Soundboards can seem intimidating to many people who are less familiar with the world of audio tech. We’re used to watching sound technicians, often male, sitting alone in their booths at the back of a music venue, their fast hands sliding over the many complicated-looking dials and buttons of the soundboard like a wizard waving his hands over a crystal ball. We have no idea what these mysterious buttons do or what the sound tech is doing, but somehow, like magic, he manages to coax out the right sounds, making the band sound great.
This shadowy world can seem particularly intimidating to women. Many prominent female figures have complained about sexism in the music industry, where even highly knowledgeable music producers like Grimes have their technical skills underestimated. The audio technician profession in particular tends to be a male-dominated one.
In recognition of the gender imbalance in the audio tech world, the City of Ottawa is now offering women a chance to get introductory hands-on training in sound reinforcement through their DIY Audio Tech Workshop for Women. Co-presented by the City’s Community Arts + Social Engagement department, Capital Rehearsal Studios, House of Common and SoundGirls.org, the workshop is open to anyone that identifies as a woman. It’s aimed at promoters, musicians, DJs and aspiring sound technicians, and teaches how to set up a basic PA, how to troubleshoot common problems, how to read stage plots and evaluate tech demands, and using common terminology.
As an indie musician, I was one of those women intimidated by bad experiences with rude sound techs, so I signed up for a previous session of this workshop. My rationale was that by empowering myself with new skills and knowledge, I could learn how to better communicate my technical needs to sound techs at my band’s shows, and, to be better equipped for those shows where we had to run sound ourselves.
The other participants attending the workshop were from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them were musicians in indie bands; some did not play music at all but were involved in the music community in other ways. One person was from a choir and another person was involved in theatre.
The workshop started off at Capital Rehearsal Studios, where the instructor walked us through the basic parts of a soundboard. We each got a chance to set up a PA system on our own, and learned how to troubleshoot problems that occurred. Eventually the workshop’s location moved to the nearby music venue House of Common, where we got to do a sound check with actual musicians. I’ve done dozens of soundchecks before, but always from the stage side, as the musician. It was an interesting experience to now get the perspective from the other side of the soundboard. And it was an amazing moment, when all of those dials, buttons, and faders suddenly made sense to me.
What I really liked about my experience with the workshop was the sense of confidence it gave me. Now I could actually understand a lot of what nerdy audiophiles talk about. And for the things I don’t understand, I learned that it’s not embarrassing to say in a straightforward manner that I am not familiar with that particular term or tool, and would like to learn what it is.
I found the environment of the workshop to be very welcoming, friendly, and non-judgmental. When I asked a basic question during the workshop, apologizing that it was probably a stupid question, the instructor Maxime Brunet was very firm when she assured me, “There are no stupid questions here.” Maxime herself is a fantastic sound tech with years of experience whom I’ve worked with previously as a musician. More importantly, she does an exemplary job of teaching the basics of audio – breaking it down simply enough for a beginner to understand, while remaining respectful enough to never be condescending.
All this to say: if you are one of those women that I described, a little intimidated by the sound tech world but secretly wanting to become more familiar with it in a safe space, I highly recommend signing up for this workshop. Spaces fill up quickly, and there are usually waiting lists.
The next DIY Audio Tech Workshop for Women is on June 12, 2016 from 10:00am – 6:00pm, at Capital Rehearsal Studios (250 City Centre Ave, Unit #202) and House of Common (11b Fairmont Avenue). You can register for the course either online (course barcode 1065518), in person at any City of Ottawa recreation facility or Client Service Centre, or by phone 613-580-2588. Cost is $20. Subsidies are available – contact Karen.Balcome@ottawa.ca.