Website and database connect the next generation of women in audio engineering.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up initiative, many executives have been ousted from their positions because of inappropriate use of power, as well as a push to narrow the gender wage gap. At the same time, there’s been a collective head scratching as industry leaders search for their female counterparts. This perceived dearth of female talent and experience in various fields is a harmful and false perception. 

There are women eager to take the reins—the female writers, producers, judges, musicians, and engineers; the women who will run studios, the lights, the courts, and the land itself. Yet the question of “Where are the women?” is being asked in place of a meaningful investigation of the field. It is also being weaponized against the fight for equal pay; women earn 83 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, and the pay rate for women of color can run as low as 58 cents on the dollar.

One organization fighting to close this cognitive and financial gap is SoundGirls, a website created by sound engineers Karrie Keyes and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato as a response to the lack of female representation in sound engineering and music production. The website is a resource for women who are just starting out, and provides access to internships, mentors, recommended reading and training, and in some cases to Keyes herself. SoundGirls also highlights and creates community among women already thriving in the field. One of SoundGirls’ greatest achievements is its EQL Directory, a global listing of female audio professionals by location and specialty that is cross-sponsored by Spotify. SoundGirls’ goal is to create a web of allies and information that will enable women to expand their reach and representation in an industry that seems to have ignored them.

While female audio professionals may indeed have a visibility problem, Keyes’ 27-year career defies expectation. Her impressive credits as a monitor engineer include tours with Pearl Jam, Social Distortion, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Fugazi, among others. Keyes got her start when she went to a Black Flag concert and managed to talk one of the roadies into showing her the ropes. Keyes never looked back. 

Much of the philosophy behind the SoundGirls community centers on neural mirroring or, more simply put, “You have to see it to believe it.” To this end, the website features monthly profiles about inspiring SoundGirls past and the present. Did you know, for instance, that the first person to ever record Elvis Presley was a woman named Marion Keisker, who taped The King on July 18, 1953?  

“[Women] are not aware that there are these jobs in audio and are not encouraged to pursue them,” Keyes said. “They do not have role models—that is one of the reasons we run a feature profile on women in audio each month.”

“So when young women and girls are searching for women sound engineers, etc., they see that there are numerous talented women.”

Part of the reason that female visibility is a problem in the audio industry is that the numbers are so skewed towards men. Willa Snow works and lives in Austin, and has been a SoundGirls member since 2013. 

“I was interning for a radio show at the time and had started to gain some interest in audio production. On a curious lark, I opened up Google and searched for female producers and discovered that women make up less than 5 percent of the industry. I decided that I didn’t like the number and made a conscious switch from musicianship to production right then and there,” she said.

“SoundGirls is a great resource of knowledge and support, both technical and otherwise. I’ve found some deep friendships and mentors through this organization, and am always encouraging people to join the community,” Snow continued. 

Keyes said that women were not aware that jobs in sound engineering and music production were available to them. This was reaffirmed by Lisett Tapia, one of Karrie Keyes’ mentees.

“I became interested in sound engineering through my love for music. I have always been fascinated with music and sound as a kid and I knew I wanted to do something that involved music when I was older,” Tapia said. “I actually didn’t even know sound engineering could be a career until high school when I was applying for colleges. My high school guitar teacher told me about careers that involved audio engineering like mixing and recording.”

The SoundGirls community has grown to include an international following, with branches of mentorship all over the world that empower future and present female audio engineers. They even have a section of the site with resources on sexual harassment—a sad but necessary reality for women in many male-dominated professions. 

The SoundGirls website has thrived off of a strong word of mouth and social media presence. Tapia discovered them through a Facebook group and now mentors alongsideKeyes. New Zealand-based monitor engineer and sound designer Gilli Craig said she discovered the website through her husband, who encouraged her to join. Craig is part of the SoundGirls network as a mentor and also tours with the Pink Floyd Tribute Experience and the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. Her career path has been influenced by her mentors.

“I had three informal mentors, guys who I felt I could ask anything, no question [was] too stupid! I still ask them questions… Recently, one of these gentlemen came to a show I mixed and said it sounded great! One of the best compliments ever,” she said.

Craig reinforced how important it is to have strong mentors allies—both men and women—as you build your career. Keyes noted that a lack of mentorship and partnership inhibit work-life balance, which is a problem specific to the audio field but universal in practice.

“If [women] make it through school and start applying for jobs, they are often met with bias, whether conscious or unconscious. So it is difficult to find job opportunities.” Keyes said. “After getting a job, they often plateau and are not given the same chances and opportunities to advance.

“Audio work is long hours and weird schedules. It makes it difficult to start or have a family. Until society changes how they view women and men at work, it makes it hard. Women need a support network within their families and communities; partners that are willing to step up,” she added.

The work that Karrie Keyes and her collaborators have done on the SoundGirls platform has brought together many potential solutions to the problem of the 5 percent. SoundGirls has attacked this issue directly through mentorship, connection, and a pooling of collective resources, shining a light on a significant part of the music industry. Hopefully, the industry will take notice and shift their hiring practices—and perhaps enable more SoundGirls to spearhead hiring.

Charlotte Miller is a Los Angeles-based playwright/screenwriter. She spent 15 years in New York working in downtown theater. Selected credits include Thieves (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater), Raising Jo (Theater Row), Worst Year Ever (NYC Fringe Fest), Ugly Little Sister (NYU Clifford Odets Commission), among others. She has been nominated for the Playwrights of New York Fellowship, The Peoples Light New Play Initiative, The Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award, and has been a finalist for Juilliard, the Women’s Project, Seven Devils, and Ojai. Her pilot, Reservoir, is currently a semi-finalist for the Sundance Episodic Lab.