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Women changing face of audio engineering

November 26, 2010 7:02:50 PM PST
Women have broken into many careers, but audio engineering is a field still very much dominated by men. A San Francisco group called Women's Audio Mission is helping put more women in the line of work.

"Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" is among the most popular video games sold to teens and young adults. Leslie Ann Jones is the woman who put the instruments, voices and sounds together to create a dramatic blend. She makes sure to always highlight her middle name.

"So, I think the only way I could really point out that I was a woman when I was on credits for records was by using my middle name," she explains.

Today, she is highly respected by her peers as the director of music recording and scoring for Skywalker Sound. She was on the music team for other video games, "God of WarIII" and "Uncharted II." She encourages young women to enter the field of sound engineering.

"The ability to nurture the self expression in young girls will go a long way toward seeing more women in technical roles," she says.

That is what Women's Audio Mission is doing, promoting women and girls like the group "The Shes" in the recording arts and music production. This was the only women's group attending the recent audio engineering society convention at Moscone Center. 18,000 audio professionals from all over the world attended.

Most were men.

Terri Winston founded the San Francisco-based organization in 2003.

"You bring the girls in at a certain age and they're like, 'I didn't even know you could do this. So you could actually study this? What do I do?' Then, we have the ability to tell them in high school what they should take. You need to take science. You need to take math, music," she says.

Through science, they learn how sound travels.

"Every space is different, and outdoor is very different from indoor. A very concrete room is going to bounce around high frequencies, especially, a lot more than a carpeted or curtained room," explains audio engineer Anne Allison.

A few years back, Women's Audio Mission helped Allison land a job with Grammy-Award winning performer Tracy Chapman. She did live sound production, but it has not always been easy trying to make it as an audio engineer.

"Some of the older men in the field have. I think, a bit more of an issue with it. It's not always necessarily the fact that I'm a woman as much as I'm young, and upstart, not known in the business," she says.

Today, 850 women from around the world get advice from Women's Audio Mission. The demand was such that the organization decided to create an online training website.

"We want this training. We can't get to you. Can you come to us. We couldn't afford to come to them, so we came up with the idea of offering this online," Winston says.

On the first day it was launched woman from 14 countries signed up. Suzanne Elliott is another product of Women's Audio Mission. She works for Barefoot Sound building high-end recording studio monitors.

"I went to school for recording and I really got into tech work. And, I like to do building and I'm artistic, and I like to work with my hands. So, I started with him five years ago in the basement of his house," she says.

The founder of the company says he wanted a woman to help build and test his speakers.

"I've had really good experience working with women and they seem to be, maybe it sounds sexist, but they actually seem to be more dedicated and thoughtful about their work," Founder Thomas Barefoot says.

Elliot believes women have a better ear for this kind of work.

"Yes. Women's hearing breaks down later in life too," she says laughingly.

She and Women's Audio Mission are here to change the face of sound.


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