Ebonie Smith on Music: The importance of diverse backgrounds in music

Photo by Antoine Lever

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 18 Winter 2021

Ebonie Smith is the founder of Gender Amplified, an organization that works to celebrate and support female and non-binary producers in the industry—this is done through community events, multimedia, and creating visibility for the producers. Outside of her work with Gender Amplified, Smith works as a producer and audio engineer for Atlantic Records and holds a Master’s degree in music technology. Smith filled us in on how she got her break into the industry, as well as the importance of highlighting BIPOC producers in it. 

What is your name (stage name if different), where are you from, and how did you come to start your music career?

My name is Ebonie Smith. I started making music at an early age. I showed proficiency on the piano at four years old. My parents decided to place me in piano lessons around that same time. This was the genesis of my love for music and composition. I am originally from Memphis, Tennessee, where music is a very powerful force. I would experience music in church, and this provided much of my artistic foundation in my early years.

What was your first “big break” into the music industry? Tell our readers what you remember feeling to see your hard work finally pay off.

My first major credit was as an assistant engineer on the cast album for Hamilton, The Broadway Musical. When I saw the album listed at number one on the Billboard rap charts, I honestly began to cry.

Let’s talk about the importance of seeing more Black queer producers in the industry. What was the thing(s) that made you say, “I have to do something about the lack of representation and diversity”? Additionally, what was your mission with founding Gender Amplified, and how important is it that we shed light on women and female-identifying artists and producers?

I think it is very important to have individuals of diverse backgrounds making the music that goes on to become the soundtrack of American culture. American culture consists of various communities working together to build a great nation. When music producers come from one background, this has the potential to limit the perspectives behind the music-making process. This can also limit the types of stories that are told and the types of technological approaches that are pursued in the studio.

Shifting gears to mental, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. What do you do to protect your spiritual and mental wellbeing? Do you think prioritizing this is essential to a long-term career in the music industry?

Self-care is very important, especially for producers and engineers. It is common for many of us to spend days on end in the studio and never see sunlight. I make every effort to eat well and work out. I keep a rigorous gym schedule, five to six days a week. In addition to physical training, I cook most of my meals. I aim to drink a gallon of water a day. I keep alcohol to a minimum, and I don’t smoke. This type of lifestyle has helped maintain longevity, and it gets me through the weeks, which can be quite arduous.

I believe music has a lot of power. We as artists have a responsibility to deliver that message through the genres and lyrics that are rooted in our culture and Black history. 

What is your songwriting/production process when you step into the studio, and how important is music to healing in our community?

I do not choose to write songs in the studio. I can be quite distracted by technology, and I have found that limitation produces better songs. I don’t want to be distracted by all the bells and whistles of the studio. I like to write on guitar and piano.

Music is one of the greatest exports from the United States. The music from marginalized communities helps to fortify those communities. For example, much has been written about Negro spirituals and the ways in which those songs helped Black Americans overcome injustice and move towards freedom. Embedded in songs are the mysteries of life and the will of people to survive in spite of hardship.

Name an artist you would like to work with but have not had the opportunity yet.

I would love to work with Erykah Badu.

What is next for you?

I plan to continue my work with women and girls who aspire to be music producers and audio engineers. I plan to continue this work through Gender Amplified, Inc., a nonprofit I founded in 2007 that supports women and non-binary music producers. We have quite a few projects in the works for 2022.