Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) was formed in 2003 in direct response to the economic and social inequity that women face in music production and the recording arts. Terri Winston, who was the director of the City College of San Francisco’s recording arts program, was driven by this vast inequity to found the organization. “I had a pretty rare experience of being raised by a mad scientist of a father whose lab was my playpen. This made me very comfortable around technology and I want all girls to have access to that same type of environment and support,” says Winston.
“I started WAM to address two critical issues. Less than five percent of the people creating the sounds, music and media that make up the constant soundtrack of our lives are women, and there was an alarming 70 percent decline in young women enrolling in college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) programs since 2000,” says Winston. To help fill these gaps, she created the only professional recording studio in the world built and run by women. WAM offers classes in live sound, music recording, radio production, podcast recording, and more in their state-of-the-art SOMA studio. The studio provides affordable recording and live sound services to independent artists while delivering career counseling and job placement services for women. They also run a local youth program called Girls On the Mic, a membership program for self-identified women, an internship program, and an online audio technology training program called Sound Channel.
Kelley Coyne is WAM’s Program Coordinator, Youth Classes Coordinator and Quarterly Concert Series Manager as well as a Staff Engineer. After studying Women’s Studies and Music Performance, she went on to teach in public schools. Through teaching she realized that she could be connected to the community and combine her interests in gender studies and technical sound engineering. Then she found WAM while taking classes at SF State. “I was like, this is gender studies and music combined with audio; this is amazing! So I took my first class here and fell in love with the place.” She became an intern, which led to teaching the Girls on the Mic youth program. She has engineered and assisted with albums for The DoDos, Phosphene, Do Eye, and Religious Phase, among others.
Girls on the Mic trains over 800 girls ages 8 to 18 each year. By partnering with after school programs like Citizen Schools and Girls Inc., they offer 5 to 10 week programs specializing in all aspects of audio and recording arts. They start with podcasting, to get the girls comfortable with their voices, before moving into music production. Girls make and produce songs on Garageband, then learn sound for film, where they edit dialogue clips. They finish with live sound and some computer science coding. “It keeps me grounded, working with people who are growing up here,” says Coyne. “I didn’t know about these jobs when I was their age. I was better at math and science when I was young and I had a passion for music. I really want to connect that for girls.”
“We are teaching girls and empowering them to let them know that we don’t have to limit ourselves to what the misogynistic patriarchy tells us,” says Victoria Fajardo, a WAM Intern. “WAM made me feel at ease and empowered, like I was me and I’m a woman and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Fajardo mixes sound at the studio and goes to local schools to teach with Girls on the Mic. “When I help with the youth programs, I always tell the girls, you can only do what you think you can.”
WAM’s internship program draws women from all parts of life. The organization has placed over 290 women in paid positions with companies like Google, Pixar, Dolby Labs, Electronic Arts, NPR, KQED, SFJazz, Comedy Central, Tracy Chapman, and Animal Planet. “It’s important to be part of a community that supports women in the audio industry, and to encourage women and girls to have the technical skills to express themselves,” says Ripley Jene, a WAM intern who assists with main events and classes. According to Coyne, the program draws women who are interested in audio in various contexts, and not just from those who are studying audio engineering in college. “My job is to ask them where they want to work in audio, and see how I can help them with that. It makes me happy when I go home at night,” says Coyne.
It is no secret that WAM is changing the face of sound. WAM has produced and recorded albums for over 100 artists from 16 countries, including Grammy-winners Kronos Quartet, acclaimed author Salman Rushdie for NPR, Angélique Kidjo (2014 Grammy Winner), and Oscar-nominated film, Dirty Wars. They were recognized when the White House Office of Social Innovation visited WAM to learn about WAM’s revolutionary methods of educating young women and girls. In 2015 and 2016, WAM was awarded a Google RISE Award for integration of computer science into the Girls on the Mic curriculum.
As for the future, WAM is planning for studios and locations in 4-5 cities in the US by 2020. There are plans to take WAM across the country on a WAM tour next year, so stay tuned! For now, they are planning the Local Sirens: Women in Music Festival at the Rickshaw Stop. Check out this free show on June 7th, which features incredible local women musicians and performers.
In an era that is increasingly dependent on technology, women should be equally as involved as men in the production of media that defines our daily lives, our expression and our dreams. “You don’t have to be the performing artist to be in the music industry. There’s a lot of creativity in the technical fields of audio,” says Coyne. “If more creativity is getting out there, it will be more interesting.”
Women’s Audio Mission, 542-544 Natoma St, San Francisco, CA 94103, +1 (415) 558-9200