Arica Rust: In Love with Live Sound Technology

Arica Rust works for Sound on Stage in San Francisco as a staff engineer. Sound on Stage is a sound system rental company based in the San Francisco Bay Area, providing systems for a wide range of events ranging from high-profile corporate entertainment to rock festivals like Outside Lands and Treasure Island Music Festival. Arica has been with SOS for the last six years, which means she wears many hats and works as an engineer for FOH and Monitors, stage patch, and whatever else they might throw at her. Her favorite position is as a FOH systems engineer. She enjoys being on the road and recently completed the North American leg of the Ben Howard Tour as the PA Systems Tech.

Arica has been working in live sound for the last nine years and came to it as many do, with a love of music. Her initial dream was to work in a recording studio. Her journey into live sound started when she went to City College of San Francisco to study studio recording and found herself in the live sound classes as well.

City College of San Francisco offers an excellent audio program, providing several different certificate programs and is headed up by SoundGirl Dana Labrecque. (Dana runs the Bay Area SoundGirls Chapter and is a Co-Director or SoundGirls). After attending the live sound classes and her first internship, that was it; Arica knew live sound was where she wanted to be. When she was a teenager, Arica says, “ I spent all my lunch money buying records and going to concerts with my friends. I originally went to college in upstate New York out of high school to study avant-garde Electronic Music and Creative Writing at Bard College”.

“I want to be able to make people experience music the way that I do with that same feeling where it lights your brain on fire. I figured the best way to shape people’s experience was to be on the technical side of the stage”.

Arica and her friend Tiffani used to throw underground electronic music events in the Bay Area and would use her friends’ rental company Word of Mouth Sound. When she was looking for her first internship while at City College of San Francisco, she contacted them and ended up working behind the scenes at the events she used to attend. She completed her trade certificates in Live Sound and Recording Arts at CCSF before transferring to San Francisco State University.

Realizing that she wanted to work in live sound on the technical side set Arica on her way. She went on to study at San Francisco State University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting and Electronic Media Arts with a focus in Audio Production. Professor John Barsotti taught the audio program in the broadcasting department and introduced Arica to Sound on Stage.

Arica continues to immerse herself in ongoing education and training, receiving certification in Rational Acoustics’ SMAART, L-Acoustics Levels 1 and 2, and attends various AES related conventions and events. “I value the importance of education and feel that no matter how much one thinks they know, there is always something new to discover. I try to learn from a variety of sources whether it is from the war stories of other engineers or diversifying my training from different manufacturers”.

Arica’s long-term goals have changed since she started on her audio path: “It’s funny how your goals change over time as you learn more. I went to school imagining myself mixing albums for bands, but now I am way more interested in the science of sound and designing, deploying, and tuning systems for different clients”. She also loves teaching and getting people excited about science.

What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced?

The biggest obstacles I have had to face have always been the ones I create for myself. I think I will forever be plagued with Imposter Syndrome: the feeling that I am not good enough, smart enough, know enough, etc. to be where I am. No matter how much I try to prove myself there is always that feeling in the back of my head of self-doubt, but then I’ll have those magical moments where the show starts and maybe it’s music I’ve heard before or, even better, a band I’m unfamiliar with that just blows me away, and I feel like I’m right where I need to be doing what I love.

How have you dealt with them?

I just keep telling myself over and over that “I got this” when I start doubting myself. I stay focused on doing the best I possibly can. I try not to let my demons in my head get the best of me and put 110% in everything I do. It’s easy to get jaded, but even if this time you don’t get acknowledgment for your efforts, eventually hard work shows and people respect that. I do things to help me relax and get in a confident headspace. For example, I have a playlist that I sometimes listen to before going into work to get myself ready to go.

The advice you have for women and non-binary people who wish to enter the field?

I wish we lived in a world where people do not change the way they interact with you based on what they perceive to be your gender, but sadly that is not the reality yet. Things are getting better slowly but surely, but my best advice is to have a tough skin and be the bigger person. People should not be allowed to get away with unprofessional behavior, but you have to counter these situations with professionalism. If you work hard and show everyone your value, then it should not matter who you are. I want to be seen for my skills as an engineer not what people perceive to be my gender.

Must have skills?

I joke that this industry is 20% technical knowledge and 80% customer service skills. You can teach anyone how to operate a board, but not everyone can learn the people skills to interact with artists and clients. A good attitude and a willingness to work will get you farther at first than knowing how to mix. Also always be open to exploring new things and learning from others. I am continually learning and re-evaluating my current knowledge because technology is ever changing and I respect the wisdom of people who share their experience with me.

Favorite gear?

My favorite rig is L-Acoustics K2 with KS28 subs, Kara Outfill, and Arc Wide front fill. I don’t think I could leave home without my laptop running SMAART v8 and the modeling software of the manufacturer whose PA I am working with, my ISEMCON EMX-7150 measurement mic, my multimeter, and my disto. I have Roland Octa-capture and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interfaces in my A and B rigs as well as a soldering iron to fix problems on the job.

What is your favorite day off activity?

I enjoy spending time and catching up with my friends when I am not working. The industry demands you to sacrifice a lot of your social life, but it is essential to make an effort to keep in touch with your loved ones when you can. Your real friends understand when you are busy because they want to see you doing what you love to do. I also am passionate about my dance practice and reading anything from comic books to technical white papers.

Anything else you would like to leave us with?

I would like to stress the importance of self-care. I think there is a lot of taboo around taking care of your self because everyone works hard and plays hard. I’ve failed, many times, to eat enough, sleep enough, drink enough water while working long hours and paid the consequences on my body and mind sooner or later. It’s important to take time to decompress and reset your brain, even just for a minute that you get to step away. This is a stressful job, but it is also a labor of love. Please feel free to reach out to me! I enjoy geeking out. You can contact Arica at aricarust@gmail.com

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