We’re Not “Women In Sound”

British singer Sylvia McNeill and songwriter Tony Macaula
British singer Sylvia McNeill and songwriter Tony Macaulay, 1971(Jack Kay, Stringer/Getty Images)

Someone asked me the other day why I don’t write features about “women in live sound.” (The cringe-worthy article titles “chicks rule” and “girl power” were even thrown into the conversation.)

Talented professionals deserve recognition based on their merit, not because they fall into a category. Praising someone in the context of gender, race, age, or any other qualifier is conditional praise—it implies that that recognition would not be valid in a wider playing field.

It’s not that I don’t acknowledge that the audio industry has a diversity problem. Like every technical field, our industry faces huge diversity challenges, especially when it comes to gender. The number of women in audio is so small that it’s difficult to measure, but most estimates place female audio engineers at around five percent of the workforce. And I’d venture that that figure is even smaller in live sound.

These issues run deep, and can largely be traced to cultural bias in early education and social conditioning of young girls, who are too often discouraged from pursuing interests in math and science or exposed to careers in engineering and technology.

Changing the face of sound starts with empowering girls and young women by engaging them early, teaching them the skills they need to be successful, and providing the same opportunities to everyone.

Some great organizations doing just that include San Francisco’s Women’s Audio Mission, which teaches girls and young women audio technology in a recording facility built and operated by women; and SoundGirls, which offers support, networking and career development for women.

Girls and young women also need to see themselves reflected in their mentors, and both men and women need to be exposed to diverse career role models—especially in audio engineering, which is still a largely apprentice-based craft. But these role models never have to be presented in the context of “not bad for a girl.”

Gender is only an issue to people who make it an issue. Let’s stop compartmentalizing people with unnecessary labels and focus on talent, skills, and experience, which never need a qualifier.

Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: MixEQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.

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