Since 2017, dBs Music has been teaming up with Saffron Records to provide introductory music tech courses to aspiring womxn producers and engineers. Three years on, we caught up with Saffron’s founder, Laura Lewis-Paul to discuss the impact of the partnership, Saffron’s plans for the future and the flourishing relationship between our two communities.
The music tech industry is currently composed of just 5% women, a figure that Saffron Music – with a little help from dBs – is working hard to increase. “Our push has always been around womxn engaging in music tech and being in spaces which might make them more likely to want to study it at a further and higher education level,” says Laura Lewis-Paul, founder of Saffron.
For Laura, introducing more womxn into educational spaces is a crucial step towards redressing the balance of power in the music industry. “I see the educational setting as something that plays a really important role. It’s where ideals can be set and changed. If teachers hold particular beliefs around what ‘girls’ do and what ‘boys’ do, then those beliefs get passed down. So, for me, focusing on education is a really important way of redressing unhealthy belief systems and setting a precedent for what the industry can look like.”
“Our aim has always been to increase access by offering low-cost music tech education, but the only way that was going to happen was if we were in a setting where we could use computers and audio equipment, but also be offered those things in kind. That was where the partnership with dBs began.”
(Laura Lewis-Paul by Carmel King)
dBs Music provides Saffron with use of its state-of-the-art facilities for their Ableton, Logic, Sound Engineering and Mix Nights (DJ) courses. However, the ties between the two organisations now run deeper than this formal arrangement. Today, three of Saffron’s tutors – Alexi King, Ellie Holland and Tugkan Multu – are also dBs alumni. “This isn’t something we necessarily planned, but it’s something that’s worked really well because there’s so much relatability between these tutors and the Saffron students. Because when they joined us, they were either studying or had just graduated, they were able to use that language that was still fresh in their minds.”
As part of their work with Saffron, dBs alumni are offered a range of training opportunities to develop their teaching skills. “Our tutors have been to Azerbaijan and Moscow – places we work with in partnership with the British Council – to give them more training and experience and to explore additional barriers, like language barriers, cultural differences, different learning styles.”
Reflecting on her experience teaching on the Saffron for Sound Logic course, Electronic Music Production alumni Alexi King said: "In 2016, I was asked to teach a one off session then ended up staying! I absolutely love tutoring with Saffron, it is so rewarding. The mix of people we get to meet and the incredible artists that come through on each course keep things super fresh."
"As womxn are massively underrepresented in the music industry, I think it's extremely valuable to have a space exclusively for us to explore music production. For years womxn have been told both directly and through unconscious bias that music tech isnt for us and that it's better suited to men. What a load of rubbish!"
dBs alumni and Saffron tutor Alexi King
Each year, around 200 womxn complete Saffron’s courses at dBs Music, with roughly 25% of course places being bursary-funded or pay-what-you-can, thanks to support from Bristol's Quartet Foundation and the Arts Council. Eve Haywood is one of the students that benefitted from this scheme. Eve took part in a week-long Saffron for Sound course funded by the Princes Trust. Off the back of this, she was offered a bursary place on Saffron’s Logic course. Since then, she has gone on to take part in Saffron’s Ableton and Mix Nights courses, as well as a two year DJ and Electronic Music Production diploma at dBs Bristol. With the skills she has learned, Eve has played at Love Saves the Day festival as well as having mixes played on 1020 and Pyro Radio.
Eve Said: “I think without the Saffron courses, I wouldn't have had the skills or confidence I have now when I first started learning about music. It's helped me grow as a performer and have a passion as well as skills for life. I’ve also met some amazing people through all this. Not just DJs but all different artists.”
Eve on the decks at her Mix Nights showcase (Photo by Ruby Malaika)
Eve’s progression represents the journey Laura hopes many more Saffron students will make. “To be able to come into the Saffron experience and just build up your confidence, build up a few skills that can then take you into that further learning experience at dBs is a really positive thing. Our courses are 6 weeks – it’s dipping your toes in and feeling if music tech is something that’s right for you. Then you can say ‘yeah I’ve done that in a supported way, now let’s do this on a larger scale. It just helps with that transition I think.”
Another student that’s flourished as a result of Saffron’s short-courses is Alanna Henry AKA LAANI, who took part in the vinyl Mix Nights course back in 2017. Alanna said: “During the course, I decided that I wanted to change career and work in the music industry so I told the mentors I was leaving Bristol to pursue an internship at my dream record label and now three years later I'm the Marketing Manager! My first ever radio show experience was also the Mix Nights show on Noods Radio. This set the wheels in motion for me to now have my own weekly radio show on Worldwide FM, which was another dream of mine."
Alanna Henry AKA LAANI
“I can't quite believe how much my life has changed since the course, it's completely different in the best way possible. I’m now doing what I love and developing in so many areas I could not have imagined, such as festival stage management, music video production and outreach work. Most recently, I’ve just finished producing a series of podcasts and now produce and host online music events. I’ve also ventured into artist management which is something I never considered before.”
Whilst Saffron isn’t short of success stories, in Laura’s mind, their short-courses are just the first step in a much longer journey towards creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. “It’s beautiful to see the women coming out of our courses succeed in the way that they do, but what we are faced with is where do they go now? We are currently building a programme where we go in and look at the culture of the music industry. This is something very different to policies and procedures – it’s about where you go for drinks after work, what happened in the staffroom. It’s looking at how we can affect change in some of those more informal spaces around music companies and also how we can hold companies accountable for what they say they’re going to do. So that in 5, 10 years or however long it takes, there is an industry that is prepared for these women to be a part of it.”
Saffron have just launched a digital members club for womxn in music tech. You can find out more about it and join the club here.
Interested in studying Music Production and Sound Engineering? Why not check out or BA programme here.