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Breaking Barriers at NitroSonic Studios

Studio owners Danielle Barkman, Abbi Buettner and Leah Arrington pose for a group photo at Nitrosonic Studio in Lexington, Ky. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Photo by Martha McHaney.

There are around 30 women-owned recording studios in the United States, and one, NitroSonic Studios, happens to be right here in Lexington. The three owners, Danielle Barkman, Abbi Buettner and Leah Arrington, share their perspectives on women in the industry and music-making in the Bluegrass.

“It’s long been an old boys’ club,” Arrington said. Buettner said that women make up only two percent of the sound engineering business. Common explanations for this gender imbalance vary from a supposed lack of female interest in sound engineering to familiar social barriers that can amplify inequality in competitive fields.

Regardless, the three owners of NitroSonic share a passion for the recording industry, and together they help musicians to realize their hard work. Arrington has played guitar and recorded her own music since she was in high school. She recalled playing into four-track cassette recorders and working her way up to producing a CD with her band.

Today, said Barkman, “you can get started on next to nothing.” She cited resources like GarageBand and video calls that allow artists to collaborate across distances as examples of how accessible making music has become and how technology has opened new possibilities that would have been “crazy to think about 20 years ago, with a studio.”

“We were all recording with whatever we could get our hands on over the years, wishing we had access to this kind of thing. When that absolutely insane idea of buying the music studio in 2018 pops up, I didn’t even have a choice,” Barkman said. She is a drummer as well as a producer.

For sound engineers everywhere, local artists are not only clients but inspirations as well.

“You can’t throw a banjo without hitting a good musician in this area,” Barkman said.

The team lamented the lack of venues and audiences for the abundance of talent that calls Lexington home, the latter of which could be partially due to a lull in concert-going caused by the pandemic.

But they also acknowledged the ways in which they hope to serve those local music communities by providing access to more advanced recording technology and connections to artist-focused record labels.

“You don’t get this eclectic of a mix of music anywhere I’ve ever been or lived. You can go from one bar to the next all night and just see different styles, different things, and it’s amazing,” Barkman said.

Nitrosonic Studio, located on the second floor of a newly-renovated historic building, houses recording equipment for incoming clients in Lexington, Ky. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Photo by Martha McHaney.

“I would love to see more inspired women coming into the industry,” Buettner said. “I’m so inspired to have a team like Danielle and Leah. We are constantly pushing each other and lifting each other, and I want other people to be able to find homes like that in the industry.” She also explained how the shared struggle between female sound engineers and recording artists to get where they want helps develop a sense of compassion within the industry which fosters collaboration and understanding.

“For some of our artists we’ve created a space that they feel safe and comfortable enough in to be the most vulnerable versions of themselves because that’s what music is,” Buettner said. “It’s a constant exchange of trust and emotion and vulnerability and just strength to put this stuff out together.”

The owners agree that no matter what obstacles face them, they are committed to having a presence in the recording industry, and not letting anything get in the way of their passion and drive to make music and help others do the same.

“We’re small but we’re mighty,” Buettner said. It’s a phrase that’s applicable to many people in fields they may feel outnumbered in. “Stick your feet in doors and don’t take them back out again,” she added.

Worn out ideas of who should and shouldn’t be doing something aren’t stopping any of these trailblazing female-led studios. Barkman said, “chromosomes don’t have a lot to do with sound.”


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