The Women In The Mix Luncheon took place on Feb. 1 in L.A. and brought out stars such as Jordin Sparks, Carly Pearce and Marcella Araica
Girl power was on full display at the Recording Academy's "Celebration of Women In The Mix" luncheon, presented by PEOPLE and Sephora.
The event not only brought out celebrities, but also gave flowers to the movers and shakers who work behind the scenes to bring us the radio hits we love — and work tirelessly to ensure women are seen and respected as equals in the music business as well.
The event, which took place at Rolling Greens in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, was hosted by PEOPLE's editor-at-large Janine Rubenstein and featured powerful speeches from the Recording Academy's Tammy Hurt, Anna Banks, and Ruby Marchand, as well as an inspiring keynote by CEO and founder of Friends at Work, Ty Stiklorius.
But perhaps the highlight of the function came in the form of the sit-down panel hosted by PEOPLE's Executive Editor, Melody Chiu, during which Jordin Sparks, Carly Pearce and Marcella Araica all spoke about the peaks and pitfalls of navigating the male-dominated industry as women.
For Araica, a decorated record and mixing engineer, breaking any type of glass ceiling wasn't a goal when she first attended Full Sail University to get her degree. But as the reality of how she and her female classmates were outnumbered sank in, she ended up becoming an advocate for women in her position, eventually launching the Red Bottoms Foundation to level the playing field.
"We had our lecture and classrooms which consisted of 150 students and only five of us were women," Araica said on the panel. "I just remember the instructors kind of letting us know that there was not a lot of women doing what we wanted to do. And I didn't understand why that was. I entered this path because I wanted to be an amazing engineer, not because I was trying to break down the [door for] women. I wanted to be the best engineer out there and it just kept being told to me, that there's not a lot of women doing it and I'd be like, 'OK, why not?'"
Since then, Araica has in fact, broken doors down for women engineers. She's worked with the likes of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and Madonna, mixing some of their biggest hits, including Spears’ 2007 single “Gimme More,” Keri Hilson’s Grammy-nominated song “Knock You Down” and Pink’s pop-rock anthem “Sober,” among other iconic tracks.
Grammy winner (and nominee for the 2024 awards) Carly Pearce also spoke about her experience in the industry, noting that even though women currently are having a major moment in country music, breaking through and staking her claim required tremendous willpower, as she constantly had to push back against executives who not only wanted her to conform, but also didn't truly believe in the music she wanted to put out.
"I was 19 when I moved to Nashville," she recalled. "And the only thing that I would tell myself is just to not let other people's opinions define who you are and tell you who you are. I was told no for so many years — eight years having every single meeting that I could have and people telling me that I was dated or my songs were good enough or my hair didn't look right.
"I had label meetings and played them a song called 'Every Little Thing,' where everybody in town told me it wasn't special. And then it was my very first number one," she continued. "And so don't ever take somebody else's opinion and take it as the gospel because it's not. "
For Jordin Sparks — who entered the industry at only 17 years old after winning season 6 of American Idol — becoming a woman in the mix meant finding her voice in rooms where people dismissed her for being lucky rather than talented.
"It felt so crazy because I came from this TV show so a lot of times people were like, 'Oh, you didn't pay your dues,' " she recalled. "And I would be like, I worked just as hard to get here as any one of you guys did, I just so happened to be on a really cool TV show."
She also had to find the willpower to demand more women working on her music.
"I was so young, so it didn't hit me until probably in my mid-twenties when I was kind of looking back on all the rooms I had been in and all the people that I had met, all the sessions I had done and all the producers I had talked to ... there were barely any women on my list and it wasn't because I was trying to do that," she said. "That's just how it happened with sessions that were set up for me. I didn't know when I was young. They were like, you're going to the studio, this is who you're working with."
Now with almost two decades in the music industry her belt, Sparks is taking control and ensuring there are women musicians, writers, engineers and more in her studio sessions.
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And though there are still milestones to reach and more barriers to be broken, the needle is moving in the right direction.
"[Even though there might be resistance] from those who want to maintain the status quo and their own power, I've actually never been more optimistic that we are on the cusp of real change," Stiklorius said in her keynote speech. "We are getting to a place where we can truthfully say we're building a space that reflects the beauty and the diversity of music itself. A place where everyone can belong and thrive."
"A Celebration of Women In The Mix” is part of PEOPLE and the Recording Academy’s ongoing initiative to bolster female representation in the music industry; Sephora is also committed to putting the spotlight on female musicians through their Sephora Sounds program and elevating up-and-coming artists with events like these.
As part of their dedicated Women In The Mix initiative, the Recording Academy asked top-charting artists to pledge to consider at least two women when searching for an engineer or producer. The Academy also devoted funds to promoting young girls’ involvement in music, and it has nearly doubled female representation in the voting body.
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