Women in Sound

Posted by on April 2, 2009 in Women in sound | 3 comments

Today a student writing a dissertation sent me a list of questions about my job. I found answering them quite thought provoking so I thought I’d post the questions along with my answers here.

She asked a lot about being a woman in the industry and I have to say it’s not something I often have cause to think about. I hope it’s a debate that is becoming irrelevant. Anyway, if you want to know about my experience, read the Q&As below.

I’d be interested to hear what others think (men and women).

1.) How did you get into the Industry?

I took a couple of courses including the BA Communication and Media Production at Bournemouth Uni. Then I freelanced in the community and corporate side of TV production for a while until I got a few broadcast jobs

2.) Were you always interested in the sound aspect of the industry?

Yes, but I was initially interested in the picture and directing side too. It wasn’t until I was at college and had the chance to do some proper sound recording on lots of different projects that I got interested in doing it as a job in itself.

3.) With 17 years experience you must have definitely recorded all sorts of sounds. Is there any recording that stands out for some reason. Whether it was because it was funny/easy/difficult?

I recorded a circumcision of two young girls in Kenya. It still haunts me.

4.) What made you decide to go into freelance?

I complete lack of staff jobs, particularly for new entrants in 1990 when I left college.

5.) Since the cutbacks have been made in the TV Industry, have you noticed a difference in the amount of work you have received being freelance?

Which cutbacks! There have been continual cutbacks since I joined the industry. We are feeling the impact of the “credit crunch” now and it’s obvious production companies are feeling the pinch too.

6.) Have you had to update a lot of your technical gear in order to keep updated with the bigger companies equipment?

Sound gear doesn’t tend to date and go obsolete as quickly as the camera gear does. Saying that I have in the last year of so sold two DAT machines and bought a hard drive recorder and a flash recorder so we are moving onto tapeless technology as far as sound is concerned.

The other main pressure on equipment at the moment is the withdrawal of the channel 69 radio mic frequencies in 2012 which will mean that we are all going to have to replace all our radio mic equipment.

7.) From the beginning of your career, have you ever received prejudiced views towards the way in which people see you; as in your a female that works in the sound industry and this is rather rare.

That’s a difficult one to answer. I’ve found 99.9% of the people I’ve actually worked with to be very accepting. Maybe there are those who would be prejudiced but they most likely choose not to work with me – I rarely get to hear about that so I wouldn’t know how often that happens. I get the feeling that happens less often nowadays than when I first started. There’s a lot of women training at the National Film School and coming into the industry at the moment so things are changing.

Other crew and production staff have expressed surprise at me doing the job but that’s not necessarily prejudice, that’s become voiced less often over the years as well.

When I rang a big and very well known television equipment supplier sometime in the early 90′s and asked about microphones. They treated my like an idiot, had never heard of the Schoeps mic I was asking about and told me “Everyone uses Shiner mics”. “Everyone? Shiner?” I asked, I’d never heard of them. I felt like a right moron. I’d been trained for 5 years worked in the industry for a couple and never heard of these Shiner mics that EVERYONE was using. He said “I’ll send you a brochure and if you want to know about microphones ask a sound man”. Two days later the brochure arrived for “Sennheiser”microphones, yes a lot of people use them but certainly not everyone, it’s not pronounced anything like “Shiner” and I am a soundman! Well sort of. I was furious for days. That company has since gone one of business and I’m still here so I guess I’ve had the last laugh so far.

8.) Do you think that more women are beginning to believe that at last women are being accepted into the television industry and especially those of the engineering

I really don’t know. I hope so, I hope they have believed it for some time. I never really thought about that as a reason not to do it. It’s never bothered me at all that I mainly work with men but it’s nice to see more women coming into the industry on the technical side.

9.) Do you think that the audio part of the industry isn’t filled with women because they think they don’t have a chance at getting a job, or is it because they’re simply not interested?

Saying you haven’t got into the industry because of other peoples prejudice is a neat way of shifting the blame isn’t it? I’m not saying that prejudice doesn’t exist but neither am I arrogant enough to think that I managed to get into the industry because I am some kind of amazing person, so it must be possible. It can be a hard industry to get into anyway whoever you are.

My job can be quite physical and maybe some women (and equally some men) don’t want to stand in a muddy field in the rain with a mixer round their neck and holding a pole with a weight on the end over their head….

10.) Do you personally think there is still a lot of stereotypes held within todays sound/audio society?

I don’t know about sound in particular but in TV production yes. I’ve had male sound recordists moan at me when I get jobs because they have asked for “a women on the crew” or “a sympathetic crew”. It’s sometimes for a valid reason but sometimes it’s because it’s about babies or children, emotional or some such. The guys say to me “but we are sympathetic, we are dads, we know about kids and we know about emotions, you don’t have kids, what do you have to qualify you for that job that we don’t?” While I’m sure there has been lots of discrimination the other way round in the past that does not take away from the fact that they have a point, don’t they?

I stamp on the use of the job description “soundman” wherever I see it. I used not to mind it but now I feel it just perpetuates the myth that this is a job that is always done my men. On reflection I don’t think it’s even an acceptable term for male sound recordists to use for themselves and it should be stamped out. There are plenty of non gender specific job descriptions they can use. Replacing the term “Cameraman” is more difficult as I accept Camerperson or Cameraman/woman is a bit clumsy but it has to go!

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3 Comments

  1. Great post Mary – a really interesting reply to some good questions. I thoroughly empathise with being freelance because of a complete lack of permanent sound jobs. There are obviously jobs out there, but they are hard to find, massively oversubscribed and rarely advertised.

    With regard to being a woman in the sound industry I studied on the sound course at the National Film & Television School where the course was equally balanced in terms of male and female students – 50/50. I know several female sound recordists, as well as numerous dubbing mixers and boom swingers. There is absolutely no reason for gender to affect the ability of a sound recordist, and I would expect that the majority of prejudice experienced by female sound recordists will be of a 'sound recordists are stubborn, grumpy, often anal and always complain about filming next to the road' nature, which all sound recordists get, and has nothing to do with your sex!

    I get around the gender issues of crew titles by replacing the word 'man' or 'woman' with 'op'…! sound op. camera op. People hate it as everyone has a particular preference of how they are credited, but it helps me avoid putting my foot in it.

    But it's good to see new recruits finding out as much as they can before they start out.

  2. Thanks Matthew. Yes, there are many more female sound recordists coming into the industry at the moment. Things are changing indeed.

  3. I’m a freelance sound recordist and female. For me, with my clientale I find it’s a bonus. Often working on a all male team it helps to have at least one female there for the people we film to talk to (if they aren’t comfortable with men). I find that often people won’t necessarily talk on camera to the producer but after a casual chat with me they are happy to open up. And that has to be one of the best parts of this industry, telling personal stories and doing it well.

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