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‘Less is definitely more’: Climbing the ranks of live sound with the next generation

Now that the festival season is well and truly upon us, it is PSNLive’s custom to turn our attention to those behind the scenes, making their first steps on the pro audio industry ladder.

What we can see from this year’s diverse bunch of audio professionals is that the number of women in audio is growing, which is a positive sign for the industry. In the 2018 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study, only two and three per cent of producers and engineers/mixers respectively in popular music were female-identifying. However, we’re hoping that the next report will have different, more balanced results as more and more women are pursuing audio as a career.

If you’re looking for audio engineers for work this summer, or in the future, organisations such as SoundGirls with its newly curated EQL directory and Women In Live Music are great resources where you can find an abundance of female audio professionals, varying in experience and abilities. The Association of Sound Designers is also another platform that showcases sound designers of all levels.

Also apparent is the speed at which audio technology, and it’s potential in live performance, is increasing, with the endless capabilities of immersive sound and experimental, innovative techniques of live audio professionals to produce dynamic effects never ceasing to impress.Here, we’re highlighting the efforts of seven industry pros that are building the next generation and have shared a fresh perspective with us, including their insight and experiences of the industry and hopes for the future.

 

LAURA DAVIS – FOH ENGINEER

Age: 28

Job Title: Audio engineer (FOH, monitors, systems, rigging and RF)

Employer: Self-employed

Current projects: Lonnalee, Fever ray

How did you get into this industry?

I went to work for Adlib Audio straight from school at 16. I had previously worked at Adlib during the summer holidays and got offered a job soon after. I worked there for five years gaining hands-on experience in the industry through touring and preparing gear for other tours. I originally wanted to be a lawyer… that’s a whole other story, and I’m glad that didn’t work out.

Can you name some of your influences within the industry?

My first influence in the industry was Andy Dockerty [managing director] from Adlib who kindly gave me a job at 16. Andy gave me the guidance that I needed and was always there (and still is) to offer advice and support. Secondly, I would say Marc Peers (monitor engineer) for believing in me and pushing me to work hard. I was lucky to start work in this industry surrounded by great people.

And the best tips you’ve been given?

’Smile and nod’ – a TM told me that and it’s come in handy on many occasions.

Another great bit of advice I was given when I started touring was to make sure I make the most out of travelling around the world, as too many people waste their opportunity to see the world.

What’s your favourite thing about the industry you work in?

The people. I got into this industry because of my passion for music and audio but without good people this industry would not be the same. Musically, this job is amazing. I have been lucky enough to work with artists who I choose to listen to in my free time.

What are the biggest challenges of the job?

I’d say the biggest challenge of the industry is to be able to deal with people. When you are with people 24/7 for months on end, you sometimes have to learn to be patient and understanding. Being able to deal with situations and communicate with people is very important.

What other interests do you have outside of the world of audio?

I like to travel, I enjoy hiking and photography. I also do extra work (acting) as a part time hobby.

What advice would you give to someone else – your best tip or trick?

Aim high, anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Hard work and determination will get you far. Never be too proud or afraid to ask for help or advice.

Touring can be hard; always make sure you look after your mental health as much as your physical health. Eat healthily when you can, sleep when you can and most of all, enjoy what you are doing.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

As long as I continue to do what I’m doing now I will be more than happy. As long as I’m happy and working with good people that is all that matters.

Worst advice you’ve heard?

Not to do something because I’m a woman.

 

HANNAH BRODRICK – MONITORS ENGINEER

Age: 29

Job Title: Live sound engineer (monitors / RF / FOH)

Employer: Freelance Current Projects: L Devine, Winterfylleth, pg.lost, Il Divo

Notable Achievements: Co-founder of womeninlivemusic.eu

How did you get into this industry?

I studied Music Technology and Sound Design at university and then after a couple of years of working various unpaid internships for music PR firms, speaker manufacturers, etc., I managed to get some work experience at a theatre, which eventually led to freelancing for local venues and small production companies around the South East. Because it took me a long time to get there, once my foot was in the door I took every opportunity that came along, and I think I’ve pretty much tried it all – West End, musical theatre, weddings, crew work, tour managing, even driving a band of medieval musicians around cathedrals selling merch. These days, I mostly work as a touring FOH and monitor engineer for artists and also do a fair amount of corporate work in Central London.

Can you name some of your influences within the industry?

My two teachers at Britannia Row, the late Barry Bartlett, and Marcel Van Limbeek have probably influenced me the most out of anyone. Also Karrie Keyes, founder of the organisation Soundgirls, who made me believe it was possible for women to reach the top as audio engineers.

What’s the worst advice you’ve heard?

I’ve heard a lot of engineers say that when an artist is being difficult and rude they will do things such as mute the PA, or get creative and do stuff like send the vocalist a pitch-shifted/delayed vocal feed return to their wedge. I think sabotaging your own work to make a point is highly unprofessional, but more than that, it’s not fair on anyone else you are working with. Most problems can be solved with a bit of empathy.

And the best tips you’ve been given?

Label everything and keep it simple.

Dramatic EQ and multiple plugins may look impressive but it leads to phase distortion and degradation of the signal. Less is definitely more.

What’s your favourite thing about the industry you work in?

Travelling and getting to meet new people every day. I love being around musicians and creatives. Nobody just falls into the music industry, it’s an environment built on passion, so you hardly ever meet anyone boring.

What are the biggest challenges of the job?

Work-life balance is a tough one. Trying to keep yourself awake, hydrated and sane during the busy months, and then to stop yourself from spiralling into despair during quieter times. It can be quite an extreme environment, particularly touring, which is confusing for both the mind and body. I’ve not quite managed to figure out a way to combat post-tour blues yet.

What other interests do you have outside of the world of audio?

I love being around nature, particularly water. I do a lot of travelling and can often be found scuba diving, surfing, sailing, bird watching, etc. if there’s sea nearby. I’m also still playing Pokemon Go, which definitely doesn’t sound as cool, but I like having something consistent in my life, even if it’s just a game on my phone.

 

 

AMANDA RAYMOND – PRODUCTION MANAGER

Age: 33

Job Title: Production manager/head of audio

Employer: Feinstein’s/54 Below

Current Projects: Production manager and audio engineer for Jarrod Spector and Kelli Barrett.

Notable Achievements: MFA from Columbia University

Awards / nominations: Two-time Manhattan Association of Cabaret Awards Nominee

How did you get into this industry?

I started doing production work when I was in the eighth grade. When I went to college, I began as a
Music Education major. I found myself spending more time working in the theatre than I did on practicing my instruments (woodwinds) and switched my major to Theatre/Speech Communications after my second year. I did a lot of stage managing in college and went on to get an MFA in Stage Management from Columbia University. That’s where I also started production managing and I found myself more drawn to that side of things. Not long after, I started to work on Broadway Cabarets, and drifted towards the world of audio engineering. It’s a good combination for me as it brings me back to the music world but keeps me immersed in the theatre world that I’ve spent so much time in.

Can you name some of your influences within the industry?

Karrie Keyes is a big inspiration. She is such a pioneer for women in audio. Not only does she have an impressive career, but she has also been so generous in helping along and lifting up other women who aspire to be sound engineers in creating Soundgirls (Soundgirls.org). Another of my influences is Kris Umezawa. He’s taught me so much and I’m eternally grateful.

What’s the worst advice you’ve heard?

When I started to production manage while I was still working on my MFA in Stage Management, someone told me that I needed to pick one or the other or people wouldn’t take me seriously. The truth is that all of the different (but adjacent) paths that I have taken have given me a really holistic perspective on what it takes to put on a show of any type. When you’re a production manager, it’s invaluable to know the ins and outs of what every department needs to be getting done to have a successful show. And it’s pretty common for the audio engineer to also be the tour manager, or production manager, and frequently in my case, all three.

And the best tips you’ve been given?

It’s a bit cliché, but ask questions about things you aren’t sure of. Most professionals are (and should be, in my opinion) happy to share their knowledge. And even if you think you know everything, there’s always something new to learn.

What’s your favourite thing about the industry you work in?

Collaboration. Building a team of people that complement each other’s skills, that you can trust to hold up their end of the process, and that you also enjoy being around.

What are the biggest challenges of the job?

One of the biggest challenges that I face almost daily is the unexpectedness of being a female sound engineer. There truly aren’t very many women in audio and people will frequently assume that any other male in the room is the “sound guy”. I get asked a lot if I’m an intern, which as a person in their thirties usually makes me chuckle a bit. I’m fortunate to work with some really supportive men, who are quick to point out that “actually, SHE’S the sound guy”. We try to make light of it, but it can get really frustrating when it happens over and over again. The members of the aforementioned SoundGirls are a great source of support when dealing with these particular gender-related challenges.

What interests do you have outside of audio?

I‘m really into gaming, both video games and tabletop. My friends and I have a bi-monthly Dungeons and Dragons game event that is a lot of fun and a great way to escape from the inherent stresses that come from working in live entertainment.

What advice would give to someone else – your best tip or trick?

Take care of yourself. Physically, yes, but also mentally. Burnout is very, very real and it’s easy in this industry to keep saying ‘yes’ to gigs and projects and be eternally busy. But days off for yourself are important. Don’t forget to take the time to do the other things you love as well.

And that also goes for finding little moments to breathe during those longer days. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, it’s totally okay to just take a couple of minutes for yourself to get re-centered.

 

JAC COOPER – COMPOSER

Age: 24

Based: London

Job Title: Composer and sound designer

Employed: Self-employed

Current Projects: No Place Like Home – Otherland, Camden People’s Theatre

How did you get into this industry?

I trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Though I’d always been a musician, I’d never considered composing professionally until I started writing music for the plays I was acting in. It was so satisfying that I left my training with a completely different aim to the one I came in with: to write music for plays.

Can you name some of your influences?

Jon Nicholls is a prolific composer/sound designer whose work I find particularly inspiring for its breadth of emotion and style. He’s a master of sonic texture, something which can be more useful than musical dexterity in the setting of live theatre.

What’s the worst advice you’ve heard?

Follow your passion. I agree with the core principle, but I think it can lead people to have unrealistic expectations. If you want to have a career, you have to think hard about how to package up your passion and sell it as a service that people will actually want.

And the best tips you’ve been given?

I’m tempted to wax philosophical, but honestly: if you work a lot on your computer, get a Solid State Drive. So many people throw out their computers or upgrade the RAM when it starts getting slow. 90 per cent of the time it’s the hard drive, so invest 40 pounds and get an SSD.

What’s your favourite thing about the industry?

Being part of a creative team where everyone has different expertise. I’m currently developing a piece with a choreographer and a spoken-word poet, and it’s so inspiring to collaborate with people who constantly baffle you with their talents.

What are the biggest challenges of the job?

The short-term nature of contract work means you’re constantly managing your own time, and both your workload and income are hugely variable.

What other interests do you have outside of the world of audio?

I’m completely addicted to podcasts, although I guess that’s still audio… Okay, I also read, walk and meditate. My guilty pleasure is video gaming – I’m currently hooked on Stardew Valley.

What advice would give to someone else – your best tip or trick?

If you’re just starting, find a flexible side-job that pays well, such as private tutoring. It takes a while to get good consistent work, so you need to keep body and soul together or you’ll burn out. I know so many people who are miserable because whenever they’re not working on a project they’re stuck doing low-paid unsatisfying work.

I teach guitar privately – it’s rewarding, flexible and pays well.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I’d love to branch out into recorded mediums such as films and gaming. I find the world of game audio fascinating and it’s a fast-growing industry.

The next half of PSNLive’s chosen next generation of live audio professionals will be released tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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