Interview with Xylo Aria on Creating “Music Production for Women” and Making a Positive Change in the Music Industry
Our "Women in Music” initiative continues with this awesome interview with Xylo Aria – an artist and the founder of Music Production for Women. In our recent research on the challenges female producers face, we also mentioned several organisations, which support women who've decided to start producing. MPW was one of them and I'm more than happy to have its founder opening up on her personal experience with the subject.
A singer, producer, entrepreneur and visionary, Xylo Aria is not only striving to develop her own career and prove her place as a female artist in the industry but is also helping other women do the same. Born in India, identifying with Australia but residing in the UK, Xylo brings her global perspective into her music and everything she does. She got into music because of her love for singing, started writing songs at 12 and in 2017 took the decision to produce her own music.
After facing numerous challenges, connected to being a female in an area of music that was heavily dominated by men, she came up with the idea about the online education platform MPW, launched in 2019. MPW was created to go beyond the realms of educating women, and become a movement in the music industry that would empower and encourage more women to take their first steps into music technology.
In this interview Xylo shares more about how her personal journey inspired her to make the big step of creating a platform that would empower other women, which face the challenges she did.
First of all, can you tell us how did it all started and what got you into music-making, as well as producing in particular?
I started my journey in music as a vocalist. My grandmother always loved music and I think always felt sad that it wasn’t something that she was able to pursue. She taught me how to sing Traditional Indian Carnatic music at a very young age. I started writing songs when I was 12 and was eventually started working with some friends to produce them, which unfortunately didn't always work out too well for me! This sort issues of brought me to learn to produce music because it felt like the only way forward.
How and when did you decide to launch MPW?
MPW launched around two and a half years ago now, which seems crazy to me because it feels like it started yesterday! I had just quit my job in accounting, but I was making music for a long time before that. I was always really interested in small business as well. Reflecting on my musical journey, I realized that my biggest challenge was finding the right people to produce my music, and when I did, to know that they had mine and my music’s best interest in heart. After a few experiences where that, unfortunately, didn't seem to be the case, I started to get frustrated because I felt like the process of creating music was no longer in my own hands. Anyone else who is a musician could probably relate to this being a tough thing to deal with because we are creative beings.
Eventually, when I started producing my own music, not because I really wanted to but I felt it was my only way forward, it felt like a completely different world to me. I was so ecstatic to have control over my own creativity and reflecting on this, I was wondering why it took me so long, and I realized there were a few reasons for it. One being the lack of community and not feeling like I belonged in the space at all. Secondly, I couldn't see anyone who looked like me in the space. Thirdly, all of the content, I saw around production was sort of being created by the same type of person whom I couldn't really relate to. So, I felt like if all of these things could be addressed, I would have likely gotten into production a lot sooner. Since I didn't see anyone else, addressing these points together, I decided that it was in my power to do something about it myself. I figured that if a platform with these aspects would have helped me, then there are probably others, that it could also assist.
Can you tell us more about the process, what helped you to bring your idea to life and what was rather preventing you to do so?
I had no idea what I was doing when I was building MPW to be completely honest! I knew what I wanted it to look like, but I didn't actually know how to go about it. I wanted to have a course that was accessible online that had all of the introductory information in one place in the form of a membership portal, but I had no idea how to actually build this. So, everything was very much trial and error. The other thing was that I knew creating something like this would be extremely time-intensive, and would not pay me anything for quite a while, which was a scary thing because I had just quit a full-time job with a decent salary.
In the beginning, though there were quite a few people who were really supportive of the idea and wanted to help bring it to life. Professor Samantha Warren at Portsmouth University was one of these people who I am really grateful for. However, there were also people who were saying that something like this would definitely not work, which was also really discouraging and a difficult thing to hear when I felt so strongly about it.
Eventually, I realized that I just needed to take things one step at a time and slowly started to build the platform that is MPW, step by step, with loads of questions, and lots of time spent with support staff of my website hosting company!
How does MPW assist women on their musical journeys?
There are three main areas that I hope to address through MPW. One is content being created with women in mind, because I feel that having content online, all coming from the same type of male can feel alienating without you even realising it. Secondly, there is a really strong sense of community, in which I hope that all of our students feel like they have someone to turn to when they are stuck, and feeling alone. And lastly, there is a focus on building and increasing the visibility of female role models, so that people early on in their journey can have someone to look up to that they can relate to. So, we have lots of different courses on production, mixing, getting your music out there, etc. and my focus is to make sure that everyone that is part of these courses, feels extremely well supported throughout their journey. And through our membership platform, we are always looking at other ways that we can make people feel part of something, and know that they do have an ear to speak to, whenever they need it. We have been really lucky to work with really incredible and talented teachers who are excellent at imparting their knowledge to our students.
Are there moments in which you feel discouraged, regarding the issue about female producers and your ability to be part of its resolvement? And if yes, what gives you hope and brings you back on track?
Yes, definitely. It is such a huge topic and issue to get on top of, and it is very easy to feel like we are not making any difference to the industry and the environment. I recently had a chat with Dr Jeff Crabtree, who put out a study on sexual harassment in the music industry. It was really difficult to digest the stories that came out of it and really made me feel like we were so far away from reaching a better place. Also, the recommendations suggested by him were really logical but also extremely huge in their undertaking and would require years if not generations to take effect.
What gives me hope though, and makes me feel like this is worth pursuing, is the number of messages that we get on our social media pages from people who are really grateful that they found us and that just knowing that we exist, has helped them in their journey. So, I think, even if changing the industry for the huge masses is a significant undertaking. At the moment, if we are even making the lives of individual musicians slightly better, then that is worth it for us to continue doing what we do.
So far, you have plenty of experience both as a music producer yourself, but also as someone who is working and helping other female producers. Can you define the challenges that appear to be not only common but also tough to deal with?
I think the biggest commonality in what I do as a musician and producer, and what I do through MPW is that, essentially, they are both businesses, which require a lot of work, but also can be endless, in what needs to be done. This can make the feeling of working really overwhelming because you know where you want to get to or where you want your business to go. What you do on a day to day basis however can feel like such a small step towards the mountain, that it can seem like you're not moving at all.
What’s the best way to handle these challenges?
The best way for me to overcome this is through setting goals that are realistic and that can be measured. This way, at the end of the day or week or month, or whatever time period that you're setting your goals for, you can identify exactly what you have done, and know that you are moving forward, even if in the bigger context, it feels like very small steps.
Which are the things that would certainly contribute to a positive change, in your opinion?
I think visibility is a big part of it. There is a saying that ‘you can't be what you can't see’ and I think this is extremely accurate. I didn't in fact realize how much this impacted me until I understood it better. The second thing is having a space where you feel comfortable to ask, everything that you would like to ask, without feeling silly or like the odd person out. It is also extremely important to get men on board into the conversation because we can't make a change without them as they will be a huge part of the solution. We need to recruit more of the incredible men that I know are out there in the industry, to take a more active stance in calling out bad behaviour.
What’s your current vision about MPW, how do you imagine it in 5 years?
My current vision for MPW in five years time is for every woman on the globe who feels even slightly intimidated by the thought of producing music to know that we exist. I want her to know that she is supported and that there is someone who cares and has her back.
Although so far our courses have largely been online, I would love to be running live events and conferences in many of the major cities in the world, and to meet people and serve them face to face. I would also love to expand significantly into high schools where I think the issue starts and help to inspire girls and show them that they can do it.
My other big goal is for many of the women in music communities to unite and come together in some way to create a more powerful voice in changing the situation within the industry to create a better tomorrow for the people who are just starting out, than maybe what me and the people before me had to endure.
What is your advice to any girl who wants to take up producing or has already done so?
My advice to anyone looking to get started is to just start somewhere! I know it can be really overwhelming and scary to take the first step, but that doesn't really change a year on from that point or two or five years. The only thing that changes is that you may regret not starting earlier. So, just take any step to start, and know that what you are doing is valid as a producer and that you definitely have the potential to get there. If doing this alone is scary for you, then please reach out to us and we would love to do everything we can to make sure that you feel supported through your journey!
For anyone who is afraid to take the first step, MPW offers a taste of their courses with this free intro to music production class. They also have a cool podcast on music industry-related topics - you can find it on their website. In addition, you can become part of their community by choosing their membership option.