Krysten Dean is a touring Sound System Engineer and Crew Chief working for Eighth Day Sound Systems, but if you said Krysten on the road, most people would not know who you were talking about because everyone calls her “KD.” She has been working in professional audio for the last 17 years after quitting her corporate engineering job. She has toured with JayZ, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Earth, Wind and Fire, Drake, and Madonna to name a few. She is also an entrepreneur working to introduce more women and people of color to the technical side of the touring industry, through what she likes to call S.T.E.M.M. – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Music.
An Early Love for Music and Audio
KD grew up in a musically inclined family, with her mom and grandfather being singers, and she and her siblings all learned to play a musical instrument. She also was a member of choirs. Her love for audio started in her youth when she volunteered on the media team at her church. There she learned the basics of audio. KD says she enjoyed it all.
But when it came time to decide on college and a career path, KD was discouraged by educators from pursuing a career in the music industry. So instead, she went to college for mechanical engineering. After graduating with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and Masters in Science in Mechanical Engineering, she went on to work in the auto industry for eight years, where she found that she was pretty unhappy. She decided to quit her job and go back to school to become an audio engineer.
She says, “I knew I had to take a chance and bet on myself so that I could be happy. I secured an 85% scholarship and attended Full Sail.” She graduated from Full Sail with an Associate of Science in Show Production and Touring.
The Importance of Giving People a Chance and Mentors
After graduation from Full Sail, she would hone her skills as the technical director for her church. At the same time, she applied to Eighth Day Sound, where they took a chance on her. KD says of Eighth Day, “My boss really took a chance on me. I sent in my resume with no touring experience and little audio experience and he took a chance on me. He told me that someone smart enough to have a successful engineering career (with a master’s in engineering to boot) could learn how to do audio. Especially if they were passionate about it.”
She also had a co-worker who took her under his wing and introduced her to the touring world, which helped her navigate the touring culture. After a brief 6-month internship where she learned company culture and basic tour packages, she was sent out on tour. She says, “It was fast-paced and exhilarating for me and a welcome change from corporate America.”
Her corporate background did prove beneficial as working in the corporate world provided KD with a strong work ethic, and she says, “I am not afraid of the long hours, the grueling pace at times and the commitment required for touring.”
Before COVID hit, KD spent a good portion of her year on tour. Her long-term goals include establishing an organization to encourage minority women to become involved in the entertainment industry’s technical side. She says, “I am passionate about seeing people that look like me, doing what I am doing. By that, I not only mean women but people of color. There is something to be said about representation and achievement. I want to give back and make a difference.” Recently KD started an organization called KMissionD (pronounced ka-miss-ion-ed) to encourage more women and people of color to pursue STEMM.
What is a typical day like?
Hectic, fast-paced. Arrive at the venue early (before most of the crew is even awake) to measure the room and plan the PA points and location with the rigger. Help the team to set it all up and get it working and sounding proper. This is usually when any problems are noticed with the system, but not always. Time-align and tune the system, line check, and sound check. Setup and handle the opening acts, do a show, tear it all down, pack it back into the trucks and do it all over again the next day. And somewhere in there, I manage to eat at least one meal for the day.
How do you stay organized and focused?
I usually have a game plan on what needs to be accomplished for the day. Although most would say we do the same thing every day, we are in a new location every day, which presents its own challenges. Thankfully I have been doing this for a while now, so I have been to many venues multiple times and know what to expect, but each tour is different.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Touring becomes your extended family. I can literally go anywhere in the world and reach out to someone I have toured with, met while on tour, or have a mutual friend.
What do you like best about touring?
I love to travel. I have been all over the world in this career. I also love when my crew and I can overcome the daily challenges we face in getting the job done effectively and efficiently.
What do you like least?
Being away from my family and my dog, Layla, for extended periods of time year-round.
What is your favorite day off activity?
SLEEP, no really, that is important, but I also like to take in the sights of whatever city I am in, especially if I have never been there. I also like to try some of the favorite local cuisines.
What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced?
Touring is still very much a male-dominated industry. As a result, you sometimes get treated as inferior or even invisible. I have had some difficult engineers and difficult situations, but at the end of the day, if I can say that I approached them with integrity, that is important to me.
I am a firm believer in having a strong character; my reputation is important, especially in this industry.
Advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and when unsure, ask for clarification. We aren’t meant to go through life alone, and SoundGirls is an excellent resource. Also, learn as much as you can. But not only that PRACTICE what you learn so that you do not forget it.
Must have skills?
One thing that has saved me time and time again when issues occur is that one thing your teachers always say is important, but you are like, yeah…ok – it’s signal flow. Tracing a problem from beginning to end usually shows your right where the issue is, and you can quickly move towards a solution. In touring, this skill can save your career.
I am blessed to be able to use a little bit of everything. My company stays ahead of the curve with gear and is able to provide what the engineers like and request. That is one aspect that I like about my job. I get to use a lot of new and exciting gear regularly.
Although I still love audio, I am looking to add a new dimension to my career and focus on giving back and helping others. I am discouraged by the lack of women and people of color doing what I do, and I am passionate about changing the narrative. I have started speaking to women’s groups and technical societies to introduce them to what I do, and encourage others that it is possible to do it, do it well, and be successful. I also coach and mentor other women who want help navigating it all.
I have a YouTube channel coming soon, highlighting people behind the scenes in the live touring industry. I want to amplify others’ voices, allow them to share their stories, and inspire others that they can do it too. The channel will be called KMissionD.
KMissionD to amplify your voice…check it out!
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