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SoundGirls: Supporting and Mentoring Women in Professional Audio

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NPR listeners might recognize the name Karrie Keyes from the Weekend Edition story of a few weeks ago.  Karrie, who has been Pearl Jam’s audio engineer for the past 24 years, is one of the founders of SoundGirls, an organization dedicated to supporting and mentoring women in professional audio. We asked Karrie to answer a few questions about the organization:

How did SoundGirls come about?

SoundGirls.Org was formed in 2013 by veteran live sound engineers Karrie Keyes and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato and operates under the Fiscal Sponsorship of The Northern California Women’s Music Festival, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

In 2012, Karrie and Michelle participated in the “Women of Professional Concert Sound” panel at the AES Conference in San Francisco. The panel was hosted by the Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) and moderated by WAM founder Terri Winston. Terri brought together five women working in live and broadcast audio. The groundbreaking panel (which also included Jeri Palumbo, Claudia Engelhart and Deanne Franklin), provided young women and men a glimpse into life on the road, tips and advice, and a Q & A with the panelists. More importantly though, was how incredibly powerful the experience was for the panelists. We had all been in the business for 20 years or more, yet most of us had never met before that day and within minutes we bonded like long lost sisters. We were struck by how similar our experiences, work ethics, and passions were and wondered why our paths had never crossed and how our careers would have been different had we been there to support each other through the years. Each of us are strong on our own, but together we were even stronger and a powerful force. We were empowered. Each of us had been asked hundreds of times in our careers: Are there other women doing sound? How did you get into sound? How would a young woman go about getting into sound?

Through creating SoundGirls.Org, we hope to establish a place for women working in professional audio to come for support and advice, to share our success and failures, our joys and frustrations, and for empowerment and inspiration. While our focus is mainly live sound, women from all areas of professional audio are welcome.

Tell us about the process for becoming a SoundGirl. What qualifies you? What commitment is demanded? What are the benefits?

SoundGirls.Org is free.  It is easy to become a member – just sign up on the website! The only qualification is a desire to learn and share advice about professional audio in a safe community. We welcome all genders and non-conforming genders.

SoundGirls isn’t just for girls. Can you talk about how you came to that decision?

Audio is a male dominated field – You will work with men 100% of the time – (except the rare occasion of an all female festival). Audio needs to be diverse – the issues women face are the same ones that people of color face and the LGBTQ community faces. We need an inclusive and safe place to share, support and mentor everyone that is interested in pursuing audio. While we focus on women in audio, we would never dream of making this an exclusive space. Our membership is about 65% women and 35% men. We try to cover all aspects of audio – with a focus on Live Sound and Live Events

What are the most exciting areas in audio… RF, VR, cinema, gaming, live theatre/music?  

That depends on the person.  Some love to be in a studio. Some love to do editing and others love looking for that special sound effect.  I advise people to explore the different jobs – you usually know what fits for you.

Is the technical training in place to help talented, interested future audio pros in careers?

There are wonderful programs – some are extremely expensive and on the other end there are great programs at community colleges. We try and help people find the best programs to suit them and their financial needs. We believe that hands on learning and internships are needed, as so much is learned by doing it.

I encourage anyone interested to visit our website – we have a detailed resource page and many talented women willing to mentor or help out.

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