Producer Crosstalk: Crystal Carpenter

Engineer and erstwhile studio manager Crystal Carpenter sailed into the profession on the wings of her turntables. While attending The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she’d spin records at night, which came with a built-in education in sound engineering. Friends began to ask her to engineer their records and that’s when it dawned on her that this could be a career. Following graduation, she became the studio manager at Atlanta’s Bad Boy South, and in 2019 she stepped into the same role at Memphis’ 4U Recording Studios, a position she left recently.

As a woman in engineering―a field that’s been male dominated since it began―Carpenter experienced a range of gender-related roadblocks as her career began to coalesce. Those experiences prompted her to help clear the path for other women to excel in audio. “Last weekend I DJ’ed at a Women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] event in Huntsville, Alabama,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of women that are drawn to audio engineering, because they don’t see it in front of them. I go into schools and talk to kids [about audio engineering] and the young ladies see that it’s a possibility.”

Managing a studio is a time-consuming and challenging endeavor. Despite the substantial demands, Carpenter extended her role to create greater opportunities for women. She helmed a number of outreach projects, such as SheDjs, at which 4U Recording hosted a regular DJ open house for women. “We put on the event with men and women when it used to be Turntable Tuesdays,” she explains. “Often the girls would shy away or be embarrassed that they might not know something. So in 2019 I started SheDjs, a collective of female DJs and producers. We had a monthly Wednesday meet-up.”

“I don’t do a lot of production,” Carpenter says of her tenure with 4U. “But I feel that DJs should be included in the production conversation because they play a big role in how music is created; they’re able to bring in different elements to a record. For example, I co-write during sessions, bring in writers and connect with other producers. Some music may be [appropriate] for TV shows, and having those connections, I’m able to pass it along. People make great music and sometimes you don’t hear it because it never leaves the studio.”

One of her favorite studio memories is of the time around 2020 when 4U put up a top-level assembly of music pros. “We hosted the Memphis Grammy chapter event at which they brought in some major songwriters,” Carpenter recalls. “I was nervous, because I’d just started with the company and didn’t [yet] know how to do very much. But T-Pain saw how I felt and helped me to calm down. One of the things he said was, ‘I know I wrote some hit records, but I’m [just] here to collaborate.’ That helped me see that it was okay to be nervous, and we went on to have a successful event.”

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Ashley Friedman - Jaybird Communications, [email protected]