Women In The Studio National Accelerator 2022: An Interview With Laaain

Kat Harlton

Music Publishers Canada’s Women in the Studio National Accelerator program advances the career development of talented women, gender fluid, non-binary and gender non-conforming producer-songwriters from across Canada.

First launched regionally in 2019 and expanded nationally in 2020, the Accelerator is designed to provide the cohort with opportunities for skills development and networking that they may otherwise be unable to access. The program offers  participants a series of curated workshops, educational sessions, and networking opportunities with music industry leaders. 

Participants will gain valuable insights from mentors and industry experts for the duration of the program starting with this summer through to December 2022. Sessions and workshops will take place virtually and in person, including a comprehensive program of development and networking opportunities in Toronto September 22-24, 2022.

The program will focus on topics including technical skills, financial literacy, music business skills, and branding and will offer opportunities for creative collaborations. Each producer, as a condition of acceptance, has also agreed to explore volunteer opportunities in their own community.

I had the opportunity to chat with Laaain (La-Nai Gabriel), a Women In The Studio 2022 participant about why this program is important, what she looks forward to learning, and the biggest challenge she’s faced in the industry thus far.

Kat: What does it mean to you, to have been chosen as a participant in the Music Publishers Canada Women in the Studio National Accelerator 2022? 

Laaain: I would say that it feels pretty great to be seen, finally! I applied last year and didn’t make it in, but instead was the Ableton Live mentor for the 2021 participants and had a great time teaching that group about the program. Now that I’m a part of the program, I feel honored that of all the extremely talented people we have from coast to coast in this country that applied, I was one of six that was chosen for this really unique opportunity. I’ve spent so much of my career working behind the scenes for other artists that sometimes it feels like I’m playing catch up with my own work. To be given the space and time to focus on my own path, and how I want to take up space in the industry is immeasurable.

Kat: Can you tell us a little about the creative work you do?

Laaain: This is always a fun question for me to answer, because I do “all the things”.

I am:

-A composer for film and tv; Some of my recent credits include Superwish on YTV, Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go!, and set for release in late September Dreams in Vantablack.

-A music producer; I produce and songwrite for myself under the name laaain, and I’m also a part of co-production trio Gabe, Dann, and Stu which is myself, Robin Dann (Bernice), and Alanna Stuart (Pyne, Bonjay).

-An arranger; I’ve arranged strings, voices, and horns for many artists, including Tanika Charles, Madame Gandhi, Claire Davis, Maya Killtron, and most recently, did an arrangement of “Sunset Village” by legendary Canadian Queer Icon Beverly Glenn Copeland for a concert featuring the Queer Songbook Orchestra and the Regina Symphony Orchestra. 

-A performer and recording artist; I record, mix, and edit for myself and other artists out of my home studio here in Victoria.

Kat: The program focuses on topics including technical skills, financial literacy, music business skills, and branding and will offer opportunities for creative collaborations. What are you most looking forward to learning?  

Laaain: I’m really looking forward to learning more about business skills and branding, as well as the opportunity for creative collaborations. I do a lot of creative work and have spent so much of my time getting my creative skills and my portfolio happening, but none of that matters if I don’t know how to find people to work with who also want to pay me for my skills, right? 

I’ve been to school a few times for things that are all heavily male dominated — music, chef training, and audio engineering. In all those experiences, I’ve felt it’s hard for women, gender fluid, or non-binary people to speak up and maybe ask that question that seems obvious or that you feel “you should know already” without fear of judgement. One thing I love about Women In The Studio is that I’ve never had that feeling. Everyone who has come in to be a mentor has been very open and encouraging, all the participants are super professional and engaging, and I feel like we all get equal chances to ask questions and explore what we’re curious about. There’s no underlying sense of competition, we’re all there because we want to be better at what we do. 

Kat: What has been your biggest challenge thus far in the industry? 

Laaain: Visibility is by far the biggest and most nuanced issue I have faced. It’s not only how I am seen, but when I am seen and when I am allowed to be seen.

I think it should go without saying that being a Black Queer, Gender Non-Conforming Woman who works in the arts in this country is a challenge in and of itself. Canada is a country that is “multicultural” when it needs to be, but the music industry is still very white, and very male. I’ve had to learn how to be a woman in charge in places where people think I don’t belong just by looking at me. I’ve dealt with male audio engineers not taking me seriously until my male bandmates have had to tell them that I’m the bandleader. Basically, take all the challenges that my non-Black Queer counterparts go through, and add anti-Blackness on top of that.

As for when I’m allowed to be seen, Canada being a very white dominant entertainment space means that I’ve had to work harder than most to find spaces where the art that I make will be accepted and shared. So often are Black artists relegated to “urban” spaces, or Queer artists to Pride events. I’ve also had to work harder than most to find others who look like me who also do what I do.

This also has a lot to do with access to funds and equity. It’s hard to be seen when you don’t have a lot of a budget for proper marketing, promotions, videos, etc. For a lot of my career, I’ve kind of put a lot of those things on the back-burner while I worked on being a better musician and producer, or working for other artists, because I didn’t have the budget to promote myself or my work properly. It all seemed so daunting to be doing it on my own and with next to no money. Up until recently, I didn’t have any press, and I didn’t know how to get anyone to write about me or my work. I’d worked with so many people, so many had heard and played my work, yet no one really knew who I was. That is changing, which is great, but it has been challenging. 

Kat: In an industry where males are often given more opportunities, do you have any advice for producers-songwriters who identify as women, gender fluid, non-binary or gender non-conforming? 

Laaain: I have so much advice that I wish someone had told me in my twenties.

1. Find the people who accept you for the weirdo you are, treat those people as well as you would want to be treated, and you’ll work together forever. Some of the best professional relationships I have are also with people I consider to be good friends who I’ve worked with for decades and started working with while we were all starting out.

2. Apply for everything. Just do it. Even if you think you’re not 100% qualified or you won’t get it, guaranteed there’s a dude out there somewhere with 15% of the qualifications who’s going to apply. Get out of your own way.

3. Not everyone is going to like you, so say what you need to say regardless. Sometimes you will be the only one to stand up, but it’s better to be that person and identify who not to work with, than to stay quiet and end up in a situation that is harmful.

4. To that same token, closed mouths don’t get fed, so ask for what you need. 

Kat: What are your plans for the rest of 2022?

Laaain: For the rest of this year, I’ll be working on scoring a few episodes of a new kids show called Gisele’s Mashup Adventures, and I’ll be finishing up my first laaain album, Existential Disco, due for release in early 2023. I’ve been working on this album for a while and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone. Some of my most honest, and fun, work to date!

Dreams in Vantablack, a 12-part series of poems and interviews from young Black artists in Toronto, that I had the pleasure of composing the score for, premieres on CBC Gem in late September. 

Connect With Laaain

Twitter: @laaain_music

Facebook: @lanaigabrielmusic

Instagram: @laaain_music

To learn more about the Women In The Studio program visit: https://www.musicpublisher.ca/women-in-the-studio-program

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