Name: Sylvia Massy
Title: Producer, Engineer
Company or Organization: Sylvia Massy
Artists or projects worked with: Prince, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Tool
FEMMUSIC: How did you get started in studio production?
SM: I learned to use basic recording equipment while volunteering time at a college radio station called KCSC in Chico, California. From there I got commercial production jobs for radio and eventually got a staff position at Bear West Studios in San Francisco, recording music. It was a lot of editing and demos to start. My first productions were with the artist Mechanical Bride in San Francisco. We did pink vinyl.
FEMMUSIC: Why did you want to start your own studio? What benefits & drawbacks does that have?
SM: The best part about owning a studio is making it like your home, since you will be spending so much time there. I like comfortable furniture and lighting, and require some very unusual tools that are not found in average studios, so I will always prefer to work in my own studio.
FEMMUSIC: You are someone who has the range of skills (producing, engineering & mixing). Which of these are you most hired to do? Which do you most enjoy doing & why?
SM: I enjoy all jobs, but enjoy mixing and production the most. Production, because I get to be a part of the creative process,almost like I’m a temporary member of the band for the term of the record. I love mixing because I get to shape the work that someone else has done. To embellish, improve or “frame” it, so it is ready to be enjoyed by music fans.
FEMMUSIC: What challenges do you see for women in studio production?
SM: The typical recording session is 10 to 12 hours a day. And a project might last a month or two with few days off. And when your career really gets going, you have little time between projects to recuperate. It is a BRUTAL schedule, but the work is so rewarding. For me it is worth it, but for many, both women and men, it is too much to give up your social life, dinners at home, spending time with family…. you get the picture…. Big sacrifices.
FEMMUSIC: What mentors did you have when learning?
SM: I admired Maureen Droney and Leslie Ann Jones. They both worked at the Automatt Studios in San Francisco. I used to watch them going to work and think “I want to do that job!”
Alan Meyerson helped me get my “studio head” on straight.
Keith “KC” Cohen showed me how to kick ass on mixing.
Prince gave me unbelievable opportunities. He was difficult to work with but extremely generous with credits and expected every bit as much out of me as the men working on his music.
Rick Rubin showed me how to have the “fan’s” perspective in producing music. I learned how choosing the right environment, engineers and players with specially selected material makes for hit after hit after hit!
FEMMUSIC: Are women in studio production treated differently than men? How do you see this?
AM: I see some men tiptoe around women. out of respect. Watching their language.I consider that to be kind of nice, actually, but the minute I open my mouth they realize I’m just a salty studio rat. My language is not very lady-like, hahaha! The guys loosen up after that.
FEMMUSIC: What advice do you give to women wanting to go into studio work?
AM: Stick with it! If you move to LA, give it a couple years. Take every gig. Buy a laptop recording rig and record live shows with permission. Then do overdubs and mix. Get to know all the musicians in your area. But hey, probably not good to date any of them… muddying the waters, you know. “Don’t shit where you eat.”
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you change about the music industry?
SM: I can’t wait for the industry to sort out royalties distribution issues with online streaming. Also lack of crediting hurts everyone who is starting out. I hope there are ways to embed data into the files so the credit information travels with the files. NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) is working on developing such metadata, but it will take the digital recorder manufacturers to implement the technology. I suggest all engineers to join NARAS and help get this done.