Sound technicians are the most unsung heroes in the music world. They take what the bands are putting out and make sure it sounds exactly how it’s supposed to sound—if not even better! Live or recorded, they put the final technical touches on that favorite song of yours, just for your listening pleasure.
Us poor females obviously don’t have the brain capacity to handle that kind of advanced technology. I mean, all those buttons and knobs—me oh my, my head is already spinning just thinking about it!
LOL. Okay, but actually, how about no.
You can always find the real music connoisseur at a live show when the music seems to sound off and instead of blaming the band, you see their head turn to gaze at a flustered sound technician. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a tough job! So that means if you’re a female working the board, it’s going to be made twice as difficult for you, because, you know, your basic misogyny and sexism and stuff.
Rachel Ryan, AKA MrSoundlady, has been in the audio business for around 13 years now, the last six of them on the road touring. She has been around this kind of technology since she was a child. Her father works in post-production for films and she was constantly tagging along with him to the dub and scoring stage. She knew from a young age that she wanted to work in audio, so in high school she worked on plays and interned at clubs to gain experience.
She has worked for bands such as School of Seven Bells, Phosphorescent, Albert Hammond Jr., MNDR, Silversun Pickups, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and The Strokes.
She was monitor engineer for the extremely popular NYC band, The Strokes, for two years. “It was a very good experience—I had the opportunity to work at a very high level of production and shows to huge audiences,” Ryan tells BTRtoday. “It was pretty crazy—a lot of work, I learned a lot along the way and I am grateful to have done it.”
Even with all her credibility and experience she is, sadly, constantly fighting the patriarchy in her workspace.
“Sometimes it’s fine and other times it just seems like the world has been turned back a few centuries,” she explains. “However, anyone who is truly worth their salt in this industry doesn’t care what your gender is, it’s about how well you do your job.”
When asked to share some experiences of sexism while on the job, she responded by saying there were too many to count.
“The biggest thing though, that I really really notice, is the greetings. A lot of the time the guys will go in and just give each other a handshake or high five in some weird way or do some sort of hand greeting, but with me they always go in for a hug, always.”
She’s continuously defending her job title and fighting off labels such as the “merch girl,” or band girlfriend, which people just assume she is when she walks into the venue simply because she is female. She’s even had instances where she’s having a lengthy discussion about sound, when all of a sudden she’s interrupted to ask when the sound tech is going to show up. “I would have to politely tell them that no, in fact, I’m the one in charge,” Ryan reveals with frustration.
“One time I was rolling my IEM [In Ear Monitors] cases onto stage and a loader asked if I needed help, I said ‘I’m good, thanks,’ and his response was, ‘doubt it.’ I was so taken aback by his bluntness—he just kind of said it as he walked away from me,” she explains, yet another tragic tale of sexism.
She explains that she’s forced to pick and choose her battles for her career; some moments she just can’t let fly by, with good reason, and others are just pure ignorance, and why waste your time fighting obliviousness?
“You try and just ignore it and let your job speak for itself,” she acknowledges. Her advice to girls trying to break into the industry is to give it your all and never give up. “Never stop! You have to work twice as hard, but know your worth—there is such a good community of people in this industry, it’s about getting better and finding your people.”
Alexandria Wood has a degree from American University in audio engineering and is the current sound technician for the popular Brooklyn music spot Baby’s All Right. She has also worked at other popular NYC venues such as the DIY spaces Shea Stadium and Backdrop Brooklyn, and Manhattan’s Arlene’s Grocery.
She also states that the inequality in the workspace is a constant flow. On the regular she’s dealing with instances such as men insisting on carrying her equipment even though she’s clearly stated over and over again that she can handle it. However, she confesses, or at least hopes, that most of the time it’s by accident on the male’s part.
“The biggest thing though, that I really really notice, is the greetings,” she tells BTRtoday. “A lot of the time the guys will go in and just give each other a handshake or high five in some weird way or do some sort of hand greeting, but with me they always go in for a hug, always.”
Though she and Ryan both deal with male ignorance persistently throughout their job, they both agree that the industry is changing and slowly becoming more open to women and minorities of all types.
“I’m definitely coming across them [women & other minorities] more often,” Wood states. “I see it extending especially with the younger generation, but I think we still have a ways to go.”
In fact, Wood is shocked that there aren’t more women in the industry. She explains that the job requires the stereotypical skills that society pushes on women like being nurturing and organized. “They [the artists] come into a venue and they’re discombobulated, because they’ve been in the car for like five hours or they forgot to pee or something, and you just have to be their therapist in a lot of ways,” Wood describes. “I always light candles for musicians in studios and stuff to make them comfortable.”
She advises future female audio technicians to not let intimidation get the best of them. “It’s actually very much a benefit being a woman sound engineer,” Wood declares. “A lot of the job is something society already trains us to do with our lives anyways.”
So you heard it ladies, get your gear and ears ready, because you’re about to take over the industry of sound techs!