While Miley Cyrus’ recent antics have led critics to re-evaluate pop stars in terms of gender and race, there’s comparatively little discussion of the vast inequalities that go on behind the scenes. For Ebonie Smith, BC ’07, battling this disparity isn’t just a career, it’s a calling.
Much like the musicians she works with on a daily basis, the Memphis native has multiple identities. At Atlantic Records, she’s an expert sound engineer and in-studio producer, while at her independent boutique music production and publishing company Eudora House, she’s best known as the boss.
But for members of the Columbia community, she’s probably most familiar as the founder of the Gender Amplified movement, a project that focuses on the advancement of female music producers through activism and technical education.
Last weekend, Smith opened inaugural Gender Amplified music festival in the Diana Center. The day-long event, which included workshops ranging from studio ownership to “Turntablism 101” and performances from rapper Genesis Be, DJ and electronic music producer Alluxe, and funk artist THEESatisfaction, focused on the state of women in music production, and advised attendees on how to break into the industry.
While the festival may be a new event, its roots date back to Smith’s senior year at Barnard. As part of her thesis on female hip-hop producers for the Africana studies major, she came into contact with Tachelle Wilkes, the founder of Femmixx, a website about women in hip-hop. Wilkes advised her to turn her thesis into a conference, so with the help of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Gender Amplified movement was born.
“Barnard gave me the language and drive to understand my gender,” Smith said. “Just being around so many positive initiatives to inspire women to take their lives into their own hands and be productive citizens and leaders was energizing. My understanding of myself as a woman was further developed by women’s studies and gender studies at Barnard.”
It wasn’t just Barnard’s academics that helped mold the Smith we see today. In her first year, she became an audiovisual technician for the Special Events Services department. Through that job, she learned how to set up microphones and engineer live sound—skills that she still uses today at Atlantic.
“This job that I worked for four years was fundamental to my development,” she said.
Throughout college, Smith threw herself into music production. Every moment out of class was spent trying to make money in order to buy her first piece of production equipment, while she experimented with borrowed gear in the interim. She saved enough money to finally build her first project station in 2006, using her own technical skills. These skills, she figures, are what make music production such a relevant subject for girl
“It’s important for young girls to have applications for exploring technology, science, engineering, and math,” she said. “It’s my strong belief that music production provides a gateway to these subjects, as it involves all of them. Most music production today is done on computers, so you have all of the science and mathematics disciplines bundled into the idea of digital music production.”
It was this belief that led her into working with various education programs after pursuing a master’s in music technology at NYU, including DubSpot and Harlem Children’s Zone.
While Smith acknowledges that the world of professional music production is still a hard one to break into, regardless of gender, she urges aspiring producers to keep at it.
“So many people told me that I wasn’t good and now they call me and ask me for jobs,” she said. “It’s really to important to just believe in yourself and stay the course.”