MELISSA GOLDSWORTHY - FREELANCE AUDIO ENGINEER
A love of music drew Melissa to the world of audio and 17 years later she is still here, doing what she loves – helping musicians sound their best and bringing client’s visions to life.
What sparked your interest in AV? My dad was a musician, so from a very young age I would go to his sound checks and sit up the back with the sound guy and watch him twiddle the knobs and wondered how it all works. Going through high school I was always interested in music and I just knew I wanted to be involved with sound somehow.
I did a couple of courses. An Advanced Diploma of Music Industry Technical Production at NMIT and then a Bachelor of Music Technology at Victoria University. I was the fourth female in Victoria to ever receive that qualification. Where did you get your first foot in the door? I started off helping out in studios, doing live sound at pubs and things like that. And then I thought I should probably get a real job and I came across AV. I didn’t really know what it was to begin with. I had only done audio production. So I applied for a couple of jobs and I got an interview with Staging Connections. That was 14 or more years ago now.
I had no idea about vision or lighting but I picked it up and ran with it. I worked my way up through the company to be a senior audio technician. I also did a few other roles like Technical Support Advisor, a little bit of sales here and there, a little bit of crew rostering.
When I left Staging I got a job at MCEC as a technician. I worked my way up to Technical Director / Technical Services Manager. I had quite a lot of roles there. I managed crew and operated a lot of the bigger events. After I left there I went back to freelance and that’s where I’m at now. What kind of work do you normally do in the freelance capacity? Live audio for corporate events. That’s my niche. I’m quite well sought after. Obviously not at the moment due to lockdown, but my calendar is booked out a lot of the year, which I’m always grateful for.
What kind of work do you love most and would say yes to before anything else? I really love doing monitors for bands. That’s probably my favourite thing to do. You get a lot of appreciation from the band when you pull a good mix for them. Plus, you don’t normally have to deal with stressed out clients because you’re backstage. I get a lot of enjoyment out of being at the stage and helping the musicians out because if I can give them a good mix, then they’re going to play the best that they can play.
Is there a band or gig that stands out most in your memory? They do all start to blend together after a while. A really fun one was an event where we had Guy Sebastian and a 50-piece orchestra. I did monitors for that and I had to do a 50 send headphone mix to all of the musicians. That was really fun. It was the most sends I’ve ever had to do in my life. It sounds difficult but it actually wasn’t too bad. So many competing requests. Yeah, that’s kind of why I love doing monitors. I like taking charge of the stage. I find that if you just take the initiative and run with it, then things run a lot smoother than waiting for other people to make up their minds about things. I normally have an order in which I work and everyone’s happy with that. Is there a band that you would love to do monitors for? I would love to do Tool or someone like that. That’d be amazing for sure. Have you worked on the concert or festival side of things? Mostly corporate. I do the odd festival or band gig here and there. But I think I do well in the corporate environment because of my people skills. And it pays well (laughs). I’m guessing you haven’t seen the likes of Tool on the corporate circuit? Sadly, no. The corporate world doesn’t tend to mix with large scale international acts. I’ve done monitors for plenty of iconic Australian artists such as Darryl Braithwaite, The Veronicas, Guy Sebastian etc. Mixed for plenty of the reality TV show kind of singers and obviously, lots of corporate cover bands.
The great thing about corporate is that there’s such a wide variety of acts that you come across. You could be mixing anything from your standard corporate conferences, to string quartets right through to large brass big bands. No day is ever the same.
My philosophy is to always back yourself and don’t take no for an answer.
What do you think it is that sets you apart from other audio engineers? I’m very people focused. I love working with clients and bringing their visions to life in the best way that I know how. That’s really rewarding to me. I always remember that even though I do this every day, this might be a one-off event for a client and something that’s really important to them. Really understanding that allows you to have a better relationship with them. And it makes you want to do the best that you can do for them. You’ve been working in the industry for over 15 years. Often people, particularly women, don’t seem to stick around that long. Can you put that down to anything in particular? Various reasons. AV can be a big shock to the system when you’re new to it. It’s a very fast paced industry, very stressful with crazy hours. A lot of the time you don’t have any social life, all of your social interactions tend to come from your work colleagues. So I think a lot of people, not just women but people in general, find that difficult to cope with for a long period of time.
I think also you have to be good at your job to stick around for a long time. And again, I don’t necessarily think that’s female based. The thing is that, because there are so few women it might seem like more are leaving. But if you’re not so good at your job, you’re not going to get work and that goes for women and men. The best person for the job, regardless of gender, right? In my experience, I haven’t seen too many women get knocked back because they’re women. Sometimes there’s just been somebody better for the role. And it’s got nothing to do with their gender. I think it’s important to not play that gender card, because it can make us feel like a gimmick.
International Women’s Day is a really good example. It is the one day of the year where all of the women in tech get so many requests from all these various companies to work. Now that’s great that they want female techs but at the same time, you might not get calls from half of these companies any other time of the year. And it makes you feel devalued because they only want you there so it looks like they’re being progressive rather than wanting you for your skill.
I’d like to think that we don’t have this female/male thing going on anymore. That you just get the role because you are good at your job. And you have the right attitude. Absolutely, you don’t want it to be tokenistic in any way. But we do need to actively encourage more women to be involved in the industry. I think it really starts with the younger generation, the kids. From a very early age, seeing women in roles that perhaps they didn’t traditionally see women in. Getting them exposed to things like STEM. So they can explore different options rather than just the traditional. That notion of ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. I think probably the most discrimination that I’ve seen has not actually come from the industry. It’s come from clients and punters. You know, I still get on a very regular basis “Oh, I’ve never had a female technician before” or you’ll get the client come up to speak to a team of people and they’ll always go to the man first. It’s little things like that.
It makes me feel like our industry is actually quite progressive, even though we don’t have as many female technicians. It might be other industries that we’re working for that actually have that bias. Everyone that I work with is completely respectful and loves having women on the team. I think we bring a really beautiful dynamic to work and create balance on jobs. We have a lot to offer.
Have you had a time when you’ve been working on a gig where something just didn’t go according to plan? (Laughs) That’s sometimes a weekly event. Honestly, that’s just part of being a technician because technology fails on a daily basis and you just have to work around it, you need to keep a cool head. And be able to communicate if there is an issue, not only to your colleagues, but also to the client.
I think being up front with the client is the best possible thing you can do, because then they have trust that you’re going to be honest and do your best to fix it. Also knowing when to push that panic button is a good skill to have.
For a lot of people pride gets in the way. I think they feel like they need to figure stuff out on their own. But we’re a team, we’re all here to help each other. I think knowing when to ask for help is a really important skill to have.
If you weren’t working in AV, what do you think you would be doing? My hobby for the last year has been dog training. Just for a bit of fun I completed a course in dog training and behaviour and I’ve been working for a company on the side running classes. Now because of lockdown so many people have bought puppies so there’s actually quite a bit of work going around. So it keeps me occupied and it’s fun and who doesn’t love a cute puppy?
Any memorable words of advice that you’ve received along the way? My philosophy is to always back yourself and don’t take no for an answer. I think I’ve always gotten where I wanted to go because I had a huge drive that I could do anything that anyone else could and better. So just having that drive to push you forward will give you the motivation to learn more, to connect more and to get your hands on as much gear. Any role models that you’ve really looked up to along the way? I admire most of the people that I work with and I take a little bit from those people and try to incorporate that into my life. I think everybody is a book, and they all have a story to tell. Any advice for women or anyone wanting to start a career in AV? It’s okay to be scared or afraid. I do know that a lot of girls or people who are new to the industry might shy away from things because it’s all very overwhelming. The technology might seem confusing in the beginning, but it’s okay to be scared of something new, just change your outlook from scared to curious. Tackle the fear with knowledge.