Gender Amplified Founder Ebonie Smith: A New Generation Leader For Women in Music And Technology
“I wanted to impact change and find a community of women who were doing what I was doing. It was putting my thesis into practice,” Ebonie Smith, founder of Gender Amplified said of her newly created and expansive music movement.
In 2007, when she was a senior studying Africana Studies at Barnard College (the women’s college at Columbia University), she pushed her obsession with music to the forefront and organized a conference highlighting women in hip-hop — specifically female producers. Smith calls it a “brainchild” of hers and an academic advisor.
Though she’d go on to earn a Master’s degree in music technology from NYU, Smith had long ago begun pursuing it. At the age of six she could play the piano at a professional level. Now she can add guitar and drums to the list of instruments of which she can play a note or two.
The conference, titled “Gender Amplified: Women and Technological Innovation in Hip-Hop” has undergone reinvention and evolved into a network, mentorship and tech education resource, and now a full-blown Gender Amplified music festival to take place September 28. Panels, workshops and performances targeting women and girls, will discuss the link between commerce and music production, the festival description read.
“In terms of objectives I think they’re different,” Smith said of the conference and upcoming festival. With the initial conference, via panels and discussions, she and organizers begged the question, “Where are the women in hip-hop?”
When it came to organizing the festival, Smith no longer sought to answer that inquiry, which by the way, was never literal. “I know exactly where they are; I’m one of them,” she said. The conference, Smith offered, was more about exposure as opposed to “performance and exhibition,” which are the focuses of the festival.
Back in 2004, Smith discovered that she was interested in music production through hanging around guys who made beats and organized recordings. It wasn’t until she discovered that one could actually be involved in the music-making process and get paid once songs reached radio that she decided to pursue music seriously. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, a music capital in the U.S., may have had something to do with the urge as well.
“It really fascinated me and it set me on a path to learn more and more. At the time the internet — now a resource and tutorial tool — wasn’t what it is today,” Smith said. “All the people I learned from were guys. I really thought I was the only woman who was producing or aspiring to produce to the level I wanted to. I didn’t want to do it as a hobby; I wanted to do it professionally, competitively.”
In 2013, the arena for female producers, she said, has improved. But it was the lack of visibility six years prior that fueled her motivation to spotlight women who compose, produce and craft recordings professionally.
“I didn’t know any women who did music production, or specially who made beats, using computer software or electronic musical instruments that have production capabilities,” she added.