Photo: Mindy Small/FilmMagic
WondaGurl, Ann Mincieli, Erika Ender: 9 Women Architects Of Sound In Music
The word "architect" has multiple definitions that transcend its origins of simply meaning a person that builds something tangible. Architecture can live in the abstract, yet the product is still a masterpiece for the senses.
The women on this list have respectively built their own legacies assisting in creating music that stands the test of time. Their creative input is more than just a mere suggestion here and there, but more about taking a vision and turning it into a groundbreaking work of art. There's an inherent tangibility to their talents, which makes them true architects of sound.
From hit-making songwriters and video directors to producers and engineers who helped define entire eras, we explore another series of dynamic women in music in honor of Women's History Month.
Erika Ender's career certainly didn't begin when she co-wrote the gargantuan hit "Despacito" (featuring Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber) with Luis Fonsi, but it certainly made for an explosive chapter.
Starting as a recording artist and TV personality in her native Panama, Ender came to the United States 20 years ago. "I was looking for a platform to help me develop my vision through music," she recalls of her move stateside.
It was her introductory success with Chayanne's 2000 single, "Candela," that gave her a boost into international recognition. Then came "Despacito" in 2017, a song that earned her multiple Latin GRAMMYs. Ender said the smash specifically benefited from a "feminine" touch.
"I think that [Luis] Fonsi is a smart guy because he usually writes with women. 'Despacito' was written with lyrics that a woman would want to hear, which I think was the special magic."
Now with more ears around the world paying attention, Ender is putting her profile to good use. "I'm using this moment of my life as a songwriter to empower other women because I'm the only women involved [in 'Despacito']," she says. "It's a way of showing others that we are a minority, but if you do the right thing with your value and hard work, you can get wherever you want."
When Ann Mincieli opened New York City's bustling Jungle City Studios in 2011, she already had a widely spanning career working as an audio engineer and studio coordinator for none other than Alicia Keys. A co-chair of the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing, the GRAMMY-winning engineer more than holds it down as a woman within a sector of the industry that is predominantly male.
Thanks to Mincieli's vision, Jungle City has evolved in less than a decade as the go-to studio for mastering and post-production, as everyone from Jay-Z to Drake and the late Whitney Houston has utilized the "house that Ann built" for putting the finishing touches on some of their greatest works.
"My dream was to create a luxurious, technically impeccable, 21st-century haven for first-tier artists, producers and engineers," Mincieli told Sound On Sound.
You may not be aware, but many of your recent favorite hip-hop songs have benefited from the divine touch by the one and only WondaGurl. Born Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde, the Brampton, Ontario, songwriter/producer has worked with heavyweights like Jay-Z ("Crown"), Travis Scott ("Uptown") and SZA ("Teen Spirit").
In just over a decade, WondaGurl has emerged as an in-demand songwriter/producer, bolstering her portfolio through collaborations with Drake, Usher, Big Sean, Lil Yachty, and Lil Uzi Vert, among others. She scored massive recognition for helping shift Rihanna's sound, working with Kanye West and Travis Scott on her infectious "B**** Better Have My Money."
At only 21, WondaGurl will continue to make her mark, bringing new life to artists' tracks and expanding their sounds to new dimensions.
Gail Davies holds the distinct honor of being the first female record producer in country music history. The story goes that, as a recording artist, Davies was displeased with how her production panned out on her 1978 debut album. In turn, she decided to take matters into her own hands and self-produce her works, which later became the framework for other female country stars.
Her sound is homegrown, even when she's worked with country singer/songwriter greats like Emmylou Harris and K.T. Oslin. Davies' reputation for crafting her own sonic identity precedes itself as she's worked with other legends like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Dwight Yoakam, among others.
Davies' successful career is proof that building your own vision is often the best way to reach your goals.
In 1998 Trina Shoemaker made history by being the first woman to ever win a GRAMMY for Best Engineered Album — Non-Classical. She took home the award for shaping the sounds on Sheryl Crow's third studio album, The Globe Sessions, representing a high point of her output with the "All I Wanna Do" singer (having first collaborated with her in 1995). Shoemaker would later earn another GRAMMY with Steven Curtis Chapman for 2004.
The Illinois native has worked with a number of A-list acts like the Dixie Chicks, Indigo Girls and Emmylou Harris. With a solid track record both in the United States and across the pond in the U.K., Shoemaker remains the perfect fit for acts looking for next-level mastering and engineering.
While having gotten her start in the '80s, Sylvia Massy hit her stride within the '90s alternative-rock scene once she aligned with Tool for their full-length debut, 1993's Undertow.
As a mixer and engineer, Massy helped sharpen Tool, bringing them to multiplatinum status. She would later work with veteran producer Rick Rubin, mixing and engineering for greats like Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, the Black Crowes and System Of A Down, in addition to more production work with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She even produced and mixed the Beastie Boys' iconic 1997 Tibetan Freedom Concert LP with late Beasties member Adam Yauch.
A noted author, professor and music journalist, Massey brings her multifaceted insight to the pages and the classroom, shedding light on how she rose up the ranks in the otherwise male-dominated world of engineering. As for her philosophy, Massy told Electronic Musician her goal with her work is to "make every moment an adventure."
Las Vegas has a long history with music, where artists can typically enter their prime in a series of residencies that attract people from all corners of the world. However, Zoe Thrall and her husband Pat have created perhaps the most unique environment in sound recording.
Starting in New York City, Thrall operated studios for over 20 years before receiving a call in 2004 to come to Vegas. "I never thought I would leave New York," she says. "[The Palms] said they were building a studio and would I be interested in coming out there. Since the focus was on music, that was what got me excited about it."
The Studio at the Palms provides an atmosphere for some of the biggest artists to record their work yet leave and absorb the 24-hour energy of Las Vegas — all under the same resort-style roof. As the studio's director, Thrall has worked with top names from Beyoncé to Lady Gaga, responsible for providing the home for their recording process and Palms' stay.
It's no wonder why artists can enter the Palms and leave with colossal hits: Thrall has designed an alternate universe built inside paradise, making her more than just a studio director but a curator of ambiance.
"After 37 years of doing this, the process of making a record is still to this day so interesting to me," she says. "I still love how records are made."
Hannah Lux Davis
For more than a decade, Hannah Lux Davis has provided visuals for some of pop's most infectious tunes. As a music video director, her eye is geared toward lighting, contrasting dusky shots with sharp bursts of glare. Just check out her videos for some pop radio staples like "Bang Bang" (Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj) or "23" (Mike WiLL Made It, Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa, and Juicy J).
While her catalog is vast, "Side To Side" featuring Grande and Minaj is proof positive that stars return to her style — Fifth Harmony and Drake have also worked with her several times.
What is it about her remarkable skill that's managed to penetrate one of music's biggest boys' clubs? Perhaps it's in her visual interpretation of something only previously heard and now seen.
Leslie Ann Jones
Leslie Ann Jones' work has not only earned her multiple GRAMMYs, but she's made history within the walls of the Recording Academy. In 1999 she became the organization's first Chairwoman.
Firsts are nothing new to Jones. She was the first female assistant engineer at ABC Studios, and she went on to helm albums for artists such as Rosemary Clooney and Kronos Quartet. As the director of music recording and scoring at George Lucas' Skywalker Sound since 1997, Jones records orchestral scores, mixes film and video elements, and records and produces music albums.
"It's been an unbelievable experience," Jones told TapeOp regarding her job at Skywalker Sound. "It's really a great place to work, because you're surrounded by incredibly smart, talented people. You really have to keep up with that and I think everybody that works in the building feels that there's a certain level of excellence that everybody tries to maintain."
(Kathy Iandoli has penned pieces for Pitchfork, VICE, Maxim, O, Cosmopolitan, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and more. She co-authored the book Commissary Kitchen with Mobb Deep's late Albert "Prodigy" Johnson, and is a professor of music business at select universities throughout New York and New Jersey.)