Expertise, empowerment at core of Elon’s second Leading Women in Audio conference

The two-day conference hosted national music industry professionals and students from across North Carolina.

Elon’s second annual Leading Women in Audio conference brought a panel of accomplished audio professionals, more than 100 participants and students from two area high schools to campus Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28-29.

The conference celebrates the achievements of women in music technology fields and encourages exploration and allyship in youth and young adults.

Hannah Strickland ’21 prepares Scott Studios for the second annual Leading Women in Audio conference Friday morning.

The two-day conference included large-group and small breakout sessions with professionals involved in a spectrum the music industry — from pop and hip-hop mixing and production, to music licensing in film and television, to live sound engineering and festival coordination.

A 2016 industry survey showed that less than five percent of audio engineering and production professionals are women. Panelists said sexism has eased with time but that barriers still exist for women in the industry.

“If this was 1970, none of us would be here,” Karen Kane told the crowd early Friday. “I was told, ‘Women can not do this.’ … Women weren’t allowed to touch the equipment. I taught myself.”

Presenters at the Leading Women in Audio conference took questions from attendees Friday, Feb. 28. From left, Marcella Araica, Michel Holbrook, Karen Kane, Aurelia Belfield, Anna Frick, Liz May, and Tess Mangum Ocaña.

Kane has been a freelance music engineer and producer since the 1970s, has three Juno Award nominations as producer of the year, and now runs her own studio and teaches at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

The key to success in the music industry is preparing for unexpected pitfalls, taking advantage of opportunities to learn and network, and to be persistent, panelists said.

Marcella Araica of Dream Asylum Studios in Miami, Florida, described being assigned an assistant engineer for Missy Elliott while an intern nearly 20 years ago. No one else was available when Elliott arrived, but Araica had studied the craft intensely and was ready. Elliott tapped her to help mix the rest of her album at each session afterward, leading to a career working with chart-topping artists like Beyonce, Madonna, Britney Spears among others.

“Just being ready is a big part of it,” Araica said. “Even now, it’s important for me to take a moment with myself, to really look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, ‘You can do this. This is what you have worked so hard for.’”

Other panelists included Aurelia Belfield, music supervisor at Trailblazer Studios in Raleigh, N.C.; Anna Frick of Airshow Mastering, Boulder, Colo.; Michel Holbrook, an audio engineer with Trailblazer Studios; Liz May, owner of SoundLizzard Productions in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Tess Mangum Ocaña, founder of Sonic Pie Productions in Durham, N.C.

From left, Elon Assistant Professor of Music Cora Palfy, Taylor Stephens ’21, Sophie Adams ’19, Eliza Spear ’22, and Hannah Strickland ’21 speak to a crowd of high school students about studying music at the Leading Women in Audio conference Friday.

A Friday morning session for high school students to speak with Elon undergraduates and faculty about how to prepare to apply for college and life as a music major began the conference. Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book encouraged teenagers to take risks for education and opportunities.

“One way to rise to the challenge is by helping each other, Book said. Support other women and be good to each other … in creating the space to be your authentic self.”

Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book welcomes students to the second annual Leading Women in Audio conference.

Small conversations in hallways and small circles peppered the conference, allowing students intimate access to experts’ advice.

Katie Heit ’20, who created graphics and promotions for the conference, listened as Kane and Belfield described the complexities of music licensing.

“What they said was to stick to what you believe in and don’t apologize for who you are,” Heit said. “As a woman, it’s good to hear that in any field. It’s empowering to have conferences like these.”

The conference was planned and organized by Music Production and Recording Arts student committee advised by Music Production and Recording Arts Lecturer Fred Johnson. Corporate sponsors, a Fund For Excellence in the Arts and Sciences grant from Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Elon’s Music Department and MPRA program funded the conference.

Leading Women in Audio was endorsed by the Audio Engineering Society Education Committee.

Aurelia Belfield, center, music supervisor at Trailblazer Studios in Raleigh, N.C., and Karen Kane, a freelance producer based in Wilmington, N.C., discuss music licensing at the Leading Women in Audio conference.