Lauren Spalding and the Rooftop Beginnings of Femme House
A scan through the 22 pages of Femme House’s 2021 Impact Report and it is difficult to believe the non-profit was only launched in 2019. In fact, Femme House, whose mission is to foster “more equitable opportunity for women and gender-expansive individuals in music,” celebrated its third anniversary only last month with a number of milestones.
These included the takeover of the Forest House Art Car at EDC Las Vegas. The event came hot on the heels of the first ever Femme House Takeover Tour, which included music workshops in W Hotels and a giveaway of Roland GO:PIANO88 in every city they hit. They hosted multiple sessions with Dolby Labs on their various social media channels, including a conversation with We Are Moving the Needle’s Emily Lazar, one of Femme House’s partners.
Femme House has already gained over 9,000 members globally. They have established partnerships with the likes of Ableton, the aforementioned We Are Moving the Needle, and She is the Music to create She is the Producer. They have developed a robust curriculum for production education and launched a weekly show, Femme House Radio, on Diplo’s Revolution on Sirius XM.
Femme House’s impressive rise is due to its co-founders. LP Giobbi and Lauren Spalding aka HERMIXALOT. Spalding has been hustling in the music industry from the day after she graduated high school. She started as an intern in the PR department at Capitol Records and went through almost every aspect of the business at some point or another, including being an artist herself. Her wealth of experience, combined with Giobbi’s never-ending ideas, have made Femme House the streamlined, goal-oriented, and hyper-professional organization that it is.
Spalding traces the musical trajectory that brought her to where she is now, HERMIXALOT by night and executive director of Femme House by day—a direct line from her Saturday mornings at a record store in Los Angeles, followed by a session in the drum room at Sam Ash Music then onto Guitar Center and their synth collection before having dinner with her mother at Soup Plantation, catching a movie and ending “the best day ever” (every week) with a few rounds at the arcade.
What was your first introduction to music?
It's a tremendous understatement to say I grew up in the church. I was there five days of the week. The church is the lens through which I viewed musicality. It's certainly the first context in which I was up close with music. I was in the choir, doing rehearsals with a band. I went to a moderately famous LA church. Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind & Fire was a member. Rickey Minor used to come through all the time. A number of pretty famous choirs used to roll through.
This was the early 2000s so we were seeing a true gospel renaissance. Kirk Franklin was dominating all radio. Not just gospel radio, but R&B and hip hop, especially in LA. Rodney Jerkins is making Destiny's Child tracks but also making gospel tracks. All of this is gelling together. So, if I had to pinpoint my entry into “This music shit is pretty cool,” it's via the church.
Your entry into the music business, however, was through school, correct?
There were a couple of folks I went to school with that were on the same tip I was, including a famous songwriter named James Fauntleroy. I heard about a Black teacher on campus and how she had a connection with this organization Y.E.S. 2 Jobs. It took me days work up the courage to ask her about it, because she wasn't one of my teachers and she didn't know me by face or by name. I finally asked her and it was just a piece of paper with very simple questions on it: film, TV, or music, rank them and your age. It was like your very first job application, but with none of the heavy lifting.
Y.E.S. 2 Jobs is a couple of Black ladies and they changed my life. It’s such a simple idea, but very revolutionary. They went to all of their friends that worked in the music industry, and said, “Can you take a couple kids off our hands and just have them follow you around and give them work to do for a summer?” Every single mentor I had via the program was Black and nobody had a truly spectacular job. I wasn't working for any VPs or directors or anything, but it still changed my life. They were all hustlers in their own right. They were a bunch of big brothers and sisters.
They really changed things for me and made it feel less inaccessible. You don't know anything about the music industry and how it works. You just feel like there's a lot of gravitas surrounding you. You're over here and everything else is over there. But having that human element bridged it for me.
This was a post-high school summer internship. What were your next moves?
I kept going around to see who was hiring and I joined the street team department. This whole time, I had not been going to college even though I was very much supposed to. I hadn't even enrolled, and my mom was very upset because I had a full scholarship to Hofstra University in New York. A year and a half later, I called them and asked if I could still have the scholarship. They said definitely not, but you can still come. So, I went. I lasted a year and a half. What I really wanted was to go to the music industry program at USC, and I kept not getting in. New York was a stopgap until I did. I really liked New York. I didn't particularly care for the school, but I liked the record business out there. I got into USC and I moved back to LA. But all the reasons that I wanted to go to USC didn't hold up anymore. I wasn't a college kid anymore. I just wanted to get the fuck out so I did English.
What sort of jobs did you have at the time?
I did Capitol for a while. I did the music department at Disney Studios. I had a number of internships that weren't even music-related, but still in entertainment that paid really well. Like, I worked at Disneytoon Studios [and] Warner Brothers Animation. So, I'm in the proximity of the biz. I'm still going to shows. I'm trying to figure out my own way. I'm doing a lot of DMing on MySpace looking for artists to work with. I'm on Craigslist a lot, just hustling, that early 20s hustle. At one point I had five jobs at once: Radio Shack, Jamba Juice, my actual internship, moonlighting at Capitol, and my personal favorite, but also least favorite, operator at the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios. I lasted exactly three weeks. To this day the hardest, stupidest job I've ever had in my life.
Was all this hustle paying your bills?
My God, no! For a large amount of my 20s I had at least three jobs at once and I lived with my mom.
The business side of your professional musical experience came before the creative side?
The business tip came first. I’ve lived in Oakland since 2010. Three or four years previous, I was working for a really niche independent publisher named Christian de Walden who made a lot of money as a songwriter and sub-publisher during that weird ‘80s boom where Filipino music was the popular shit in the world. He had 50 credits with Irene Cara. He had a catalogue of 3,000 songs. He wrote tracks for every pop star you can think of in Southeast Asia. I did that for three years. And then I was just, “This LA shit does not feel like it's happening.” I was also coming into a house of cards insofar as record labels changing and falling down and turning into something different. Everybody was trying to figure that out. I wasn't happy in LA anymore.
I moved to the Bay Area, and I got a tech job because that's what you do when you move to the Bay Area. I was looking for an industry job, which is really hard to come by because the scene is really small. Somebody recommended me to Craig Fruin, who is an old school manager, who was looking for a new assistant. I did that for five or six years and then I started my own ship.
At first, I thought I wanted to start an artist management company. I tried that, then realized I'd rather have a real family. I'd rather have relationships with actual people on a personal level, instead of people that pay me.
How did you shift to becoming a creative yourself?
It was just proximity to creatives, musicians specifically, and willingness on my part. It's such a hard fucking life and it gets so intertwined with personhood to an extent that's always made me deeply uncomfortable. I didn’t think it was the game for me. First of all, I like money on a consistent basis, and second of all, I'm very private. My writing is very personal and I didn’t think the artist life was for me.
But hanging around the dance music community where people are there to dance, and the genre is more open and collaborative and less about a formula and more about the spontaneity of being in the room kept popping up for me. Hanging out with Sofi Tukker and LP, it just felt it was the right people at the right time.
I've hung out with a lot of creatives and a lot of musicians on a day-to-day basis, but the way Sofi Tukker approach creativity, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. It's like going to a playground and watching kids play together. We'll be hanging out and doing something completely mundane and then you can just see a spirit hit one of them. Before you know it, the entire room is involved. That’s what brought me out of my shell and encouraged me to just play like they're playing.
I found a real freedom and a real fun in it. It's pure outlet. It's pure creativity. It's very wholesome in that way, and I have no ties that bind me to it that say anything about my personhood or my level of achievement. I have all these other things that do that. So, it's just fun.
How did Femme House come about?
Femme House is a strange one to describe. I'm still trying to codify it. Me and LP have been friends for over a decade, essentially since I moved to the Bay Area. At the time she was also working in the entertainment industry, at Another Planet Entertainment. We kept running into each other at shows. We used to have something called “Rooftops,” because my apartment in downtown Oakland at the time had a beautiful rooftop. We would go up there before we'd go out causing trouble for the night and just drink and chain smoke and talk and get deep about our dreams and hopes. It oftentimes feels like Femme House started there even though we didn't know what to call it.
We've gone into business together a number of times over the last decade. She's the big idea person. She's the “try anything” person, and she always comes to me. First, to see if it's possible, and second, to ask for my help. All I've ever tried to do is seize every resource and opportunity provided for me, and, also, extend some of that back where I can. Femme House is the zenith of that.
Before we launched, we brought a bunch of our industry friends together at a little mixer to tell them what we wanted to do, and also to see if it was a good idea. We've been rolling ever since. The next month we did a panel and in-person production workshop at Moogfest. We started with a dozen folks in a studio, hunched over Ableton Push on their laptops in LA. That was the extent of the vision: Let's just create a safe space for folks to learn how to produce music.
Femme House gives the impression that it is electronic music-focused, but is it?
It has sort of taken on that life of its own, just by virtue of LP’s career as a dance artist. It is very much my intention in the next year to diversify that idea. The problem we address is an industry-wide problem. In dance music it’s very easy to point to, but I like a ton of different kinds of music. The idea of a safe space, which is what Femme House is first and foremost, should apply to all communities and all genres. You would be correct in assuming that it’s electronic music-focused by what you see, but it's not necessarily on purpose. I see it too and am addressing it.
You have a lot of partnerships with other women musician-centered organizations who work in other genres of music, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing if Femme House were to be electronic music-focused.
The lift to get into live performance as a DJ or a bedroom producer is a lot lower because you can go by yourself. You typically need one or two pieces of gear and that's it, the industry can be your oyster. You can go a lot further than you can in other contexts where you need a bunch of bells and whistles to continue to progress. I also think it's a good entry point. I always say the hardest thing about being a DJ is taste. The other stuff is the same as learning how to use a new phone or use your laptop. It's a piece of equipment on a desk.
I like that you brought up the other organizations, because I've always made it a point to work with them. They've been remarkable at also wanting to work with us and approaching us. We have the second edition of She Is The Producer, which we partnered on last year with She Is The Music and We Are Moving the Needle. It’s supported by Ableton who provides curriculum and training support, and free Live licenses to enrollees. For SITPII which just wrapped, they also provided Spanish translation, and we’ll be launching SITPII En Español later this month. For SITPII, we also brought on Dolby as a partner, and they provided a bonus week of content all about Dolby Atmos as a resource for producers.
There are so many organizations that are invested in this work that we do. Some of them don't have the tangible thing we have, which is education. We have a curriculum we've developed. Being able to bring that to other organizations that have galvanized community in similar ways but maybe don't have something they can consistently give, has been really helpful in exploding our community. But also, in making us all collectively stronger, and giving our audiences different pathways to do what they want to do. For me, I'm always thinking about like the resources and I'm just trying to pool them. Working with organizations like that, who are invested in the same idea and the same sort of outcome and go about it in different ways, is always a treat for me.
With the number of high-profile brand name partnerships, you have in the electronic music space, it seems like it would be great to keep Femme House focused on dance music, especially since supportive production education for creative women in that genre is non-existent.
A lot of Femme House’s origin story was a direct response to LP’s experience. She moved to LA to join an all-female electronic band, and produce their first record—without knowing that was a thing she could do. She was trying to go to classes to learn Ableton and finding herself the only woman. She was like, “This sucks. It’s not a supportive learning environment. Whatever. I’m used to that. I'll deal with it.” In LA she was meeting these remarkably talented female creatives: singers, songwriters, bedroom producers, who were just waiting for a dude they deemed more talented than them, and more powerful than them, to pluck them from obscurity and take them to stardom. As she gets deeper into this scene, she’s realizing a lot of these women are producers and they don't even know that they're producing, and that's by design.
We expanded our free curriculum to include DJ technique along with our music production suite. We also offer immersive, month-long courses on production technique that are offered on a pay-what-you-can sliding scale basis, and are free for creators of color. And we provide scholarships to BIPOC creators that come with a full suite of gear, one-on-one production education, networking opportunity, professional development, and lifetime platform support for future projects.
But I feel you on [keeping it electronic music-focused]. The thing I'm most proud of with Femme House is the community and how supportive it is of one another. They get together during our free sessions and the group chat and the Discord and they exchange tips. And they get together outside of us and schedule meetups and throw parties together. That's really cool.
Whether I like it or not, I don't think the electronic music focus is changing. My co-founder is an electronic musician. That's how we've cut our teeth. The community we've established is a prolific one, and an engaged one. Honestly, I see my biggest job as not fucking it up what they've got going on. But, I would like to expand the safety of the space.
What’s are some future goals for Femme House?
This idea that we can create an ecosystem in which you could, soup to nuts, have your career entirely contained. A lot of what has accelerated our growth is that LP and I both have music industry experience. Our names came with some buy-in when we started this thing. There's no other way that Ableton would let us have our first in-person workshop at their studios. They knew both of us already. We can give you the education and also give you a bunch of opportunities to sharpen it, and to flex it. That feels good to me.
I popped into one of our online workshops and there was nothing but White faces. I have to figure out what levers to pull to start to change that. EDM is a remarkably White space—which is funny being that it's a genre created by Black and Brown people. But when I'm thinking about expansion, I'm thinking about diversity in all those ways and opening up the channels. We need safe spaces and wherever we can create them for ourselves is important. That's all I'm after.