Welcome to our Industry Muse series, celebrating the artists and pros who are pushing the music scene, offering guidance, and changing the game along the way.
Xylo Aria: Founder of MPW
When we explore the overarching issue of underrepresentation for women in the music industry, a quick Statista search will reveal that only 2.8% of the world’s music producers are women. Enter Xylo Aria: founder of Music Production for Women(MPW). Hailing from India, migrating to Australia, and taking the solo leap to the UK, she arrived in London with goals to push herself out of an accounting career and go all in as a full-time producer (no biggie). So how did she get from producing music to founding an online music production platform that has already championed over 6000 women producers?Struggle, a lack of appropriate learning tools, and the drive to not only succeed, but to open the door for a community that doesn't fit the prescribed mould of a music producer.If you’re an independent artist who wants more creative control and freedom over your work and vision, but feel blocked by the learning process (*feels), this one’s for you.Xylo has seen all sides as an independent artist, entrepreneur, and music producer. Named in the Top 50 East London Innovators of 2020 and the Top 100 She Said So Alt Power List, her business acumen makes her nothing less than legit. For our interview, we chatted about getting started in all things music production, what it takes to keep going, and building your community.
Kavina: You launched MPW in 2019. How has it grown since you started?
Xylo: It has grown a lot, but a lot of the growth was probably in the last year! The first two years were a huge struggle, as with starting anything from the ground up, and I was a bit naive about how long it would take. But maybe that was a good thing because if I knew, I might never have started! We launched in London, where most of our students are based, and there are about 20% in Europe. The rest live between the US, Australia, and Africa. This year we only didn't have someone from Antarctica, which is insane, haha!To give an analogy: MPW is my baby. It’s now getting its toddler legs and starting to do its own running around. It's really exciting for me, as I've been very protective of it during this time.
Kavina: What led you from learning music production to teaching it?
Xylo: I was reflecting on my journey in the learning process recently and wondering why it took me so long to get into it. Looking back, it was more of a lonely journey than it had to be. Every production-related space I went into, I felt like the odd person/woman out, and that immediately made it feel like the space wasn't for me, or that I didn’t belong there. Initially, I also spent so much money just trying to start. The classes were expensive, and I didn't know how to talk to people, or ask the right questions to get help. I put all of the things I wished were in that space into MPW, and thought that maybe other women in the same position could benefit as well. Normally, the learning material is made by the same sort of person for the same sort of person; the technical language being a bit “bro". So I thought if I created a community where I felt safe, and the content was created with women in mind as a consumer, it could really make a difference.
Kavina: MPW is based in London. What made you take the leap and venture to the UK to pursue music?
Xylo: I started my career in corporate accounting and was doing it for a few years, and realised it wasn't aligning with my passions and everything. I was making music all that time, but I needed to drastically change things up. For me that meant quitting my job and moving to another county. A lot of the artists I loved were from London, so I felt like that was the place for me.
Kavina: How would you compare the scene in Australia to the UK, having experienced both?
Xylo: It is much bigger in the UK, which happens when you have so many people in a concentrated space like London. If you want to find a community for anything-as obscure as it might be-you will find them in London. Because of that, I always feel that if I had started MPW anywhere else, it might not have taken off as much as it did. At first, I thought MPW was a very niche thing I was doing, but lots of people supported it, and I went to so many networking events to build my community. There are seasons in the year where most nights you could be doing something and meeting people in the industry. Maybe I've been lazy since I've come to Melbourne, but I feel that there aren't as many music networking events to go to. Melbourne is more spread out than London too, so getting to events feels like more of a chore, but maybe that’s a post covid mindset? I.d.k., haha
Kavina: Producing can be intimidating and expensive; which music production tools would you recommend to someone trying to start on a budget?
Xylo: When I first started, I went into a few music stores not having a clue what I needed, and walked out with stuff I never used and ended up selling years later! But the only three things you need to start are: a laptop, headphones to hear something on, and production software like Garageband, Logic, or Ableton.If you are recording something, you'll need a microphone and an interface to be the intermediary between your microphone signal and your laptop. Then you can invest in studio monitors and a midi controller like a midi keyboard if it helps your workflow, but these are all non-essentials.
Here's a getting started checklist that you can check out as well. This includes all the things I wish people had told me, like what kind of specs to look for in a laptop, etc
Kavina: How do you navigate buying sample packs and plugins when there are soooo many?
Xylo: Interestingly, when I first started, I used lots of different sample libraries. There are heaps of free ones online, but I don't do that anymore. I've realised that more choices can make things more complicated, and when you have less to work with, you can be more creative. I did a class a little while ago where we recorded a sample of me talking for 10 seconds and we created a whole song just with that, so you don’t need a lot of samples. And the best things I've made have been on simple tools. I don't buy lots of plugins, and I like to use whatever Ableton has, which is all pretty decent. I'd rather know how to use my tools well than have too many and not know how to use any of them well."
Kavina: What's the best piece of advice you can give your students about approaching music production?
Xylo: Just give yourself time.
"And to quote Andrew Huang, who we had on our podcast not too long ago: "just give yourself permission to make bad music."
And I think that's important because as soon as we put pressure on ourselves to make something good when we’re just a week into our learning journey, it will make us feel depressed, and you don't want that.
Kavina: What is unique about the way MPW approaches teaching music production?
Xylo: I always hear from women that they aren't "techy people," but you don't have to be to produce music. Because of that and my own experience, it’s important for us to find MPW teachers that can make things accessible, interesting, and fun. It's not meant to be all super technical stuff that you need a complicated degree in audio engineering to learn. The other main thing is that the community we’re learning in is different. In a room full of men where you're the only woman, you might take a more passive learning role. But when you're with more people that you can identify with, it encourages you to take an active role and ask questions. The biggest feedback I get from our courses — which is a huge thing to overcome — is students saying they don't feel scared of producing anymore and are actually having fun with it! After you’re not afraid to break something or push the wrong buttons, you feel free to explore and play, and that’s when you’ll start getting great results. When this happens, I think, “yes, there we go, we’ve done our job!"
Kavina: You essentially built this community of women in an isolated space. How do you find and start to build a community for yourself?
Xylo: The most important thing is knowing your audience well. Like writing down who you want in your community or who you are trying to reach/serve and defining them as much as possible. Like, what are their fears, ambitions and dreams? Since I was that person, I just reflected on all the fears and challenges that I dealt with when I started learning to produce a few years back.Then, once you understand exactly who you are talking to, it makes everything like your social media and communications easier. When your voice is clear, people will find you because they will gravitate to you and your message. There was also a lot of marketing involved for us as well.
If you're struggling to find the right people, and right opportunities for you, check out our article on putting yourself out there.
Kavina: Is ageism a factor to consider when it comes to producing music?
Xylo: Look, ageism is a part of the industry, less so than being an artist, but I think that if you really want to do something, there's always a way to do it. I’ve given this example a couple of times before, but one of our students who's a mum of two, in her 50s, changed careers from journalism to music. She has sync deals with big brands, and has done sound installations and environmental sound sampling for museums. She’s a big inspiration to me as well!
Kavina: You're an independent artist, producer and entrepreneur. What do persistence and determination mean to you in the music industry?
Xylo: There is no career in the music industry without determination.
"Long-term determination and consistency are so much more important than skill or all the other things, because it takes a while to build yourself."
Often people put a lot into production for six months, and when it doesn't work out by then, they quit.This is why quantifiable goals are important. But, as far as you’re looking to be an artist and grow that career, it’s about having quantifiable goals, over a long period of time. Don’t think that if you do this for six months, put everything into it, and don't get it, that's the end. You probably started gaining momentum, but six months is a short space of time. You have to be able to do it for years. It’s also important to consider how your income fits your goals, because you'll have to sustain yourself and pay the bills.
Kavina: How do you become your biggest champion on such an uncertain path?
Xylo: Knowing the wider impact of what I was doing helped me to be a champion for myself.It's important to find something that you really care about. Of course, we’re all musicians, and we really care about music, but what do you actually want to achieve with what you're doing, as far as how it will impact other people?
"I heard somewhere, and it stuck with me, that if you make your goal bigger than yourself, it's much more likely to keep you motivated."
With MPW, I wanted to help other women not experience the same terrible situations that I did, so that kept me going when times were really tough. This pushed me to put myself in situations that I was less comfortable with, and to talk to people and be a champion for what I was doing."
Kavina: It's pretty evident that you've become the mentor you've always wanted. Who are some of yours?
Xylo: I don't really have mentors in music, but I would say, my family. Just thinking about how we moved from India as a young family without knowing what this country holds for us, and in those times, you couldn't just turn back and go home. You have sold everything and brought all your savings to create this new life, and you have to make it work. For me, that shows a huge amount of grit. My dad says, "but you did the same by going to the UK!" And I'm like, "are you joking? It's not the same!". Also, thinking about my grandparents and the house they grew up in was one room. I look back and think, 'why can't I make something happen for myself? I have all the resources!'
Kavina: Where do you see 2023 taking MPW?
Xylo: In 2023, we are launching a second year option of our one-year program, which is something new and exciting. I actually wish I was a student in this program as it’s going to be so much fun! We have speed writing sessions, writing camps, and industry mentors discussing different subjects. The idea is to put all the knowledge that students learned in the first year into practice, as well as find commercial opportunities and learn to collaborate. Most commercial music in the industry is a collaboration, and it's not just one person working on their own to create something.We are also expanding our one-year program and will also keep doing our free events throughout the year; like our online one-day master classes, as well as another midyear London event as well.
"But overall, my dream is for any woman feeling isolated in the music production space to just know that we exist. Whether you want to work with us or in whatever capacity we might be able to help you, know that we're in your corner if you need us."
If you want to know more about MPW's online music production courses, check out their website. You'll also find key dates for their next free introductory events, the MPW podcast, and heaps of other free resources, as well as access to their global community!