Master Blaster: The Woman Making Björk, Aphex Twin and Eno Sound So Good
Women may not always be front and center in regard to the music industry, but there are many bad ass ladies that fulfill behind-the-scenes roles that help make your favorite artists great. Mandy Parnell is exactly that.This article originally appeared on The Guardian
Walk into Mandy Parnell’s studio and you might think you were on LA’s Sunset Strip, not Walthamstow, east London. There are animal skulls and guitars on the walls, a vinyl press, an enormous 70s wicker pod. Crisp music booms out of the five enormous speakers that encircle her computer desk.
Parnell is one of the country’s leading mastering engineers, and this is where the likes of the Chemical Brothers, Max Richter and Brian Eno come to hear their finished tracks. Parnell has polished a huge number of albums here including, last year, Jamie xx’s In Colour and Aphex Twin’s Syro.
She is also one of the few women in the male-dominated production world. At tonight’s Music Producers Guild awards – which she describes as the “technical Grammys” – she is one of only two female nominees out of 36 (the other, Manon Grandjean, is up for breakthrough engineer). The MPG says that an estimated 6% of their membership is female, based on a sample survey they sent out last year.
Parnell reckons that women have to work twice as hard. “You put lots of men in a studio and it’s that ‘Who’s going to be top dog?’ pack mentality. You’ve got to be able to deal with that,” she says. “I’ve found that I needed to understand technology a lot more than some of my peers. I’d get a producer really challenging me on a technical level, yet they’d want to talk about the football [with the male engineers].”
Born in Essex, Parnell grew up playing with records rather than dolls. “My parents had a greasy cafe in Wickford and the jukebox guy would give me the old seven-inches. Then life went a bit haywire and I ended up running away and was on the streets.” But she happened to have a friend who was a housekeeper at Richard Branson’s Oxford studio The Manor and the first time she went inside, she knew she wanted to work behind the mixing desk. “It was like that,” she says, clicking her fingers.
Parnell went straight back to London and got on to a music production course. “It took me three years to get a paid job after finishing, though it’s even harder now.” She was “taken on as ‘the woman’ during the Maggie Thatcher era of encouraging women into ‘men’s’ roles”. But she also says that, to her, tokenism is irrelevant. “If you’re passionate about something it doesn’t matter. If you want it you’ve got to fight for it.