Founded by Terri Winston, Women’s Audio Mission (better known as WAM) has been running for over thirteen years in San Francisco, California. Through over 2,000 classes during that time, WAM has managed to peak the interest of 8,000 girls in the field of sound engineering, recording, and similar fields. It is the only sound recording studio that is run exclusively by women.
With those women, more than 400 of them have managed to land positions at companies such as Pixar, Electronic Arts, Comedy Central, NPR, and more. They’ve also helped produce and record more than 150 albums with artists from over 21 countries, some notable ones being the Kronos Quartet and Clarence Jones, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speechwriter. According to Winston, the overall goal is to get more women into the industry.
“Less than five percent of women are creating and shaping the sounds and media that make the constant soundtrack of our lives,” she says. “So the perspectives of women and girls are barely audible. They need to be amplified in order for our girls to thrive.”
She first thought of WAM’s concept when she was teaching in the Broadcasting Department at City College of San Francisco. The number of women in her class was so disappointing that she decided to found a club instead.
That same year, Winston booked her club a booth at a convention for the Audio Engineering Society, otherwise known as the AES. She was initially met with suspicion, as the other attendees thought she was there to protest the convention, but by the end, her booth was more than overflowing with gifts. She had so many, she needed a shopping cart to hold them all.
“That’s how WAM started,” she jokes. “In a shopping cart.”
The group only grew from there. Each year, WAM trains 1,200 women. 850 of those girls are middle-school age. 93 percent of the girls are low-income, 83 percent are girls of color, and 73 percent don’t have access to a computer. A good number of these percentages contributes to the groups with the highest dropout rates in the state of California. “We use music and media to attract women and girls to science and technology,” Winston explains. “And we use the recording studio as a big carrot.”
For all of its efforts, however, WAM is very careful about how it approaches its presentations. “We don’t push referring to this stuff as STEM,” Winston says. “Until those words get detached from certain stereotypes you’re not going to see girls doing it.”
It makes sense, considering that STEM fields are generally associated with the stereotypes of being “nerdy” or having an undesirable appearance. Girls take it especially hard when they wish to both fit in and be seen as anything but a stereotype. “Ironically, after 18 weeks of training, they get to work on a project where they are assigned various music production roles,” Winston stated. “They usually fight over who gets to be the engineer.”
The growing number of girls in the field benefits not only the younger generation, but the older ones as well. “I think it’s really cool to be able to have more role models,” says engineer Laura Dean, ”as well as people you get to mentor that are women.”
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