Isobel Anderson

Between her 20+ years making, performing and producing music, a PhD in Sonic Arts and a passion for creating supportive music tech education spaces for women, Isobel’s career embraces a sense of independence and experimentation. 

Her four solo albums have amassed over 25 million Spotify streams, her sound works have been performed on international stages and she has published in journals, such as Organised Sound and The Journal of Sonic Studies. Threaded throughout her work is a fascination with how we make sense of ourselves, the world around us and the process of creative exploration itself. 

Isobel is proud to produce and host the critically acclaimed feminist music tech podcast, Girls Twiddling Knobs.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the founder of The Female DIY Musician, which is an online resource offering training and opportunities for women to learn about recording and producing their own music. This incorporates: the Girls Twiddling Knobs podcast, which shares tools and techniques for recording and production and profiles the work of women making music with technology; a free online community of over a thousand members, and; Home Recording Academy, an online course designed exclusively for female musicians teaching the process of recording music from home.

I also have a PhD in Sonic Arts from Belfast’s Sonic Arts Research Centre and a career as a musician spanning over 15 years with four self-released, self-produced albums and over 25 million Spotify streams.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Definitely not when I was young, other than being totally dedicated to making music. I had to learn about planning as I went along and my PhD gave me a good grounding in properly researching, executing and reflecting on a project or process. I’m now much more strategic and conscious about how I’m using my time and energy.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Probably the biggest challenges I have faced are to do with my gender and my health. Growing up wanting to be a musician, it was clear from an early age that the music industry treated you very differently if you were a woman. You were expected to sing rather than play an instrument, perform rather than compose and the idea that you might learn to produce and use music technology was almost a distant dream. It’s been a constant effort to not let that define my career and to also accept the things that are still outside of my control as an individual too.

I have also lived with chronic pain for the last nine years, and this has at times totally prevented me from working. I have literally gone from claiming income support to running my own business in the last three years and working out how to be independent and have a sustainable career has been incredibly difficult.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

It definitely has to be creating Home Recording Academy and seeing just how much of an impact it’s having on the lives and careers of my students. I’ve now been running it for over a year and am seeing my students go on to land national radio airplay, win awards and create amazing music all through the skills they’ve learnt on my course.

In fact, it was one of my students who nominated me for a TechWomen100 award, and I was so honoured to be shortlisted for the 2021 Champion Award. This, and the impact and reach of the Girls Twiddling Knobs podcast, are blowing my mind right now!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My training in creativity. As someone who grew up with dyslexia and strongly identified as ‘artistic, I have been hugely privileged to have developed a strong creative muscle. I believe that everyone is innately creative, but so few of us are ever really educated in how to develop and apply this in our lives. When I’ve come up against a problem, whether it be to do with work, health or otherwise, it’s the same creativity that’s present in my music making that’s helped me find a way through.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Remember the 10% rule: You DON’T have to be an ‘expert’ on every single aspect of your field – all you have to know is 10% more than the average person.  Many women in particular feel like an imposter in tech spaces, but in reality, most people are still learning as they go too.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There definitely are still barriers in music technology. For example, according to a US study, just 2% of music producers are female. Like with other technical fields, this isn’t simply because women don’t want to work in music tech, it’s for multiple, complex reasons. What I have seen make a massive difference is female led, female only spaces, like my own, where women can learn about technology together. This isn’t an end game in itself – I don’t want to have to teach women alone for the rest of my life – but it is definitely an important stepping stone to more women feeling able to learn about music technology through non-judgemental, supportive spaces.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Women’s voices are important to changing the profile and narrative around technology. Just hearing a woman speak about technology helps other people alter how gendered they might presume technology is. So, if companies can make more of an effort to invite female speakers, employ women in top roles and generally give a platform to woman, this can make a positive difference.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would introduce the idea of emotional imagination into our education and workplaces. This might otherwise be known as empathy, and this ability to imagine other people’s emotional landscape inevitably leads to greater curiosity, inclusion and diversity. I really do believe that simply asking the question “what might this feel like for them” and actively using our imagination to put ourselves in other people’s shoes helps us to make technology environments more enjoyable, effective and even profitable, for everyone.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Well, of course if you’re interested in music and sound, my podcast Girls Twiddling Knobs 😉 as well as the female and non-binary group 2% Rising and for anyone looking for some electronic music inspiration, check out the fabulous documentary film, Sisters with Transistors too.

And, don’t forget to head to my website: