The female singer-songwriter-musician-producer(-engineer)


Proud Member
Jul 25, 2011
the likes of Stevie, Bowie and Prince are constantly praised for their multifaceted involvement in or sole responsibility for the creation of their music. but we hardly hear about their equally talented female counterparts.

i think a marketing-chummy image has been much more crucial to a female artist's pop success over the decades (and even more so today for any gender). though apart from the odd emotionally-creative vocalists like Minnie Riperton or Karen Carpenter, i don't have the same level of respect for those singers who are perhaps lauded as vocal virtuosos but don't contribute as much to the overall creative process in an album with only their name on the cover.

thought we could have an appreciation thread for these underrated ladies, here are several favourites from past and present:




(I wish I could add this topic to your reputation but I've given you so many already that the MJJC forum won't allow me before I handle out more to other people HAHA)

I've got to add someone, and that is Alicia Keys*... man that song "Impossible" that she wrote/produced for Christina Aguilera* is amazing!
Another one that has been doing very well is Linda Perry* from "4 Non Blondes", she's done loads of work, some good and some bad.

* = With this said, these girls are definitely not underrated, at least not in comparison to the ones you mentioned.
Teena Marie

Wendy Melvoin, Sheila Escovedo, Lisa Coleman

Dolly Parton

Aretha Franklin

Diane Warren

Linda Creed

What about Valerie Simpson of Ashford & Simpson? Quite the combo there, had an equal hand in a number of popular hits.
i can add:

Erykah Badu

Tracy Chapman

Alanis Morissette

Sinead O'Connor

each of them has their own distinctive style of musical expression.
and Bjork is on top of my list of female artists.

i saw Angie live two days ago and i can say that she's also a great live singer and the songs were nicely arranged, though overall the concert wasn't as good as i thought it would be.
Carly Simon is a fantastic songwriter and she often gets overlooked for her ability as a songwriter. She is probably best known for her song You're So Vain and also Let The River Run for which she won an Oscar for.
I was thinking of her earlier. I should have posted :)

Carly Simon is a fantastic songwriter and she often gets overlooked for her ability as a songwriter. She is probably best known for her song You're So Vain and also Let The River Run for which she won an Oscar for.
I was thinking of her earlier. I should have posted :)

As the saying goes, great minds think alike :). I love her song Let The River Run, its very emotional but also uplifting to, I also love the movie Working Girl that she made the song for.
Faith Evans. Great vocalist (harmonies be on point), great songwriter (did stuff for MJB back then), and when she co-produces it's wonderful. I already have a thread on her but she deserves to be in here too, imo.
The quirky queens:

Laura Nyro

Tori Amos

Alice Shields

Nina Simone

Delia Derbyshire


Janice Marie Johnson & Hazel Payne

Jill Scott

Roberta Flack

Rhonda Smith

Esperanza Spalding

Debra Killings

Shirley Ceasar

Cindy Blackman

Betty Wright

Have you ever heard a female artist being referred to as a genius? The answer is either 'no' or 'rarely'.

I'm not suggesting that there's a wide variety to pick from - women historically have been subjected to being platforms for male producers and songwriters, with little chance for them to step out on their own - but we still have them.

Which female(s) would you consider a musical genius?
Carol King Genius, Aretha Frankloin Genius, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday Genius, i wanna say Roberta Flack and Teena Marie. also Patrice Rushen.

now female musicianship Shirley Horn trumpet player and Miles Davis dug her big time

Lynn Carrington Drummer she is badd.

Brenda Russell badd Keyboard Player.

Diane Warren writes the hits big time.

Patti Austin as well rounded a vocalist and artist as I know.

for me the self contained Female or Male is good for talent,but alot of it is marketing because the bottom line it is about the songs and playing alot of instruments and whatnot is cool,but only if you have the right songs. gotta have the right songs and talent is only as good as the product you are putting out.
Susan Rogers {Recording Engineer} 2006


Ever wade through a throng on the McGill campus and wonder where people have been instead of where they're headed? The person passing you on the stairs might have once spent great chunks of quality time with, say, Prince. "Our days were 24 hours long," recalled PhD student Susan Rogers of her time in the entourage of the Minstrel of Minneapolis. "You slept a few hours and started a new one."

During the recording of Barenaked Ladies Are Me, Susan Rogers, the album's producer, cooked the boys of the band a pancake breakfast. Rogers, a behavioral neuroscience doctoral candidate now working on auditory memory, grew up in Southern California, where she dropped out of high school and became a sound engineer. "I loved music, but I wasn't a musician," she recalled. "I just always wanted to make records. I heard if you became an audio maintenance engineer, you'd always have a job."

A determined autodidact, Rogers scoured the shelves of Los Angeles' Opamp technical bookstore and sent away for the US Army's behemoth manuals on electronics.

At 22, she landed a gig repairing and installing recording equipment in Los Angeles and through her work met many of the musical greats of the era. After three years, Crosby, Stills and Nash poached her to work for their Rudy Records studio. In 1983, Rogers heard that her "favourite artist in the whole world, Prince, was looking for a technician from LA." She was mad for R 'n B, an expert after five years in the field, confident and knew that Prince liked working with women. After a call to Prince's management, she was Minnesota bound.

The musician had just come off the 1999 tour and was recording Purple Rain. His studio was in total disarray so Rogers repaired his tape machine, installed a new console and spent a few days getting everything running. When she told him it was ready, he said, well, set up a vocal mike. She did so and waited for the recording engineer to come in. After all, technicians just install the equipment; they don't actually run it and interact with the artist. No one showed. "So I finally asked who was going to record it. And he just looked at me like I was nuts and said 'You.' I said okay, and it was at that moment I realized he didn't know the difference between a recording engineer and a maintenance engineer."

She helped him finish some overdubs for Darling Nikki, and so began five intensely work-packed years with Prince. At first, Rogers struggled to achieve the sound Prince wanted. She could take the equipment apart and put it together, but remains grateful to Jesse Johnson, a member Prince's protégé band, The Time, who showed her how to use the kit to Prince's exacting requirements. "He liked working with people who were quiet and who had a lot of endurance."

After Prince's Paisley Park Studio was built, Rogers' "tour of duty" was up. She went independent and her characteristic sound and style led to a stint with the Jacksons. As Rogers worked with Edie Brickell, Public Image Ltd, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, she got more into producing and mixing. The Barenaked Ladies pursued her and she took a few weeks in January 1998 to work on their album Stunt. It was a multi-platinum hit. Finally Rogers was earning royalties, which allowed her to pursue her second career goal. "I always wanted to go to school and become a scientist."

Rogers got her high school diploma at age 44 and entered a BSc at the University of Minnesota the same year. Now in her third year at McGill in the Levitin Laboratory for Music, Perception, Cognition and Expertise, Rogers probes whether the human mind is specialized for music, how musical training shapes your auditory memory and cognitive abilities. Because it's impossible to find true musical naives — "even if you hate it, you can't escape it" — she's considering turning to gerbils, "great little participants," who have a range of hearing close to that of humans.

Rogers took a brief break last fall to collaborate with Barenaked Ladies once more on their just-released Barenaked Ladies Are Me. After a day in the studio, working on the song Down to Earth, she lay in bed with the tune going through her head. She thought, "Wow, the past six hours I've been hearing this great song and I was right next to the guy [Ed Robertson] who was singing it. It kind of summarized what my career had been. I told them that the next day, and said, 'I really thank you guys, it's so much fun.' And later Steven Page said, 'You know, I had a similar moment. I was singing and playing and I looked at you and realized, 'I'm singing in front of the woman who recorded Kiss!'"

How and when did you get started in the music business Susan? And how did you get to work with Prince?

I started my career in Los Angeles in 1978 with the goal of just getting my foot in the door since there weren't many women in professional audio at that time. I heard that audio maintenance engineers (the people who install studios and repair equipment) always have jobs so I studied electronics and audio engineering on my own, using books I purchased from a Hollywood technical bookstore. I went to work as a trainee for a company called Audio Industries where I learned to repair mixing consoles and multi-track tape machines. I spent my days going from one studio to another working on equipment, and I met a lot of interesting people.

In 1981 I was lured away from my job by Crosby, Stills, and Nash who owned a studio in Hollywood and needed a maintenance engineer. In 1983, I heard that Prince was looking for an audio technician to maintain his home studio and I immediately contacted his management for an interview. Prince was my favorite artist ever since the "For You" album and the opportunity was a dream come true. His management hired me and in August, 1983, I moved to Minnesota and got started by installing a new console in his home studio (his purple house on Kiowa Trail), and did some repairs on his tape machine. Next thing I knew, I was in the engineering chair.

Prince needed an all-around engineer, one who could repair and use his equipment. I had to learn very quickly what sounds he liked but I was helped by a member of The Time, Jesse Johnson, who taught me how Prince liked the kick drum to sound, what reverb he liked on his vocal, what mics he used, etc. By the time Prince came home from LA (he was working on the Purple Rain movie), I knew enough to be of great use to him in the studio.

Music producers can play different roles. What were your tasks during the period you worked with Prince?

I was not a producer at that time. Prince produced and engineered his own albums, and I assisted him by setting everything up and keeping the equipment working. I would prepare the session by having the console and tape machine and his musical instruments ready to go, so all he had to do was sit down and record. I set the reverbs and outboard gear to the settings he preferred and recorded his band members when he asked me to.

I was also responsible for doing many of the live recordings we did on tour at that time as well as moving his recording equipment to new rehearsal spaces (we recorded his band rehearsals) and providing audio technical assistance on movies and videos. I also helped the design team of Paisley Park Studios and made decisions on the purchase of new recording gear.

You have worked with Prince during the most productive period of his career (83-88).
Is there a song, period or album that you cherish the most?

I think that would be the Parade album. I enjoyed the direction he took with that album, musically and lyrically. I think it shows some of his best melodic work.

The albums with The Revolution (Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day and Parade) were presented as group efforts. Was it really that way or was most of the work done by Prince himself?

Well, they were not group efforts in the writing or arrangements but each band member contributed his own sound on many of the tracks. Some were performed entirely by Prince while others were recorded at rehearsals, with Prince leading the direction and each musician adding his own part. Prince would include what he liked of their ideas. In nearly every case, Wendy and Lisa were around to provide backing vocals and input.

According to Uptown's guide to Prince: "The Vault", Housequake was recorded on October 18th 1986. Since was named after that particular song, do you still remember something from the day it was recorded? Or are there any anecdotes to tell about that song?

Ha, ha (LOL). We were at Sunset Sound in LA and recorded every day and night during that time period so I am sorry to say I don't have much in the way of specific memories of that song. I do remember that it was one of the songs he spent a long time on which usually meant (I assume) that the song was one he considered especially important or he particularly enjoyed working on. I remember that it came at a time when there were other changes in his life; his musical instruments, his style, his colors, and the people around him were evolving. It is only my guess but I think Housequake represented a new idea in dance music for him.

You recorded the bulk of Prince's material in commercial facilities and at his home(s). Are there any other locations fans might be unaware of?

Not major sites, no (not during that time). Prince traveled a lot and recorded nearly every day so we needed access to studios while on the road. I kept a studio directory with me and was able to get us into studios in Atlanta, or Cinncinnati, or London, or Paris, if we needed, but just for a day or two. For convenience and privacy, we usually had a mobile recording truck available to us in the US or Europe so that we could record during soundcheck or after a show while on tour.

How do you think Prince has developed as a musician? Did you expect him to take different musical paths these days perhaps?

Thats a great question but I am not prepared to answer it. I am not familiar with his recording period in the 1990s but I do have "Musicology" and "3121", although I have not listened to them in depth. He's a master arranger and his lyric writing is touching and profound. Currently I listen to 50's era jazz and am a huge fan of the pianist Bud Powell so my idea of a perfect Prince album would be just piano, double bass, and drums. I would enjoy hearing his melodic and harmonic ideas reduced to one instrument. I would also like to learn what Prince could contribute to interpretive music, in other words, an album of standards. Listening to jazz has sharpened my appreciation for the art of interpreting a known melody in an original way.

You must have recorded hundreds of songs with Prince that have never been released. If you could step into Prince's shoes, what would you do with them? Would you release them? Or do you consider most of them not 'worthy' enough to be released on a Prince album?

Release them in their original form. I think he is an important figure in American music and with that comes (somewhat of) a responsibility to provide a record of his artistic progress. Artistic license means he can release whatever he wants of his own intellectual property but I think that when a true genius comes along, society benefits from seeing what he or she produced. It is understandable that he wouldn't release them today, but I hope they are packaged so that someday those old recordings are available to the public.

In an interview Prince said: "You think Susan Rogers knows me?" he asked. "You think she knows anything about my music?". Susan Rogers, for the record, doesn't know anything about my music. Not one thing. The only person who knows anything about my music (pause for very pointed effect) me." How do you feel about this?

Yes, Prince is correct on this, but only in one sense. In another sense, namely the experience of listening to music created by another, Prince knows his music the least. Because creating music and consuming music are two distinct processes.

When a chef prepares a new meal, he knows everything that goes into it, including how he intended it to taste. So when he sits down to eat it, he already knows something about it, and that affects how it tastes to him. The customer who knows nothing about what went into the meal will taste it from a different perspective, one that the chef will never be able to experience. So the customer knows something about the meal that the chef will never know.

Prince fans know how his music makes them feel, regardless of whether or not he intended the music to move them that way. Only he knows what inspired a song or he wanted his music to say but there is a gap between how it felt to make it and how it feels to listen to it. Like a lot of things, it is a two-sided experience. Science isn't science until it is published; food isn't food until it is eaten; and art isn't art until it is interpreted.

As for knowing him as a person, I have said for the record that I am only qualified to speak on his studio life from 1983 to 1988. His life beyond the studio doors, outside of that time-period, is not known to me. Since he has had a rich life, I don't entirely know him.

Are you still producing music or are you focussing completely on your academic work now? And can you tell us if your past as a engineer helps you in certain ways with your scientific research?

I was called out of retirement by Canada's own Barenaked Ladies last fall so I went back in the studio and we recorded 30 tracks together. I was not producing, just engineering, but we had a wonderful time and I was so happy to be in a studio again. That said, I am extraordinarily happy to be a research scientist and am getting a chance to exercise my creativity in ways that are more personal than in my music career. Audio engineering and producing are service-oriented professions: we provide technical or editorial skills to artists expressing their own ideas. As a scientist, my work today is my idea, and I've waited a long time for that. This is my music. I am a cognitive psychologist in the field of music perception so I have the chance to bring what I know of music to the field of how the human brain (and mind) processes music.

Before school, I was a scientist in the service of art. Now I am an artist in the service of science. Both experiences enrich and inform the other.

Susan Rogers
Patrice Rushen immediately comes to mind...Diana Krall, Alicia Keys, Janet, Madonna, Aretha, Teena Marie, Roberta Flack, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Carole King...
She's one of its unsung pioneers despite her accolades:


OMG I love Miss Carole King! She's an amazing and sadly underrated talent. Why doesn't this lady get the recognition she deserves? Yes, she had one of the best albums of all time but she should be getting more praise and the young people should be hitting her up for songs.
Delia Derbyshire

This is an interview from 1997. The recording messes up near the beginning, but the rest can be heard.
Regina Spektor!! *handsdown* I would call her a genius any day! What would I give to be able to write like her!

She is actually getting a lot of mainstream exposure at this point, which makes me very happy for her.

There are a ton of genius female singer/songwriters out there- but in mainstream media it's rare to find one. But aside from that I really don't care whether a man or woman writes great music. I really don't. It is sad though that whenever it comes to "historic" evaluation, women don't get mentioned.

Heather Nova, Jewel, Madeleine Peyroux, Feist, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, Chantal Kreviazuk, Tara McLean, Fiona Apple...and the list could go on forever. They are certainly there.
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Since a biopic is about to be released about them, here's a couple of tunes by The Runaways.