On stage and across playlists, women like Tiwa Savage and Tems are making significant strides in the music industry with their sold out shows and numbers. It’s a different story behind the scenes as the rest of the industry remains a predominantly male-dominated space from music executives to producers. A 2020 study conducted by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative for Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart found that women make up about 2% of music producers globally. Without data from Nigeria and the rest of the continent, we imagine that the reality might be worse here.
The music industry is so male saturated off stage that female music producers are considered a novelty and treated as such as women still have to deal with the highly-gendered work culture. Describing her experience as one of the few Nigerian female producers, singer-songwriter Simi tweeted; “To be honest, some of the things I’ve experienced — specifically as a woman — in this industry. They will try to pit you against other women; try to redefine your value, try to get in your head and remodel your self-esteem. And I have even had it easier than many. It comes from all sides. That’s why I am with any woman that is winning in this industry — because [there are a lot of hurdles]. Women can hardly get away with the kinds of things many men in the same industry get away with on a [regular basis].”
Apart from a few names like Simi, most female music producers often do not get the recognition and representation for their work as their male counterparts do. However, things are gradually changing as more women continue to brave the odds that come with being considered an oddity in an otherwise testosterone packed space to carve a niche and name for themselves. Here are three female producers laying snares and kicking ass in the Nigerian music industry:
Dunnie had always had an interest in beats and music as a young girl, but never quite pursued it due to a lack of role models and encouragement. “When I wanted to be a producer, I could not find any woman to look up to,” Dunnie recalls in an interview with NewsWireNG. “So I thought it was impossible at some point but I took it upon myself to teach myself. For a guy who wants to be a producer; you have a Sarz, Masterkraft to look up to but for the women, they do not have many women to look up to.” She finally went for it in 2016 because it seemed like a good way to rake in extra cash using skills she already had. Dunnie kicked off her career in 2017 as an alumnus of The Sarz Academy, a training program for producers launched by Nigerian producer, Sarz. She described her first months of producing as difficult, to say the least. She would go from studio to studio to source clients and network, and repeatedly, consistently contact A&Rs to sample beats for their artists. On the reaction to female producers, she told House Of ZETA, “They don’t expect something as great to come out from someone who has a vagina. When I started, people did not take me seriously, they just thought it was cute and adorable”. Eventually, her persistent hard work paid off and her work began to speak for itself, gaining her an influx of clients including some of the big names across the continent; Yemi Alade, Wande Coal, Busiswa, Niniola, Focalistic and Sean Tizzle. Apart from making her mark as a producer, Dunnie has also found credibility as a songwriter and singer with several EPs and hit singles.
She is a producer and songwriter characterized by her alternative sound, who bolstered her career by exploiting the tools and benefits provided by social media today. Bloody is known for her viral beats challenges where she gets her followers to lay freestyles to her beats with a chance to win cash prizes, judged by peers in the music industry. She recently went viral after producing a mash-up of Fela Kuti/Travis Scott which gained the attention of industry players in the music scene including industry godfather, Don Jazzy. She has received over 1,000 submissions of freestyle entries for the said beat. Speaking with Culture Custodian, Bloody said a male counterpart was surprised at her skills when he listened to her work for the first time. For her, this is a common occurrence for female producers in the industry which is why she adds, “We need more females producing in the industry, it would make things easier.”
Milakeyz is another example of a female producer systematically breaking the stereotypical mould in the industry. She is a model and producer of the 2020 hit song Mabel by Dremo and Davido; working with the former on the Rare single in 2019. She was also a video vixen in the visuals for One Ticket by Kizz Daniels featuring Davido in 2018 after her debut project with UBA launched in early February that year. Milakeyz’s foray into lingerie modelling and cosmetics undoubtedly shatters the stereotypical perceptions of what a female producer should or should not be especially as a woman working in a male populated industry.
Despite these and more examples of women breaking ground in the music production industry, the margin between male and female producers is a wide gap that remains to be filled. NGOs such as AudioGirl Africa have taken up the task of expanding the girl child’s perception of possibilities when it comes to music production, collaborating with various women like Dunnie to act as role models to young girls interested in “unorthodox” pursuits in the music industry. With these women pioneering their way in the music production industry today, it is safe to say that the future generation of females hoping to foray into the production industry will find a less ambiguous path across this gender-based divide, with these women standing as pillars holding the bridge for women in the Nigerian music production industry.
Anne Amebo is a writer and tune addict who reviews lifestyle choices and probably suffers from musicophilia. An introverted nomad, she can’t be caught outside unless she’s hunting for sustenance or of course, writing about other people’s business.