SoundGirls.org Summer Camps Expand

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Features
Karrie Keyes, current FOH engineer (at left) with future engineers in St. Louis.
Karrie Keyes, current FOH engineer (at left) with future engineers in St. Louis.

It’s 2:30 p.m. on a Friday, a show day at the 750-person capacity concert venue known as Delmar Hall in St. Louis, MO, and the girls and young women are properly dressed in roadie black. It is their last day of a camp that had them run the gauntlet of everything it takes to make a concert happen.

Karrie Keyes, second from right, preps campers for a show.

In a few hours, there will be a sound check prior to four bands taking the stage that night, and between now and when the last mic cable is coiled away, the girls will have put their training to work doing everything from line testing to riding faders at FOH. But right now, Karrie Keyes (pictured above, at left) is pausing to remind them again of the basics: Don’t leave bottles of water on the stage; monitor world is cramped, so be careful there; no drinks by the mixing console; and, of course, “If you want to work in this business, you have to be on time. An 8 o’clock call means you’re in position no later than 7:45, and probably sooner.”

And then, without the ceremonial airs it potentially warranted, the All Access Wrist Bands were distributed and attached. It’s Keyes’ hope that it’s not for the last time. See, it’s a generally accepted statistic that women make up about five percent of the audio engineering industry. These camps are looking to change that by getting more women behind the board and angling mics.

“We were approached three summers ago about obtaining certification for audio, as the California Women’s Music Festival wanted a program that their volunteers could go through and then be able to run sound for the shows,” explains Keyes. “So we launched a pilot program, and it has since evolved into a week-long program for teens.”

The mission for the five-day camps is simple: Inspire and empower young women to enter the world of professional audio and music production. Keyes knows, because she herself is a five-percenter — that’s why the longtime monitor engineer for Pearl Jam/Eddie Vedder co-founded SoundGirls.org in 2013. The 501(c) nonprofit is dedicated to supporting women working in professional audio, and now getting more of them in the business.

Campers put their all access wrist bands on.

‡‡         Empowering Through Camps

Last year, they launched the camps, and the success of that led to an expanded version this year, with camps in Nevada City, CA (Miner’s Foundry, June 26-30), St. Louis (Delmar Hall, with beginner and intermediate camps from July 10-14 and July 17-21), Philadelphia (World Café Live, July 24-28) and Brooklyn, NY (The Paper Box, Aug. 14-18).

The camps are for girls and young women ages 12 to 18. The mission is to “empower young women in underserved communities by giving them hands-on training, access to technology, life skills, and confidence.”

More than 70 percent of the girls attending receive scholarships, thanks to an impressive collection of sponsors including Jerry Harvey Audio, Sennheiser, Smaart, Ultimate Ears, Custom In-Ears, Ableton, Audix Microphones, Avid and Allen & Heath, among others.

Where and when they put on these camps does depend on access to equipment, venues and volunteers. SoundGirls.org co-director Tiffany Hendren is from St. Louis, and currently head audio tech of Delmar Hall. She had a big hand in developing and teaching the program for this camp location. (And as soon as this July evening was over, she would be heading out to support shows for Australian singer/songwriter Betty Who.)

“Owner/managing partner Pat Hagin and coworkers have been amazing supporters of SoundGirls,” says Hendren. Hagin arranged for them to use the space for two weeks, and Delmar Hall marketing/PR associate Jesse Raya helped with other matters, including getting lunch donations from the local eateries. LD Courtney Zahner and PM Angela Dirks also volunteered. Working in Delmar Hall allowed them to work with top gear, including a Midas PRO2 console and a VUE Audiotechnik line array system. (See "Gear for the Girls," below).

The concert Hall was equipment with a VUE line array system.

‡‡         A Flexible Approach

Keyes notes that SoundGirls.org’s summer programs are set up to be flexible and can be “easily changed, depending on resources in each city. And all the camps so far this year have gone really well — everyone leaves tired, but energized.”

“The flexibility of the programming allows us to give the girls the best experience,” Hendren adds. “The first two days are usually audio basics and lots of hands-on activities. By the third day, we know who’s interested in live sound, who wants to learn about recording, and who just wants to play their instrument. Then we evaluate and adjust accordingly.

“We’re also able to gauge experience and skill levels and teach different or more advanced concepts based on what they already know and how fast they’re picking up new things,” Hendren adds. “This year, we were also able to incorporate some training on lighting, and a few of the girls thoroughly enjoyed it and took to it really well.”

The camps cover a diverse array of show-related topics, including live event safety; stage and audio terminology; signal flow, set up, and wire PA systems; input lists and stage plots; mics and wiring; sound checks and mixing; and running and working a real show.

Last year’s camp in St. Louis “had a wait list to get in, so we decided to do two camps this year,” Keyes says. “Almost all of the girls in the intermediate program returned from 2016, and we were happy to hear most of them were working sound in their school’s theater departments and churches.”

“I love going to concerts and I love live music, so I loved the opportunity to learn what went into making everything at a concert possible,” says camper Elle Malacarne, who was one of those who first went to the camp last summer and returned to the intermediate week this year. “When I first started learning about the engineering part of sound, I really started to appreciate the work that goes into making the whole show happen. And before I got this opportunity, I was terrified of the knobs and buttons on a soundboard, but it was a surprise when I learned that they basically do the same things and that process was really as simple as it was.”

Soundgirls group shot

Last year, they had 75 girls participate total for the whole summer, and this year that number hit 90. They will continue to explore different possibilities to expand the program further — for example, for the camp that SoundGirls.org will be doing in Los Angeles during winter break, they hope to break into two sessions, one for girls aged 10-15 and another for ages 16 and older. And they are already working on 2018 programs. (If you would like to get involved for 2018 please contact them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., as they are always looking for more sponsors, volunteers, and resources.)

“I wish something like this had been around when I was a teenager,” Hendren says. “I knew this was what I wanted to do at 15, but didn’t really see a path to it. The few people in the industry I’d met weren’t encouraging. It took way too many years for me to get into audio, and I regret not being able to do it sooner. But I also feel like I was lucky to have gotten the opportunity at all — [Hagin] took a chance giving me a job that I wasn’t even sure I could handle. So I try to pay that forward whenever I can.”

“I met so many girls who share the same love of music and appreciation for what goes into it all,” adds Malacarne. “The thought that the number of women in this field is so low really surprises me. Music is something that is for everybody, and it’s something that brings people together like nothing else. The thought that the work put into making it possible isn’t just as balanced isn’t something I ever thought of.”

Meanwhile, back at the Hall, it’s now 3 p.m. and the girls are meandering around. I ask Keyes what the girls are doing next. She shrugs and says, “They are sitting around for a while, waiting for the band — you know, like real-life roadies!” True dat.

 The Midas PRO2 console at FOH

Gear for the Girls

Here’s a look at the gear that the girls in St. Louis had a chance to use during the beginner and intermediate summer camps that ran from July 10-14 and July 17-21 at Delmar Hall:

FOH

  • Console: Midas PRO2
  • Speakers: (6) VUE Audiotechnik al-8; (4) al-4, (5) as-418 subs (w/ quad 18” woofers)
  • Amps: (8) VUE Audiotechnik V6, (2) V4

MON

  • Speakers: VUE Audiotechnik a-12, a-15; one al-8 sub for the Drum Sub

 

SoundGirls Camp Supporters Speak Out

“The Live Sound Camp for Girls is important because it shows girls and young woman that the very real opportunity exists for them to be a change agent in live sound. They can do anything they have a passion to do, but it’s hard to be what you can’t see. SoundGirls makes this possible, and the camp is a hugely important component. Sennheiser is committed to diversity and understands that our strength in the industry is driven by diversity, creativity, education, and inclusion. We are proud to be a sponsor — SoundGirls rocks!Dawn Bir, Sennheiser

“Jerry Harvey Audio is a steadfast supporter of these live sound camps for young women. In the last 10 years, we have seen more women filling the key roles of FOH and ME on major tours from James Taylor to Pearl Jam, and the industry is better for it. In fact, our new Nashville office is run by Charity Lomax, an ex-touring sound professional and Full Sail Hall of Fame member…Women bring a unique perspective to live sound and anything that gives young women the entry in to the world of live sound can only be a win/win for our industry.” Andy Regan, President of Jerry Harvey Audio

“The Live Sound Camp for Girls is such a unique program that not only gives young women real-world, hands-on training, but also gives them the confidence to explore a career in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. We chose to become a sponsor of the program because education is a big part of Rational Acoustics’ mission as well, and we felt it was a great opportunity to help train the next generation of audio engineers from the ground up. And from a personal perspective, I am happy to support any efforts to bring more women into our industry, so I knew from the second that Karrie mentioned it that we would be involved one way or another.” Karen Anderson, COO of Rational Acoustics/Smaart

 

WAM participants in Oakland, CA

SoundGirls.org and WAM Continue to Grow

The Women’s Audio Mission (WAM, womensaudiomission.org), like SoundGirls.org, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in music production, but with a focus on the recording side of the business. The nonprofit operates the only professional recording studio in the world built and run by women, and WAM also offers free after-school training and mentoring to thousands of women and girls each year, with a focus on paving the way not just for girls and young women, but with an emphasis on socioeconomic diversity as well.

WAM founder Terri Winston hosted the 2012 AES Convention panel discussion, “The Women of Professional Concert Sound,” where panelist Karrie Keyes and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato decided to launch SoundGirls.org. And like SoundGirls.org, WAM continues to grow. This year the organization announced the opening of a new training location in Oakland, CA.

Already, WAM trains more than 1,500 women and girls per year in creative technology and music/media production. The new facility, in Oakland, CA’s Fruitvale district (1900 Fruitvale Ave.), is situated within walking distance from several partner schools and accessible by public transportation from others. It has already garnered industry support from manufacturers including Audient, Mackie and others, and its first training programs were slated to begin this month.

 

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