The musician/producer/engineer brings more women and non-binary artists into producing and engineering.
By Karoline Pfeil
When things shut down in 2020, inequalities that had pervaded every part of the music industry quickly bubbled to the surface. Around this time Austin music producer Jim Eno came to a disturbing realization: “I stumbled across a statistic,” Eno explained. “If you look at the United States, in our recording and engineering fields, it’s about 5% women. I work with so many talented women I couldn’t believe that it was that low. So I started figuring out ideas on how I could change that number.” A few phone calls later, Project Traction took root.
Founded by Eno (drummer/co-founder of Spoon and owner of Public Hi-Fi studio), Project Traction is driven by a deep frustration with the lack of diversity in the music and recording industries, and is on a mission to make space for non-male producers. Eno has selected eight female and non-binary musicians, mostly Austin-based, to share his recording space at Public Hi-Fi, producing and recording tracks for artists of their choice, in an effort to spread his wealth of knowledge and resources to aspiring producers.
One of those producers is Sara Houser, frontwoman of Löwin and part of the Austin music scene for over a decade. She recorded vocals on Spoon’s last record and has done plenty of session work in the past, but it was a different story when she was first starting out.
“Every session I was in was mostly men,” Houser recalls, “And that was something that never felt that weird for me because it was kind of a continuation of my experience in college – the ratio of guys to girls at that time was pretty steep.”
“It didn’t feel weird to me at first, but the more that I thought about it I was like, ‘this is weird, there are so many women in this town that make music.’”
Despite rich backgrounds in recording and musicianship, many of the producers Eno approached entered the project with doubts regarding their producing capabilities and whether they had the ability to fill the role of a producer.
Kam Franklin, lead vocalist and frontwoman of the Suffers, shared her experience in working on this project:
“I think I was always interested in producing once I realized it was accessible to me. There was a period in my life where I didn’t think I could be. Sometimes it takes someone else telling you.”
By opening the door to new producers, Eno expands the creative range of Austin musicians who are already overflowing with talent, utilizing his mentorship skills that he has demonstrated in projects such as his work instructing students from the University of Ohio.
In his mentorship, Eno stresses the importance of diversification, emphasizing that musicians benefit from occupying different roles within recording, performing, and managing. Eno himself is multi-faceted: an engineer, producer, musician, and studio owner. He began his career as an electrical engineer, producing microchips for Motorola before he and his friend Britt Daniel started up Spoon. To Eno, the project highlights the potential for female and non-binary musicians to step into many different roles in the music industry.
Gender disparities are visible in almost every area of the music industry, but the numbers in the recording and engineering field are particularly glaring. According to Statista, in 2020, only 2% of producers in the music industry were female. In 2016, a survey by the Audio Engineering Society found that only 7% of its members were women.
“We are not on an equal playing field at all,” says Franklin. “It starts with acknowledging that things are not equal, and with the people that do sit in seats of power mirroring Jim’s actions.”
Another Project Traction producer, Lucille Garner, had already spent some time engineering before jumping onto this project. Garner has produced tracks for local artists like Drint (on his E.P Don’t Save Me), and she is the owner of Siren Pop Studios. She was similarly disappointed by the numbers. But Project Traction provides Garner with some hope for the future:
“This will definitely be helpful for young women who want to do this thing, to see more women doing it. And then they’ll think ‘this is something I can do.’”
Franklin echoed Garner’s hopes. “I feel more empowered because of what I’ve learned here and I look forward to the next step.”
In addition to Franklin, Garner, and Houser, Eno worked with five other seasoned Austin musicians – Emilie Basez, Gina Chavez, Grace Youn, Megz Kelly, and Mariclaire Glaeser. Supported by advisors Liz Lambert, founder of Bunkhouse, and Caren Kelleher, founder of Gold Rush Vinyl, the team has made some impressive headway in their mission. The single, “How High”, produced by Emilie Basez, has just been released, and the next seven tracks are set for the coming weeks and months. A panel has also been set up for SXSW.
After this first round of Project Traction, Eno hopes to continue the efforts for years to come.
“I think it is a sustainable model, the idea of having music producers take female musicians under their wing and sort of guiding them through the process ” Eno explains. “That’s an easy, easy thing to do. I love the mentorship portion of it. And I feel like we can make an impact and increase those numbers.”
Eno isn’t aiming low in his ambitions: “If it’s 10% now, let’s get it over 51%.”