Live Sound Engineer Amanda Davis: Forging A Fearless Career Path

Amanda Davis is a force to be reckoned with. Just eight years out of audio school, she’s already racked up an impressive resume of live sound experience. She’s first-call FOH for Janelle Monae and Tegan and Sara; she’s mixed monitors for R. Kelly; she’s run sound for an entire Carnival Cruise ship; she’s been a music theory professor; and she has perfected the art of worship sound. All this, from someone who had started out planning to be a singer.

The Memphis native earned a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Performance at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts; she remained in Chicago for two years before realizing singing was not her calling. “I just didn’t want to sing anymore,” she says. “I had a friend who went to SAE in Atlanta. I still wanted to do music, minus the singing, and he was doing fairly well, so I visited the school and just took a leap of faith. I knew nothing about it; I just thought, I'll try this out.” She enrolled in the school’s nine-month Audio Technology program, which focused almost entirely on recording. “At that time, the curriculum had only four days of live sound.” Thanks to her music degree, she was able to eventually teach at the school, focusing on music theory.

After graduating, Davis was balancing her part-time teaching job with a few studio internships but needed a better way to keep up with the bills. “A classmate and good friend of mine was cold calling churches because we needed money,” she says. “He got a call back, and he just took me along for the interview. They ended up hiring both of us.” It was Davis’ introduction to live sound, and she was hooked. “When I started doing it, I was like, ‘What is this? I want to do this. Forget the studio.’”

Davis spent five years at the church before landing a cruise ship job—another crash course in learning by doing. “At the time, it was the best opportunity for me to grow and expand my knowledge, because on a cruise ship, which is what I learned when I got there, you're basically the only audio person on the entire ship,” she says. “You have other A/V crew that will handle the comedy shows or whatever, but the larger shows, and the upkeep of every lounge, and speakers, and amps everywhere on the ship, was my job.”

She was about to return for her second contract when she got a call from a friend who happens to be Janelle Monae’s tour and production manager. “Janelle wanted a female to start mixing her shows,” says Davis. “He called me and said, ‘I know you haven't toured, but you’re just the only person I know.’” True to form, Davis jumped on the opportunity, and never looked back. This fall, she’ll mark five years touring with Monae; her other live sound credits include Tegan and Sara, R. Kelly, Nipsey Hussle, Jidenna, Wale, and St. Beauty.

She may have gotten there in a roundabout way, but Davis knows that live sound is her calling. “It’s the immediate connection to the music, the audience reaction to something that you are a part of,” she says. “You feel like the extra member of the band, and you’re bringing it all together. That’s the rush that you’re after.”

Davis is grateful for her education, which has informed her approach to mixing. And, she stresses, everyone learns differently. “If you are a person who would like an education or you need that kind of guidance, then go to school,” she says. “Invest in yourself, but there are other areas where you can learn, where you can go try to join a production company, or just get a club gig, or a church gig.” But Davis has certainly thrived on on-the-job learning; forging a path to success through taking leaps of faith, putting in the time, and never saying no.

Davis is currently expanding into production management. And like everything else she’s tackled, she’s embracing this challenge head on. “One of my main goals is just to keep learning,” she says. “I've figured out how I learn, and it's to do.”