Audio Unicorns

Working along side a talented monitor engineer at Royal Festival Hall for Jerry Dammers The Spatial AKA Orchestra… a mixture of large and complicated music sections, many musicians and a semi theatre set up, it’s a tough gig! The woman in control of the complicated sound onstage, was doing a fantastic job, assuring and asserting the band. It also sounded fantastic, even Jerry was smiling and he’s hard pleased.

Although this took place a few years ago, I still like to learn all I can and still regularly discuss with other audio engineers their tour stories and the artists they are currently working with. I asked about her audio career and the usual how did you become successful at the craft? She mentioned 25 years back she was most definitely one of the very few female sound engineers working in the UK and indeed worldwide. “It was not an easy road even for a competent engineer” she had to excel and fight hard for the trust and a piece of the action, very much in a male dominated industry.

Starting out in Manchester and fresh from college, I too had to get out and get the experience under my belt. Manchester luckily had a thriving live music and theatre scene. I managed to get a job as a theatre usher at the famed Palace Theatre. With performances by Noel Coward, Judy Garland, Laurel and Hardy, even Rolling Stones playing a run of sold out gigs there, I felt in good company.

After selling what seems like a mountain of interval ice creams, I slowly began forging a bond with the backstage technical crew until I some how managed to fill in on a few shows for a sick assistant sound technician, cool my first ever sound job! It didn’t last, he was back on duty for the next weeks shows, but it helped me decide what I should be doing, I loved it and wanted more. I hung out around the theatre, working a bit longer there but nothing else came of more sound work and it was a huge amount of time before any did.

I was just turning 18 and expected to find a job. I remember searching for what felt like forever to get any work remotely sound related and getting fed up. I was skint, most of my friends at the time had decided to get IT jobs or to follow in their parents footsteps, which I tried but the work did not fit with me. I fell into working at Dry Bar in the Northern Quarter as a barman but on the verge of packing it in and planning to go on a long travel period. The job was fine, the gigs were cool, I got to see Oasis play, Blur, The Fall, Suede, i’d go and sneak drinks to the sound engineers just to say hello. They were mostly decent local based engineers. I must have shown my keenness to learn as I was asked by an engineer if I wanted to help assist at a gig the following week.. a female engineer and a great sound technician.

Over the course of a year she taught me so much, I literally had to start from scratch and she taught me with patience and without any hint of patronising guff. I finally got good. She was destined for bigger things and I took over her spot at the small but notable Night & Day Cafe which led to all sorts of other local sound gigs to cut my teeth on, some bad, some good, at The Ritz, Band On the Wall, The Manchester Academy, even working with Buena Vista Social Club at Manchester’s Bridge Water Hall, home to the Halle Orchestra.

When I finally made it round to university to study sound and broadcast, my incredible live sound tutor was again female. She gave me the extra confidence and well earned knowledge to prompt a move out to London to pursue my passion and for that I’ll always be grateful. Without meeting the so called unicorns of the audio industry, I guarantee I would not be doing what I love and getting paid to do it! In a nice turn of events, I’ve recently agreed to take on an intern, a passionate but slightly green trainee audio engineer from outside of the U.K, with the hope of returning some of the favour back to her.

The musician Laura Marling wrote an article Reversal Of The Muse, trying to ask the right questions to various women in the music and sound industry to which the results are available as podcasts. So far, she has spoken to Vanessa Parr in-house engineer at Village Studios in LA, Grammy winning sound engineer Trina Shoemaker and Mandy Parnell (Aphex Twin, Bjork, Brian Eno), she asked, why still are talented and experienced women often depicted as “the muse” and rarely as the creator? Marling set out to explore how female creativity works in practice: “Reversing the muse means taking away the subjugating role of being the object,”

Laura mentions many interesting observations about the idea of being a muse and what it does to you, especially as a creative artist.

Reversal Of The Muse with Laura Marling

Also recently the sound world lost a figure head in the audio recording field with the death of Wilma Cozart Fine, age 82. Ms. Fine recorded and produced for the infamous Mercury Records Label – the 1812 Overture, a sonic masterpiece featuring the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra featuring real cannons and huge bells, became the first classical album to sell more than one million copies.. that was in the 1950’s!

Great interview with Wilma and The Grammy Recording Academy.

Interview with Wilma Cozart Fine, female recording pioneer