Alice Wilder is a FOH engineer who has worked with the likes of M.I.A, Wolf Parade, Austra, Foxygen, Divine Fits, Tinashe, The Drums, Future Islands, and Diana, among others, and is currently touring with American indie rock band Big Thief. She grew up in Muncy, Pennsylvania, but decided to move to Seattle in 2006 and there began to pursue a career in the music industry. Wilder played in bands for a while but discovered she would rather be behind-the-scenes and starting interning as a sound engineer in local live venues. It all kicked off from there…
How did you get into the industry?
I was involved with the music scene in Seattle and started working at a venue there between playing guitar in a band and working bar-backing shifts.
What is your background?
I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania, went to college for accounting and decided it wasn’t for me. Then I moved to Seattle, which helped shape my career in music.
What made you want to be an audio engineer?
I knew I wanted to work with music, but not necessarily in a classroom or sterile/regimented environment; I knew it had to be hands-on and I really loved the idea of accomplishing quick results with subtle movements. I like messing with sound in all of its capacities and experimenting with how many variations can possibly be achieved.
Understanding the concept behind every sonic angle and how space relates is very fascinating to me.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently involved with a band called Big Thief who will be touring for the majority of 2020. I also mix in the box when I have time and am always working on something in my little “studio”.
What tips would you give other audio engineers who are on tour? How do you deal with the rock and roll lifestyle?
I would highly suggest finding a regular routine that works for you, so it feels more comfortable and less hectic. Find a nice pocket or rhythm and sink in. Personally, I try and exercise in the morning before load-in, walk around the town after soundcheck, and chill out after the show with some light reading perhaps. I don’t drink alcohol, which helps significantly. Imagine drinking a beer on an elliptical machine— that’s what consuming beer while on tour is like.
Lastly, Always have at least one day a week of self-care time. You do you. Find a tour that works for you.
Who has been your favourite band/artist to work with?
That’s a tough question because they’re all so different from one another. They all have different perks and different setbacks. So far, I’ve been enjoying working with Big Thief immensely. We vibe. I really connected with the band Future Islands as well. They’re all really great guys.
Anyone you want to work with but haven’t yet?
Do you think you have to have a passion for music to be an audio engineer?
Well, if you’re into mixing FOH, definitely. You have to be capable of communicating what the band is doing/playing on stage to the audience, and that requires a great deal of intuition, finesse, and creativity.
Monitor engineers can get away with being more rigid and technical though. It’s a little different over there.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Of course. I’ve been on a tour before that I really didn’t want to be involved with. Having not done enough research before embarking with the group was the genesis of my lugubrious state of being. Luckily, this was the only tour I felt I really needed to escape from, but I hung in there. I guess I’m proud of the fact that I’ve seen all of the tours I’ve signed up for through, which wasn’t easy in some cases and even disturbing at times.
Top advice for aspiring audio engineers?
If you’d like to become a touring engineer, get to know all of the specific roles that are required of you. It can get complicated and you’re basically always on your toes. There is never a dull moment, so to speak.
Take vitamin D, and I hope you like hummus.
Must-have skills as an audio engineer?
Technical skills are a must-have. You have to know how everything is working in case curveballs happen (and they do every day), and you’ll need to know how to troubleshoot the issue as fast as you can to get the show up and rolling smoothly. Know the input list by heart. Know the band and their dynamics.
What can we be doing to encourage more women into an audio career?
Exposure is key I think. I want them (women) to see other female-identifying folks living the dream out here. Literally. I try and stay on top of my little Instagram account while I’m on the road, so people who are interested can get more of a behind-the-scenes look into the haps of touring.
What do you think prevents women from entering the audio world?
Honestly, I have no idea, but I would really hope the answer would be along the lines of indifference or disinterest.
What is your favourite gear to work with?
Probably some outboard group compressors. I love some good preamps as well. Anything to warm up the digital consoles we’re using these days. Neve and SSL vibes help.