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Special Interview: Barb Adams of SoundGirls on Women in Audio

SoundGirls’ Philadelphia chapter president Barb Adams

Check out the SoundGirls.Org website’s About Us page and you’ll see their unofficial mantra: “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See.” Founded in 2013, it’s the organization’s mission to “inspire and empower the next generation of women in audio” by shining a light on women who are doing it and living it, every single day. SoundGirls is dedicated to fostering community among women in the industry and their supporters and to providing tools, knowledge, and assistance to those who are actively building careers in audio, sound, and music production.   We recently connected with educator, live sound engineer and SoundGirls’ Philadelphia chapter president Barb Adams, to discuss how we can get more women in audio and to garner some helpful advice on how to best show support for women in the field.   Do you get asked what it’s like to be a woman in the industry all the time? Other women in audio have told us it’s often the first topic that comes up.   “It’s not usually the first topic of conversation…but I remember I was doing a festival, one that I still work today, actually, and there was a guy who was with one of the bands playing the festival, and he was very interested in women in audio, I think, in a positive way. But he was sort of annoying at it. It was sort of like this, ‘It’s really awesome that you’re a girl’ I was just really off put by it. He was pushing it to the point where I was just like, ‘You know what, I’m an engineer just like you. Stop trying to box me into this other thing.’ But that’s what it felt like to me at the time. I think his intentions were good. It just didn’t come across that way.”   Sometimes people don’t even realize they’re conditioned to expect the engineer to be male. It’s hardwired behavior.   “Most of the bands that come through the venues I work at, they know me. But occasionally I get these bands that I’ve never worked with before. So this one particular one, I’m on stage with five XLRs in one hand and some microphones in another, and the band walks up on stage and [one of them] was like, ‘Hey, can you point us to the sound engineer for today?’ And literally my eyes were just like, really? Hello? Mics, cables? And I’m like, ‘Hi, I’m Barb. I’m your sound engineer.’ And they were completely embarrassed. They knew their mistake right away, but it was just like one of those things, like they don’t expect to see a woman engineer. They have this disassociation, almost. They saw me on stage and they’re like, ‘She can’t be the engineer. So let me ask her where the engineer is.’ So I get that a lot…   [Nevertheless]I feel like there’s more [women] now than there were when I was coming up. I’m seeing a lot more out on tours, even just coming through venues, but it’s still a very small percentage.” (Check out SoundGirls.Org’s 1st of the 5% posts on Instagram.)   How can we get girls and young women interested in audio earlier in life? Do you think it’s something that maybe we should bring into the music curriculum in junior high?   “Absolutely, and I do that myself. With SoundGirls, I teach at one of their live sound camps for girls. I also do another very similar camp with the university I work at for high school students …The few girls that are in those camps have caught the bug already.   I didn’t discover this until I was in high school. I was not a musician. I knew nobody in the business. It was literally just a fascination. I knew I wanted to work with music, but I didn’t want to be an artist. And I really didn’t want to be in radio. So I was kind of researching it and was like, ‘Music production, what’s that?’ And I ended up going to school for it, because I’m just not good jumping into something that I don’t know. And I was shy and timid and thought I wasn’t going to get far.”   For those who are getting into a mentorship based program and find they’re the only woman in the studio, what’s your advice? Should they just become one of the guys and hang in there?   “I want to say yes, as bad as that sounds…I mean, it’s the same with any job. If you’re passionate about what you do and you really want to learn it, it doesn’t matter what obstacles get put in your path. You’re going to find a way to get through them. I think some things are easier than others, but persevere. And maybe that’s being a mom, too, like I’m trying to teach my son right now: it’s so easy to give up but you don’t get anywhere doing that.”     
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