Ester Dean On Why More Women, And Barbies, Should Be Producers

Ester Dean On Why More Women, And Barbies, Should Be Producers

By Sunni Anderson

Sitting across from songwriter and producer Ester Dean as she settles into a Zoom call from her bright studio, I perceive her warm aura through my monitor. Colorful pink furnishings accent the room, like a visual representation of the electric feminine energy at work. A successful hitmaker for legends like Beyoncé (“Count Down”), Rihanna (“Rude Boy”), Selena Gomez (“Come & Get It”), and Katy Perry (“Firework”), she is aware firsthand the power girls have to shape the future of music, both on the mic and in back of the soundboard. Right now, she is using her platform to open doors for the next generation of music-makers.

Beginning out in underground studios in Omaha, Nebraska, before relocating to Atlanta at age 20, she is aware that the obstacles barring entry to the music industry, like buying tools and renting studio time, can be complicated to defeat. Today, far less than 2 percent of producers are females, and fewer still are girls of color. That’s why Dean collaborated with Girls Make Beats to expose females to the careers of producers, DJs, and audio engineers. The program offers one-on-one mentorship with working professionals and provides music tools for hands-on courses, which Dean hopes will make the journey more obtainable, even for those from underprivileged backgrounds. She is working in teamwork with Mattel, who even compiled a music producer Barbie doll to inspire young girls to pursue a career in the industry. “If you wish to know what a girl sounds like, let her make beats,” Dean tells MTV News. “If you aspire to know what the essence of a woman is, have her make music.”

Dean remembers it was “hearing Black ladies sing and just have all of the swag” that inspired her to step into her creativity unapologetically. “Mary J. Blige, Kelly Price, Faith Evans, SWV with the b-boy outfits. Females in the R&B, hip-hop genres made me wish to do everything they were doing.” Seeing artists that looked like her gave Dean the confidence to pursue a career in music, which underscored for her the significance of representation. She tells MTV News how she believes that the next generation can close the gender gap by exuding confidence in their work, showing up with a business-first attitude, and never seeking the validation of the boys.

MTV News: From your time and experience, can you speak about the representation of females in back of the scenes and how you believe that narrative exists? 

Ester Dean: I have only been in the music industry for 10 years. I watched the secret, turned it into my manifestation, and came to California, worked like a dog. And I didn't visualize just men. I didn't just visualize girls. I seen a crowd of people in their working lives. The opening time I looked at an interview plus it mentioned that other people had written the song I wrote, I was like, how did they get that magazine to mention that?

The gap is once you're working in the back, you don't come up to greet the people in the front. You know, the chefs don't come out. I've learned, if I have PR, whenever the song came out, I was also involved in the conversation. I do believe whether it's a woman or a gentleman, the gap between people knowing who wrote the music and who produced the music is based on PR. It's like, you could mention you did it all day on Instagram, however that ain't going to take you that far. It's going to get some likes, although it's not going to get global exposure. So I tell every producer, every songwriter, everybody I meet: Are you going to get your PR?

MTV News: As soon as it comes to gaining support beyond the scenes, what do you suggest ladies need? What has worked for you that you would like to be able to see more of? 

Dean: I was on every email can you might imagine. I habitually was my boss. Even any time As soon as I didn’t have managers, I was my boss. I went to 8 o'clock meetings. I went to 10-o'clock-at-night meetings. I was routinely present in shaking the hand of the person that I was doing organization with. Rihanna or Beyoncé or Nicki, I was going to show up, and I never let anybody speak for me. Nevertheless in case you are under a manager who has 15 people, your song is just a stream of consciousness. I think representing yourself in the room is how you get representation. You are your representation.

Every girl should think company first because that's what males are thinking. Am I getting credit? Am I getting paid?” All those things are conversations about what goes on the album's credits, what enters the world wide web. What's your elevator pitch? I've habitually worked on my elevator pitch of “Ester Dean did this with these people, yet I am here to only resemble myself.”

MTV News: Why is it critical that we have more females producers show up unapologetically in the music industry?

Dean: It's critical to have a balance. I was thinking this morning, I mentioned, what does music sound like in a woman's essence? We do hair. We do makeup. We put on our clothes — I got on pink. Girl, I decorated this whole residence pink because it's my essence. So what does a pink album sound like? Nicki Minaj. What do pink beats sound like? What does a purple beat sound like? What does a unicorn producer look like? Because that's what ladies do. We are very magical.

MTV News: Who are some examples of what that femininity might sound like? 

Dean: Chloe x Halle, they are producers. They have been producers. I met them once were babies, and so they were in there, making beats with all their harmonics. And so they had every note to it. That's what a woman producer sounds like.

MTV News: What is your vision beyond Ladies Make Beats and your teamwork with Barbie?

Dean: We give feeling, right? Guys give feeling, also, nevertheless we give a different sort of feeling. Can you imagine a 13-year-old who'd her heart damaged, and she goes to the beat machine and she just begins playing her heartbeat? Or it's her birthday and she begins making sounds that sound like her birthday. It's going to sound different. It's going to sound astonishing, just as much as a 13-year-old boy doing it for his first win. So I feel like the gap will be closed while they understand that there's a system for you and there really are tools.

That's why I love Barbie for putting the mixing machine in there, the computer with the screen next to the producer. Once she plays this with her toys and she plays with her Barbie producer doll, she'll have to imagine herself creating a beat. She would have to hear the sounds. She would have to produce this out in her head. And then while she says, “I hope to create music for Katy Perry, I want to create music for Beyoncé, I'd like to prepare it for Dua Lipa, I want to prepare music for Chloe x Halle,” she's going to have to go listen to them. She's going to have to go visualize what they felt like.

MTV News: How has the industry evolved toward closing the gender gap?

Dean: The music industry is a grind-time sort of thing. You're not even companions with anybody. You’ve got your head down and you're working. We are all in a race by ourselves. It's a competitive game. And then every track that comes out doesn't have people's real names on it. It'll be like “Slick Beats” or “8.5 Beats.” With so several people, you do not actually know if it's a girl or guy. You do not actually know if it was five people. You don't know if it was one person.

I believe girls need to know that they can be it. I don't know if ladies know that they could pick up the beat machine, and right now we're here as representation to tell them, yes, you can.

MTV News: What do you suggest the future holds for the next generation of female music producers, DJs, and audio engineers?

Dean: The future for ladies is creative expression. This is therapy for me. So just thinking about all these ladies who are attempting to self-care and self-cope, once you could just put it through sound and also you could make it through sound. I think it's going to be a lot of healing. I think, in general, mental health is going to get better. In general direction is going to get better because this is a very technical sort of career. And somehow you begin finding your own voice. Whether it's through sound or your own voice through music, you're going to find yours. Anytime you create something from scratch, you begin finding who really are. In the event you desire to know what a girl sounds like, let her make beats. In case you wish to know what the essence of a woman is, have her make music. And it's going to pour over the world like a rainbow.

It all begins with imagination. I think ladies can begin reprogramming themselves to take care of themselves and not need the validation of a boy. Validate yourself. As long as we plant these cute seeds, the world is going to change. It's going to evolve, it's going to be more musical, and it's just going to be a pretty experience. I believe that.

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