Hill Kourkoutis admits the global music production industry is still very much male-dominated but holds out hope the tide is turning.
The Canadian multi-hyphenate — she is a producer, engineer and songwriter — was recently nominated for the Juno Award for Recording Engineer of the Year, the first woman to ever do so at the Junos.
Her nomination — for engineering Tania Joy’s The Drought and SATE’s Howler, also produced and co-written by Kourkoutis — comes 23 years after American producer Trina Shoemaker became the first female engineer to receive a Grammy nomination — and Grammy Award — for best engineered album.
Kourkoutis will share her experiences in the industry as part of Manitoba Music’s speaker series: GEAR UP (Gender Equity in Audio Recording and Music Production), which aims to tackle the lack of female and non-binary representation in audio production.
Kourkoutis says it’s a "great honour" to be nominated for a Juno but looks forward to a future where gender isn’t a part of the conversation.
"It’s about the merit of the work at the end of the day," she says. "It comes down to the fact that we can do what can be done.
"My guy friends are never referred to as male producers and engineers and I am hoping that it (gender) won’t be talked about at all when it comes to your work."
According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 2021 report, women are grossly under-represented in audio production, making up only two per cent of all producing positions across the 2020 Billboard Hot 100 songs.
"Barriers are not always overt," Kourkoutis says. "I’ve experienced ageist as well as sexist barriers. The most difficult part is being taken seriously."
She says that there was a lot of initial disbelief that she had technical acumen as "maybe people don’t realize women can be technically inclined in this profession," she says.
"But I think what is going to contribute to more women and non-binary participation in these industries is visibility and representation."
Kourkoutis feels speaker series and workshops will go some way to tackling the gender imbalance that exists within the arena.
She credits a small community of women in Toronto who have gone into music production as her mentors and believes the key is to have more and more people open up and share their experiences.
"There are a lot of women who are very interested in building this skill set and there is a growth in the community with more people having conversations and sharing experiences," Kourkoutis says. "And because we have all found each other, we are able to help each other out. I believe that it’s our duty to pay it back; we are trying to close that gap."
She has already seen a massive shift in attitudes, and while the production side of things still remains male-dominated, things are slowly changing.
"Previously there was never much talk about women and trans and non-binary people in the profession, but now, through these conversations we are fostering a really beautiful community which acts as an incubator."
Sean McManus, executive director of Manitoba Music says: "There’s been a lot of interest in the community around the kind of knowledge and inspiration that can only come from hearing from these trailblazing professionals.
"We’re encouraged by the changes we see in the industry but we know that there is much more to do and that we have a role in moving the needle.
"This series will be a great way to listen and support the folks out there building their careers and making changes."
Kourkoutis credits her success to a series of "random opportunities" as well as a strong family support.
"I had a very non-linear trajectory and a lot of my journey has come through opportunities presenting themselves and me just jumping in without really thinking about it," she says.
Kourkoutis’s supportive family has also helped foster her sense of fearlessness, crediting her mother in particular for always telling her to "go for things."
"I never think about what could possibly happen," she says. "Fear of failure has never stopped me. I was encouraged to be the best I can be and to do what I want in life. My whole family is very encouraging that way."
The collective opportunities afforded to Kourkoutis has her led to where she is right now and she wants to pay it forward.
"My passion truly lies is where I can best serve a community. I am lucky enough do be able to do what I am passionate about for a living and now I want to help people find their voice.
"Visibility results in opportunity; we are all trying to find our purpose in the world and this is mine."
The GEAR UP Speaker Series will stream live via Manitoba Music’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Hill Kourkoutis will speak on March 16 at 7 p.m. Cree interdisciplinary artist and sound designer Chloe Alexandra Thompson will be featured on March 23 at 5 p.m.