“Tell the sound guy to raise her mic,” bellowed the director of the production of Fiddler on the Roof I was touring with.
At the time, nothing about this encounter struck me as unusual, until an interview a few months ago, when the audio woman I was interviewing told me that the term “sound guy” had become so accepted because most audio professionals were just that… “guys.”
Although the testosterone-centric field may not be the first thing that comes to mind when a narrow-minded or “traditional” thinker pictures a young girl’s dream job, there are large communities of passionate young “sound girls” all around the country, who are making their voices heard in the sound world.
A haven for these young women is SoundGirls, a digital and physical community of girls and women who are looking to pursue a career in audio.
17-year-old Mary Vogel developed her passion for audio mixing in seventh grade, though the opportunities to delve into her craft were limited to school and church productions. Unlike students who play soccer or basketball, the opportunities for a teenage girl to practice audio engineering were limited in Penn Valley, a small town about an hour north of Sacramento.
Like many others, Vogel was involved in the music scene before transitioning to audio mixing, where she got hooked on the sound board. This year, she became involved with SoundGirls, and had the rare opportunity to participate in their summer camp, SoundGirls Live. Through this program, teenage girls with an interest in sound careers are given instruction in microphone techniques, audio terminology, and more. Above all, they are taught that, despite remarkably low inclusion of women in this business thus far, these young girls have the tools to succeed and penetrate the male-dominated field.
“I try to ignore the fact that the music industry is male dominated,” said Vogel, “I refuse to believe that we’re not as talented or as skilled as them. The same goes for audio engineering specifically.”
Of the 22 musicals currently playing on Broadway, zero feature a female sound designer. Being that the Broadway community is praised for being a particularly diverse one, it is clear that this inequality is massively widespread. The lack of females sound designing on Broadway reflects that amount in pop, rock and other forms of music, and extends beyond sound design. Female music producers are also few and far between.
Because of the tedious manual labor involved with audio engineering, and the life on the road, people of power in the audio business, who are typically men, believe that the field is not suitable for women. However, programs with similar missions to that of SoungGirls are proving these old-fashioned thinkers wrong.
“We need to erase the stigma,” said Vogel. “More girls should get involved because we can! I know so many girls and women who can perform or mix but decide against the chance to, all because they feel it is not their play because of their gender.”
Like women in most industries, females in the entertainment industry are victim to the infamous pay gap. It is suspected that women in music and the arts earn 1.7% less than their male counterparts, which could surmount to thousands of dollars each year.
Naturally, SoundGirls’ mission is unlike that of other programs or summer camps. Beyond teaching their pupils how to make sure other people are heard on stage, SoundGirls is dedicated to making sure that their young women are comfortable making their own voices heard within their industry. The program also offers a mentorship program, internship opportunities and career connections that would be otherwise difficult for a woman, no matter how talented, to acquire.
“I love that SoundGirls exists. It was an overall amazing experience with some really nice and talented people,” said Vogel, who is already changing the audio game at her school, where the tech-team used to be comprised of mostly boys, but now consists primarily of females who can make some noise.