When people think about women in rock and roll, they tend to envision performers. There’s another type of woman rocker, the one behind the scenes laying down and perfecting the sound. And one legend in this arena of the music industry is recording engineer Lenise Bent.
Born Into the Entertainment Industry
“The greatest day of my life was when I walked into a recording studio for the first time,” Bent recalls. “I didn’t even know people could have jobs like that.” But upon finding out, she says, “I knew that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
A Los Angeles native, Bent was brought up surrounded by the entertainment industry. Her family was both musical and technically adept. Bent, herself, played instruments, as well as performed at an early age in film and TV, but she didn’t know about the inner workings of the music industry. Instead, she studied TV and film production at both the University of Southern California and California State Long Beach.
Then, a fateful visit to a recording studio changed her path forever. Upon learning about the behind-the-scenes work, Bent dropped out of college and immediately enrolled in The Sound Masters Recording Institute. Upon graduation, she landed an assistant engineer spot at The Village Studios in LA and worked her way up to engineer.
As a producer and engineer, Bent worked on iconic records like Steely Dan’s Aja, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. But it was Blondie’s AutoAmerican that saw Bent becoming the first woman engineer to receive a platinum album.
Although she was one of a very few women in her field when she started, Bent says she didn’t experience rampant sexism. She sees the profession as being essentially “genderless.” The difficulty of the career path, she says, has more to do with its intensity — being a music engineer can be just as much a lifestyle as a career. “You have to be totally available at all times.”
There are other challenges, too. The money, for instance, isn’t what it was when Bent started out. This calls for being inventive when looking at one’s variety of skills.
“As I say, I built a pyramid instead of a totem pole, so if one brick gets pulled out of the whole thing, I’m not going to fall down,” she says. With that in mind, she’s always building upon her skill sets. “The more you know, the more valuable you’ll be to yourself and everyone else.”
It’s this approach that has seen Bent branching out into the film and animation industry. Her first love, though, remains music. “Post-production is great, but it’s more of a profession where I can apply my technical skills,” she says. “There’s a lot that goes into producing audio for film and television, and it’s not always warm and fuzzy, but it does pay better and more often.”
Advice for the Young and Aspiring
As a sound industry veteran, Bent shaped the careers of many younger sound professionals. A firm believer in the power of mentoring, she does so for organizations like Soundgirls, which works to inspire and empower the next generation of women in audio. Their mission is to create a supportive community for women in audio and music production,
providing the tools, knowledge, and support to further their careers. Having a powerhouse like Bent around helps make that mission into a reality.
Bent also teaches studio protocols and procedures at a recording school. The number one requirement? Initiative.
“Make yourself useful; be an asset, not a liability,” Bent advises. “Be that person who sees problems and knows which ones they can take care of.” Equally as important as learning recording techniques and using the latest software is developing good listening skills. “If you pay attention, any questions you have will usually be answered just by hanging out.”
Besides traditional music recording (gigs that are harder and harder to get), Bent recommends aspiring sound pros consider other niches, like podcasting, where there are “opportunities to shadow.”
Also vital to success? “Be a team player.”
Ultimately, Bent says, a consuming passion is what matters for a career in sound engineering.
“I went after it with a vengeance and the universe responded,” she explains. “If you’re authentic in your passion and desire, opportunities arise. So persistence and being genuine are two of the greatest traits for moving forward at any aspect of your life.”
About Redefining Rosie
This profile on sound engineer and music producer Lenise Bent is a part of our Redefining Rosie: Cool Women, Uncommon Jobs.
Parentology created this series to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. It features articles highlighting remarkable women in the workforce around the world — and in outer space! Check out our other profiles in the Redefining Rosie hub.