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A Day In A life – Downpour and Football

 

It’s a rainy day and I’m sitting at our local dog-friendly cafe watching football. It’s Sweden vs Slovakia and I am the only person who cheers as Sweden scores. I am the only person in the bar/cafe Wags N Tales that is even watching the game. Elvis, my eleven-month puppy is sitting by my feet and whines. He’s had his puppacino, goat’s milk with pieces of bacon in the bottom, and is now bored. I was supposed to work this evening. England is playing Scotland and the pub has sold tickets to watch the game inside the music venue.

This morning I texted my manager asking when I should come and set it up when I got the reply that I was no longer needed. This happens a lot in the industry and we don’t get a warning nor compensation for when it happens. I could’ve potentially had another job this evening, even though it’s unlikely in this restricted work climate.

It’s still raining and I’m cold. Before the game, I was standing outside the university with my puppy and fiancé in line for his first vaccine shot. I’m getting my second next week. We waited in the long queue for 40 min and I then took the bus to see the game. He waits for another hour and a half. At the same time, my sister and mum are in Sweden, sending me beautiful summery pictures of the lakes. I miss them and I miss the heat from the past week. I had then hated the high sudden temperatures and had wished for rain. I got my wish, now it won’t stop.

I’m sending off an invoice for a job that came in this morning, it’s local and easy money. I sigh with relief.

The British government just decided to keep the final restrictions for another month and the entire entertainment industry had to once again scramble, cancel and move events. In just a few day’s time we had planned for full capacity gigs at The Half Moon and instead I now anxiously wait for my new rota. Yet again we have no idea what’s going to happen, how long they will push this and we have to accept it. I thank my friend Andy for booking me in on this new job and instead, I get excited about my double shift tomorrow. The tribute band The Smyths will do their 7th sold-out gig since we opened a few weeks ago and they are so lovely to work with, a sense of calm spreads within me. I miss the sweaty full capacity gigs, but for now, I will relish my evening off with my puppy, a cappuccino and that Sweden has just won against Slovakia.

 

And So It Begins

I got here early. Too early. A boy fell over with his bike and I had time to stay and help. He was confused and in pain, I could relate. I was on my way to the first gig of the year. Six whole months of darkness, despair, and Facebook live. Finally, I was close, my body ached from the tension I obviously have been carrying in anticipation for tonight. Number one worry? The PA. After six months of dusting about, will it turn on? Never have the legendary Half Moon in Putney been quiet for this long since it opened in 1963. Never did the people of southwest London have to wait this long to book a ticket. Never had the regular drinkers stayed this long without a pint from the polished bar and never did the musicians wait this long without a gig.

It’s stand-up tonight and I am introducing the MC. I have written my little intro and I am anxiously waiting for the latecomers to arrive. I have always hated this part, this limbo place, where the background music is playing and everything is ready. I guess I should tell you at this point, the PA works, the lights work and the mixer is turned on. Yey! I take a breath hoping I won’t have that awkward silence. That one is when the audience thinks it’s starting, but it’s just the silence between the song and the next one. Hate when that happens!

The gig starts. I make people cheer twice and off we go. Tonight the audience is mainly older men, maybe because of the headliner, and I can tell they don’t get the first young woman comedian. It is a really difficult and mixed audience. We are capped at 50 people, and if there’s a lot of tables of two.  Normally, we would squeeze in 120 chairs in this old little dark venue. So when she speaks of jeans that break in the crotch because she’s fat, I cackle loudly in the back. I got you and I get you. I chat with her during the break, we give each other a follow on Instagram and a bond was created between us two. Being self-employed in the arts can be lonely and this year has had us lonelier than ever.

A quick break, the main act, and all of a sudden it was over. I’m exhausted! The tension has made my bodywork so hard and I can’t wait to get home. I’m toying with the idea of doing yoga when I get home, but deep down inside, I know I will eat snacks and go to bed.

Tired, I sit here waiting for the punters to finish their drinks, but I don’t have the heart to turn off the music. They are enjoying themselves and ordering more. This will be their first event of the year. Today is the 20th of May, and only days ago the UK lifted its indoor event restrictions. I hereby deem this opening night a success and bite into a couple of days old gas station chicken wrap. My stomach welcomes the familiar taste and reminds me to bring food from home to my next shift. In a bit, I will fade the music out, turn off the amps and get on the bus to take me home.

 

Learning New Skills

 

So I learnt a new skill. Or rather, I improved a skill I haven’t used since university. I learnt it from a man called John and he was, in my opinion, the best tutor we had. He had a PhD and taught us about the avant-garde world of music and presented us with new ideas. “Will a tree make a sound if it falls in the forest if no one is there to hear it?” and other fundamentals of sound and sonic art. If you want to learn more there’s a book John swore by called The Digital Musician by Andrew Hugill.

KUDAC, Kingston University Digital Arts Collective, was a place where both students and teachers participated in creating textures and sounds. There John taught us how to circuit bend PCB boards and manipulate them in audio programming software like Pure Data and Max MSP. To expand what we thought of as music and sound and perform with it. He was my mentor so when he left to teach at Brown University in my second year I felt lost. All the sonic art and circuit bending seemed like I had tried to impress my mentor rather than learning some useful skills. However, today I believe that his work got me thinking of sound in such a different way, that it ended up changing my music and my work as a sound engineer. To think outside the box and try things out, no matter how crazy it may seem.

The practical skill I’m talking about is soldering. It is a fundamental skill for any sound engineer, and very useful. A skill I have been lacking in. This is why I recently took SoundGirls online workshop and now have a whole pile of fixed cables at home. It was so much fun to be taught by someone else, who also is a woman. A great deal of my own education was done by men and all my engineering colleagues are men too. She was understanding and encouraging throughout the session and not only taught me the basics but also shared her own tricks. My cables have been screaming for some serious TLC and I am so grateful to now be able to fix them myself.

Soldering has been the one skill I have envied in my male colleague’s skill set, and it’s always set us apart. Thanks to the SoundGirls workshop I have now taken another step towards confidence and equality. To show that I can do everything he can.

Confidence may not be something one can teach, it’s something that needs time to grow and requires a willingness to evolve. So I commend SoundGirls for equipping women all over the world with skills that will foster confidence in an environment that feels safe. At a young age, I was told that no question is too stupid to ask. I took it to heart and it has set me apart from my colleagues and classmates that were too proud to ask for help. So, whatever questions you may have, know that we are always here to answer them, no matter how small, stupid or silly you may think it is, we don’t think so.

 

Taking Leaps

Last year was definitely a leap year. A hop, a jump, or a leap, people I have met have spoken of big and small changes. Since the salons are closed, they found themselves standing in the bathroom and taking scissors to their hair. In spite of it being risky, they quit their stable job. They planned their move out of the city. Bought something new, even though money was tight. They took breaks from their families with the purpose of recharging.

Throughout 2021 we will continue to process what happened, the uncertainty and worries that came into the light over the past year.

Yet I want to look ahead, or at least drive and power myself and others forward. Preserve the strength that arose from desperation and the contemplation you only find at the bottom. Because once we hit that, there’s a turn. I have recently learnt about technical analysis in markets and once you understand that whenever something goes up, it will always always have a corrective period. As in what goes up, must come down. At all times, it turns.

Like what my mum always used to say, go to bed and you will see it feels better tomorrow. There’s nothing like a new day to give you a fresh perspective. A new day to boost your confidence, fortify your thoughts, and see a problem with different eyes. It may seem like a strange expression, “different eyes”, since they don’t change, but we do.

So what are the leaps you will take this year? I’m not talking about goals like “I’m going to eat healthy” or “I will run a 10K this year”. Instead, what are your fears and how can you challenge them?

I have now been sick and injured for about two months, and as I sit at the kitchen table looking out at the world outside, my latest challenge is to be part of it. We are all waiting for life to resume, tours to go back on the road, and tickets to go on sale. Simultaneously we have to face the facts of the new normal and that we might never return to how it used to be. One synonym to resume is “restart”, and if I could offer a different perspective I would prefer to use this verb. Right now, as spring is kicking earth back to life, is a chance at a restart, back-to-school edition. Like when you came back from holidays and you weren’t sure if you’d still fit in. What if the other kids had changed… Well, I really hope that when we restart, others will see me and recognise I’m different. Because I have worked hard for a great deal of change, to reform my thoughts on how I want to live my life. My own giant leaps. What will be yours?

 

Sound Cookbook for Creative Exercise

In any artistic discipline, it is important to do creative exercises to strengthen skills, play, and expand your practice. For writers, there are countless books and websites entirely devoted to writing prompts. The same goes for other disciplines. For theatrical or film sound design, however, finding exercises is much more difficult. There are music composition exercises and prompts available which can be helpful but they don’t necessarily extend to all of the skills and methods that we need to practice. Making up brief exercises I can use as a sort of warm-up is an interesting and, typically, fun task but there are two issues that I run into with crafting my own prompt. Sometimes I sit down and want to get straight to the point without the frustration of having to create something in order to create something. Other times it is the exact opposite; I spend all of the time I’ve allotted creating a sound design exercise rather than completing one.

We are not necessarily accustomed to warming up in the same way a musician or actor might nor are we always afforded the opportunity to do so. When possible, it is helpful to flex those sound design muscles beyond our main projects. In the past year, with far less design work than I typically have, I have found it more essential than ever to practice my craft in any way I can. The natural solution to this problem is to compile a collection of exercises to have on hand and I’ve been doing just that. Up until this point, I’ve been stashing away little prompts for myself. Now I’m working on editing them into the form of recipes in the hopes of creating a more flexible set of exercises that could suit a variety of sound designers and artists in their individual practices.

One creative exercise of sorts that I already practice every day is cooking. It’s an outlet I love, not to mention something I absolutely need to do to sustain myself. With cooking, I always have someplace to start whether it be a recipe or the contents of my refrigerator. Having that sort of base makes it easier to get started and then I can make any adjustments and substitutions I want or just go off the rails completely. Then of course I get to share that food with others, enjoy it together, and then it’s gone. When I realized that this practice that is already a part of my day-to-day life is quite similar to how I want my sound design exercises to function, I decided to turn the prompts I was devising into recipes.

Framing these prompts as open-ended sound “recipes” takes some of the pressure off of the exercise. Like a good, dependable, encyclopedic cookbook (think The New Basics or The Joy of Cooking) I hope for these recipes to be simple, adaptable, and repeatable. The instructions are meant to be followed to your own taste rather than strictly adhered to. Use the tools you have and the methods that interest you. They are also meant to be created for the purpose of enjoyment and creative nourishment only once, without any need to revisit and replay it. You can, of course, always follow the recipe and cook up another batch of sounds at any time. And if it suits you, you can always cook with others and share the experience.

The recipe below is an example. It is intentionally broad, but you can always return to the item -saltwater taffy in this case – for inspiration or guidance. Don’t overthink it! If you feel inclined to try it out, I hope it provides you with enough direction to get started and spend a few minutes creating, combining, and manipulating sounds in an unexpected and pleasurable way.

Salt Water Taffy

Makes 35 seconds of sound taffy

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

1 (5 sec.) recording of water (any variety)

2 (1 sec.) purely digital sounds

1 (to taste) recording of something within 5 feet of you

Flavoring of your choice

Instructions:

  1. If you are recording your water sound, take no more than 1.5 minutes to do so. Otherwise, choose a found or previously recorded water sound. Stretch to length (35 sec.). Adjust pitch however you like.
  2. Take one of your 1-second digital sounds and cut it into quarters. Then sprinkle throughout.
  3. Take your second digital sample and use to add rhythm to the piece.
  4. Record whatever you select within 5 feet of yourself. Process using 2-5 different manipulations. Add to the mix, then listen back and adjust to your liking.
  5. Finally, to add flavoring, identify what is missing and add something with a sweet and tangy taste. Be as liberal or sparing as you’d like.
  6. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Empowering Manifestations

 

I’m tense but in a strangely positive way. I can feel my muscles contract until they ache. So much of my body is already hurt, I don’t even notice the extra pressure. The kind of hurt that comes from being ill for a month and the violent cough caused me to pop and bruise my ribs. Even though the pain is excruciating and the painkillers I got from the hospital do the trick, the added pressure is something different. I have a project happening that is so intoxicating. Let me just give you the background first.

In the summer I was not well, mentally I was not able to cope on my own. Being a bit of a proud character, I struggle to ask for help. Work, friends, directions, I have no problem asking for help, but when it comes to me, I am too proud and probably insecure. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry only enforces this idea of not needing help.

 “I can do it as well as my colleagues! I shouldn’t need to prove myself!” 

So recently when my best friend told me that I need to stop being in pain and call an ambulance I just gave in and did it. Since the summer I’ve learned to accept help when it’s offered and trust my instincts. This brings me to today’s good news. In the summer I manifested a dream I’ve had since my teens of being on the radio, I created my podcast @anditwentlikethispodcast. Now I’ve actualised another goal I set out in the summer when it all seemed so bleak and I thought I should re-educate myself to a dog therapist. I wanted to produce radio and podcasts. I started working with brilliant women’s network Her Hustle last year and now we are making a podcast together for a client. You guessed it, I am recording, editing, and producing it!

Not only is this the first substantial project and income I will have had in almost a year, but it is also a huge goal. I want to celebrate and scream about it! So here I am, writing this post bragging because I am proud of myself. So proud! 

“Hm… maybe there are good sides to pride after all…”

Finally, my thoughts go out to you and what you are wrestling with right now. It will get better, I believe it so hard that hopefully, you can feel it too. I want to advocate for the power of manifestations and defining your goals. I never truly believed in it, but I did take steps that were in my power, to create my first stride towards it. That is the force of manifesting and empowering yourself. So slow down and make it your time. Set your own manifestations, tell others about your goals, and figure out what you can do tomorrow. Celebrate your little victories and have the courage to be proud.

 

Unity During A Pandemic

As I write this, I have just watched the United States’ inauguration of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. It was surprisingly moving for me. I was face-timing my sister, who lives back home in Sweden when her husband texted her to come downstairs. He was born in America and very eager to share this moment with her, besides, Lady Gaga was going to sing. So we said our goodbyes and I decided to check out the singer’s performance. It was good, and her belting made me stay on the channel. In addition to Gaga, Jennifer Lopez sang, and unfortunately, for I am damaged, her vocals were distorting, and it saddened me. Then in Spanish, she shouted “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” and I forgave the technicians…

Just before this pleasant interruption, in my otherwise busy day, I was lying on my sofa engulfed in a Swedish TV show called Fröken Frimans Krig (Miss Friman’s War). It’s a show about the fight for equality and the battle for women’s right to vote in early 20th century Stockholm. It deals with matters like women not being of legal authority. Because back then, her husband was her custodian and spoke for her. It brings forward the worryingly common fact, that many women died from giving birth. Finally, in Sweden, if you slept with someone you weren’t married to, you could be branded as a sex worker and had to report to an authority every week, where you were inspected for disease. It’s shocking to think how far we’ve come and it’s thanks to women like them. Nonetheless, let us not forget, these things are still happening in some countries.

Now, with the inauguration of Kamala Harris, I feel like I’m on the precipice of change once again. She is the first woman, the first black and south Asian to be sworn in as a vice president. This leaves me elevated and hopeful and I can see a brighter future. Concurrently I am ashamed for not fighting harder for our equality, maybe I am too comfortable to do so. If I was allowed to work and had a male artist say something inappropriate, would I say something back or hold my tongue? Or would my recent experiences, following these strong leading women, guide me to be bolder and confront any unkind words or actions.

Biden talked of unity. So far from what we all feel right now, as we are divided beyond our comprehension. Closed borders and further from our loved ones, even our neighbours. So even though we are all facing this pandemic together, we lack, from all world’s corners, unity. So my question to you, is how can we create unity beyond ourselves today? How can we as sisters, brothers, and non-binary unite in our differences in a global pandemic?

Well, today is historical indeed and a win for feminism and equality, but may it serve as a reminder of how far we have come and that it is up to each and every one of us to work towards it.

 

Waiting for Better Days

 

So, the holidays are over, New Years’ has just been and the past year is gone. A year of great challenges but also a year of incredible personal achievements.

I step into the new year as a 30-year-old cis woman and I made some great things happen this past year. I joined the women’s network Her Hustle, got engaged on a Swedish mountain, and adopted the cutest puppy.

As I sit down to write this, my adorable pup is trying to get the treats out of his toy, but I can’t seem to shake this thing my now-fiance said to me. I was sitting on the kitchen floor on New Year’s Eve; no, not a drunk floor moment, I was having an anxiety attack. I cried for my unhappiness/failure and hyperventilated into a panic. Almost a year has gone by without work.

So there I sit, crying over what I’ve lost when my dearest asks me: was I happy a year ago? When I was working, but terrified of asking for a raise, struggling to talk about money and equality with those who paid me. Those who paid me to live, eat and sleep. Those who paid me for doing something I loved. Was I happy then? No, I was anxious, worried, and stressed. I remember not getting the NYE shift and that it went to one of the extra male engineers and that I wasn’t even considered. No matter how hard I worked or how much I worked, I felt that I was valued less. I still didn’t have enough money to become a citizen in a country I lived and worked in for over 11 years. I still didn’t have enough to save for my future nor to get a driving license. Which in retrospect could’ve been useful now, I could’ve been a delivery driver… because right now I’m not useful, I’m not working. I’m just waiting…

Human rights activist Mohamed Ali talks about “waithood” in his TedX seminar The Link Between Unemployment and Terrorism. He talks about Somalia where poverty and unemployment are common. He tells a story about a young man that is one of many poor young people in his country. One day he’s approached by a gentleman who feeds him, houses him, gives him purpose and a community. A few years later he blew himself up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. The gentleman belonged to a terrorist group Al Shabaab which has links to Al Qaeda. (The reason why I know this is because of my podcast that I started this summer. It’s called And It Went Like This Podcast, so please have a listen and share.) Now I’m not saying that all unemployed will resort to terrorism, but the story shows what desperation to occupy ourselves can lead us to. What Mohamed calls “waithood”, can change us for the worse.

We are right now all in this “waithood”. We don’t know what the lineup is nor the curfew of this disease or if there’s a support act coming to soundcheck… But if there’s anything we sound engineers are good at. It’s winging it!

So stay safe and resilient.

Love, Linnea

 

Identity 

The sun shines through the window and the wind rustles the trees. It’s quiet. A soft melody playing in my head and I take a deep breath. Ah… This has been three chaotic and insane months and finally, I am in a place where I can relax. I can let my shoulders finally fall and loosen my jaw, which has contributed to my headaches. I don’t get headaches! Still, they’ve been present together with the looming anxiety. I am a live sound engineer. Although, I don’t know if that’s me anymore, but saying it out loud gives me hope. Hope that one day, not too far away, I will step into the sound booth and work. I long for it. My whole being longs. Whilst life slowly went back to normal in London, I’ve struggled. If I can’t afford to wait for the industry to resume. Who am I?

A few weeks ago I met a couple that belongs to my inner circle. They talked about the breaks in the comfort of their own home and not having to commute. We discussed identity and both of them told me they don’t have this feeling. They both have well-paid jobs and are happy doing their Monday to Friday shifts. At the end of their working day, they stop and leave work at work. Or these days, turn off their computers and work phones.

So why are we in the arts identifying ourselves so much with our work? Is it because we followed our dreams and passions? Maybe it’s because we use our identity in our work and they merge into one. A songwriter uses their experience to create a song. A painter expresses their identity in their art. Like I use my experience and love to craft my work. At the beginning of the lock-down I did a personality test and tried to figure out what I should do with “the rest of my life”. Yes, I am a cliché. I don’t care. The point is I did a full circle. Three months later I filled out a form for a career thing and I realised I do not want to do anything else and I will fight tooth and nail to get my work back.

So now I rest. I wander around my mum’s house in the idyllic countryside in Sweden and greet their hens in the chicken coop. I dream of a packed sweaty room where no one is standing still. But for now; this is not too bad either.