This piece was written by freelancer Rachel Michaella Finn
From DJing and producing music, to working as a sound engineer in venues, studios or on tour with artists, to designing sound for film, TV and games, music technology can refer to a broad spectrum of jobs. This covers the areas where music and technology interact and can be a great starting point for careers in the wider music industry as a whole.
If you’re interested in music and are fascinated by the way we make, play and consume sounds, then a career in music tech might be for you. There’s a variety of roles available for those with a passion for music, technical skills and a drive to succeed in what can often be a challenging (but rewarding!) field.
But what’s it like working in music tech as a woman?
Despite music being listened to and gigs being attended by people of all genders, behind the scenes, the music industry still has a way to go before it achieves gender equality. Like many STEM-related fields, in music tech especially, the gender gap seems wider than others with one 2016 study suggesting that up to 90% of music technology undergraduates are male. Add that to a survey by the Music Producers Guild (MPG) last year estimating that just 6% of its members are women and the fact that no woman has ever won the Grammy for Producer of the Year in the non-classical category, it seems obvious the field is in need of a gender equality shake-up.
We spoke to two women already working in the field, sound engineer Annalisa Iembo and DJ Katie Farrow, to find out more about their career paths, what they love about their jobs and their advice for finding your way as a music tech professional.
You don’t necessarily need a qualification
If you’re sure music tech is the field for you, there’s a huge variety of courses and degrees you can take in the subject, but the good news is there’s plenty of routes into music tech jobs even without a qualification.
Annalisa, who currently works as a sound engineer across a few different London live music venues, was interested in a music career from an early age and moved from Italy to London to explore the different options open to her: “I learnt about all the different roles in the music industry by meeting the people who did them. It’s the only way to find out because there’s so many jobs that aren’t apparent to an audience member.”
After that, her break came when she was asked to be a sound engineer’s assistant on tour with an Australian band. “The whole touring thing was fascinating to me. When I got home after the tour, I met a really crucial person for me, the head sound engineer of the venues I currently work at. I started shadowing him for a few months and he basically taught me everything I know now and gave me a job.”
Katie studied English and Media at uni and has been DJing under her stage-name DJ Faro for three years, but stresses you can teach yourself the basics online. “I literally learnt off YouTube tutorials and picking it up along the way. I didn’t do any classes or mentoring sessions but they are definitely great and worth it if it’s something you’d like to get into.”
She DJs a few times a week, doing everything from commercial pub gigs to house and disco sets in clubs and bars, but there’s a fair amount of preparation needed between sets. “It involves a lot of work from home too like digging for tunes, making mixes, production… I do sort of regret not studying [music] because I know now that it’s 100% my career path, however you really don’t need to study it to be successful in it at all.”
You have a lot of career options.
From working as a sound engineer in music venues, which Annalisa does, to working as a producer in a studio, in theatres, on tour with artists or as a sound designer (for the music you hear in movies and adverts!), there’s huge scope for you to apply both your love of music and your skills with technology together.
It can also be a great starting point for other opportunities in the music industry. For Katie, she’s been able to combine her work as a DJ with work as an agent. As an agent, she works behind the scenes to get DJs booked into gigs, she organises tours and contracts and even gets involved with social media marketing. She’s also currently taking lessons in music production. “The music industry is so broad with a lot of opportunities…” she says. “I didn’t really think about being an agent until I saw a job advertisement, and now I love it and it compliments my DJing massively. I think if you have a large interest in music you can go into many things, like working for a record label, putting on events and promoting, management, teaching, journalism, PR… the list is endless really.”
The work can be challenging, but ultimately rewarding
As a live sound engineer, Annalisa’s job consists of setting the band up on stage, doing soundcheck, making sure they’re comfortable and getting their music to sound its best. Good sound can make or break an artist’s performance – so it’s a crucial role. “Every gig is a challenge and everything can go wrong any minute. I love the precariousness of it,” she says. “You meet so many people every day and get to see so many bands, discover loads of great new music and, in general, feeling like you’re actively part of something special.”
For Katie, her favourite parts of the job include “finding incredible tunes that you just can’t wait to play out, DJing out to an amazing crowd, meeting different people and going to different places…”, but as someone performing live to an audience, there can be moments of self-doubt. “Sometimes it can be a bit of a roller coaster emotionally, you can doubt yourself and lose belief sometimes. But you just need to find your identity and be true to yourself no matter what others may think.”
There are positive moves towards gender equality in the industry happening right now.
Despite the gender imbalance in the industry, things are changing and now is a great time to get involved. “When I started there was a huge lack of females but as time has gone by and the issue has been bought into the light, a lot more girls are on the scene and I just think it’s going to carry on rising,” Katie explains.
There’s a range of groups now in place aiming to address the gender imbalance, such as Rhythm Sister and SIREN, which offer DJ and production workshops to women, non-binary and LGBTQ+ artists. Plus, as Annalisa explains, “at this year’s Music Producer’s Guild Awards there were lots of women in tech who won for their mixing, mastering and producing engineer skills.”
“All the people I work with are really supportive and I’ve never been treated any differently cause I’m a woman,” Annalisa adds, “although I do sometimes get randomers at gigs telling me things like ‘you don’t look like a sound engineer… You look like you should be a florist’.”
..And last piece of wisdom from our brilliant women in tech…
“Just stay true to you!”
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