It is important to vocalist and record label/studio co-owner Jana Mougin that the women who work behind the scenes in music get as much attention as those in the limelight. They’re important people, and they keep the wheels of the music business turning. To Mougin, it’s great that there are more and more women filling roles that were previously the purview of men.
Mougin – who formerly toured across Europe and the United States for 15 years with the Slovakian band Fragment – has since carved out a role for herself on the business side of music. She and her husband – performer Stephen Mougin – decided to open a recording studio and start a label, Dark Shadow Recording. The acts signed to Dark Shadow include well-known acts such as Becky Buller, Laura Orshaw, Rick Faris, Henhouse Prowlers and Full Cord.
Mougin’s professional career took a different path when presented with the choice many working women eventually faced. She became a mother 14 years ago and had to decide whether she’d stay on the road as a musician. Since her husband toured, she decided in favor of more stability at home.
“I see many very ambitious women who can do both,” Mougin said, making clear that her choice to pull back is not in any way a critique of other touring women. “But for us, one is enough in the family to travel. What matters is what fits their [the family’s] lifestyle.” She added, “I was lucky because not everyone has a husband that also wants to run a record label. I’m very fortunate that I get to do this…it’s a pleasure.”
Mougin primarily handles radio promotion, publicity, social media, and music video production for Dark Shadow artists. Transitioning to a focus on the studio and label allowed Mougin to stay deeply involved with the music she loves.
“We are a small label and can only release three or four albums a year. Everything from pre-production to the final product is created here,” Mougin explained.
She said what differentiates Dark Shadow Recording from other options is that she and her husband provide lots of personal support to artists, something that’s often overlooked by larger or less personalized labels.
“Many times, artists feel alone if they don’t have good support,” she said.
In this role, she has worked with many quality women who fill roles in production, sound engineering and more.
“Behind the scenes, there are really, really good woman sound engineers,” she asserted. “My husband plays with Sam Bush, and their sound engineers are both females.” She said Kate Haldrup is Bush’s front-of-house sound person, and Kylie Sager handles the monitors. She also mentioned the quality work of Aubrey Shamel, Becky Buller’s front-of-house sound engineer.
While supporting other artists, Mougin hasn’t ignored her need to make music. She’s been into bluegrass since she was 15 years old, and although the passion has evolved a bit, it has never faded.
“I’ve sung lead or harmony vocals on many projects,” she said. That list includes Becky Buller, Breaking Grass, Rick Lang, April Verch, the Daughters of Bluegrass, Laura Orshaw and many more.
In April 2023, Mougin released a single: Her bluegrass remake of the Steve Wariner country hit, “If I Didn’t Love You.” A solid roster of musicians backed her lead vocals, including Dan Tyminski (guitar), Sierra Hull (mandolin), Ron Block (banjo), Todd Livingston(dobro), Stuart Duncan (fiddle); Barry Bales (bass); Lauren Mascitti (vocal); and Stephen Mougin (vocal).
While she notes the presence of women in music – and some worked alongside men on this latest single – Mougin said for her, excellence should always come first.
“I’d never want to hire a musician based only on their gender,” she said. “I want to work with them if they’re good. I care about their musicianship and quality, and I care about their personality. That’s how I see it.”
Mougin’s background – as a native of Slovakia who moved to the U.S. as an adult – gives her some well-rounded influences. She’s a classically trained vocalist, and the unique approach of Fragment gave her a different view of bluegrass.
“You don’t expect bluegrass to be good there…but there are really good bluegrass bands in the Czech Republic and Slovakia,” she explained. She said Fragment performed traditional and progressive bluegrass, but she “just wanted to learn bluegrass with the original language, so most were in English.”
Since her son is now older and getting more independent, Mougin said she plans to continue her work with the recording studio and label but has already begun transitioning back to being an artist in her own right.
“I certainly have plans to record an album,” she said. “Also, I plan to record with Stephen [Mougin] again, just singles. I’m coming back as an artist.”
Photos by Madison Thorne