Herstory 38: Emily Lazar Carries The Weight Of Being First
Lazar’s Moment In Time
At the 61st annual Grammy Awards something striking took hold. While this is a night to honour and recognize the music industry’s most notable projects and artists (to non-stop debate), there are few milestones you would expect to be crossing over in its presence for more than half a century. When the Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) category was called, Beck’s 2017 album, Colors, was announced as the recipient for the award. The award is credited to both the engineers and mastering engineers of the project, so in Beck’s case, that was a team of about 10 people. Within the large team, one womxn, Emily Lazar, spoke to state an important fact: this was the first time a womxn had won the award in the Grammy Awards’ history.
What Is A ‘Mastering Engineer’?
Since there isn’t a lot of light shed on mastering engineers, we’ll take a deeper dive. As Emily explained, the engineer is primarily responsible for preparing audio for other means of distribution; whether dealing with vinyl records, CDs, or (more increasingly) streaming, each medium requires a different set of attention and skill. The Mastering Engineer is essentially the last stop before an artist’s project hits your ear. If it isn’t done properly, as a listener, you can run into the danger of hearing fatigue, a phenomenon that happens after drawn-out exposure to music. Not only does that affect your enjoyment of the music, but it also dictates how much you engage with the track, album or artists themselves.
She’s Well Into The Mix
We often find an artist’s story as one that involves a very direct path with wanting to create a sound that they hadn’t heard before. When we get to the technical aspect of music, the stories start to diverge and take a different path.
Not a lot is known about Emily Lazar’s upbringing aside from her formal education (a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Music & Masters of Music Degree) in New York. Though she had early ties to music through songwriting and musicianship, she recognized her keen ear for frequencies and turned her focus to getting the right technical sound and balancing it out with its content. She began to do some freelance work in production, engineering, and mixing; fine-tuning her skill throughout a range of sounds and equipment. This allowed for a natural progression to gaining some work in some notable studios across New York City before realizing that a lot of the spaces she was embedded in, didn’t function in the same way that she truly wanted to explore.
I was frustrated while being in the studio as an artist, and I didn’t feel like I was being heard in the studio necessarily with ideas that I wanted to see come to fruition.
In 1997, without being able to fully connect to the impersonal nature of the studio facilities that she was working in, Lazar decided to open up her own audio-mastering facility, The Lodge. Lazar often talks about traditional studio spaces not being a place to connect and for a creative line of work that begs for collaboration, this has to be a strange thing to experience. Fortunate for us, Lazar not only recognized this, but did something great with it. To date, she has worked on over 4,000 projects and had a hand in a number of big projects crossing borders and generations. From Destiny’s Child and HAIM to the Foo Fighters and Dolly Parton, Lazar’s resume has made a huge impact on the sounds you’ve heard throughout the years.
Worth The Weight
The burden of being the first in anything is truly bittersweet. In some ways, your accomplishment becomes the bulk of your identity and career. You get typecast into a role even if it doesn’t fully resonate with you. You’re left to be the first in a small subset until it becomes normalized in that space. And Emily Lazar doesn’t want to be the only one forever, but waiting for the industry to catch up proves glacial at its best. A recent study with USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative showed that only 3% of womxn are engineersin the industry. Participants cited not being taken seriously, being scolded for gender-nonconforming behavior, and sexual harassment as some of the barriers of exploring work in this field.
Lazar has been a part of a steering committee for the Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing Leadership at the Grammys to help build some of that momentum so that she isn’t the only recognizable face for the foreseeable future.
“I would like to walk down the red carpet and have interviewers talk to me about the choices that I made creatively, as opposed to [saying], ‘Hey, you’re a female!’ I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, and?’”
Emily continues to work within her own space and aims to expose the technical side of the music business as a viable option for womxn. Whether that is done through community work at The Lodge or speaking at college campuses, Lazar wants to bring more support and experiences to those that don’t normally see themselves.
She Is The Music
Becoming an expert in the field doesn’t deter the inevitable. Assumptions are made and barriers are still placed in spaces you may want to explore and work within. But there is an immense amount of trust that you need to put in an engineer because it could make the difference in a lot of ways that people don’t necessarily realize. Emily Lazar made a point of educating herself in spaces that taught her what she didn’t want, which only serves to inform which parts of your experiences you can live without.
Thanks for reading! This blog series is brought to you by Solidarity in Sound, an educational platform for the global, music community.
For our Herstory Lessons blog series — we're retelling the stories of womxn in music that have been misheard, mislabeled, or erased completely from our history books.
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