abbey Road

‘We are far from parity, but the landscape has shifted’: Abbey Road Studios MD Isabel Garvey talks industry diversity

Abbey Road Studios managing director, Isabel Garvey, has spoken to Audio Media International editor Daniel Gumble about the fight for gender parity across the music industry, the studios’ Equalise campaign and why initiatives like today’s (March 8) International Women’s Day must be continued all year round…

Since joining Abbey Road, have you seen any signs of positive change with regards to gender diversity in the industry? What has Abbey Road been doing to attract more women and gender minority producers and engineers in recent years?
Less than five per cent of music producers and engineers are women, which shows there is a long way to go before any sort of parity is achieved. Abbey Road is committed to employing and making space for more women and gender minorities across all its roles within the business. We have equal representation across our management team but need to work harder to develop and attract female talent into the studios team.

I’m seeing encouraging signs at our education arm, Abbey Road Institute, with a growing number of students being female. Equally, I’m encouraged that the industry is getting behind initiatives such as our current Equalise International Women’s Day Festival, which is designed to help drive awareness and understanding of music production and engineering as credible career paths for anyone that identifies as a woman.

Abbey Road Equalise is the banner we’ve created to support diversity within the music industry, to help inspire and empower under-represented groups to consider a career in music production and engineering.

Providing masterclasses with a number of the music industry’s leading women and panel talks with some of the UK’s most exciting rising female talent, the week-long series is helping to shine a light on both the artist and production career paths available in the music industry.

What can the music industry do to become more inclusive?
I think there are a number of factors that contribute to this problem, with the main ones being education and awareness. Engineering degrees and programmes aren’t often seen as attainable for young women and gender minorities and we need to change this. Equally, young women need to have role models and see that women can have a voice in the control room and lead this work.

This is something we are trying to tackle in a number of ways: by bringing together and spotlighting some of the brilliant female producers and engineers who are paving the way, and within our Equalise programme – opening the door for young people to see what a career in engineering or production looks like and hopefully encouraging them to pursue it.

Alongside gender equality, the music industry is working hard to be more inclusive across the board, be that in hiring more women or in hiring and supporting more people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. Representation is an ongoing and important issue and the solution must be to take action through positive change and demonstrations of real progress. At Abbey Road, we recently announced a scholarship for two black students to study at the Abbey Road Institute, followed by a year-long engineering work placement with us.

How important are days like International Women’s Day?
I feel lucky to be a woman at the helm of an institution such as Abbey Road, where I can support an effort to see positive change in the industry. I have had a wonderfully positive experience in the music industry and whilst I perhaps lacked female role models, it was more than made up for with with incredible mentors, most of them male, helping guide my progress.

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Whilst we are far from gender parity, the landscape has shifted significantly since I started my career and the opportunities for the next generation of women are huge.  Given my own personal experience it was important to me that Equalise both shines a light on the strong, passionate and talented women in the industry as well as providing a mentor ship programme that can help young women understand all the music industry has to offer.

While days like International Women’s Day are important in raising awareness around women’s rights and further inclusivity and fairness, the most crucial thing is making sure that definite action is taken to continue to promote such issues when the media spotlight isn’t focused on such topics. That is why Equalise is our “always on” diversity and inclusion initiative with activations and participation throughout the year.

Is there a risk that such initiatives may result in some areas of the industry focusing their diversity efforts around a single day, as opposed to working all year round to ensure they are fostering a more inclusive environment?
We look at something like International Women’s Day as a moment to celebrate what has been accomplished but also to look at what can be done next. We launched Abbey Road Equalise last March, just before the first lockdown to coincide with IWD, with a free introductory music production workshop onsite at Abbey Road which proved there is real appetite for bringing women together to provide basic tools, knowledge and support.

We then continued Equalise throughout 2020, despite the obvious challenges, and have captured some wonderful ‘all female’ recording and production sessions. The virtual festival around IWD this year, was about expanding the concept beyond the Studio and bring a whole week of educational, creative panels and 1-2-1 mentoring sessions. The engagement from women around the world has been so high that we intend to maintain the connection through more activity in 2021.

What advice would you give to women coming into the industry?
From my own experience, my advice to women coming into the industry would be to not feel so boxed in on what you studied or what your career path has been up until this point. The music industry is hugely creative and all talents are celebrated, so its an industry where a career switch is possible and celebrated. I would also say make sure you find a really good mentor.

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