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Jeri Palumbo – Sports and Entertainment Broadcast Mixer

Jeri Palumbo is a Broadcast Sports and Entertainment Mixer based in Los Angeles. Jeri has been working in audio for over 30 years, first as a trained musician and arranger before going into post-production and then moving into live broadcast. Working mainly within sports broadcasting, her clients include the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, The Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, and The Oscars. Jeri is also part of the RF Coordination team each year for the Rose Bowl. She has worked with entertainment shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and American Idol. She has won a Telly Award for her mixing work on “Songs of the Mountains”, a live bluegrass show.

Jeri’s family background is made up of four generations of musicians and her grandmother and mother were both professional jazz musicians. Her great-grandfather was a musician and violin maker, and Jeri’s father was a folk guitar player. Jeri started piano at age three and by the time Jeri was in high school she was arranging and writing scores. Jeri attended The Juilliard School of Music majoring in composition and orchestration, landing her a contract as a musical director which led to her interest in sound engineering. She worked side by side with the sound engineer and was introduced to the Fairlight CMI, the first digital synthesizer and wave manipulator, she was fascinated by how the engineer was able to change pitch and EQ. This was a game-changer and inspired Jeri to learn more about engineering and the potential possibilities of sound manipulation with digital audio tools.

Her Parents

Jeri’s parents would warn her that a career in music was unpredictable and urged her to obtain skills needed for steady employment and the possibility of retirement. Jeri studied computer science and IT (for two semesters) and then landed a job working in IT/LAN platform trouble-shooting at First Union Bank. While Jeri loved working and learning the technical aspects of the job, she still craved the creativity music provided. She wanted to blend her technical skills with her creative skills and looked toward Post-Production.

Post-Production

Jeri enrolled at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, and hit the streets knocking on doors of all the post-production houses in nearby Charlotte, NC. She offered to intern for free and most did not return her calls. One that did was Media-Comm where she interned for a semester and learned to use the video editor from AVID and AVID’S AUDIO VISION, their pre-cursor to ProTools. Eventually, Media-Comm hired Jeri where she focused on enhancing audio for TV shows. One show that broadcast out of Media-Comm was RaceDay, a live show that preceded NASCAR on Sundays. Eventually, RaceDay came knocking and asked Jeri to mix the show. While Jeri had never mixed a live show and she had her doubts, the director of the show said “Audio is Audio and you will be fine”. Jeri did her homework and was told by a former mixer that he would not touch it as it was live and found that several people had turned it down because of the live elements and fast pace. Jeri took the gig and pulled it off.

Sports Community Radar

RaceDay was a big, complicated national show, and Jeri ended up on the list of live sports mixers because of it. Within a week CBS Sports called and asked Jeri to work on the NCAA Final Four. Jeri caught the attention of CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN. All of this led to a career working across the country on high-profile sports events, primarily serving as an A1 working in the broadcast truck. She was also asked to A2 for a friend in need one day and eventually wore all the hats in broadcast audio; A1 mixer, A2, RF Tech and Comms. As an A1 mixer, Jeri is in charge of everything you hear in the final broadcast. Jeri has been particularly embedded in RF technology and coordination, which has numerous technical challenges, particularly with the shrinking RF UHF spectrum. She worked alongside major RF manufacturers and colleagues of RF gear and technology in the recent RF Spectrum auction and lobbying to save a portion of the RF Spectrum for production. One of Jeri’s close partnerships with regard to saving these RF changes was with the late, great Mark Brunner of Shure. Jeri’s in-depth tech articles on the RF spectrum and the impact of the changes have appeared in several trade magazines.

Her most recent stint in sports was as A1 mixer for eSports and Gaming. In an unusual and unprecedented move, (and to much debate from many of her colleagues), Jeri mixed a live broadcast in stereo while simultaneously mixing an embedded object-oriented surround to the HOUSE – with no FOH – from the same console (Calrec Artimis see article https://calrec.com/blog/craft-profile-jeri-palumbo/). What Jeri tried to convey, and what those on the outside didn’t know, was that the network launch for this major event was three weeks short of having their studio finished for audio. So she did what any professional would do, tried to make it work with what she had, from the broadcast truck.

It’s Not All Sports

Jeri with her mentor Les Paul

Jeri has also been involved in other fields of audio and has worked as an A1 on a bluegrass show called Songs of the Mountains. Songs of the Mountains was a live-to-tape bluegrass show broadcast on PBS. There were tough parameters on this show as the producers did not want to mic the traditional instruments. Instead, they wanted it to be organic and traditional, where the musicians would play around a central microphone and step forward for solos. The show was challenging with the various acoustical instruments and Jeri found herself riding EQ more than faders as the frequencies would often play against each other. They used an AKG C414 because of it’s adaptability in the ever-changing scenario of the different instruments used.  Jeri is proud of the work she did using simple techniques and she was awarded a Telly Award for her work.

New Projects

Recently Jeri has been instrumental in launching Arena Waves, a library of the highest quality music audio for Sports and Television content. Arena Waves kept Jeri extremely busy in 2020, while most live events were canceled due to COVID19, and was launched at the beginning of 2021.

Like so many in our industry, Jeri’s career path has been diverse. Her solid educational background in music and IT allowed Jeri to move into post-production and then into live broadcasts and engineering and again, back to music.  In her own words with Arena Waves, “It’s a perfect meld of everything I know”.

Arena Waves is high-caliber music licensing library for sports, gaming, television and film. With seasoned composers and session musicians on board, (most have played on your favorites records), Arena Waves debuted at launch in the mid-three-quarters to high range when it comes to catalog volume (over 70k+ and adding 50-100 new cuts per week). Several things make this catalog unique, one being its ease of use while also having mobile platform flexibility. But more importantly,  it’s worth noting the efficiency of the ready-made cut-downs for bumpers and highlights in the Producer’s Edge section. Cues are drop-in ready. Arena Waves also writes on-demand theme and cue requests and can provide quick turn arounds. With remarkably catchy themes from hard-driven rock, to dark and broody or moody, there is literally every style for every listener and media requirements and tastes. In fact, the catalog is so eclectic that, even though its intended purpose is sports, television and film, one can create personal playlists (register, it’s free) for their own listening pleasure. The music is that good and that diverse.

For more information, check out www.arenawaves.com and be sure to follow all their socials.

What is a typical day like?

Arrive early, unload the truck, run cables, interconnect with the facility, set up audio, fax if working in the field. In the truck, patch my patch bays, SAPS, routers and fader layouts. Load and set up music cues.

How do you stay organized and focused?

The pressure of live keeps me focused.  Also having a Plan A, Plan B, etc as backup options for live. For complex mixing (i.e. eSports or multiple routers of audio), I’m a big fan of populating my bottom layers to remain static while cloning to upper layers per need of each show.

What do you enjoy the most about your job? 

It’s live, it’s exciting and when it goes well, it’s instant gratification.

What do you like least?

It’s live, it’s exciting and when it goes badly, you SWEAR there’s not enough money in it EVER!

The best part of being on the road?

I’m on the road although I’m not on a bus, I am on planes a lot.  The best part is the road family, exploring new areas of the world and for certain eating local cuisine.

What do you like least? 

The hours, the wear and tear on your body, lack of sleep.

What is your favorite day off activity?

Exploring local cultures

What are your long-term goals? 

To try new things, push my personal limits and continue to follow current and new passions.

What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced? 

For CERTAIN misogyny and sadly, only from certain productions and a small posse of peers.  Also sadly, everyone else –  not just me – has experienced the exact same treatment from the exact same people from the exact same productions.  When a recent interviewer offline told me she encountered these issues WITH THE EXACT SAME PEOPLE 20 YEARS AGO on a sports event (this production travels), I challenge all the networks to wake up and investigate these “hand fuls” that are predictable, unprofessional and putting a black eye unfairly on the entire broadcast community (and is now into its second generation of newcomers being mistreated yet again, by the EXACT same people). I assure that the broadcast community is not what these few bad apples represent, but the network productions ignoring it won’t fix it.

How have you dealt with them? 

I ask questions not only of them but of those around them.  If they all “posse together”, then I move on to a team that is worthy…and good…and healthy.  I don’t stay in places where I know it will be IMPOSSIBLE to change.

The advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?

1) you have to have thick skin.   Sports and Rock n Roll comes with a lot of testosterone that often “react” in their environments of comfort (ie a football field before a game).  These people are in “game mode” and are not there to think of anything else.

2) production mal-treatment vs real emotions.  Please know the difference.  It’s intense and gets crazy and not every minor thing said is a reason for “HR”.  HOWEVER, abuse should never be tolerated.  Just know the difference and if you don’t know, get educated before entering this environment, hence “thick skin”.

3) know when you are in a toxic team – those that withhold information, constantly throwing their fellow members under the bus, not owning up to errors, etc.  Be aware that even though this exists to some extent everywhere, not EVERY production conducts itself this way and the good ones, with good leaders, will NOT tolerate this from their team.

4) move on when you know it’s not going to work out for you.  Get out earlier and find your tribe sooner

5) hone your skills

6) when you’re wrong, admit it. If you don’t know something, admit it.  When you DO know, help your teammates learn

Must have skills?

1) know your audio or tell those around you you are willing to learn what you don’t know

2) people skills

3) be kind and understanding to those around you

4) everybody has a bad day and everybody has a bad GIG…shake it off, learn from it, get up and do it again

Favorite gear?

OOOOOOoooooh….well, in-studio mixing,  I’m a big fan of Eventide gear.  I’m also a big fan of the AKG414 due to its wide range of patterns,m. I love Sennheiser wireless mics for field and lav needs. I love all Lectrosonics RF wireless IFB/In-ear products. Both Sennheiser and Lectrosonics wireless mics and IFB/IEMs are interchangeable to me in quality and robustness.  Radioactive Audio Designs uses a nice VHF and lower bands for communications that steer clear of broadcast bands….and Clear Comm and Telex have some nice workarounds with their comms systems as well. Shure’s Wireless Workbench is great for some concert venues (although I haven’t really used this on large scale events). I like seeing Studers in the studio broadcast environment while I like seeing a Calrec on  broadcast trucks or remotes.

More on Jeri

Jeri Palumbo | NAMM.org

The Life of an A1, in the Booth and on the Field

Women in Audio: Jeri Palumbo, Broadcast Engineer and Musician

Jeri Palumbo — Roadie Free Radio

Find More Profiles on The Five Percent

Profiles of Women in Audio

Love of Learning – Carolina Anton – Sound Engineer

 

Carolina Anton is a freelance sound engineer based in Mexico City. She works as a FOH and Monitor Engineer and specializes in sound design and optimization. She works with several sound companies such as 2hands production, Eighth Day Sound, Britannia Row, among others. She has done international tours with artists Zoé, Natalia Lafourcade, Leon Larregui, Mon Laferte. Carolina is also the owner of GoroGoro Studio – an audiovisual studio for immersive sound mixing experiences. She is the representative in Mexico of ISSP Immersive Sound software for live shows, a partner in 3BH an Integrative company that specializes in architectural, acoustic, and audiovisual technological design.  In her spare time, she is the head of the SoundGirls Mexico City Chapter.

Lifelong Love for Learning

Carolina grew up with a Montessori education that instills a lifelong love of learning and has provided Carolina with a solid foundation and base in her work and life. During her high-school years, she was enrolled at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education which gave her a solid understanding of engineering and the use of technology. At the same time, she became interested in Japanese culture and started to study the Japanese Tea Ceremony. At age 19, she started to study music and took a percussion diploma at Berklee College of Music and then went on to study with teachers from Escuela Superior de Música in Mexico City. She started playing drums at pubs and restaurants and formed her own band, soon after that she was invited to play drums for some artists as Laura Vazquez (ex- keyboardist of Fito Paez)

The Spark

In 2002, she received a scholarship to continue her Japanese studies at Urasenke Gakuen Professional College of Chado, Midorikai in Kyoto, Japan. In 2004, she graduated and returned to Mexico City. Upon returning, she found that she had no one to play music with and decided to find a job in music, so she could play drums and also thought she could work in audio. Carolina remembers saying to herself “it looks very easy pushing all those buttons and moving faders! And I love music… but actually had no idea what I was getting into, from that day I started this wonderful but complicated path.”

At the time there were limited professional audio programs in Mexico City, so she started taking every course she could find and says she still is constantly keeping updated on training and certifications. With her love of learning she started buying all the books on audio she could find and started to study on her own. She says it took her over four years to find someone that would help her get her foot in the door. She says “all rental companies told me that as a woman I had no future in this… a woman cannot carry cases or cables! Work at night? Travel with men? This work is impossible for a woman like you!!… They said. After almost three years I finally found one company that would support me and help me forge my own path from below. At that point, I swore that nobody was going to slow me down.”

While Carolina saw herself working in a recording studio, this would not be as the company that gave her a shot was a live sound company and she decided to “just let it flow and along the way, I realized that I really like this job so I started talking to all audio engineers close to me, without realizing that I was fully involved and made to work in live sound. I knew then that I like challenges and excitement, plus I work better under pressure.”

Career Start

She started as PA Tech and worked her way up to FOH and Monitors and now mainly freelances with 2Hands Production Services and Eighth Day Sound. Carolina’s first national tour was as a system engineer for Zoé Unplugged in 2011. Her first contact with international artists was with Earth, Wind & Fire where she approached with Eighth Day Sound on the same year with whom since then she has worked on tours and festivals such as Noel Gallager High Flying Birds, Cage The Elephant, The Cranberries, Faithless, and Electric Forest Festival, among others.

The first time Carolina got to mix was unexpected, “I remember that my job was only doing the PA design and tune it, but the musicians were late and I have to pre-prepare the scene of a venue SC48 and I didn’t know very well how to set up (I am very good with the mixers so it didn’t take me so much to understand it)  after I finished setting up the mixer, Gloria´s staff ask me to check the monitors and PA (so I send some pink noise and test the mics), I was so relaxed and did that thinking that in some point the main engineer will come, unconsciously I began to place filters and make a pre-mix (good for me!)  When the musicians arrived and I didn’t see any staff with them, I asked for the engineer and with all the calm in the world, they told me… “You are!” At that moment I got very nervous but luckily I had prepared everything correctly so the show flowed perfectly. Definitely in this profession, we must be prepared for everything.”

Carolina has toured as a Monitor Engineer for Gloria Gaynor, Kool & the Gang Mexico 2012, Janelle Monáe Mexico 2012, Vetusta Morla, Natalia Lafourcade, Leon Larregui, Mon Laferte and before the pandemic hit she was on tour with MexFutura. She has run FOH of Café Tacvba & Zoe, Everyone Orchestra, Madame Gandhi, Hellow Festival, PalNorte Festival, Electric Forest Festival and BPM Festival. She has been a system engineer for Marc Anthony Mexico 2012, Empire of the Sun “Walking on a Dream” Tour Mexico City 2011, Bunbury “Licenciado Cantinas” Tour Mexico 2012, ZOÉ & Café Tacvba Touring for 5 years (2011 – 2016), MTV Unplugged Miguel Bosé, Enrique Bunbury, Pepé Aguilar, Zoé, Kinky, and 90`s Pop Tour 360º – 2019.

Her credits also include Recording sound engineer and/or Assistant sound Engineer   Caifanes, MTV Unplugged Pepé Aguilar, Viva Tour: En vivo – Thalia and Production of the Live Streaming for the Vive Latino festival 2015.

Career Today

In 2015, she was invited to become a partner in 3BH, an integrative company that specializes in architectural, acoustic and audiovisual technological design. Working with post-production and music studios in Mexico and LATAM. The engineers at 3BH work to integrate projects at the highest level from construction, electricity, insulation and acoustic conditioning, monitoring design and calibration in ST, 5.1, 7.1, ATMOS formats, signal design and work with the highest technology. She also is the owner of GoroGoro Studio audiovisual studio specialized in immersive sound mixing experiences and traditional formats. The most recent material is a video with immense sound by the band MexFutura, presented on AppleMusic.

Never Stop Learning

She has certifications in Shure Advanced RF Coordinator for Axient Digital Systems,

AVID Protools, Meyer Sound – Sound System Design of Meyer Sound & SIM 3 Training and System Design, SMAART Software Applications & Procedures Training and System Design, Martin Audio Professional Loudspeaker Systems & MLA Certified Operator Training Program, L-Acoustics System Fundamentals, Audinate DANTE certified levels 1 – 3 and SSL Live console, Yamaha, Digico & MIDAS.

Carolina’s long-term goals are to keep touring and learning. “A long term goal that I have managed to achieve was mixing in immersive sound, I have been specializing in this area for several years and I find it very fun and interesting… I think it is the future in various areas of sound.”

What do you like best about touring?

I love to travel, meeting people, having the opportunity to use different gear, and mix at different venues. I love trying different foods and being able to learn about different cultures.

What do you like least?

I miss my family very much. I don’t get invitations from friends because they think I am always away. Sometimes it is nice to know that you are going to return home every night.  Also not having enough time to visit the city where we are working.

What is your favorite day off activity? 

Watching movies, enjoy the silence & nature, be with my family, play with my cats, read and sleep.

What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced? How have you dealt with them?

I had many obstacles, which I no longer remember, but surely the principle was to be a woman working in sound. For a long time, I was angry about the rejection that many colleagues had, but I realized that I was getting attention and was losing time, so I decided to ignore all the negative comments and focus on finding a mentor.

Fortunately, I found very good people along the way, who have helped me pass through all these obstacles and taught me in a professional manner to achieve my goals.

I  have become more secure in my job and I learned that if you have a good attitude and confidence in what you are doing you will be fine!

Advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?

If you have a true love for your profession, do it without stopping!

Every time you have a problem do a self-evaluation and trust yourself.

Be humble but with decision and commitment, I am sure that you will achieve all your goals.

Must have skills?

Listen to other people, be objective and patient.

Favorite gear

D & B , Martin Audio , L´Acoustics, SSL LIVE , DIGICO ,MIDAS , SIM 3 Audio Analyzer, Smaart Software , Lake Processors, DPA & Sennheiser mics.

Closing thoughts

I am very happy and proud to represent SoundGirls in Mexico. I’m sure there will be many opportunities for growth and improvement for all women and men in this industry.

Infinitely thank my family (my mother and my brother) who support me in all my decisions, my boyfriend, my mentors and friends who were and are always by my side.

I have always in my mind the basic principles of The Way of Tea, harmony, respect, purity and tranquility (wa, kei, sei, jaku), this are the roots of my life.

Is very important to have an internal balance between ourselves and our work. Many times, we focus so much on our work that we forget it is very important to take care of ourselves. It is also very important to be consistent with what we do and say at all times.

Many have confused my tenacity and decision with unconsciousness, but there is a big difference in taking risks to break visible and invisible barriers to achieve your goals and objectives, always being humble and respectful with those around me and with myself.

More on Carolina

Carolina Anton on The SoundGirls Podcast

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Profiles of Women in Audio

 

The Positive Side of Negative Visualization

Stagehands often joke that we aren’t paid to run a show track. We’re really there to fix problems and (on tour) load the show in and out. With a little bit of direction, anyone can follow a track: page a curtain, swap a microphone or move something from one place to another. You hire a prop master because she has specialized knowledge and can rebuild or repair a prop that breaks or get an audio technician because she actually knows the components of the system and can suss out a problem.

Troubleshooting, especially mid-show, is mentally demanding. You have to run through all possible scenarios, eliminate them down to the most likely culprit, and execute the fix or workaround all within the space of moments. Backstage, this comes in the form of video, mics, or com malfunctioning, usually armed with all the information of, “This sounds weird, can you fix it?” as someone points to their beltpack.

When you’re out at FOH, your problems usually center around a glitch with the console, something making a noise that it’s not supposed to in the house, or trying to work around mic issue as the A2 works to fix things. As always, this is while mixing the show, because you’re a position that has a specialized track, so you actually are paid to run the show.

While fixing problems on the fly, even in non-catastrophic situations like switching from a sweat-out main mic to a clean backup, your reaction time matters. It’s the difference between missing a word or an entire line as you think through the process of which channel you have to go to or which page of user-assigned macros you need to be on.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our brains didn’t need quite as much time to work through problems? Well, (good news!) with a little mental exercise, it doesn’t.

Have you ever noticed it feels like it takes longer to walk to a new place than it does to walk back from it? You’re following the same route at the same pace, but something feels like it could be two completely different trips. What’s actually happening is that, on the way there, your brain is processing new information, which takes just the tiniest bit longer than when you’re walking back and now all your brain has to do is register a familiar sight.

The same thing can happen when you troubleshoot. If you’ve already worked through and fixed a kind of problem, you already know how to react and your brain can simply reference information instead of creating an entirely new plan from scratch. And it gets better: you don’t even have to physically experience a situation for your brain to pick up cues faster.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “Positive Visualization” as it’s a go-to in most guides to improve your happiness or your outlook on life. By all means, visualizing mixing a perfect show is wonderful, and can be a benefit all on its own, but we’re going to take a look at the opposite, but closely related, “Negative Visualization.”

I first heard the term in the podcast episode “Don’t Accentuate the Positive” of The Happiness Lab series. (I highly recommended the series, especially if you have any interest in psychology, plus that particular episode has a fascinating story about Michael Phelps.) While listening, I found I’d developed a habit of negative visualization over the past several years without realizing that that was what I was doing.

A few months into a run, I usually reach a point where I’m comfortable with the show and the company has settled into a routine, so everyone can relax just a bit. At this point, I’d start to play a “what if” game. If I noticed a cue would be easy to fire at the wrong time if I wasn’t paying attention, I’d walk through the process of what would happen if I did make that mistake. I’d make it my own mental exercise, going through what chain reaction that cue might set off and what specific process I’d have to use to recover from the mistake.

That’s what negative visualization is: mentally walking through a problem scenario. The benefit is that in a figurative world, you can also work through multiple solutions to that problem until you find the best one. So, in the event you find yourself in that situation, your mind reacts faster to decide on a course of action because it’s already done it, even if the trial run was just in your head.

I had an actress who occasionally sweated out her main mic, but always at the same point in the show. It became common enough that I made a point key up the macro page to the one with her backup shortcut if I knew the backstage area was warmer than usual, or it was just a hot day. In some instances, she would sweat out even in colder climates, and even for those, I was so used to the combination of buttons to switch to her back up, it was like I had my own cheat code which took the work of moments with minimal thought.

In another experience, I had the main fader bank on the console reset mid-show. I had a freeze of an “uh oh” moment, then switched to the backup engine. That same glitch has happened a couple of times over the course of a few years, but even with hundreds of shows between occurrences, the second time it happened, I didn’t even have that initial pause, my brain was able to recognize a similar situation and my hand immediately moved to switch engines. Now, if something happens on the console, I automatically default to the instinct to reach for the Engine A/B button. As my body is reacting, my mind can process if I should actually change or not so, if I need to, my hand’s already there, if not, I can pull back.

This kind of mental exercise is something that’s becoming more important given the current state of everything.

The news that Broadway and most large events won’t come back this year is demoralizing, and all of us face the hard reality of deciding on a course of action to either get us through the short term or consider changes on a grander scale. But the challenges won’t stop there. As the entertainment industry focuses on its eventual reopening, we’re looking to do it as we create a more inclusive, knowledgeable, and healthier environment, especially for the BIPOC and marginalized artists in our communities. For many white people, that requires us to be activists as well as advocates for our fellow technicians, musicians, and actors when we get back to work. For those of us not used to speaking up or purposely exposing ourselves to confrontational situations, we know it’s necessary if intimidating task. Especially so in workplaces where off-hand racist or sexist comments were previously considered “just kidding around” and bringing attention to them might have been met with “just ignore it,” “it’s too much of a hassle, and it’ll piss everyone off,” or “well, what did you expect?”

As we face all these problems and more, negative visualization can be a helpful tool to reevaluate and rearrange our future plans or make an effort, not only to step out of our comfort zones but to actively do the hard work of de-programming years and even decades of ingrained behaviors. If there’s a silver lining in all this, we’ll get plenty of opportunities this year to retrain our brains and mentally practice constructive reactions as we head towards getting back to work.

 

Ethel Gabriel the First of the 5%

 

Ethel Gabriel (1921-2021) may be one of the most prolific recording industry professionals you’ve never heard of. Ethel was the first woman record producer for a major record label, and one of the first women in the world to work in A&R. She had a 4-decade career at RCA starting with an entry-level job and rising up to being an executive in the company.

During her career, Ethel produced over 5,000 records – some original recordings and some repackaged – by nearly every artist on the RCA roster (including Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton). Ethel was the woman in A&R to receive an RIAA Gold Record in 1959, and the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Historical Album (1982).

Ethel was willing to take risks, such as producing the first digitally-remastered album or working with artists who brought new types of music to the mainstream. Her credits include everything from mambo to easy listening to rap.

Ethel’s Background

Ethel was born in 1921 in Pennsylvania. She started her own dance band at age 13 (called “En and Her Royal Men”) where Ethel played trombone. She originally wanted to go to college for forestry (at the encouragement of her father) but women were not allowed into the program. She decided to attend Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and study music education.

A relative helped Ethel get a job at RCA’s record plant (in Camden, New Jersey) to help pay for tuition and expenses. Ethel’s first job included tasks like putting labels on records. She was promoted to record tester where she had to listen to one out of every 500 records pressed for quality. She learned every note of the big hits since Ethel had to listen to them over and over.

Ethel was allowed to visit the nearby RCA recording studios. She brought her trombone with her, playing with major artists for fun between sessions. She also learned how recording sessions worked. Ethel was secretary to the manager of A&R at the time, Herman Diaz, Jr. Ethel got to produce her first recording session (with bandleader Elliot Laurence) when Diaz called in sick and asked her to do it.

In 1955, Ethel convinced her boss, Manie Sacks, to sign Perez Prado to RCA’s label. She produced his record, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, which became a worldwide hit and helped bring the mambo craze to the US.

She was with RCA during the creation of their Nashville studios, the signing of Elvis, and their transition from mono to stereo.

Through Ethel’s career, she was willing to take risks and experiment with new technology or music. In 1959, Ethel launched Living Strings, a series on RCA Camden’s label that ran for 22 years.

In 1961, she produced Ray Martin and his Orchestra Dynamica, the first release using RCA’s “Stereo Action.” In 1976, she was executive producer of Caruso,’s A Legendary Performer, the first digitally-remastered album. The technology used by Soundstream Inc (lead by Thomas Stockham) has gone on to be widely used in audio and photography restoration and Stockham’s work on the Caruso album was the basis for a 1975 scientific paper. In 1975, Ethel gave a chance to then-unknown producer Warren Schatz, who produced RCA’s first disco album, Disco-Soul by The Brothers.

Ethel managed RCA’s Camden label (designed for budget records) starting in 1961. Camden was struggling when she took over and went on to become a multi-million dollar label under Ethel’s watch. Some of RCA’s major artists even asked to be released on the Camden line over the flagship RCA label because of Camden’s success.

Ethel received two RIAA Platinum records and 15 Gold records (over 10 million record sales total) during her career with numbers still growing. Many of these were repackages or re-releases where Ethel put her expert eyes (and ears) on song selection and label redesign. One album she re-packaged, Elvis’ Christmas Album, was the first Elvis record to reach Diamond (10 million sales). Ethel said of creating special packages (in Billboard Magazine Sept 5, 1981), “It’s like second nature to me. The secret is that you know the market you’re trying to reach. You can’t contrive a special record. It has to be genuine and full of integrity because people know the difference.” Ethel re-issued albums for nearly every RCA artist (including the Legendary Performer series, RCA Pure Gold economy line, and the Bluebird Complete series).

Towards the end of her time at RCA, Ethel asked the company to fund a women’s group for lectures and seminars. She wanted to help women learn to become executives. Ethel said she felt like a mother to some of the women she mentored (Ethel was married but did not have children). She wanted to teach skills like how to network, how to dress or behave. Ethel also became involved with Women in Music, one of very few groups available to women in the music industry at the time. In 1990, Ethel publicly spoke out against the “boys club” in a Letter to the Editor of Billboard Magazine (Oct 6). She said, “Yes, there are ‘record women’ in the industry – and they have ears, too!”

Ethel also worked with many artists and ensembles in the studio during her career including Chet Atkins, Caterina Valenti, Marty Gold, Los Indios Tabajaras, Teresa Brewer and hundreds of recordings under the Living series. She said of working with artists, “There are times to ‘harness’ artists and times to ‘push.’” Ethel said her most helpful qualifications to do the job were “her knowledge and love of music and her ability to make difficult decisions and hold to them.” (Cincinnati Enquirer August 18, 1983)

Ethel was not promoted to Vice President at RCA until 1982, over 40 years into her career. Many colleagues said it was long overdue. The following year, she won a Grammy for Best Historical Album (for co-producing The Dorsey/Sinatra Sessions). After leaving RCA, Ethel remained in the industry where she worked as president and vice president to smaller record labels.

Ethel’s story is being captured in a documentary film about her life and career, called LIVING SOUND. Production on the film started in 2019, when Gabriel was 97 years old. The documentary began (with the aide of SoundGirls) through uncovering archival materials and conducting interviews with Ethel.

For more about LIVING SOUND visit livingsoundfilm.com.  SoundGirls also has a scholarship in Ethel’s honor: the Ethel Gabriel Scholarship.

The SoundGirls Podcast – Caroline Losneck and April Tucker: Living Sound the Ethel Gabriel Documentary Team

 

Find More Profiles on The Five Percent

Profiles of Women in Audio

 

Fernanda Starling- Staying Versatile

From the mountains of Brazil to the hills of Los Angeles, Fernanda Starling has come a long way in her career in audio.

Fernanda was raised in Belo Horizonte (or “beautiful horizon” in English), the capital city of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. Surrounded by mountains, “Beagá”– as it is known to locals – is a cultural capital. It is particularly known for giving birth to the progressive-jazz-folk musician collective Clube da Esquina, who are regarded as the founders of one of the most important Brazilian musical movements. In the shadows of this popular music scene, a number of heavy metal bands were founded, including the legendary Sepultura.

Fernanda spent her teenage years going to a variety of concerts and eventually started learning how to play bass. In 2002, she formed her first original band with two other musicians. They recorded their demo with André Cabelo, a well-known local audio engineer and owner of Estúdio Engenho. This was her introduction to the world of professional audio. “For the following one-and-a-half to two years, I kept bumping into André at live concerts,” she recalls. “One of those nights, he mentioned that his studio was so busy that he was thinking about getting an intern. Even though I was already working as a journalist full-time, I didn’t think twice about taking the opportunity.”

She immediately immersed herself in the process of studio recording and editing for music. At the end of 2004, after several months of assisting on recordings and mixings, Fernanda was hired by Cabelo: “his studio became my audio school.  It was a non-stop recording environment: we often did three sessions per day, generally with three different artists, of all genres”.

Her proven studio recording abilities also led her to receive a federal grant to work as the main Audio Engineer for the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) School of Music. There, she was responsible for recording and mixing classical albums as a member of an all-women research group between 2007 and 2009. This particular recording project was noteworthy, as it catalogued, recorded, and published more than 250 classical songs written by Brazilian composers for the first time.

As an avid learner, Fernanda also chose to complete an intensive certificate course called “Fundamentals in Audio and Acoustics” at the Institute of Audio and Video in São Paulo.

In the Heart of the Music Industry

In 2010, Fernanda moved to Los Angeles to continue pursuing her education in music production. She completed a certificate in Independent Music Production at UCLA Extension in 2012 and then started an Optional Practical Training program right after graduation, which allowed her to pursue work in her field.  Although some might think going back to school later in life would be difficult, Fernanda speaks highly of the experience: “I don’t regret going back to school full-time. It gave me the opportunity to immerse myself into a different culture and meet important industry professionals who still influence my life to this day.”

One of those key people is a music producer and audio engineer Peter Barker. Barker is the co-owner of Threshold Sound + Vision, where Fernanda interned. Under his guidance, she started working as a post-production sound editor and mixer assistant. By the end of 2016, Fernanda had worked alongside Barker on the 5.1 mixes for numerous DVD/Blu-ray projects, such as Dio’s “Finding the Sacred Heart – Live In Philly 1986”, Alan Jackson’s “Keepin’ It Country Tour!”, and Heart’s “Live at the Royal Albert Hall”.

Gradually, Fernanda found herself gravitating from studio recording to film and television audio, where there were more job opportunities. She invested in a full production sound kit and owns all the equipment that is needed to record professional audio on film sets. Since 2013, she has worked as a “one-man band”, providing field recording and mixing for independent short and feature films, commercials, TV shows, and documentaries.

Breaking into Live TV 

On the Broadcast side, Fernanda stays busy as a Pro Tools Operator/Recordist for live and live-to-tape productions. Her credits include big shows such as Celebrity Family Feud, Grease Live!, MTV Video and Music Awards, The Christmas Story Live! and The Oscars. Typically, she works from remote TV units: “besides the audio broadcast truck, responsible for the mixing of the production elements, music and concert productions also require an additional truck – or even two, depending on the complexity – to handle the music mix of the live performances.”

Fernanda in the Mojave Desert recording sound for the tv series “Big Red: The Original Outlaw Race” (NBC Sports).

Since 2016, she has also worked with Music Mix Mobile West (M3W), an award-winning remote facility company that specializes in recording and mixing music for broadcast. M3W regularly handles audio for award shows and live music performances on television, such as The MTV Movie & TV Awards, the Grammy Legends Award, iHeartRadio Music Festival, iHeartRadio Jingle Ball and KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas. Asked why she likes broadcast audio, Fernanda states: the complexity and live element make it both a challenging and fascinating environment. These types of television productions typically encompass 160 inputs (and up to 192!) and feature numerous live performances with quick changeovers, so the multi-track recording plays a crucial role. What you hear on air is always a live mix, but the mix settings are prepared in advance.”

In the lead-up to the event, she records the soundchecks & rehearsals. Once the act leaves the stage, she plays back the captured audio so the music mixer can revisit the songs, fine-tune the mix and create snapshots for the live show. Alongside M3W’s co-owners, the renowned audio engineers’ Bob Wartinbee and Mark Linett, Fernanda has recorded countless A-list acts such as John Mayer, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Beck, Lady Gaga, and Alicia Keys.

Her credits also include working as an assistant and audio engineer for the multi-Emmy Award-winning sound engineer/ playback mixer Pablo Munguia, who she met while studying at UCLA.  She has worked alongside him in music playback mixing for The Grammy Awards, The American Music Awards, The Oscars, and The Emmy Awards, amongst others. For these award shows, Fernanda is responsible for building and testing the playback systems at the shop and then assisting Munguia on whatever he needs during the production.

A multi-talented engineer, Fernanda is grateful for all the opportunities she has had in the entertainment industry: “being able to stay true to my musical roots and working with legendary audio engineers is definitely one of the best parts of the job!”

You studied journalism at university. Do you wish you had had the opportunity to study audio engineering first?

Is audio engineering school really worth it? This is a common question and I have always wondered that myself. To be sincere with you, after I had finished high school and had to pick a career, I didn’t even know that audio was an option… The reality in Brazil is different from North America.  I became more familiar with the audio world while working as a journalist.

Back when I started my post-secondary education, there were no universities offering a bachelor’s degree in audio. There are a few private audio schools in Brazil, most of them in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but they just offered short-term certificate programs. Today, if I am correct, there is actually one university in Brazil offering a degree in audio engineering.

The way I’ve always tried to compensate for the lack of having an audio diploma is taking multiple short-term courses and classes to fill specific gaps in my knowledge as I advanced in my career.

It seems that the audio industry is much different in Brazil then what we experience in North America. Can you speak to the differences? 

Like I mentioned above, there is little access to formal education in audio. Besides that, the limited access to professional high-end gear may be one of the biggest differences. Brazil’s tariff regime is ridiculous! Imported manufactured products are subject to a wide range of taxes at all stages of the chain. Because of that, the final price of an audiovisual product is two to three times more expensive than it would be in the US. Therefore, independent studios in Brazil are not as well equipped as the American ones. One of the first lessons I learned from my first studio mentor, André Cabelo, was that gear is not the most important thing in the business: neither for making a good mix or to build and keep your clientele. What counts most is mastering the craft, having a relationship of trust between artist and the engineer, and creating a welcoming environment.

Another difference is that federal government incentives play a big role in the Brazilian audiovisual and music production world, particularly in the independent scene. Maybe because of that and other cultural aspects, independent Brazilian artists get more of a chance to perceive music as more of an art then as a product?

Can you explain what you mean by these federal government incentives? 

There are numerous kinds of tax relief, i.e. tax benefits and incentives at all levels of government (federal, state, and local) in Brazil. Some grants, for example, are based on fiscal incentives that allow for companies or individuals to invest a share of their income in cultural projects in exchange for a tax reduction. Those benefits not only help to promote and democratize the access to culture but also directly supports independent artists. When an artist receives a grant, they can dedicate themselves to their craft, record & promote their album without worrying about working multiple jobs to fund their musical career. Besides helping musicians directly, these policies also benefit studio owners, audio engineers, and other professionals involved in the Brazilian music industry.

I will say I was shocked when I arrived in the US in 2010. I was used to a non-stop recording environment back in Brazil and it seemed that here, very few independent artists had the budget or opportunity to go to the studio and record full albums.

What about the TV Broadcast and film Industries? What are the biggest differences between America & Brazil? 

When we talk about TV programmers and filmmaking, it is almost unfair to compare the production capabilities of both countries. This is because of the difference in the size of their populations, and the difference in the ability to recover production costs domestically. It is often cheaper for Brazilian media companies to buy series & films from the US than to produce their own. In Brazil, the content produced outside the TV broadcasters, including film, is reduced and depends on government incentives.

Another difference is that broadcast TV is an extremely concentrated sector in Brazil, dominated by Rede Globo. They are one of the largest commercial television corporations outside of the United States and the largest producer of telenovelas (soap operas) in the world. Generally speaking, the US is famous for producing and exporting film, while Brazil is famous for producing and exporting telenovelas. It’s actually really impressive what the Brazilian TV industry has managed to create:  there are three original soaps going out every evening, and each series lasts approximately 200 episodes.

Can you tell us more about your experiences as a musician?

The FuDogs at the “Venice Beach Music Festival

Although music is my passion, I also had to focus on my careers, which were first journalist and then audio engineer. The best bands I played in were the ska ones. I Brazil I had a 7-piece ska band called Os Inflamáveis (The Inflammables). We had tons of fun playing together in small venues and festivals. Before I left Brazil, we were playing every Sunday at a local pub. I used to say that playing ska is my therapy: the bass lines are interesting to play, and the music lifts you up! I also joined other bands while I lived in Béaga and played as a hired musician for an artist called Makely Ka, but Os Inflamáveis was by far my favorite experience.

When I moved to LA, I really missed playing in bands. One day, out of curiosity, I checked the musician section on Craigslist and I couldn’t believe my eyes! There was a post about an opening for a bass player in a local ska band and went to audition.  I passed the audition and joined the Fu Dogs, we played together for five years at several special events in Santa Monica and Venice, as well as well-known venues like The Roxy.  I also played briefly with an original power trio called Bombay Beach Revival, and with FEMZeppelin, a female Led Zeppelin cover band.

It seems that Belo Horizonte had a vivid independent music scene. Besides playing in bands, is there anything else you miss? 

I would say that it’s quite easy to become a workaholic when you live in LA, especially when you love what you do. I definitely miss Beagá’s nightlife and the social life I used to have… There was always something to do! If I wasn’t going to my friends’ concert, I was bumping into them at cultural events or festivals or we were enjoying a good conversation at the bar. This popular local saying perfectly sums up life in my hometown: “se não tem mar, vamos pro bar” (we have no sea, let’s go the bar).

What is your favorite piece of gear?

I don’t have a particular one any recording device fascinates me for its capacity of capturing the uniqueness of a specific moment and then being able to play it back later!

I do use redundant Pro Tools Systems for broadcast recordings and Sound Device’s 633 mixer/recorder for my one-band-man field recording. At M3W’s studio truck, I oversee running a redundant Pro Tools MADI System (up to 196 inputs each) for audio recording (one as backup) and a satellite system for video playback locked to either of the recorders. I also like combining a flying pack of Pro Tools Madi and Sound Devices 970 when I have a gig that requires redundancy and a high track count below 64 inputs.

What advice would you give to young women looking to get into the audio field?

Try to learn from other people’s experiences. Surround yourself with those who know more than you. Read manuals. Be open to changes. Be professional. Understand the psychological aspect of working with artists… And remember that there is no right or wrong path, just keep working on your skills, take care of your emotional health, be worthy of trust, and be patient.

 

Copyright in the 21st Century

 

As we know, March 2020 has been a strange time for most of the world due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Subsequently, the music industry at large has been extremely quiet, but before the outbreak and lockdown rules became widespread there were several interesting events and technological advances relating to music copyright law.

The start of March saw the current Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” legal battle rage on into its sixth year, with the band winning their latest appeal for a new trial – the group Spirit had previously won a case that ruled Zeppelin’s famous opening arpeggio riff had infringed the Spirit 1968 song “Taurus”. While it seems this particular feud may be far from being over, it was closely succeeded by another high-profile case days later.

Stairway to Heaven:

 

Taurus:

Following a previous lawsuit in 2019 that ruled Katy Perry’s song “Dark Horse” had copied the ostinato from Flame’s 2009 track “Joyful Noise”, the verdict was overturned on 17th March by federal judge Christina A Snyder. Judge Snyder stated:

“It is undisputed in this case, even viewing the evidence in the light most favourable to plaintiffs, that the signature elements of the eight-note ostinato in “Joyful Noise” is not a particularly unique or rare combination.”

While news of the judge’s decision to overturn the verdict came as a surprise, the sentiment of Snyder’s statement resonated with most musicians who had listened to the songs in question – you can read my comparison and analysis of the 2019 trial here

The latest Katy Perry development felt like a “win” for good musical sense, but where do we go from here? What might the future hold for common sequences and regularly used traditions of composition? Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin think they might have some influence on this – the duo has developed technology that is working to find the answer to the eternal question “Is the number of melodies in this world finite?” As there are only a finite number of notes, can they only be arranged in so many ways?

Rubin is a musician and programmer as is Riehl, who also happens to practice law. Together they have created an algorithm that writes 300,000 melodies per second to disc as a MIDI file, thus automatically copyrighting them. The data set parameters for measuring the melodies use a range of one octave (incorporating a major and natural minor scale), and counts up to 12 individual note values for the length of the melody line, as this range works well for the conventions of pop music.

The two big questions arising from this technology lead us to ask whether the pair have infringed on every existing song there’s ever been, and will the songs of the future infringe on them? Riehl says no to the latter – the intention of creating this technology is to put the findings into the public domain to make the world better and “keep space open for songwriters to be able to make music”. The technological parameters of the algorithms’ range are expanding and developing all the time – the pair are currently working with a pitch range of 12 chromatic notes which means that in terms of genre this covers more than pop music, such as classical and jazz melodies. Riehl is sure that one day the technology will be equipped to use “100 notes and every rhythmic and chordal variation in the future”.

From Riehl’s expert legal view the repercussions of this technology could be ground-breaking in ensuring creative freedom exists for composers; he believes the copyright system is broken and needs updating, explaining that the average legal fees for these cases are in the range of $2 million-plus a fee to the original songwriter. The consideration of whether the accused had access to hear the original song in question would still be taken into account, as would the idea of conceding that songs can be “subliminally infringed” without ill intent.

In explaining the mathematical programming element of the algorithm, Riehl borders on the metaphysical as he shares the findings that we have a finite number of melodic combinations available to us and that “melodies to a computer are just numbers – those melodies have existed since the beginning of time and we are only just discovering them”.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition that this new technology is strangely aligned with the ancient concept that we pluck or channel our ideas from an unknown aether where they have always existed. Who knows, but maybe we can find some comfort and feelings of connection with something bigger than ourselves as we work through these solitary times.

You can download all the music created by Riehl and Rubin plus the algorithm programme code at http://www.AllTheMusic.info

The Basics of Sound

We all like to pretend that sound is a dark art that only a few chosen ones have chosen to understand and practice. However, this dark art is actually not just for the few chosen ones, even if you do not want to practice it full time it is useful for you to know about it.

Sound is physics, we can all agree on that. But you do not have to be good at math or be a ‘techy person’ to understand the basics of sound. To understand sound, all you need is a bit of common sense. Being able to work out how A is connected to B, that is it!

What is sound?

Easy right? It is not more complicated than that! Sound comes from A. The object which transmits it to B. our ears.

We like to think that things are more complicated than they actually are. But with all things tech, a human has designed and invented it. So if we stop ourselves for a minute and go ‘hang on, what would the most logical solution be?’ you’ll find yourself knowing the answer. All things tech have a signal flow, and that is what you need to figure out. How to connect the A to B.

When we amplify sound, it works in a similar way. But rather than transmitting the sound over just air, we transmit it via microphones & cables, i.e., metal! We transmit the sound from the stage to the receiver, which will be the mixing desk. From the mixing desk, it goes out to the speakers, which transmit the sound to our ears in the audience. That is a simple signal flow.

Why is it good to know about the signal flow? If you regularly perform live or record at home or in studios, how many times have you encountered issues? I’d say that every session or live gig has technical issues that usually come down to signal flow. You’ll solve things quicker if you know what might cause the issue by tracing the signal flow.

What about me and/or my instrument sound?

It surprises me that a lot of the musicians and artists that come my way have very little knowledge about their sound and how it is being produced, but more importantly, how they want it to sound to other people.

The only instrument I know how to play is the piano. But I have the knowledge of how I want drums to sound, how to reskin them and how to tune them. Perhaps it has been an advantage of having worked with so many drum kits. I know what a good kit sounds like, but more importantly what a bad kit sounds like!

Like breathing, we often forget that we are doing it. We just do! It is the same with actually listening and tuning in to something. Paying attention at a gig, what does it sound like? What is a good sound?

What do I want to sound like?

Be curious! 

Ever thought about how something is done? Google it! Read and learn about it; knowledge is power!

As I mentioned with drum kits, I don’t play drums, but I was curious to know how it all works. What are the differences, why do they sound so different, why do they need so many cymbals, etc.

As passionate as I am talking about sound, most full-time musicians will passionately talk about their instruments. They have perfected their skills and put so many hours into practice that finally they can tell somebody about it! Ask away!

Communication:

It goes both ways, as sound technicians or as musicians, knowing what sound you like makes it easier for you to start the conversation with each other. We shall always thrive on working as a team and not as separate entities; we need to be able to communicate with each other.

 

Info Hoarders

 

Many of us have worked in the live event or recording industry for years, and have no issues sharing our knowledge and experiences with others. The passion that surrounds this career is what keeps us motivated and creates incredible mentors and teachers.

There is another portion of the audio engineering industry that keeps their techniques to themselves with paranoid motives. They may refuse to share a technique or even explain to somebody what they’re doing because they’re afraid of that person taking their job. As an instructor, I have always been open with my students about my work, resources, and assets. If I create a show file or I show them a technique, I am doing it so that I can share knowledge with them, and then they take it and make it their own. I’m not worried that those students are going to take my job.

The competitiveness of our industry is highly present and sometimes aggressive. Of course, you can find any number of people to fill that position who could technically have the same skill set, but that does not make a person merely disposable. When the production company makes it known, they feel that way it creates that sense of urgency and paranoia to keep your job. At times this has led me to feel replaceable or irrelevant to a show. That mindset is toxic on both sides and can become all-consuming. I have seen people intentionally building a system or show files impossible to understand by anyone else, forcing their security in that position. They are hoarding information, possibly for reasons of self-preservation. A toxic work environment creates these situations, and being fired from them could be in your best interests in the long run. It sucks when it happens, though, especially when there’s no logical reason that you are dismissed.

We are not seamlessly replaceable, especially when you can look at your crew as humans rather than robots programmed to accomplish their tasks. I may not be special, but I’m certainly not dispensable. My abilities to handle emergencies, intelligent problem solving, or even my willingness to help others are special skills that others may not possess. What’s more important than knowing the basics or even being a very skilled engineer is being a person that can work as part of the team. This is preferable over a condescending jerk who hovers over their work, refusing to collaborate and hoarding resources.

We are living in this amazing moment where almost everything is accessible and often free. Humanity seeks to make a connection with others, and when we’re passionate about a subject, we can’t wait to share it. Becoming a dragon-like being with a hidden cache of information and no intention of sharing it is greedy. The people who behave this way, and the people who make these creatures should be held accountable for their toxicity. I’m not sure how to do this, other than being one of the helpful and supportive resources for my students and colleagues. Access to a network of supportive people is invaluable. We’re not meant to be on our own islands; this is a collaborative business. All of us at SoundGirls are forming these little alliances in support of the greater good. Connecting our islands through sharing information and mentorship is a huge step toward progress, and I am so happy to be part of this group..

 

Love for Chaos: Willa Snow Live Sound Engineer

Willa Snow is an independent FOH, Monitor Engineer, and system tech based in Austin, TX. While she has only been working in Live Sound for just over three years, she is filling up her resume.  She regularly works with Texas Performing Arts, Stage Alliance, and C3 Presents, amongst others. She works as a board op/system tech for Bass Concert Hall, as a monitor engineer at Historic Scoot Inn and Emo’s, and as a FOH/MON engineer for several other clubs in town. She has toured with the Grammy-nominated choir Conspirare during the fall of 2018 for their piece, “Considering Matthew Shepard,” as an assistant stage manager and general audio tech.

Before Willa discovered the world of audio, she was pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter. She was playing coffee shops and small venue gigs at the age of 15, and she says “despite that I had no clue about the world of audio, all I knew was that I had to sing into a mic nice n loud.  I don’t recall ever having a monitor mix, or even an engineer introduce themselves.”

She would enroll in college with the intention of going into performance. This was until she was required to take a recording technology course for her major.  “That year I fell HARD for working in the studio. I loved how many variables there were to play with, and all the different directions that you could take a piece of music in. The creative process was suddenly busted wide open for me, and I couldn’t let that go, so I switched my focus to engineering. My decision to change solidified when I found out how few women there are on this side of the industry… less than 5% is just B.S! I became even more impassioned when I started working in live sound at 23 and discovered all the directions that you could take that path in, and all the wonderful types of music and performance that you’re exposed to! Since being a youngin singing acoustic pop-punk in run-down venues in Silicon Valley, my instrument has changed from a guitar and my voice to a console and mics. Each show that I work is a chance to explore and express my musicality alongside the incredible talent that I get to work with here in Austin, TX.”

Willa started out working in recording studios while in college as a ProTools op and audio engineer. She has a BA of Contemporary Music from Santa Fe University of Art and Design, where she was trained in various instruments, music theory, orchestration, advanced vocal techniques, western and world music history, and basic business management, as well as studio production. In contrast, all of her live sound knowledge has been developed on the job and through independent research on various subjects.

After graduating from college, she moved to Texas and ended up taking a job in live sound as an A2 for a small local production company, where she was taught how to build PAs and tune systems. While there, she soaked up everything she could learn and said she “initially hated live sound! In comparison to the studio, it’s loud, chaotic, and terrifying, Everything’s happening all at once, and almost nothing goes according to the original plan. I must have developed Stockholm Syndrome because now I can’t get enough of it! I’ve learned to love the fluidity and chaos, and I’m constantly finding myself challenged to grow and inspired by the techs that I encounter and the artists that I get to work with.”

Like many of us, when Willa first started running sound, she was terrified of failing. She put a lot of pressure on herself and says she feltthat as a woman, people were going to be looking at me as an example of all women engineers. If I wasn’t 100% absolutely perfect, then it would be reflected 100x worse on me than it would a male in my position, and it would be a stain on the reputation of women engineers the world over. I put all that pressure on myself, despite having only just begun my journey into live sound!”

Then  Willa started to notice something… “in my conversations with more experienced engineers and hearing their origin stories, they all said the same thing: they were TERRIBLE when they were starting out! I heard many tales of butchering mixes and struggling to make the broken gear work in dirty clubs. I finally realized that in order to grow and move past this mentality, I needed to give myself permission to fail. So, before every gig, I would have the following conversation with myself: “let’s go out there and SUCK! Let’s have the worst mix ever, and get shamed out of the club! The band is going to hate everything you do, and the gear’s going to catch fire, and it’s going to be GREAT!” And strangely, that worked for me. Giving myself the space to be an inexperienced failure allowed me to embrace that risk, and to go in with a clear head and tackle the show. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and humans mess up and make mistakes, and that’s okay; the key is how you recover from that mistake. Do you own it, fix what needs fixing, and learn from it? Or do you wallow? After a few months, I didn’t need that non-pep pep talk anymore. Now I just walk in with my shoulders back and a big, fat smile on my face.”

One of Willa’s Early Failures

Early on in my experience (I think it was my second gig), I had a show where All The Things Went Terribly. I was given an incorrect load-in time; I hooked up the mains wrong, my iPad mixer was futzing out, the stage sound was terrible, the FOH mix was REALLY bad… so bad in fact that when the singer of the band greeted the crowd and asked, ”how’s it sounding out there?” the audience responded with, “clap… clap… crickets…” An audience member standing near me even leaned over and asked me, “it doesn’t sound good, does it?” I could do nothing but admit that indeed it did not. Oh, it was so embarrassing!! Thankfully the band was very kind and even tipped me at the end of the night.

As soon as I got home, I called up one of my sound buddies and took him out for beers. I walked him through the entire gig, top to bottom, and asked him for some guidance on the mix, and for advice on how to do things better.

A few weeks later, I got the opportunity to mix the same band again. I made sure to get to the venue extra early, set up and rang out the stage as cleanly as I could, incorporated some suggestions my friend made into my mix and remembered exactly how the band set up the stage and where they needed lines. The band showed up, and this time, All The Things Went Smoothly. Stage and FOH sound were vastly improved, the band had a great time, the audience had a great time, they even gave me a ‘thank you’ shout out!

As Willa continues to learn and grow, her long-term goals are to become a touring FOH /Monitor Engineer and System Tech.

What do you like best about touring?

I like hearing how the sound of the music changes in different venues, and the constant momentum of traveling from place to place

What do you like least?

I miss my loved ones and my own bed while I’m away.

What is your favorite day off activity?

My favorite day off activities are resting and taking care of my plant collection. It’s lovely to have a period of quiet and calm after the storm.

What are your long-term goals?

I have several interests that I’m avidly working towards, my main ones being touring as a FOH and/or MON engineer, and/or as a system/PA tech.

What, if any, obstacles or barriers have you faced?

I’ve been turned down for a tour because of my gender, and am all-too-often dealing with unwarranted attention and sexist comments.

How have you dealt with them?

It depends on the situation. For the tour, I let it go and decided that wasn’t a tour I wanted to be involved with anyway. I turned to the SoundGirls forum for advice when going through that process, and deeply appreciated the support and words of encouragement that I received from the group. When dealing with sexist comments on the job, sometimes I’ll ignore them, while others I’ll confront head-on and shoot something back (ex: if I get called honey, I’ll call them sweetie. Stops that sh** real fast.)

The advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?

Learn as much as you can from every situation and interaction, and ask as many questions as you can at appropriate times. Don’t be afraid to work hard, and allow your enthusiasm to drive you. Always keep an air of professionalism at every gig, no matter how big or small. Say yes to every challenge and opportunity possible. Be authentically who you are and embrace that; faking it until you make it is not a thing. It’s okay to stand up for yourself when you are being mistreated; no amount of abuse is worth your time or mental health.

Must have skills?

Have a running knowledge of basic signal flow, mic placement, gain structure and EQ techniques, and learn to embrace failure (how else are you going to learn?). Be kind and cool to those you interact with, and keep your connections positive as much as possible.

Favorite gear?

Work gloves, c-wrench, and my Shure SE846 IEMs. An Allen & Heath desk is always preferred.