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Music moguls: Interview with Grammy Award nominee record producer Cheryl Pawelski

Cheryl Pawelski is a rock star. A she’s no newcomer to the music business. Pawelski is a three-time Grammy Awards nominee with over 20 years of industry experience, and also co-founder of California-based Omnivore Records (named by her equally awesome wife, writer Professor Audrey Bilger). In 2010, Pawelski joined forces with fellow audiophiles to create a company dedicated to releasing great records of any genre, with stories that contribute to an artists’ legacy and/or discography. So far it’s been pretty successful.

I was compelled to reach out to Pawelski after coming across a 2012 BBC News Entertainment piece titled Why are female record producers so rare?. The article featured two seasoned record producers sharing their thoughts and opinions about the lack of female representation in the music industry.

“If they’re a bunch of guys and they’re young, and they’re funny and they tell rude jokes, you have to be the woman who isn’t shocked by that and can, as a matter of fact, crush them with all three words,” states Trina Shoemaker, producer at Local Honey Records.

This suggests a certain “male stigma” that a woman needs to live up to in order to be successful as a record producer. Not totally convinced that this is the case, I looked to music mogul Cheryl Pawelski for her opinion.

Paweski’s response differed from Shoemaker’s. While she agrees you have got to be able to handle yourself and hold your ground in the workplace, Pawelski notes that she’s never changed or molded herself to anything that wasn’t about the job.

“I know that I have at times been a surprise to artists, estates, managers, lawyers, producers, engineers, etc., because mostly men have occupied the job I’ve had at the labels across the years… What mattered most was how good I was at my job, what I knew, and how I handled the expectations surrounding a project,” says Pawelski.

You said it, sister. It’s not so much about gender roles; it’s about being the right person to get the job done. The individual most qualified, driven, and competent will produce the best work. While it would be foolish to reject the fact that women have faced barriers in male dominated industries, and still seek equality in the workplace, a lack of female representation in music isn’t dictated but the heteronormative associations of gender roles.

In the BBC article, Professor Susan Rogers of the Berklee College of Music in Boston comments that a lack of women in the industry can be attributed to “the bottom line is that women aren’t interested.”

Granted, it’s a pretty broad statement, but something told me that it isn’t quite that simple. According to Pawelski, a lot of it comes down to the fact that a lot of professions in the arts just aren’t made visible to kids. While society advertises “traditional” occupations such as teachers, policemen, nurses etc., careers in fields like record producing are placed on the backburner. It’s a whole lot easier pushing youth in the direction of pursuing easily understood occupations, but in doing so, this fosters the pattern of advocating “gender-specific” jobs. Similar to a Whirling Girlish article, The Importance of Trades People.

It appears that it is not so much a decrease of women in music, but people working in the music industry in general. The number of people working within the music industry has decreased over the last decade. Consequently, Pawelski emphasizes that, “the business itself is a mess, so those long lasting, hard-and-fast ceilings have kind of fallen apart. If you are talented, dedicated, and hardworking, it’s a great time for opportunity.”

Music is looking for game changers to trail blaze, create, and innovate. This can be done not by vilifying what has or has not happened in the past, but by living in the present and letting girls know that this is a job that they can do if they love music. It’s imperative to let young women know that it is up to you to decide how “feminine” is defined.

Bottom line, let’s strive to educate and advocate professions in the arts, and eliminate the notion of gender specific occupations. Let’s push aside outdated definitions of “masculine” and feminine”, and focus more on creating a society of people that are driven to work by passion, and diligence.

Cheryl Pawelski says it best, “No one is going to hand you your career. You have to be up for the challenge.”

For more information about Cheryl and Omnivore records, you can visit here.

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