‘she was the only one ……..they  were kept out’.

John French, discusses the lack of women in the recording industry. French was a pioneer of 70’s Australian studio recording (Skyhooks, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Sunbury Music Festival) and hired Karen Hewitt as an engineer.

John French spent his later years hosting a radio show in Castlemaine.  ‘I Like Your Old Stuff’ features information on French’s luminous career in the 70’s and 80’s.

I was yet to interview Hewitt when I met John French and knew little about her.  It was only a few days before his passing and he was one of my favourite interviewees.   I was  looking for other women from those early bustling days of golden era of the studio recording in the 70s and 80s.  The days before home studio technology and the digital revolution crippled the industry by the early 2000’s. Someone who had been able to penetrate the boys club, someone with a high-profile credits who had inhabited the exclusive space of operating the console on commercial releases.

It took me quite a few interviews for it to sink in that there really was only one at that time.  I didn’t want for it to be true.  It also changed my research journey from a focusing on the preservation of significant spaces , to a close hard look at diversity and the challenges of women face trying to forge careers in a male-dominated sector.

When I spoke to Hewitt and asked if she had any female role-models early in her career she said there was no-one. What a trailblazer. I did of course find women who had worked in studios. Women who had gone on to do exceptional work in other areas of the audio industry, but that glory seat of the mixing console of popular music recordings,  that is traditionally a sacred space for men.

In one interview I was told that there were lots of women, ‘because there were more than just music studios’. In other words, the women didn’t work in the music studios. Why? Because that’s the glory seat. Behind the console in the studio with a high-profile artist. The recording industry’s version of the glass ceiling, except that it is more of a glass wall.

All-male band Skyhooks are seen here recording at Gotham.  This studio was built in Warranwood, Victoria by John French.  Originally called Fast Forward, John Farnham renamed it after purchasing it in the 1980’s.  The building is now a private home.