If you ask the women with successful careers in professional audio, how they got to where they are, I think most of them would tell you that they made their own way into the business. You would also find several common themes: they were persistent, driven, showed initiative, and had the right attitude, and they went after their jobs whole heartedly.
What you won’t find is any of them telling you that they just waited for someone to open the doors for them, or upon graduating with a degree in music production or engineering, they just walked into a fabulous job.
You are up against a lot of competition. With the advent of pro tools there are fewer and fewer production house studios which means fewer studio engineer jobs. In touring sound there are a lot of people competing for the few mixing gigs out there.
So how do you set yourself apart from the competition and get the gig?
Make your own way into the industry
Once you’ve settled on a specialty, be it live sound, studio engineer, mastering, etc… focus on getting an entry level job in that area. There are many roads into the business, you just have to find yours. Find a local band that you can cut your chops with while learning to mix, a local venue, sound company or a studio you can intern at. You’ll have to seek out the job and sometimes even create your own position. The little local studio that creates commercials for your local TV channels may not be looking to hire anyone but may not be opposed to an intern who has a serious desire to learn. The regional sound company may think they have all the staff they need until they find themselves short handed in the middle of an unexpected busy season. The local band that is just starting to book gigs can’t afford a sound engineer but would be willing to give you a shot if you’re willing to work for little or no money until you get some chops. Figure out what it is you want to do in this business and find somewhere that will give you the experience you need. The route won’t always be as direct as you like. You may start down one path and find it leads you to something else you didn’t even know you wanted to do. Don’t be afraid to switch gears and keep your eyes open for opportunities.
There is an old story about when Colonel Sanders first created his original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe and took to the road trying to market it to restaurant owners- he was rejected over 1000 times before someone finally partnered with him and KFC was born. That is persistence. You can’t give up just because 1 or 2 or 20 people won’t hire you. You just keep knocking on doors and making those phone calls. If the sound company or studio tell you they aren’t hiring, call them again in a few weeks, and a few weeks after that, sooner or later they will need someone and you’ll be fresh in their mind because you’ve been calling for weeks. If one place rejects you try somewhere else. Somebody somewhere is hiring, or will be soon. When you are persistent in going after a gig, you will eventually develop a relationship with the person on the other end of the phone. When you talk to Sam the shop manager every three or four weeks, yes he might get tired of you calling but he’ll start to remember you and when he hears that one of his co workers might be leaving or needing some time off he just might give you a heads up that the company could be looking for someone very soon. If you are the person who calls every few weeks to check in you’ll have an edge over the five or six other people who only call once.
If you don’t have a passion for music and/or audio you will never make it in this business. Audio Engineering is not a 9-5 job. You will work weekends, holidays, long grueling hours. Touring life is even harder, you’ll spend weeks and months away from family and friends, living out of a suitcase, working 12 hour days or longer, having little time for anything else, much less a social life. Your friends and significant other will be jealous of all the time you spend at the studio or being on tour. They will never understand what it is you do and how you can miss their birthday, holidays, friends weddings, and other social functions, etc… “I don’t know how you do it” will be something you hear regularly along with “why don’t you just get a regular job and stay home?” For all of you women who are tired of hearing, “when are you going to get married and start a family?” you will hear this more: “When are you going to give this up and have a normal life?” Touring life is not for everyone and it is something you should be fairly certain you want to do for some length of time before you get started. The major sound companies who provide systems and staff for the majority of tours do not want to invest the time and money into training crew who are going to decide after only a few years of touring that it’s not for them. Studio work can be filled with arduous days of monotony. Countless hours of working on the same track or listening to the same line over and over, while the singer tries to nail the vocal can put you into a mental coma. You need to remain focused and interested, regardless of how many times you’ve been over the same verse. You may not see sunlight for days, locked up in the studio losing all track of time.
But if you have a passion for it, it will never seem like work and you won’t be able to imagine doing anything else.
Learn everything you can from every job you do. There will be times that you’ll need to take jobs you don’t really want even if it isn’t exactly where you want to be, but there is always something you can learn- people skills, communication, how to delegate, how to listen, as well as useful technical skills.
It’s the monitor tech who jumps in and offers to mix monitors for the support act who doesn’t have an engineer, the intern at the studio who does whatever is needed and spends their free time learning the studio’s equipment and pro tools who can take over on a session if something happens to the main engineer, who move up the ladder.
If you want to set yourself apart from the competition show initiative, work hard, don’t think you are entitled to anything- you may have been sweeping the floor at a studio for six months but if you’re always only doing what’s expected and the least amount of work you can get away with, you’ll never be asked to do anything more. If on the other hand, you’re sweeping the floors at a studio and doing whatever else needs to be done as well as learning the equipment in your spare time, you’ll become more valuable.
Don’t be afraid to take on a project you might not feel fully qualified to do, if the opportunity comes your way seize it. You can always ask others for advice.
The right attitude
Nobody wants to work with someone who is miserable or has a negative attitude. Artists want positive people around them, they want to work with people who are happy to be there and excited about their music.
Someone with a ‘can do’ attitude will get much further than a ‘negatvie nancy’.
Your fellow road crew will more often than not be the ones referring you for other gigs and if you are difficult to be around that’s not going to happen. Be a team player, be respectful of others, do your job and don’t make more work for others.
All of these traits are important but they won’t do you any good if you are too shy or afraid to network. Get yourself out there. Introduce yourself to everyone you meet in the business and let them know your goals- you want to be a touring engineer, you want to be a producer, recording engineer, whatever it is- if people don’t know that about you they can’t help you. Keep in touch with the contacts you make and find ways to expand your network.
Never stop learning
The women who succeed in this business are usually really good at their craft. Whether it’s because they’ve had to prove themselves over and over and did that by honing their skills, or because of a natural desire to better themselves, they tend to never stop learning about their profession.
Remember- You’re going to have to knock on a lot of doors to get anywhere in this business. Some will open for you, some -you’ve got to open for yourself, and some- you’ll just have to break down.
For more inspiration and insight, check out the Profiles of some of the successful women in audio.