How Girls Make Beats Is Making The Music Industry A More Welcoming Place For Girls Of All Backgrounds
Inside a rental house-turned-makeshift studio in Los Angeles’ Studio City neighborhood, Girls Make Beats has created another world.
It’s a sunny afternoon in mid-February, and glow-in-the dark stars projected over a walk-in closet’s walls and ceiling have set the mood for a universe of infinite possibilities. The cozy room with a mic set up at the center is now a recording booth where Miss Karissa B, Mak10, C Bleu, DJ JoJo, and Bailey—all between the ages of 7 and 14— will record vocals for an album. For some of these Girls Make Beats (GMB) L.A. chapter members, this won’t be their first rodeo.
Their names may not pop up on social media feeds yet, but these girls are building an impressive list of credits as DJs, producers, songwriters, rappers, and performers; some can already boast about getting industry guidance from popular music stars Janelle Monáe and Tinashe. And if you ask them, they’re just warming up.
L to R: Bailey, Miss Karissa B, C Bleu, DJ JoJo, and Mak10
Founded by recording artist, producer and engineer Tiffany Miranda, Girls Make Beats is the national organization giving girls between the ages of 5 and 17 the tools to become the industry’s next-generation DJs, engineers, and producers. Through mentorship, summer camps, networking events, workshops—including how to use Pro Tools, Launchpad and Ableton—and more, Miranda, along with other women professionals, are creating opportunities for girls to get real hands-on experience.
Speaking to GRAMMY.com, Miranda says she founded the non-profit in order to fill a huge void she saw as an aspiring engineer.
"When I took an initial interest in music production there was no sense of community for girls," Miranda recalls. "I literally had men telling me that girls don't make beats."
In 2020, going into a GMB studio session continues to be more like fantasy than reality. Walk into a professional studio and chances there won’t be several women in the room. While the digital age has made music-making more accessible than ever, breaking into—or being fully accepted by—the industry isn’t a given and women continue to be underrepresented throughout it.
According to the University of Southern California’s USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, out of all the performers credited on the 2019 Billboard Hot 100 Year-End chart, only 22.1 percent were female. Over an eight-year period, women have made up only 21.7 percent of artists credited on those charts. While the numbers show that over half of artists were women of color in 2019, it’s a different story for them behind the music.
"The music industry has virtually erased female producers, particularly women of color, from the popular charts," USC professor Stacy L. Smith said in a statement released with the study. "As producers fill a leading creative role, it’s essential to ensure that women from all backgrounds are being considered and hired throughout the industry."
Smith, who has been leading research on gender in music and film at the university, added that it is crucial for the industry to recognize the problem and make room for women in all areas of the business. A series of studies she has led reveals a slight rise in some areas for women in music, but the numbers continue to be concerning. The latest study shows 2.6 percent of women were credited as producers on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts from 2012 to 2019. Across an analysis of five years, only eight of the 29 producing credits by women analyzed belonged to women of color. Meanwhile, the ratio of men to underrepresented women in the industry is 133 to 1.
"I literally had men telling me that girls don't make beats."
When it comes to engineering, the numbers are worrisome as well. In a 2018 analysis, USC found that just 3 percent of mixing and mastering engineers were women. No information was available about how many of them were women of color.
The figures come from a greater study examining gender, race and ethnicity through 800 songs on the charts from 2012–2019. Eight years of GRAMMY Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Producer of the Year, and Best New Artist nominations were also analyzed in the report.
Looking at the GRAMMYs, there has been a rise in female nominees. In 2020, 20.5 percent of nominees were female. In 2013, that number was at 7.9 percent. The Recording Academy launched its Task Force on Diversity and Inclusions in 2018 to address disparities among nominees. When it comes to Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical, nine women have received the nomination since the award show opened its curtains, according to the Associated Press. The Recording Academy’s Women In The Mix initiative launched in 2019 seeks to give more opportunities to female producers and engineers at the root by asking artists and music professionals to work with more women. Since then, artists like Selena Gomez have taken the pledge. The pop singer said it was important for her to feature women all around on her latest album Rare, which included female producers and engineers.
Beyond lack of presence and opportunity, a 2018 survey by the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) showed that women, who made up roughly one-third of musicians, reported high rates of harassment—72 percent said they were discriminated against because of their gender and 67 percent said they had experienced sexual harassment.
Active since 2012, GirlsMakeBeats hasn't left the future of women of color in the industry’s hands and they aren’t going to start now. Every day the organization works towards empowering girls to become the engineers, producers, songwriters and performers the industry lacks. For any girl entering GMB’s spaces, they not only get to dream, but they get to actually create.
"I feel like when I’m working on my songs and my raps, I know what I’m doing," nine-year-old Mak10 says before her L.A. studio session begins. "This is cool. I can do this, nothing can stop me now."
Mak10 is just one of the girls already deeply shaped by the non-profit. Other girls in the program have DJ’d events for Spotify, the Los Angeles Clippers, ASCAP, and other big-name entities. Girls from the Miami chapter officially remixed Janet Jackson’s "Made For Now" featuring Daddy Yankee. A couple of months after their recording session in Los Angeles, Mak10 and DJ JoJo led a beat-making workshop at Santa Monica, Calif.’s Apple Store using one of Victoria Monét's songs before the singer/songwriter participated in a Q&A session. GMB has even been recognized by ESSENCE.
Professional mentorship and guidance for women of color is a tool that can mean everything for their future in the industry. For parents, the program isn’t just an opportunity for their child to get one foot in the music door, but to build confidence before they become young women.
DJ JoJo's mother, Lanesha Jones, tells GRAMMY.com how her daughter was bullied because of her mixed racial background. But thanks to GMB, JoJo has overcome it. Jones now hopes that her daughter continues to gain confidence and, if she chooses to stay in the industry as an adult, joins in the effort to make space for girls like her.
"My daughter is going to be one of those young women showing other women that if this is your passion if this is your goal, this what we’re going to do. Not what we think we can do or what we’re hoping we can do. This is what we’re going to do," Jones says.
The mom adds that it makes a huge difference that her daughter is being taught by women: "A woman can relate more with a woman, and I feel more comfortable personally as a parent with my daughter being taught by a woman."
"We definitely want this to be a global movement of confidence for girls all over the world, whether it's expressing that through their music or whatever it is they choose to do," Miranda says. "[We want them to] know that they can break those barriers and do whatever they put their mind to and not be limited."
So far, more than 300 girls have been through one of GMB’s programs and events.
"[Our girls] are always hungry for more knowledge and more skills and opportunities in these career fields. So the fact that there haven't been women or girls in these fields for so long is really just mind-blowing and it goes to show you that a lot of that lies in if you can see it, you can be it."
GMB's programs make a point of creating opportunities for all girls, but with the awareness that girls of color face additional obstacles. Miranda wants to make the path easier for girls and works with other women through GMB to do just that.
"[I have] that common ground with other women that I see succeeding in their fields and knowing what they must have been through to get where they are and collectively working together to make a brighter future and empower this next generation of girls so that they don't have to face even half the challenges that we've gone through. If we've done that's a huge success for us," she says.
Before COVID-19, girls would host, DJ and perform at in-person studio sessions. Now, GMB, like much of the industry, has pivoted to virtual events. These include a series of MasterClass collaborations (including forthcoming classes in August) and a digital T.V. series that Janelle Monáe helped inaugurate and has also featured Tinashe as well as Chloe x Halle.
A few months after the studio session in L.A., Miranda reflects on how she’s had to change the way she builds community among the girls, who are like family to her, as she continues to lead a small team and wear several hats. To stay connected, the organization has begun to hold calls with girls around the country.
"On these calls, we have all of those girls from different parts of the U.S. [and] being that we're a small team, it was a little more challenging to do things like that when our efforts were in physical locations, working with a small group. So I think the plus side of it is, we're able to stay connected virtually in a larger capacity," she says.
As GMB continues to navigate the COVID-19 world, Miranda welcomes new collaborations for MasterClasses, their online T.V. show, podcasts and remix challenges.
"I think it's definitely more important than ever for the girls to have an outlet to be creative and inspired during these challenging times," she says. "Our girls often refer to music as being an escape and a form of expression. Our program is making a huge effort in providing the tools necessary for them to do so while also keeping our girls connected with one another."
The wave of conversations on race brought by Floyd’s death weeks into the pandemic has only cemented GMB's mission to make space for young girls of color. Miranda knows the challenges these girls are up against as a woman of color herself. "[There] is kind of a double-edged sword that we face as not just women, but as women of color, because it's not only [that] are we constantly being tested on the fact that we're girls and women and we have to prove ourselves, but on top of that, we also have the race card as well to have to go up against,” she explains during a Zoom call a few weeks after reflecting on navigating the pandemic.
"We are extremely passionate about trying to empower girls and women that have not been given the same opportunities as men, but even more so in communities that are typically underserved, which happens to deal with a lot of black and brown young girls."
GMB's programs are scholarship-based (the majority of the program is at no cost) and rely heavily on donations, grants and sponsorships, which help make it accessible to girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This summer, almost 50 scholarships were awarded, thanks to composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, Spotify, Airbit, and Facebook.
As the country looks inward on racial inequality and inequity, Miranda firmly validates what GMB has been doing all along: "We're actually doing the work. We're actually going there, we're actually going into underserved communities, we're actually working with girls who are underrepresented."