Jennifer Salem (MEOW Day co-organizer and panel moderator) is a live sound technician at Music Lab, a rehearsal, recording and gear rental company with two locations in Austin. Jen’s responsibilities include ordering merchandise for both locations, creating the advertising and handling the social media campaigns. She says she wears many hats.
Jennifer grew up in Los Angeles, moved to Austin in 1995 and graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle in 2003 where she studied live sound. She admits to often felt like the lone female in her profession. She got to work with another formidable female recently, however, when she went out on several west coast dates with Concrete Blonde. We asked Jen what it’s like behind the music.
How did you get started in music tech work?
I was in a band for several years and it got old. My boyfriend in 1998 was a recording engineer. He taught me about mic placement. He would let me record my stuff with Acid 1.0 Pro and I would edit in Sound Forge. I helped him record bands in his house. When we broke up he said, “I know you won’t keep up with it. You were only doing it because I was.” So needless to say, he fueled my fire. I moved to Seattle in 2001 and enrolled in the Audio Production program at the Art Institute.
You are also a musician. Can you tell me something about that?
I am a singer/wannabe bass player. I lived in Hollywood in the early ‘90s. I wrote every day, tried out for bands, and went out to see bands. When I heard that one of my favorite bands was looking for a backup singer, I made a recording and gave it to the lead singer. From that point on I was the backup singer for Sovereign and later, Sticky Hair. We played all over Hollywood, then moved to Austin in 1995 and played here until 1999. I left the band because nothing was happening. My boyfriend hated our music and pressured me into quitting. I am currently working on a few projects, but live sound is my true love.
Were there many other women when you were at the Art Institute?
There were only two other girls in my class. One is on tour all the time and the other is a producer for MTV.
What is the biggest challenge in your opinion facing women on the tech side?
Being taken seriously. It is frustrating when you are the lead on a gig and you have a guy helper but the band automatically talks to the guy first. But it’s still unusual for women to do this as a career. I only know three other live sound women here in town. To be a great live sound person, it helps a lot to play an instrument.
What surprised you most about touring with Concrete Blonde?
The fans are crazy. You have to watch the gear at all times or else stuff gets stolen. I learned that from an unfortunate experience in Portland.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you decided to get into this business?
That I was going to need a much thicker skin than I thought. I was the only woman at work and that left me out of the boys’ club. I felt very alienated but I think I brought some of that on myself. Don’t go in with guns blazing. Give the guys a chance before showing the chip on your shoulder.