Women’s Audio Mission (WAM), based in California’s Bay Area, has spent the last 18 years dedicated to changing the face of sound by promoting advancement for women, girls and gender diverse individuals in music production, recording arts and technologies. Every year, WAM’s program provides 4,000+ people with hands-on training, work experience, career counseling and job placement in creative technology for music, radio, film, television and the internet. Over the past few years, they have continued to advance efforts, including integrating Soundtrap into their program tools, enhancing their collaborative approach through virtual methods.
WAM’s Extensive Program Offerings
WAM runs a diverse variety of programs, including adult education, conferences and workshops, and even a free quarterly concert series called Local Sirens. But their after school work with students is a true highlight and illustrates the organization’s impact in education. Girls on the Mic is WAM’s popular after school program that enhances girls’ learning and Elena Botkin-Levy, Director of Education, explains why programs of this nature are so critical:
“Less than five percent of the people creating sounds or music media in all of the things we hear in our daily lives are women or gender diverse individuals. The percentage is even lesser for women of color,” she says. “Secondly, there’s been a decline in women and girls enrolling in college STEM programs since the year 2000. These are issues that we’re out to address.”
By engaging directly with schools, WAM sees the potential to get more girls on track to engage with the music profession. With the help of a team of instructors and interns, Botkin-Levy is immersing girls in the learning and joy of music production. Far from being isolated to skills that are relevant only in music, the training provides technology skills, including coding, which have an incredible carryover effect for students’ futures.
Girls on the Mic Adds Soundtrap to the Mix
Girls on the Mic is a free program for middle and high school girls and operates in partnership with San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose Unified School Districts. The program emphasizes opportunities for students from Title I schools who often do not have access to music production equipment and instruction. Programs typically run once per week for 6-15 weeks with a variety of offerings led by instructors and college-age or early-career professional interns.
“The program is like a sampler platter,” describes Botkin-Levy. It provides audio technology skills training in areas from DJing, synthesizer building and live sound work to podcasting and film scoring. There are a variety of opportunities for exposure to career pathways and the students have the ability to experiment and see themselves inside the work.
WAM began to use Soundtrap with Girls on the Mic right before the pandemic, soon finding it indispensable when in-school learning halted. They continued to deliver the program virtually while also opening it up to the greater public. “We are using Soundtrap in terms of a web-based digital audio workstation that students can use for either podcasting or beat making. It fits in nicely with the format and how we do our programs,” says Botkin-Levy.
Botkin-Levy enjoys how Soundtrap’s usability, accessibility and collaboration features transfer beyond the initial instructional process. “We love when the students collaborate on projects. They share and partner with each other, especially in the virtual space. Soundtrap makes it so streamlined. And those capabilities are just as valuable now that we’re back to learning in-person.”
Career Opportunities and Advancement in Music Production
Unlike many other music learning programs whose priority is to concentrate on performance and artistry, WAM hones in on the production side of mastery, which the organization believes is an opportunity open to everyone. “We really emphasize the idea that you don’t need to be a performer to be a content producer and a media maker,” adds Botkin-Levy. “It’s about the ability to create and not necessarily perform.”
All of WAM’s programs work together seamlessly to support the development of expertise that leads to career exposure, opportunities and advancement. “It’s all part of the same story,” explains Botkin-Levy. “Girls on the Mic might spark a girl’s interest in being a Foley artist or engineer that leads to becoming an intern and instructor after college, eventually leading to career placement in the field.”
Accelerated Growth Leads to More Opportunities
WAM is playing a big part in closing the opportunity gap for all women and gender nonconforming individuals in music media. Their efforts additionally open up the minds of girls to see themselves in related fields of technology that they might not otherwise consider. Over 50% of WAM’s instructors started as WAM interns. WAM is constantly circulating opportunities inside their organization to support a structure of learning, career counseling and job placement. WAM participants are finding paid placements at Google, Pixar, SFJazz, NPR, Dolby Laboratories, KQED, Sony and many others, indicating the incredible success of their integrated approach.
“We are in expansion mode,” adds Botkin-Levy, referring to the organization’s accelerated growth as they heighten efforts inside and outside of the Bay Area. Recognized and strengthened by a recent $1 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, WAM is positioned to provide even greater opportunities for women and girls nationally.