The Confidence Gap: Talking Audio Production With Recording Engineer Lilith Lane

Nothing challenges Lilith Lane more than problem-solving music and its production. A recording engineer, musician, and songwriter by craft, much of Lilith’s work centers around sound production and its everchanging possibilities for translation. Having completed a certificate in sound production in 1999, her early audio career was shaped by live sound and live-to-air engineering, where she worked with numerous independent artists as a recording engineer at Bakehouse Studios.

While focusing on her own music, Lilith also found her way as a sessional musician, vocalist, and solo artist. Her work led her to tour and record on projects like Angie Hart’s Grounded Bird album and tour, the EG Awards house band and the Countdown Spectacular, as well as releasing three solo albums. Now teaching Audio Production at Collarts and working as an in-house engineer at Newmarket Studios in North Melbourne, Lilith has recently completed her first Honours thesis, focusing on Melbourne’s recording studio history and the potential body of work to follow. Catching up with Lilith, we spoke to her about her experience in the industry and how the confidence gap in technology is two sides of the same coin.

Hi Lilith, thanks for chatting with me! With a long history in Melbourne’s music scene, how has your work as a recording engineer, musician and songwriter defined who you are over the years?
Music has shaped every aspect of my life in enriching and challenging ways. I have met many lifelong friends, and it has taken me to different parts of the world and continues to inform the way I navigate life. As a non-tangible art-form, music has a mysterious aspect that offers an unending journey. You can never know all there is to know about music and audio so the learning and exploration never ends. I’m not a person who gets bored and I think that has a lot to do with having music as such an integral part of my life.

 

“For me, audio production is a great way to engage with music and sound in a different way to being a musician. It exposes me to music and ways of working that I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate to on my own.”

 

Working as an in-house engineer at Newmarket Studio in North Melbourne, what draws you to audio production and how does it continue to challenge the way you hear or understand sound?
For me, audio production is a great way to engage with music and sound in a different way to being a musician. It exposes me to music and ways of working that I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate to on my own. Production is a lot about problem-solving and practical skills as much as creative and social skills so whilst wearing a production cap it continually brings me fresh perspectives on music which then translates to your greater life. The studio can be an emotional and revealing place for artists so there is always more to learn about people and music and the way we relate to our creative expression.

As part of your Honours, you’re in the process of writing a thesis focused on Melbourne’s recording studio history. With your research and experience, have you observed any positive changes in your industry when it comes to gender equality, and how are these changes influencing the Melbourne music scene?
The most positive change is that the gender balance is slowly starting to even out. I interviewed a woman who I believe to be the first engineer working in Australia on major popular music releases, Karen Hewitt. She worked at Albert’s in Sydney as a young woman and went to London to work in studios becoming an in-house engineer for Stock Aitken Watermen who pumped out continual hits in the 80’s. She engineered for artists such as Donna Summer and Kylie’s ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ for example. Hewitt says that there simply weren’t any other women working in studios at the time. As with other technical professions in Australia, women were largely in administrative roles and in the recording industry contributing vocals. There were some women engineering in film and television post-production but the music industry has until very recently been almost exclusively white male.

We are seeing more and more self-produced and managed female musicians, female-run labels and thankfully, more woman in production these days. The creation of modern music is now so heavily integrated with recording and production processes that there are naturally more women educating themselves in all areas of audio. This is an incredibly healthy and vibrant time for equality and diversity in Australia and I think that is definitely translating to the music/audio industry.

“Scenarios throughout a life add up to one big confidence gap for women and technology as well as society’s confidence in women in technical roles. I see it in my students and in the way some people engage with me in the workspace. I think it is changing but these things take time and gentle persistence and bucketloads of determination.”

 

There is still a long way to go in encouraging women to put themselves forward for opportunities and to maintain focus and motivation in a competitive male-dominated industry. I think it is important to mention that it is just as often other women as much as men who perpetuate gender stereotypes in relation to technology and practical tasks. Examples of this pop up in all areas of life. For example, when a light bulb goes out some women expect that it will be a guy that fixes that problem, when in fact, women, and the woman herself are as equally capable—I saw this scene play out recently which is why I mention it. In reverse, it could be that a male feels it is his role to fix that problem and prevents the woman from doing so. Multiples of these scenarios throughout a life add up to one big confidence gap for women and technology as well as society’s confidence in women in technical roles. I see it in my students and in the way some people engage with me in the workspace. I think it is changing but these things take time and gentle persistence and bucketloads of determination.

Only a few weeks ago when mixing a live show I had someone say to me that they had never met a female audio engineer. Still! Unfortunately, there are still some men out there who feel the need to challenge your knowledge because you are a woman. Thankfully there are more of the respectful men around who are completely cool with women being in technical roles and perhaps with you knowing a little more about production than they do.

 

“If your role in that situation is as a performer/musician I think it is respectful to let the sound engineers do their job. Very occasionally someone might be disrespectful… if someone decides to challenge your knowledge or boss you around they are usually doing this because of their own insecurities.”

 

With many projects and bands under your belt as a musician, touring is no stranger to you. Have you ever been challenged or told how to do your job outside the studio, and how did you handle those opinions?
As with the above response, I have encountered many situations where it is assumed that you have a lack of knowledge when it comes to gear. If your role in that situation is as a performer/musician I think it is respectful to let the sound engineers do their job. Very occasionally someone might be disrespectful but most people who get a lot of work in the industry do so because they are great to work with. If someone decides to challenge your knowledge or boss you around they are usually doing this because of their own insecurities. The best way to deal with someone like this is not to let them get to you. There are idiots in the world who will be hard to deal with male and female. Just don’t let them ruffle your feathers. They will eventually fall on their swords. The best piece of advice I can give newcomers is “don’t assume.” You could be working with someone who has skills that you aren’t aware of or has achieved incredible things in their career that you don’t know about. Many people I meet that are doing amazing work are humble unassuming people who treat others respectfully.

What Australian artists are in your heavy rotation?
All of the Milk! records artists, Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher’s label. The women and community that run Milk! are incredibly supportive of other women in the industry and they often record at Newmarket. I’m looking forward to hearing the new record from Melbourne’s own Olympia (a.k.a. Olivia Bartley) which in production at the moment. Olympia actually appears in the ‘I Could Get Used to This’ film clip from my last solo album that I released a few years ago. Anything recorded with local engineer/producer legend Anna Laverty that is coming out this year. The new Golden Syrup album which is Sara Retallick from Mod Con/Palm Springs’ solo project. I’m producing and engineering a cool record with Yolanda DeRose who plays in many local bands (The Beat Taboo, Les Ye Ye Girls, Mass Cult, The Amazons). This is her first solo album which will be released by Off the Hip later this year.

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