Soul Singer Coach Interviews Singer, Producer & Educator, Isobel Anderson

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Dr. Anderson is a powerful, dynamic woman who has swathed her own path through the jungle of the recording industry by becoming a self-produced musician. Her four solo albums have amassed over 25 million Spotify streams, and her sound works have been performed on international stages. She has been published in journals such as Organized Sound and the Journal of Sonic Studies. Between over 20 years making, performing and producing music, a PhD in Sonic Arts; and a passion for creating music tech education spaces for women; - Isobel’s career embraces a sense of independence and experimentation. Isobel is proud to produce and host the critically claimed feminist music tech podcast, Girls Twiddling Knobs. This is all part of our overall vision of helping musicians learn to record and share their music without the confusion or overwhelm, so the world no longer misses out on their unique creative voice.

Veronica: Welcome to the Soul Singer Podcast, Isobel, or should I call you Dr. Anderson? 

Isobel: Isobel's fine. 

Veronica: OK! I’m very curious about your doctorate in the Sonic Arts, and can you please tell us a little bit about what that entails, what is the curriculum like, and what was your thesis about? 

Isobel: Yeah, sure. So, Sonic Arts basically covers everything that is the study of sound as an aesthetic material, let's say, as an aesthetic device or element. So, that can be everything from really experimental composition all the way through to sound synthesis or the sound effects for games or 3D virtual worlds…so it's basically everything and anything that is using sound as an artistic medium…As you can imagine, it’s a little bit like music, like different courses will cover different aspects of that because it's so big. 

But the kind of route that I went into was very much around what's called spatial audio, which is basically how sound is ‘spatialized’. So, that’s things to do with stereo, but also 3D, binaural recording, and binaural playback and ambisonics and all that stuff. I know I'm probably saying words that -  for a lot of people, you know - don’t necessarily mean a lot but basically it’s how sound is spatialized and also psychoacoustics and how we perceive sound, how we relate to sound emotionally, how our brains imagine sound and therefore hears sound differently….And also field recording and soundscape composition - so [that’s] working with environmental sound as a compositional material and electroacoustic composition which is basically using sound to create compositions with technology is probably the best way to describe that. So, quite experimental, quite kind of, sometimes quite complicated and I guess quite complex, sometimes very, very simple. 

And my thesis was “My Words Trace A Path: Encounters with Place through Voice Performance and Field Recording”…and it was really looking at using sound as a kind of conduit to explore identities of self and their relationship to identities of place. 

Veronica: Wow, that's amazing. Is that, is that published somewhere? Maybe I can provide a link in the show notes so people can take a look at that.

Isobel: Yeah, I think, I think you can…I don’t know if you can read it in full from Queens University. So I…I did my PhD at Queens University Belfast, which has a special Sonic Arts Research Centre attached to it. I think you might be able to get it through their library, but I also… think I've got a download on my academia page… 

Veronica: Yeah, it's for purely personal reasons. I mean, everything that you've said has got me going off into like exponential directions and stuff when you're talking about frequencies and emotions and even neurology and how sound affects us and, and then getting into…really what's so popular is the gaming aspect with the 3D - I think most people would know that as the surround experience..… But, anyway, I digress because this is not my area and I'm not gonna lead myself down a path where I can't find my way back home! 

I'm gonna get to something I can relate to a little bit more. I had a few listen to your album Chalk/Flint and it feels like I'm deeply personal, rebirth…and I'd like to ask about the period just before you started recording this album. If you could please take us through some of the challenges and limitations you were facing at that and the impact that had on your identity as an artist. 

Isobel: Yeah. there was some kind, big limitations and big liberations as it were, I guess, in the period leading up to recording that album. It's interesting, like nobody's ever said that it sounds like a kind of a rebirth before, but I think in a way it was, but it was also the death of something too… I know they always go together… 

So leading up to, to writing Chalk/Flint I'd gone through a lot of different health problems over many years, and by the time I was writing and releasing Chalk/Flint, it had really got to a point where that was making, you know, any kind of normal activity really hard because I’d injured my wrists and then the kind of chronic pain condition that I suffered from for a long time then meant that that became chronic. 

And so lots of very, very normal things that we all take for granted or many of us take for granted suddenly weren't possible. So even making myself a meal wasn't possible, let alone writing and recording an album… I'm always someone that's written on instruments and I'm always someone that's produced my own work as well. 

So that presented a big challenge, but it wasn't just about, you know, obviously making the album. It was a challenge in terms of what I was gonna do with the rest of my life, with that being present and being, at the time I was…how old was I?…30 something…31 I think?  So, you know, the idea of looking out into the expanse of my life and being effectively disabled in that way…that obviously was really difficult. 

So, I’d been going through basically a long period of kind of the loss of my health, and so I was very much - I wouldn't say I was in the darkest phase - but I was one in one of the dark phases, let's say….but at the same time, for the first time in my life, I was making money for my music. 

So my third album…In My Garden was racking up millions of Spotify streams and I was a totally independent artist, so all of the income from that was mine. So for the first time ever, I was just living off my music and that felt incredibly liberating. And I was in a position to apply for some great funding in the UK and work with some fantastic people. 

And so this album kind of represented like massive limitations to how I've normally worked, but also just having that, being a stage in my career where I could throw a bit more money at it, work with some fantastic people, check off some of the things that had been on my bucket list for a long time and make an album, that for me, was basically the album that I'd always wanted to make, you know, and finally be able to do that. 

Veronica: It's interesting you know, the liberation is juxtaposed to a lot of limitations. It's, almost it's subset. It wasn't as, as an impact that I, I had originally assumed….I suppose…maybe your identity was already quite solidified as an artist and this was sort of a, like a subset setback. It didn't have as maybe as big an impact  as I thought… 

Isobel: You mean the kind of health problems? 

Veronica: Yeah. You know, I think. You know, just, just as an aside, because I don't play a musical instrument, I - for many reasons and many excuses - I never, picked up a guitar or anything…but I started programming in order to uh…. I always had to use technology, but I also had a partner who was a multi-instrumentalist in a producer, so it was a division of labor and I never really had to really go there. When we split up,I basically “lost my wrists” as well. So I was on my own having to go into a learning curve for technology and stuff like that. 

Isobel: Yeah I think that it… I mean, effectively what ended up happening is also that I strained my voice and because of the way that my body processes injury that became chronic. And so it meant that I couldn't tour the album...after I released it. It meant that I spent at least six months pretty much locked in. I couldn't speak, I couldn't, I mean when I talk about wrist pain, I'm like, I can't write, I can't text, I can't type. 

So, It's not even like, it's just affecting my music, it's affecting everything…but then not being able to speak meant that I just basically could hardly communicate. And so my, my, then I really just had to step away from my career, you know? And I think that I always was gonna have to do that. And I think during Chalk/Flint, I was really trying to not do that. 

But in reality, that was… I don't know how I would ever have kept going the way, in this…in the kind of physical, psychological, emotional state that I was in. So, yeah, I think, no, I think it was hugely challenging, but I think that like I was saying, when - and I'm sure you can relate to this and other people - when you've been struggling financially so long as an artist, to then be in the position where that that stress is left for a period of time, that did feel incredibly liberating. So I was able to actually pay for help to make the album. That would've never have been the case before. But I guess also that I was quite established and I was quite experienced by that point. So, I knew the things that I needed to focus on to get the album done, even with those limitations. 

Veronica: Oh, fabulous. Well, sounds like a tremendous triumph. I can't our listeners to hear a little bit more of your music. So, if we go back to say -  like your childhood - how did you come to realize this gift for music that you have? Was there a key person in your life that inspired you at the very start?  

Isobel: I think there was probably a few people I think I remember very clearly. Getting to about 10 years old and being in the choir at school and then being singled out as, you know, “you should take a solo” and then realizing, “Oh, right, I must have a good voice”. 

And then moving up to secondary school and. I remember we, we had a rock concert every year, so, you know, you could pick whatever pop song you wanted to sing and sing it in front of the school. And I remember doing that in the very first year of secondary school….and I was about 11 and I remember the whole room going quiet, and I was absolutely petrified. 

And it was that moment I was like, “Okay, this, this is something like, no hardly anyone else you know, has that effect, This must be something serious.”  And then I just kind of, it just went from there really. But before I ever wanted to sing or be a musician, I wanted to be an artist. And I think that's always stayed with me - that really deep down at my core, it's more that I want to be an artist in a kind of bigger sense. 

And, I happen to kind of most easily - and I guess, in a way most instantly, “fulfillingly”  - communicate that through music and through my voice… But I think that's what’s meant that when I haven't been able to make music anymore or sing anymore, I’ll still been able to tap into that creativity that was there all along, you know?  And I think, I think a lot of people who are that way inclined kind of probably grew up feeling a bit like a little bit of an outsider and I always had that feeling as a kid, always. Idunno where that came from. I just always felt like I was slightly on the outside looking in at things, especially at other people….And, and I think that that's the artist in me, I think. 

Veronica: It's almost like artists are, introverted/extrovert. 

Isobel:  Yeah, I’m very much that, in a sense.  

Veronica: Yeah, I, I can certainly relate to that. Most people would say, “Oh, you're shy. Really?”  Like, well, yeah - but you, you have to express yourself and you do what you have to do to get it out there. 

Isobel: Yeah, and I think that, I always remember from a young age really observing things and reflecting on things but also getting quite weirdly spooked by things or overwhelmed by things..and I think that was my kind of artist, sort of slightly - my artist's brain on overdrive, you know?  Yeah, like sensitive, I guess. nature….and I think, I think that's what I noticed first as opposed to any particular medium, like music or anything else.  

Veronica:  Mm-hmm, like your neurosystem is, is taking in all this, uh, the multidimensional world and you know, gifted with multidimensional expression. 

Isobel: So, yeah…Songwriting, writing, and I'm just thinking of people…people who encouraged me through.I was very lucky that my parents were very encouraging, My grandparents were very encouraging. I had a school where they actually did have some good music provisions, some good music teachers. 
So just to make sure I give a shout out to those people cause I did have some, some great support in that way.  

Veronica: Oh, it's, it's so great to be blessed with that nurturing in those developing years, for sure. You know…it’s in your songwriting and in your singing. I really feel your expression as being very intimate, poignant, and soulful, you know…a yearning for truth and all these emotions that come with womanhood. I don't hear that too often.  So, what are the…what would you say are the key themes that come up for you personally when you’re writing? 

Isobel: Well, I think that. In a lot of my work, you can see some quite…you know, common themes that we would all associate with songs like, you know, unrequited love and relationships and rejection and all that kind of stuff. 

I think that there's always been a kind of a thread of almost like smuttiness in my writing. Like I do like to kind of put in some…yeah, just some stuff that's about sex and humour and even slightly grotesque. I mean, I would say that's quite subtle in it, but if you know, if you become a Isobel Anderson fan, you would probably recognize some… a little bit of smuttiness in there, which is very much my personality. 

I think that I've sometimes drawn traditional stories from the British Isles to sort of think about how we. How we, I guess, how we package up people in a way. Like, there's one song that I wrote, called Moron's Lullaby, and it's about a traditional Cornish story from the southwest of England. And it's about a mermaid who falls in love with this choir boy and forgets that he can't breathe underwater. So when she brings him down to her home, he dies…and I think there's just something interesting about how those kind of traditional folk stories, can give us these, these archetypes to look at people and you know…sometimes that's in ways that are very stereotypical gender-wise or whatever else, but sometimes they're in ways that are really quite subversive. 

Yeah, so I, I definitely draw on that in, in order to…become or share different parts of me and sometimes I use that kind of traditional storytelling, uh, influence to do that. I guess again, it's quite subtle, but if you listen to a lot of my stuff, you might start kind of picking that up. 

Another thing that I think does come through is this connection with places that I've always felt very, very…just very kind of…Connected to place and fascinated by what, what it is, for a place to be a place rather than just a space….and so I think that my music, some of my songs are really grounded in specific places or even just general kind of types of landscape…and also uses that to communicate things to do with me, relationships, other people and that kind of thing.  

Veronica: Hmm….you know, I was, I was speaking to an English professor many, many years ago, and I asked him to critique one of my short stories and he said what was missing is a sense of place…and he was talking to me about that….that is really, really the cornerstone of really good storytelling is, that sense of place. And I really hear that in your music. You know, I almost thought you were, you were Celtic…you know, it has that sort of, there's a longing and a yearning and a deep romanticism I find with this music, and it’s…a very definitive sound…that you carry through. But you also have your own, original rawness, that I quite like. And, I haven't picked up on the smuttiness, but maybe it's because I'm smut-meister myself and I think that's pretty normal… 

Isobel: Do you know what I'm thinking that, cause you were mentioning Chalk/Flint…I think it's in my, uh, probably more in my earlier albums. I think Chalk/Flint became a bit more political actually… thinking about the content. 

So Chalk/Flint came…because I was a bit older and I think a lot of my love life stuff had kind of settled down…I’m still with the person I was with when I was writing Chalk/Flint so I’m very happily settled down. So I think that Chalk/Flint became more political. So it became about, yeah, it kind of became about… I guess about, staying alive, like surviving in a way? 

Veronica: Like a “woman’s place”…  

Isobel:  Yeah, I think so. I think so. I think, yeah, like there's a song which is called, _4284_/I’m A Life, and that's about the abortion rights movement that was going on in Northern Ireland at the time. Cause it was still illegal there…it’s still, it's legal now - it’s problematic though, but..that’s about a women's story of traveling from Ireland to…England to access abortion services. And 4,284 was the number of women who'd traveled just the year that I released that song (_4284_) from Ireland to the rest of the UK as in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The rest of Ireland is obviously not part of the UK but Northern Ireland is… 

Yeah…So, and then, and then there's another song called Watch You Leave, which is about my grandma, and that's about Alzheimer's and…er kind of, uh, watching her leave, but not being able, not being allowed to, in a sense, because she was still technically alive, but you watch that person kind of very slowly leave. 

So, yeah, I think there's, there's a few, there's a few different strands but I, I guess I called it Chalk/Flint because it was very much kind of coming back to, I guess I was in a place where I was able… I was old enough to feel like I could revisit something of my formation. And so Chalk and Flint are two, notable sort of, what would you call them? Rocks, rock materials in the landscape where I grew up, . So I kinda used that to talk about my formation as a human as well. 

Veronica: That's very dynamic and deep Isobel, I could think about that in ponder for the next, uh, half an hour…wow… I really wanna dig deep into your back catalog now and, uh, get more into it. 
I was really impressed by, uh, You know, Chalk/Flint is probably one of your more - in quotes  - “pop” records but I still hear that experimental nature in the production…and in…the overall production vision. So, a good segue to your technical skillset. You know, you have some really valuable technical information for musicians on your website, And one of my favourite lines in there is when you talk about “training your to listen a producer”. So, when we as singers are listening to ourselves in a recording, what are we listening for…in a technical sense?  I mean there's, I suppose that…there’s the performance aspect and then there's the frequently mixed aspect. I'm not sure if that's a fair question? 

Isobel: Yeah, it's a fair question. I think it's a really important question. I think, particularly any women listening to this will, you know, I, I think it's a really important skill to have to be able to listen with the producers ear. Now that doesn't mean you have to know everything about music production, recording, and audio engineering, but it does mean that you can listen to your voice beyond the performance. You know? 

So what you would wanna be listening for are really, if, if we take, let's say you are able to listen just to the voice recording on its own. It hasn't got lots of, you know, other instruments going on or other sounds going on. If you just listen to that voice recording, maybe you've done it home. Maybe somebody else is recorded it for you. One thing I would be wanting to look at, listen out for are reflections, and what I mean by that is a lot of the time you'll be able to tell that something's been recorded in a small room like a bedroom because you can actually hear the reflections of the sound waves bouncing off the walls back into the microphone. And in an extreme sense, that's what you hear when you are in a cathedral or a big hole. You hear that reverb, you know, and you clap your hands and you hear that reverb and that ring. But…your brain is so clever that it can even decipher it. If it's very subtle and say if you record in a bedroom and you've got no sound treatment, it will, then those reflections will come up in your recording. 

So I would be listening out for…I’m just imagining people who might be recording at home themselves…I'd be listening out for those reflections and I would be using some absorptive materials to tame those reflections. But if you were in a studio, you'd, you'd also wanna be listening out to that. 

Hopefully you won't have any reflections or very, very few because you are in a studio. But then also, yeah, the next thing, the next biggest thing you wanna be listening out for…is the frequencies. So, does something sound warm and full and rich and deep? Or does something sound airy and thin and maybe even a bit raspy and abrasive? 

Or does something sound really muffled and muddy and you know, it's hard to really work out…there’s not a lot of clarity. All of those things are generally related to EQ as in the frequency. And so, if you are listening back to something that you've recorded or somebody else has recorded [it]…especially if you get sent a mix or something and you hear your voice and it's been treated by a producer, then I would be listening out to see, “Do I like the tone of this?”… 

Beyond your performance, beyond the natural grain of your voice. Do I like how this is being produced? Do I like the fact that it's got clarity on the high end, as in you can really hear those…nice…let's say, uh, what, what would you call it..punctuation….What’s the word for the s's and the, the clarity on that…and then also… is there still depth to your voice? Is there so many mid and low frequencies that it's overpowering and it’s starting to sound muddy? You know, so I would be starting to listen out for that. I know that if you….if you're new to this stuff, that can feel quite overwhelming even in of itself. 

But at the very least, I'd just be listening. Start listening beyond your vocal performance and start tuning into the tone or quality of the recording. Whether something sounds like it's been recorded in a nice, clean, dry space, or whether you're picking up those reflections. 

And then even in terms of the overall track, how is it balanced…Volume wise, how's it balance balancing out panning wise and just listen to a pop song. Even just stick a pop song on and start listening to how many instruments can I pick out in here? …Simple as that….that will start training your ear to be more like a listening, like a producer. 

Veronica: Like a reference track. 

Isobel: Yeah, it could be a reference track. Yeah…I mean, but just stick your favourite artist on. And a lot of the time what we'll do is we'll naturally listen to the thing that we're most experienced in, or most drawn to, which for a lot of singers will be our voices. If you're a songwriter, it'll also be the lyrics and the melody. 

Listen beyond that. So force yourself to listen to the drum beat. Force yourself to pick out “how many instruments can I hear”. Challenge yourself to see if you can pick out where there's any volume changes or where, you know, there's some different effects being used. You don't have to name the effects, you don't have to know what they are, But just to start noticing that and really paying attention to that, that is the beginning of training that ear to be like a producer. 

Veronica: I love the production world. I'll probably always be a student…at this for the rest of my life. Speaking of production itself, you know, I'd like to on something that's been bugging me…Coming back online after  a bit of a hiatus due to health issues myself, I started my course and coaching journey last year and I started researching, okay, what, what's happening now? What's new? What are other singers doing in karaoke groups? And I came across these karaoke apps like Smule or Ultra Star Deluxe or Sing Plus. I was listening to some of these recordings in duets people were doing, and I though…this can't be real. These effects are so heavy and you know, it was so popular. So I thought, okay, well I'm gonna open my mind and try it.  And it, for me, it was horrible like singing into AirPods and rather than using a proper mic in a basic studio setup, it just felt too weird for me….And I was hoping you could give me some technical insight into these new karaoke apps as compared to, you know, to DAW / digital audio workstations. Am I right in thinking that these apps are like Instagram filters for the voice? 

Isobel: I mean, I've never looked into them, so I'm really not the right person to ask, to be honest. But…I really wouldn't wanna comment. Now, who knows? Maybe they're amazing. I don't know…but I think that, you know, for some people they'll really like the way that they work and the way that they sound, and they would feel more comfortable with that. Just like how, for some people, they wanna use an Instagram app rather than go and buy Adobe, you know, Illustrator or whatever. And sit and do that. So I don't think they're necessarily a replacement for going and recording in a studio or setting your own home studio…space up. But I think if they help people play with their ideas and you know, share stuff, then that's fine. I, I don't, I haven't, honestly, I haven't looked into these particular apps to really make a comment on what's going on technically, or what difference they might have to using a DAW. But what I can say is that a lot of more recent software and apps have become much more sophisticated, you know, and if you can record with GarageBand on your phone, I'm sure there's lots of other apps where you can do some really cool stuff, and I think it's really, really important to not just, discount something because it's an app, because I think some very, very cool technology is coming out and just some very, very convenient technology is coming out as well. 

So, so for example, I just delivered my first, retreat all about how to start field record. And, a lot of people were using smartphones because smartphones have gotten so much better. You can now get apps like Dolby On, is an amazing recording app which Dolby has designed for smartphones. So definitely I would say to anyone, don't be too sniffy about using an app to record because it's become a lot more sophisticated. 

Now, does that mean that replaces a studio or replaces creating your own home recording space? No, not necessarily particularly, you know, depending on the genre and how you like to make music, but, that's my take on it in general, let's say. 

Veronica: No, that's really good advice because I think, I sort of started out in a studio environment quite young, so I didn't really know any different and I, I need to learn to have fun, I think…not take, not taking it so seriously and stuff because I was snippy to be honest… I was sort of what is this? And…because every, I think it's like, it's that point of head reference. You know how when people are recording and with my monitor mix I like to have some effects because that really helps me to perform and good producer will with that but then you're taking off one of the headphones in order to hear your bone resonance and hear the raw unmixed aspects so that you can, hear and reference your pitch a little bit better. So it just felt like I was just getting lost into this deep, uh, reverb world. And I was wondering “How are all these people doing this and recording in their cars and everything?”….but yes, you're absolutely right, Isobel. I gotta, you know, chill and get with the program because so much is…you know, I got a new iPhone as well and it's impressive what these apps are doing and that’s..what I love about your female DIY musician website is how you breaking this very intimidating and making it…truly achievable for people. 

You know, one, one tool I loved when I went online was the quiz, Which Vocal Mic is Right for You and how I broke down those barriers very simply, that can trick us into being overwhelmed and giving up an even trying proper recording projects. Can you explain generally for beginning singers why certain microphones would be better for certain voices? 

Isobel: Yeah, I mean, the biggest thing would be its frequency response. So we're back to frequencies again. But, every microphone has a different frequency response, which basically means it will pick up, it'll be more successful at picking up. You know, low frequencies, mid frequencies, high frequencies to really kind of simplify it basically. 

So you could have the same microphone and, or you could have, you could have two different microphones, I should say, and one of them you'll hear and it'll sound really kind of, much, much warmer, much richer. Another one you'll hear and it'll sound less so, and it might even sound a bit airy and thin. And that's be partly, largely because of their frequency response. The thing is though, is that, everyone's voice is different as well. So my voice could be quite kind of, warm and rich already, so maybe I don't need to have a mic that's gonna warm my voice up. Maybe I can stand to have a voice [mic] that's gonna accentuate the higher frequencies and give it a little bit of airiness and clarity on the high end, for example. 

Whereas somebody else might have a voice that is quite thin and wispy and airy, and they won't want that mic that's gonna just kind of deepen the lower range of their register. So, it's not a case of a lot of the time online, you'll hear people say, “Oh, you should only ever record with this mic, or this mic is the best, or this mic is awful”… And honestly, just whenever you hear that, just know that's absolute bollocks - pardon my French - that’s rubbish. And it really depends on a few different factors. 

But what my quiz does is it takes you through some questions that will help you narrow down what kind of mic you might need because as well as the frequency response is also about what are you recording. 

So if you are just recording your voice, that's one thing, but if you want a mic that can record your voice and your electric guitar and your cello or whatever, then that there's certain mics that are kind of known to be quite good all-rounders, whereas other ones are very much like no, that's been designed for a voice. 

But also it's what are the conditions you're recording in. Are you recording with, you know, some really good sound treatment? Are you recording in a studio or a very good home recording space? Or are you just recording with no consideration of the acoustics at all? Different microphones will help you depending on what environment you're recording in as well. 

So there's, there's few different factors…. I’ve made the quiz because I knew how confusing that could be, but also that I knew people were being told “Don’t use that mic. It's awful”…. For example, in particular, the SM58, which is the mic that a lot of people use live…that’s a wonderful mic that's really very affordable and lots of people will use it in a studio setting because it's so reliable. 

It has a great tone, very even clear response to people's voices and, and it stands up really well between that and miss that cost thousands of pounds…so, you’ll often…I see on the comments of my quiz post …when I do a post about this quiz and especially if I push it as an advert to try and get it in front of people, there are people on the thread that will say like…there’s an image with post for example of an SM58, let's say, “that's not even a studio mic, that’s a live mic”… you know, cause people on Facebook are always trying to find reasons why you don’t know what you're talking about. And… it's that kind of thing…it’s like, actually no, actually loads of mics can, can respond very differently, these different voices. 

And it really depends what you are recording, where you're recording the genre you are, you are recording, you know, So that's why I made the quiz basically. 

Veronica: I think it’s fabulous. You've thought of everything, Isobel. I would encourage everybody to check this out.  You know…and I was excited when I saw your posts on Instagram and…learning about your podcast, Girls Twiddling Knobs, and I recently joined your podcast Facebook group. Mostly. I'm really impressed by so many dynamic and talented women in your growing community… As an educator and a mentor, what have you been observing and learning from them so far?  You know, are you noticing common challenges and inspirations from these fabulous women in music? 

Isobel: Definitely, definitely. And…I just, I feel so incredibly lucky to have the community that I have in Female DIY Musician…the podcast Girls Twiddling Knobs…Like you say, there's just, there's so many talented, dynamic, intelligent, people in there. So, that’s wonderful. 

What I learned from a lot, you know, uh, being in that community observing people in my community is there's a couple of big factors that are probably our biggest challenges. One is..well, let's see. There's a challenge where there's like two challenges behind it. There's a challenge where people think that they don't have the right equipment to start recording and producing themselves and when I talk to them about what equipment they have, they actually have everything they need. And so what's going on underneath that is usually, either they've been told again and again and again, that - usually by some guys in their life that, cuz they, they usually know a couple of guys in their life who are into production and stuff ….They’ve been told by them that unless you have this, this, and this, you won't be able to produce professional sounding music, which again is rubbish. 

So they've been told that or the other reason why they think that the right equipment is because it's a way of avoiding actually doing the work. If you…you know, which I think a lot, all of us can identify with this. 

I certainly can identify this. It's easier to pin it on an external factor than to actually say, Would you know what? I could just get started with what I have. And it may not be perfect, and it may not be exactly what I can see. You know, every top 10 list of microphones is telling me to buy or whatever, but if I start with what I've got, then I will make progress and I'll be further ahead than where I am now. 

So a lot of the time, that's the big challenge that people bring to the community or to me, is “I don't have the right equipment”.  And there's those two things going on underneath that. 

And then the other thing that people bring is a lack of - and I think that something that I noticed in myself and I've noticed in many people I know -  is that we've we're just getting busier and busier and busier and busier every single year. I think, you know, obviously technology has always been there to try and speed things up and therefore, in theory, save us time. I think all really what it's done is meant that we just…therefore feel pressured or are pressured to just do more, to just be more productive, accomplish more. So I see a lot of the time people finding it really hard to make time for their music. 

And again, sometimes what's really going on is that it’s…it’s a way of not doing the work. It's a way of staying in your comfort zone, of being busy rather than being uncomfortable, learning something new, making music, sharing music, putting yourself out there, being vulnerable. Again, this is not judgment for me. 

I totally understand this. Sometimes…it’s about, I think there's a difference between being busy and overwhelmed. So a lot of us now in our culture, I think of …genuinely we're overwhelmed because we're overwhelmed by the amount of information that we are consuming every single day. If you've got most people to be really honest about how they're spending their time, they're probably spending at least a couple of hours throughout the day on their phone…just scrolling through social media. You know?  And when you think about that amount of time, that's a lot of time that people were actually spending on other things, like probably making music just idly at home or doing a jigsaw or doing some something crafty or something a little bit more creative that was not just ingesting information. 

And I think a lot of us are actually, we're more overwhelmed than we are busy. Probably if we really are honest. So those are some things that I see as challenges amongst the musicians in my community. The things that I find really inspiring about the musicians in my community is just how incredibly supportive they are to each other, and that that just, there was not a vehicle to give that to each other as women in the industry before. 

And so now because of the internet, it's, it's easier to do that. But what I…the way that I see this community interact… it's really special and it’s a space that I feel…that gives me life and gives me energy. Andif I've had a bad day, I honestly feel uplifted, even though these, these are people on the other side of Facebook. 

But it's amazing to see the power in that. So that's something I find very inspiring. And just the…like you were saying, the breadth of talent, experience, intelligence, you know, it, it's an incredible community of, of really interesting people. So, that's something I really cherish.  

Veronica: Yeah. Community is so valuable. You know, we need to, get out our heads…[we] get locked into these know… I noticed that myself and other people we put off…those things that we don't know. Because it, it's too like, as you say, overwhelming to figure out how to do it. And I think it comes down to - with music - project management and understanding those steps better. So definitely mentorship and training is something that we need to reach out for to get us there. 

So that, that brings me to your, to your course now. You have a wait list, I think going for your training course, the Home Recording Academy. Yeah. can you tell us more about that program and why you decided to concentrate on a female centered approach with this? 

Isobel: Yeah, I, well, I mean obviously from my background I've gone all the way to PhD level with sound and recording and and composition. So, I mean, effectively production as well. So I had noticed the whole time how out of place I felt as a woman in that area. And I also noticed how it made me feel very shy, very unconfident, that I'd had some, you know, not very pleasant experiences sometimes, even though I'd also known some wonderful musicians of all genders in that space. 

So, that, that was one thing I felt, Well, you know, there's always this question of why are women not applying to these courses? Why are women not producing more music? Why, you know, why, Where are they? Is it because they just don't want to? And I knew that that wasn't the case. I knew that the way that those spaces were set up, the culture of them and the way that the, the art form and the craft and the information is, is shared. 

It's not set up for women. Women are always in the minority when it comes to physical presence and even, you know, thinking behind these things. So there was that. I also…I also really wanted to make something that would actually genuinely help change. I know this sounds a bit ridiculously ambitious here, but change the industry in some way. 

I was frustrated as a woman in the industry in general…irrespective of recording and production and one I traced back my own. The reason why I had got into a position like I described at the top of this podcast. For the first time ever I was making money from my music was because I'd recorded it, I'd produced it, I'd released it myself. I hadn't had to wait for somebody else to do it for me. I hadn't had to compromise on my creative vision. I hadn't had to be in situations where I felt unsafe or disrespected. I'd always been able to leave that cause it's not like I'd never experienced it, but I've always, always been able to leave that cause of developing those skills. 

And so when I was thinking how do I make something that's gonna, you know, change the industry for the better. I was like, women really need to learn how to record their music, how to produce their music, so that at the very least they understand the process and they can take more control in it…and they can walk away from situations that are just not good for them, and they don't have to put up with someone basically being, you know, disrespectful. 

Not a good collaborator, but at the most, maybe they can do what I've done. Maybe they can record their music, produce their music, release their music on their terms, and not feel trapped and powerless and like they're just waiting through, or, or, you know, stagnant, there's so many hidden women in music because they are having to wait for male gatekeepers to give them an opportunity. 

So, you know, I could see this kind of, this gap in music technology and music technology, education, but I could also see that these skills were the root for many other women to finally have a voice and finally share their music. So that's where Home Recording Academy started. 

Veronica: I think you are changing the world, Isobel!  I think you’re…It’s quite, you know, I, I'm just a “little bit older” than you and…my first demos were actually analog [reel to reel] and it was a man's world, a lot of…fortunately, lot of helpful men as I always coming up…but…you rarely see female producers or women at the board. And…I know that in recording academies that they had here, there was maybe one or two women.  And because of the competitive nature of men, it's really hard to get to be a girl "twiddling the knobs”…and getting your chance. Cause you Yeah, we're like conditioned for collaboration rather than competition in a sense. And, so it’s…I think it's extremely important work that you're doing. And I'm so grateful that you’ve…taken the time to explain, a lot of what you're, you're offering to everybody. 

Isobel: Just to be clear as well, you know, it really informs how I've designed the course so, obviously I'm teaching all the fundamentals of recording, production, mixing, you know, all of that stuff. But we start the course with looking at what might be the music tech mindset blocks that have held you back so far. 

That's something that they would never put into a music technology course that where they presume that everyone that's turning up is basically gonna be a bloke…I really specifically look at, you know, what might be going on already that stopped you. What other thing? What are some of the experiences you've had that maybe making you a bit scared about engaging with this? 

And also, I really draw on the kind of more conceptual, creative side of production because I know that so many women are genuinely interested in that and are really, really good at. So…I actually get a lot of men ask…and people of different genders ask me if they can join because they want to experience a music tech course that… has the artistry, that craftsmanship, that creativity, that intuition at it's core rather than just a manual of how to use logic or get GarageBand or Pro Tools, that's not interesting to me. I'm interested in how you make incredible ideas come to life through production tools.  

Veronica: Sounds incredibly full-some, a totally holistic approach, and oh,  I just love that. I just love that. I'm gonna start to wrap it up here cause, uh, I could probably talk to you…all night about the many facets of, of what you do and how dynamic this course is. Maybe if you could please remind our listeners the best way to find you online so they could dig deeper into this. 

Isobel: Yeah, so definitely go to: 

If you wanna take the quiz: Which Vocal Mic is Right for You, it's 

And if you wanna find out a more about Home Recording Academy, it’s 

And I'm on Instagram @femdiymusican and you'll see me doing lots of ridiculous reels and making absolute *** of myself, all in the name of getting more women to start recording production.  

Veronica: You're a fabulous dancer, I have to say! I love it. I love it. I love it. Fabulous! You know, Isobel, your dedication to the arts and sharing your valuable knowledge in music is, is incredibly inspiring to me, and I'm so grateful for your time here today….All right… 

Thank you so much, Isobel. I hope we can have you back sometime soon. 

Isobel: Yes, that would be wonderful.  


[end of transcript]

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