Ever wonder where all the female audio engineers are?
They’re on SoundGirls.Org.
Of course, that’s not the only place they are. Women do account for approximately five percent of audio and music production professionals, so they are indeed out there behind consoles and monitors. But in 2013, veteran live sound engineers Karrie Keyes and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato got so tired of hearing people say, “Wow, I’ve never seen a female audio engineer—do other women do this?” that they started a website just to find each other.
Find each other they did. Just four years after it began, SoundGirls.Org has blossomed into a network 3,000 members and 10 international chapters strong. The organization maintains online forums for industry Q&A; organizes studio tours, workshops, and internships; and hosts Live Sound Camps for Girls—week-long programs for teens who want to learn about live music production. There’s one coming up in Brooklyn next month: August 14 through August 18 at The Paper Box.
One important initial clarification about these camps: they’re not just for girls. They’re open to boys, too, and to gender nonconforming teens. SoundGirls.Org works to support women working in professional audio and music production, but it’s not an exclusive organization. As Keyes puts it, “We’ve been excluded our whole careers; why would we exclude others now?”
Keyes knows whereof she speaks. She got her start in the music industry at age 18, when a sound engineer she met at a Black Flag show offered her a job. She’s since worked with Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Neil Young. She spent ten years as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ monitor engineer. And since 1991 (yes, over 25 years), she’s been the monitor engineer for Pearl Jam, mixing the sound each band member hears through their earbuds and speakers when they’re playing live. Through it all, Keyes faced the many challenges of working in a male dominated field, balancing life on the road with raising a family, and only rarely enjoying the comfort of female comrades.
Happily, as society slowly evolves, and groups like SoundGirls.Org gain steam, those hardships are softening. “I’m sure at our 10-year anniversary, we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow,’” Keyes says. “Really, we already look back and say that, after just four years. In 2017, you can Google ‘women audio engineers’ and actually find some! It’s not so discouraging anymore for young women who are interested in going into this line of work.”
For young people keen to learn more about the world of audio and music production, SoundGirls.Org’s camps provide a rare opportunity to get hands-on experience with gear, work directly with industry pros, and start networking early. Next month’s camp will feature a recording basics workshop with SoundGirls.Org member Fela Davis, a recording engineer and co-owner of 23db Productions who does live sound for Grammy-winning jazz bassist Christian McBride. (Small world alert: Davis was also Paper Box’s head audio engineer for several years.) Attendees will also get to learn about podcasting with Larry Milburn of Roadie Free Radio, and a couple of local bands (TBA) will play sets that the teens will mix live. Attendance will be limited to around 25 to give everyone enough individual attention and lots of hands-on time with the gear.
The camp takes place from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm each of the five days, and costs $200 for the week. Scholarships are also available, and offered on a sliding scale up to 75 percent of the fee.
With so much to love about SoundGirls.Org’s Live Sound Camps for Girls, what’s Keyes’s favorite part? “The second day, when the intros are over and they get their hands on the gear,” she says. “Seeing them turn on a sound system and make it loud; seeing the smiles on their faces—that’s the best part. They’ll leave the camp and never be intimidated by equipment again. Even if they don’t pursue anything in music, that feeling will serve them well throughout their lives. That feeling of, ‘I can do this.’”
Tell all the awesome teens you know about SoundGirls.Org’s Live Sound Camp for Girls, taking place at The Paper Box, 17 Meadow Street, from August 14 through 18, 2017. If you have audio chops and are interested in volunteering, drop a line. In any case, you can support SoundGirls.Org’s excellent work by making a donation.