Barnard grad Ebonie Smith, BC’07, wears many hats–she is a music producer, sound engineer, and musician who both works as a producer for Atlantic Records and owns her very own independent music studio, Eudora House. Ebonie is also the founder of Gender Amplified, a music festival which took place on Barnard’s campus last weekend. Bwog attended three workshops as part of the festival and learned about DJing, how to make beats on your iPhone, and what it’s like to operate a music studio. After the festival, Bwog had the chance to speak to Ebonie about her own career, the origins of Gender Amplified, and the future of the Gender Amplified movement. Dara Solina reports.
Where did you first get the idea for Gender Amplified?
When I was a senior in college, I was working on my undergraduate thesis project and I wanted to focus on women in hip hop music production. I started reaching out to women who were working in that genre, and in my attempt to search for these women, I came across a website called Femmixx.com. I decided to reach out to the founder of the website, Tachelle Wilkes, and we really hit it off.
She was already producing really cool events for female DJ’s and she actually challenged me to put together a conference based on some of the things that I was talking about with my thesis, so I ran with the suggestion. I came up with the name “Gender Amplified” and created a proposal, which I submitted to my thesis advisor–she thought it was a brilliant idea. The first ever project was a conference in 2007 that I organized when I was senior at Barnard called “Gender Amplified: Women and Technological Innovation in Hip Hop”.
How do you pick who gets to be a part of the festival?
As far as the artists that performed, I try to be very specific and pick artists that do their own production. For example, THEESatisfaction and Laura Escudé not only sing and perform but also do all of the engineering and sound programming associated with their music. It was very important for me to have women who are very familiar with the technological process and are very involved with the production process with their own recordings.
What is it like collaborating with Barnard as an alum?
Barnard is the quintessential partner for Gender Amplified because they believed in the project from the very beginning when I was a student. It just made sense for me to reach out to them again for support with the latest reincarnation of the project. Barnard is a women’s institution dedicated to the advancement of women spanning many fields from the sciences to the liberal arts to music, so it seemed like an excellent place to continue to do the work of Gender Amplified.
Also, the Barnard Center for Research on Women is probably one of the most organized and efficient institutions that I’ve ever worked with in all of New York, and it was very important for me to find a partner that was so strong administratively and logistically. Lastly, the BCRW is really dedicated to speaking to issues of gender and I think that BCRW really gets how gender influences musical technologies and the field of music production.
Speaking of Barnard, can you talk about your experience as an undergrad?
I was an Africana Studies major and as a part of that department I was able to explore a lot of facets of the college. I was able to create an interdisciplinary program which allowed me to take music classes, particularly at the Columbia Computer Music Center, which is where I began writing about music production and technology and where I took some of my first courses in that field.
I found that my professors were extremely supportive, particularly the professors associated with my major. I have so many deans and faculty members that I still keep in touch with and there’s such a wonderful network for me now. My thesis advisor professor Kim Hall was a wonderful motivator, and she also helped me fine-tune some of my ideas which would eventually become the core of Gender Amplified today. Barnard was just an unbelievable experience, and was really great for me in terms of my personal and academic development.
What was it like opening your own studio?
When I was in college, building a studio was something I really wanted to do, so I started saving money over the course of a few years. By the time I was a senior, I had saved up enough to buy my own equipment and was able to get basically everything I needed for a comprehensive studio.
I was able to record vocals and do a lot of music programming and lot of other students would come to me and ask for help with their musical projects. I started to get a little business very early on while I was still an undergrad, and so I noticed that there was an opportunity to get into actually making money as a music producer.
In grad school, I realized that I formally wanted to start a production company so I started Eudora House, which opened at the end of 2011. I’m now basically an independent freelance music producer for hire, and through Eudora House I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of really cool artists on independent releases.
How is it different working at Atlantic Studio versus Eudora House?
Basically the only difference is that when I’m at Atlantic, I’m an in-house music producer. I do what the label needs me to do for our digital marketing department and so the work that I do there is based on what the label needs. When I’m working with Eudora House, I’m able to be more selective with artists and the nature of the work is not for digital marketing purposes but rather individual singles and album projects.
At the end of the day, I just want to make music all the time and both jobs provide the opportunity for me to do that. I really do enjoy both types of work, and just feel very fortunate that I get to do what I love for a living.
What are your plans for both your own career and Gender Amplified going forward?
My goals for my career are to work on major album and single releases. I really want to work on high-profile music production projects with well-established artists as well as new artists that are associated with major labels. Two of my ultimate measurable goals are to win a Grammy and to chart on the Billboard charts. But at the end of the day my goal is always just to make excellent music and to put my heart and soul into every music project that I put out.
As far as Gender Amplified, the biggest thing for me is to make sure that we continue to be a resource–not just for women, but for everyone who’s interested in understanding music production and how gender influences the production world. Whatever we do in the future, I want to be able to really inspire and influence individuals who want to understand more about the types of music that we create in our culture. I want Gender Amplified to be at the forefront of that movement, and as a festival organizer, I would like us to continue to grow as the demand for a movement such as Gender Amplified continues to grow.
Interview edited for clarity.
Amplification device via Shutterstock