. I still listen to it every now and then.
ELLA: Easy. ‘Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium’ by Rage Against The Machine. That shit gets me pumped like there’s no tomorrow. It’s so heavy, sleazy, funky, angry and delicious all at once, instant strut and instant confidence.
I got tickets to see them in Berlin on my birthday in September, they’re the only band I’ve never seen that I’ve been dying to catch for years. As soon as the ticket confirmation went through, I called my mum and cried like a baby with excitement.
Personal goals that you would like to achieve as a woman in music?
ELLA: This is a tough one. My main goal is to enjoy life. The fact that I get to work with something that I love pretty much covers it for me. I can’t ask for more as 50% of my job (while not in lockdown) consists of attending gigs and festivals. I’ve never been driven by the idea of creating a career for myself, I’m just here to have a good time. I love my job and what I do, which is all I ever wanted. That said, I guess I want my achievements to be recognised based on what they are, not my gender.
If you met an 18-year-old you, what would you say to her?
VERONICA: I would tell my younger self to be more confident. Speak up and believe in your abilities! You know what you’re doing and what you don’t know yet, you will learn eventually. You’re good at what you do and your passion for your work will transfer into your creative abilities. Just enjoy the process.
ALDANA: To manage anxiety. When you are young, you are impatient. You want everything now, you think that you know it all but actually you don’t and, most importantly, you don’t know how to manage the frustrations and the failures. I spent so much time being stressed and worried about things, I was unable to enjoy the unique experiences that this wonderful profession has given me.
So, I would say: you know what your passion is, you know what you want to achieve, just be focused and enjoy the ride. Being completely honest, if someone would’ve told me about my current position and all the amazing opportunities and experiences I’ve had so far, I wouldn’t have believed them.
Any women out there that you would like to acknowledge for being an inspiration?
ALDANA: One of the first women I ever looked up to was Frida Kahlo. I made a trip to Mexico and I became obsessed with her life, her paintings, her unique style, her suffering and her truthful love to Diego Rivera.
But also Yayoi Kusama, one of my favourite artists who not only succeeded in the male-dominated New York art scene but also confronted the patriarchal Japanese culture. And the talented Hildur Guonadottir, the third female composer to win an Oscar for scoring a film.
VERONICA: Terri Winston, all of my coworkers at Women’s Audio Mission, Amanda Davis, Laura Sisk, Chiquita Paschal, and Simone Torres.
ELLA: In music, there’s a fair few. I have to say I’ve had my mind blown by Alison Mosshart back in 2012 when I first saw The Kills. I’m also in awe of bassist Paz Lenchantin of The Entrance Band & Pixies, as well drummer Carla Azar of Autolux and Jack White’s Band. And how can I not mention Patti Smith – she’s such a beautiful artist and creator, and to anyone who’s read ‘Just Kids’, you’ll know she’s lived a life and a half and powered through.
I’m also into the all-female 70s band Fanny. Well worth a listen if you don’t know their stuff. Even David Bowie cited them as one of his all-time favourites. There are so many rad ladies out there. I’m stoked to be able to shine a light upon them.