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Sound Women: Tech Train

Last weekend I was extremely excited to be travelling up to London to attend the last in a series of Tech Training sessions that have taken place around the country, held by Sound Women.

For those who are unaware, Sound Women are a group encouraging and supporting women working and aiming to work in radio through training, networking and mentoring schemes. The initial ambition of the group was to counteract the under-representation of women in broadcasting and production, an imbalance which has improved since Sound Women’s inception in 2011.

Now this was a bit of swan song for Sound Women, as they had just announced that they were closing as an organisation due to a combination of improvements in the industry, the time issues for the volunteers running the group, and a reduction in funding.

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The event was held at Broadcasting House which was particularly exciting as I had yet to visit there, plus it let me have the chance for a very windswept selfie…

The best part of the Tech Training was that it was going to cover a range of topics all being delivered by experts who have worked in the industry for years and years. It was also a fantastic opportunity to meet other women working in radio, production, podcasting and everything audio related.

We all arrived and got settled for the introductions and a lunch (got to love free sandwiches!)

We were lucky enough to have Emily Segal join us, who won Bronze at the ARIAs for her breakfast show on Heat Radio. Emily is sole presenter and producer so the award is a real achievement for her considering she was runner up to Chris Evans and Christian O’ Connell who both have huge teams supporting their shows. Listening to Emily and her approach to creating radio was fascinating, especially her advice:

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!”

I think this might be one of the biggest things I took away from the day. Quite often I let my self-doubt overtake my ambition, usually due to fear of making a mistake. Mistakes although not a preferred outcome, can ultimately lead to amazing things as they are usually the best learning experiences you’ll go through by realising what you are capable of achieving in order to overcome the problem or finding a new way of doing something. In essence- mistakes are not necessarily to be avoided at all costs; it’s far worse not to try in the first place!

After Emily’s chat, we got split into 4 groups in order to attend each of the sessions as there were rather a lot of us. Our group was left to get to know each other first before attending the first training with Julia Hayball about audio on the go.

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This was an absolutely brilliant and fascinating session all about the opportunities we have to record on location thanks to our smartphones. We went over the apps available, the kit that can be used along with your phone in order to create professional audio and even video. This was especially interesting for me as I have a keen interest in the future of radio and the increasing digitalisation and merging of audio with online and other media.

Top tip from this session, invest in a good “dead kitten”! Not to panic non-audio people, it’s a nickname for a big fluffy windjammer that is placed over the microphone to reduce noise produced from the wind. Next top tip- no dead kitten? Use a child’s sock, preferably a clean one. Amazing how resourceful audio people are!

20161203_153457The second session attended was with award winning documentary maker and sound designer genius Hana Walker-Brown.

Hana is renowned for her skill in creating exciting and creative radio, using sound in innovative ways to inspire listeners to imagine new worlds and dive into the experiences of the subjects at the centre of her documentaries.

Hana was giving us advice on sound design and using the editing software Reaper. There was so much great advice given from Hana. One of the things she said was to think about everything when creating a scene, not just the obvious. For example, if recreating a scene set at a station, don’t just use the sound of a train to signpost the location. Think about the sound of passengers, the echoing of the platform, water dripping, tannoy announcements, etc. Think about if you were there, what could you see, feel and then hear? Simply;

“Be suggestive and not obvious”

The third session was with Ann Charles, a producer who became a sound engineer at the BBC and has provided audio engineering services all across the world. Ann’s training was about using analogue desks and she gave the bold claim of teaching us to be able to use any desk in any studio in the world.

All the sessions were invaluable in the advice being provided, however I think Ann’s session may be the personal highlight for me because despite the boldness of the claim, she was completely right. Ann was able to explain desks in such a way that it made it so easy to understand and be able to apply the knowledge to any desk I may come across in the future. This training in particular was why I signed up for the tech training as it has been a couple of years since being in a studio and I am more than a little rusty and as a result my confidence has dipped a bit.

As Ann explained at the start, working with different desks is no different to driving different cars; the buttons and functions will all be the same no matter what you’re driving, just they may be in a slightly different place. Learn the fundamental principles and you can adapt without a problem.20161203_153933.jpg

The fourth and final session was with Kate Cocker a freelance producer who has worked all across the industry. She was training us on using the digital studio desks and the VCS playout system that the BBC uses. This was great experience for familiarising myself with another playout system and also just the sheer brilliance of being able to “press the buttons” in an actual BBC studio. 20161203_163629

Overall, I can not explain how fantastic the whole day was. Not just for training experience but also the chance to network with like minded people. I was hoping to go along and refresh my skills and maybe learn a couple of extra things but I came away with more than that. My passion for radio was fired up even more and I definitely now understand the value of networking. I never really got the whole “meet and greet” thing, plus being fairly introverted, it seemed like an unnecessary thing but if I can impart one last bit of wisdom from the day, it would be this:

Do not underestimate the power of networking!

The people there were so forthcoming with advice and their own experiences which I would not hear or see that much valuable information anywhere else. Most of all, speaking to these lovely ladies has created an incredible new opportunity for me that I didn’t even dream of happening when I first booked my ticket to attend.

So on that note, thank you to the fantastic Sound Women group for all they have done and for the legacy they have left for us to carry on. Secondly, keep your eyes peeled for a rather exciting post.

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