Women in Pro Audio Vol. 4: Cookie Marenco, Producer/Engineer, Founder of Blue Coast Records
[With more than 20 years in the music industry, Cookie Marenco’s creative and technical skills have touched almost every aspect of the music and audio business. She is widely known for the quality of her audio engineering skills and for drawing out passionate performances from the artists she produces. Marenco is an advocate of using analog tape for recording while pioneering digital delivery to consumers using DSD digital audio.]
- According to this article, women account for 5% of producers and engineers—why do you feel this is?
You know, it’s a question I never think about. I chose to be a recording engineer and producer because it was something I liked doing and people paid me to do. There are many other work areas dominated by men… notably entrepreneurship, auto racing, plumbing, construction, politics. Have you ever seen a female meat butcher? I did once. I stared at her it was so odd. She did a good job.
Then there are other fields dominated by women like nursing, fashion, elementary school teachers, publicists. I’m not an expert in those fields, but it seems that there are more women than men.
What could be an interesting study is the similarities of characteristics present in fields dominated by a gender. I don’t believe it’s a crime to have an industry dominated by a gender unless the opposite gender is willfully kept out and their contributions minimized.
I have never felt left out of engineering or producing because I was a woman. I read the article you’re linked to and am sad for the women who had so many problems getting into this field. My opinions and experiences more closely match those of Trina Shoemaker.
If you’ve worked at a lot of studios, you’ll notice a certain personality type being more successful than others in the recording environment. Producing has a little more variety of personalities depending on the producer’s background, skills, financial backing and ability to manage a budget and deadline.
My label, Blue Coast Records, has been well received by the audiophile community. I don’t announce the fact I’m a woman, but I don’t hide it. On the forums, many think I’m a man. I find it amusing when they meet me for the first time.
- Who inspired you to get involved in audio in the first place?
Good question… I started playing the piano at four, before I could read. Studied violin at ten(to get out of class), asked to play the oboe at 13, and at 14 was teaching piano. Up to that point, I wanted to be an astronaut.
My father loved his stereo and bought me a 4″ reel-to-reel tape deck from Sears when I was in 5th grade. We had a lot of fun with it. But I believe his greatest contribution was teaching me to play baseball and how to be competitive.
We all follow a path where we get the most positive reinforcement. Eventually, for me, that was music. Playing the oboe (and being competent) opened a lot of doors, along with having 60 piano students when I was 18. At 16, I changed my career focus to being a musician and composer.
At 19, I had a very influential teacher, Art Lande, who encouraged me follow my bliss. I left college (as a music student), joined several bands playing electronic keyboards. I was fascinated by sound, overtones and temperments used by various cultures—especially North Indian Classical—I studied the sitar for 3 years with Krishna Bhatt.
One of my band mates, Dino (JA Deane to those that know experimental music) suggested our rehearsal facility would make a great recording studio. He pointed to me as the ‘obvious’ choice of who’s going to learn to engineer (partly because I was out of town during the installation and this was his form of revenge for my absence—I say this lovingly.)
Formal training to be an engineer didn’t exist in the schools. We researched, bought gear and spent every day in the studio learning how to use the tools. Realistically, that’s 10% of the job. Understanding the needs of the artist is 90% of the job. A happy customer gives referrals.
The skills I attribute most to success was my history as a piano teacher/ entrepreneur. If people are going to spend their hard earned cash, you have to deliver confidence in what you do and deliver the best service you can offer. Being a musician myself, I could understand their needs. Give customers what they want, they’ll pay you. Pretty simple.
After 20 years, I was very skilled at recording but found the artists were more inclined to rely on protools and less on great performances performances. The job of engineer was like becoming a janitor and the music less exciting to me so, I took 3 years off in search of what to do next.
Eventually, I returned to analog tape and DSD (one bit recording that is the closest sound to analog tape.) I started Blue Coast Records and found a whole new set of customers—the end listener and music lover who appreciates high quality recording.
I still record and produce as a hired gun, have a crew of engineers, run an intern program with students from around the world and operate a commercial studio– all to analog tape and DSD. We also have a mastering facility to prep PCM and DSD masters—CD, DSD and WAV downloads, and Internet audio. To these, we’ve added a division for creating websites for musicians that cater to the unique needs of musicians and labels.
I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve had in all my businesses. While I’ve been founder in several, I couldn’t do it without the help of hundreds of women and men from interns and high powered advisers to the crew who works with me daily.
In 2010 my label, Blue Coast Records, became the first to deliver DSD downloads through the internet to customers around the world. These one bit files are 40x the size of .MP3s and now close to 100 companies supporting consumer playback. Our goal is to add value in quality, and give the consumer reason to pay more for a download.
- What do you feel are some of the best resources, online and otherwise, for women to get encouragement and support in the field?
This is a business of relationships. Don’t be afraid to contact people for advice both men and women. Seek those people you admire. Become friendly with your sales/equipment dealers. Hire people to learn from. You’ll keep these friendships for life as people change and move between companies.
Terri Winston’s WAM (Women’s Audio Mission) is a great resource for both women and men to learn from.
Rule of thumb: follow your success and the people that like what you do—forget the rest. Not everyone is going to agree with you, and that’s okay. If you’re a woman and don’t get ‘the’ gig, it’s more likely you didn’t get the gig because you weren’t the right person… not because you’re a woman. Learn from it and make yourself the right person for the next gig.
- Within the aforementioned 5%, do you see more women in production roles than engineering roles? What about when it comes to mastering? Arranging? Songwriting? Session musicans?
I’m not holding my breath for gender changing percentages in producing and engineering. The career path as an engineer is practically non-existent unless you’re an entrepreneur.
That being said, I do see more roles available for both genders in the web and internet audio fields. Even as a hobby, fewer women produce music at home, although, I see more women asking questions about recording in their home studio.
- Do you feel that, for whatever reason, that there are some elements of the pro audio field that women have a more natural predisposition toward than men? If so, which and why?
Organization, management, hearing, listening, nurturing, taking care of business, multi-tasking—I do think women are better suited for studio work as a gender. But, I believe that the money is such a struggle that people are moving away from recording as career choice. Large studio systems are going away. If you’re a risk taker, ready to invest and start your own business, there are opportunities.
- What’s your take on the idea that even addressing this situation—through a blog series such as this—is a step in the wrong direction? It can be argued that discussing women in audio as if it’s some sort of big deal further cements the troubling idea that men are normal, and women are different.
Well, I have to say I’m torn. I’d prefer to talk about what I do other than being a woman. I’d prefer to set an example by doing, not talking about being a woman.
It’s interesting that men tend to want to write about what it’s like being a woman in the business… not women. I’d prefer my legacy be my work in the techniques and brands I’ve innovated… not a string of articles about being a woman and how hard it was to overcome. I find being a woman is an asset not a liability.
- Anything else you’d like to add?
Ryan, what’s it like being a man in this industry? I’ve never been one, so I don’t know. Thanks for contacting me. I’m eager to do more articles not on this subject.
[Ryan’s response: “I will hit you up for more articles for certain! Being a guy in this industry feels quite… one-sided.”]