Behind every great song or album is a sound engineer that plays a vital role in getting the audio ready so you can blast it on your speakers. Emily Lazar is one of the notable players in this industry that severely lacks visibility for women. She has worked on over 3,000 albums, including those by Sia, Maggie Rogers, HAIM, Beck, The Chainsmokers, Coldplay, Vampire Weekend, Linkin Park and so many more. This February, she became the first woman ever to win a Grammy in her category. BELLA chatted with Emily to discuss the future of women in music, the award ceremonies, and whose tunes she’s jamming to these days.
First of all, congratulations on your Grammy win in Best Engineered Album earlier this year for your work on Beck’s latest album, Colors. You were the first woman ever to be nominated in this category in 2016, and your win this year marked the first by a woman in the 61-year Grammy history. Now that you’ve had some time to digest it a little, how do you feel about what you have achieved?
Thank you! I am so grateful to have been recognized by my peers with what has been called a “historic Grammy Win.” It has been an extraordinary experience for me personally, but it also means so much more given the current initiatives for inclusiveness that are spreading across the music industry. I think I’m most excited about being able to further promote the idea of a career in mastering or other STEM fields to young women all over the world. I am very honored to have won a Grammy in the Best Engineered Album Non Classical category. For me, this category is a truly meaningful accomplishment because it honors those talented people who work behind the scenes for their involvement in the arduous craft of making an album. Sometimes they are the unsung heroes of the process and most of the time they work tirelessly just to make others look good!
The Grammy’s were highly criticized last year for failing to include women in the ceremony and presenting only one televised award to a woman. What is your insight as a woman in music— do you think the Grammy’s “stepped up” this year?
While the 61st Grammy Awards proved that The Recording Academy is committed to being a part of the solution to include women in the entire industry, we still have a pretty big mountain to climb ahead. This year’s televised show was definitely a huge step in the right direction, and everyone agrees that Alicia Keys was a fantastic choice to host the evening. I was completely blown away when Alicia Keys gave me a congratulatory shout-out during the show, pointing out the significance of my historic Grammy win. As a woman working in the music industry, I look forward to the day when awards are given to women in recognition of their achievements and contributions and that the world at large will not see their gender as the main focus of the conversation.
Music industry is notoriously dominated by men behind the scenes. I can only imagine the extent of unprofessional actions by these gatekeepers you and your women peers had to repel in your careers. Do you have any advice for women who want to work as sound engineers or producers in the music industry?
I have experienced bias and harassment throughout my career. It doesn’t feel very good and unfortunately it dead-ended way too many would-be careers for way too many talented women. Happily, I did not let it stop me from pursuing my goals and surely I was one of the lucky ones who was able to continue my career path. Unfortunately, and very true, it is still tough for women in the music industry, but I think it’s tough for women in most careers. It’s important to keep in mind that you do have a choice about how you deal with what’s blocking your progress. You can decide to focus on all of the reasons that you can’t do things or all of the people standing in your way, or you can choose to focus on the reasons why you can do things. I frequently remind myself to let positivity prevail. In my career I always opted to focus on making great records with great people. Truly, to be successful in any career, I believe you need to know your stuff, be able to think on your feet, be flexible, be empathic to your colleagues, work hard, and never ever give up.
What are some of your favorite women in music right now? Who are you listening to? Who would you love to collaborate with?
Maggie Rogers’ album Heard It in a Past Life is a gem on constant repeat in my house. I was fortunate to work with her on a such a special release, and predict that she will be around for a long time to come. Dolly Parton, who was honored as Person of the Year at the Musicares Grammy week celebration this year, is an inspiration. I was so grateful to get to work on her album Dumplin’ with Linda Perry and Billy Bush. She’s a performer, songwriter, actress, business woman, and producer and continues to be an innovator, trendsetter and beacon for me and so many others. There are so many female artists out there that I would love to work with… the list is longer than we have time for!