Marcella Araica Is Making Space for More Women in Music: 'You Can't Just Do It All on Your Own' (Exclusive)

The hit-making audio engineer will speak on PEOPLE's Women In The Mix panel hosted with the Recording Academy and Sephora on Feb. 1



Sound engineer Marcella Araica broke into the male-dominated music industry and soared to success. Now she’s making space for the next generation of women to follow.

Over the course of her career, she has made her name helping artists like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and Madonna mix 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.

Now on Feb. 1, Araica will join artists including Carly Pearce and Jordin Sparks to speak on PEOPLE’s Women In The Mix panel (held in partnership with the Recording Academy and Sephora) about creating space and opportunities for even more female representation in the music industry.

<p>Bernard Coulter and Daniel Russo</p> Marcella Araica

Bernard Coulter and Daniel Russo

Marcella Araica

As a female engineer, Araica’s place in music history was never guaranteed. She wasn’t even cognizant of how much men dominated the music world until she enrolled in Full Sail University’s Production and Recording Program. The ratio inside her classroom was striking: in a lecture with about 160 students, Araica was often one of just five women.

After graduating from Full Sail, Araica knew the odds were still stacked against her.

“I was told over and over that it was such a male-driven business,” she tells PEOPLE. “I didn't really care about the gender. It was more about the job. I wanted to be an engineer, I wanted to be the best engineer.”

With passion on her side, she remained unfazed, though some encounters with male coworkers and collaborators reflected some of the doubt Araica faced in her professional environment.

<p>Bernard Coulter and Daniel Russo</p> Marcella Araica

Bernard Coulter and Daniel Russo

Marcella Araica

“It was just a lot of people not really believing or really understanding my role as a woman in the music business,” she recalls. “I'd get comments like, ‘Oh, where's the engineer?’ Or I'd get, ‘Are you the engineer's girlfriend?’ I'd have to be like, ‘No, I'm the engineer.’”

Today, as an established professional, Araica loves working with artists of all genders, but her presence in the studio does heighten her connection with some female singers. She remembers working with Pink as a particularly poignant instance of that implicit bond shared between women in music.

“She was so dope,” Araica says of the Grammy-winning singer. “She didn't necessarily point out that I was a girl engineer, but you could just tell that there was a camaraderie there. It just was a great feeling of women empowerment.”

<p>Bernard Coulter and Daniel Russo</p> Marcella Araica

Bernard Coulter and Daniel Russo

Marcella Araica

About a decade ago, she committed to making the studio a safer space for people like her. Araica tapped into her own business savvy and launched the Red Bottoms Foundation, a mentorship project aimed to empower up-and-coming women and guide them towards job opportunities in entertainment.

“I was creating a network of new and established women in the industry so that they could all just have each other's back throughout their journey,” Araica explains, adding that she would host studio sessions where she’d teach sound engineering skills like Pro Tools and microphone techniques.

Related: Celebrating Women in Music All Year Long

<p>Lisa Lake/WireImage</p> Marcella Araica

Lisa Lake/WireImage

Marcella Araica

Some of the Red Bottoms Foundation mentees — whom Araica still works with, over 10 years later — have been young mothers or mothers-to-be. As a mom to a 9-year-old son herself, the mixing expert emphasizes the importance of finding “your village, because you can't just do it all on your own, it's impossible.”

“Just because we're women and we're mothers…It doesn't mean that you have to stop your career or not have a career because you want to grow a family,” she says — a sentiment echoed by the Recording Academy's own executives.

Personally, Araica found her own balance by setting a defined work week.

“Monday through Friday, I am all in. And then those weekends are dedicated to my family and just being there for them,” she tells PEOPLE, noting that her boundaries haven’t caused her to lose out on any work opportunities: “There's a high respect when it comes to that,” she adds.

<p>Marcella Araica/Instagram</p> Marcella Araica

Marcella Araica/Instagram

Marcella Araica

In addition to her mentorship with the Red Bottoms Foundation, Araica frequently speaks to students of all ages about finding and pursuing their passions and interests. During these school visits, she’s noticed how the next generation of women “are really trying to dissect what it is that they want to do and their ability to do it.”

"Women are feeling more comfortable," she continues. "The number of women really wanting to break into [the music industry] has gotten so much higher."

Araica hopes that other female leaders recognize that same spark in the younger crowd.

“If we can get more women to have the courage to open those doors for the up-and-coming, that would be, to me, something that I would be smiling forever about,” she says.

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