Black Lives Matter Inspires Live Music Course for Women
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Mercury-nominated artist NAO and Grammy-winning songwriter MURA MASA have created a new training course for women of color in the UK interested in careers in the live music industry.
Supported by Sony Music UK and Native Management, the 3T initiative is a practical response to the realization that a reckoning in pro audio was long overdue. The comprehensive and free 12-week program is designed to impart a broad set of technical touring skills while creating opportunities for a new generation of Black women in live music. The course aims to increase confidence and provide visibility for Black women who want a career in the industry, as well as assist women who are already pursuing these roles.
I recently spoke to course designer and leader Freyja Lawson to find out more about 3T:
Gemma Stenberg: What was your approach to designing this course and what did you want to make sure the students took away from it?
Freyja Lawson: We wanted to ensure that the students were introduced to the many technical roles involved in the live events industry as well as focusing on the day-to-day as a freelancer. We split the technical aspects into both theory and practical days as well as incorporating workshops and guest panels so that the students could benefit from the knowledge of other industry professionals. We wanted to not only arm the students with a technical skillset, but also give them a real-life insight into the live events industry. On top of that we hoped to bring to them the representation, visibility and support that has been so lacking in this industry for Black women in technical roles.
Why was it important to you that Shure were involved in the course?
When we set about designing the course, our aim was to make our students employable on a technical level. For us this meant having a grasp of the typical everyday tasks a technician would undertake on a tour over all departments and in the world of audio especially, that can sometimes mean overseeing RF systems for handheld microphones and IEM packs. Since Shure products are so widely used within the live events industry, it made sense that the students were introduced to the systems, the people that use them and a basic level of RF theory. I got in touch with Pepe and Jack who very kindly offered to come and teach a session on RF and IEM systems as well as WWB which was invaluable! Having the session lead by someone who is involved in the development and teaching of the systems was invaluable and the students really benefitted from Jack’s teaching.
How did you market the course and what was the demand like for attendance?
Native Management artists Nao and Mura Masa posted about the idea of a course on their Instagram’s back in June and had an overwhelming response from just a few posts. Initially they called for anyone interested in the course to send in their CVs to Native Management and they received over 500 in less than 8 hours! They had planned to keep the applications coming in for at least a week but had to close 6 days early due to demand. Since the demand was so high, Native also put together a list of resources for unsuccessful applicants to explore.
In October, the first 3T cohort of 10 students graduated after learning lighting design, computer programming and audio engineering for twelve weeks. I asked one of them, Iran Muhammad, for her feedback.
Gemma Stenberg: How did you find the course and what did you get out of it?
Iran Muhammad: I found the course extremely helpful for building my practical skills and knowledge then at the same time I feel that it broadened my horizons as I was introduced to roles within live music that I never knew existed. Having the chance to learn from industry experts whether it was through practical workshops or Q&A panel discussions was amazing - it broke down the glass ceiling that you imagine when trying to get into the music industry and really showed that being involved in the live music industry is possible as long as you are passionate and ready to learn and get involved wherever you can.
Do you see the need for more courses like this one in pro audio?
One thousand percent! When we were taken to the lighting warehouse for the first time, I remember wishing that I'd known about this route into the industry when I was 16-18. I think there are many young people reluctantly going into higher education as they aren't aware of the various components that work together to produce a show. It was shocking to hear that most touring crews rarely have women in the technical departments, but it was encouraging to know that both artists and tour managers are recognizing this and looking for more women to add to their crew.
Has the course helped you gain practical experience and placements in the industry?
This course has given me a massive confidence boost in my technical ability which I believe is invaluable. Many courses can provide the theory but knowing how to troubleshoot in live environments and trusting your gut instincts can be much more useful tools, especially for women in a male-dominated environment. As well as gaining a large overall understanding of the industry we've been taught small 'hacks' like cable names, technical phrases that may not be so obvious, for example, what it means to 'strike' vs 'spike' something and knowing what to look out for as an intern and assistant so we can be as proactive and helpful as possible.
The 3T course was supported in various capacities by a number of music industry stakeholders – 46 individuals and 17 companies including Shure, contributed their time and resources to give the students a thorough introduction to the live music industry. Funding came from Native Management, Sony Music UK, Nao, Mura Masa and a number of other private individuals.
Besides Nao and Mura Masa, guest speakers included Damaris Rex-Taylor, Trevor Williams, Alexandra Ampofo, Whitney Boateng, Giles Kwakeulati King-Ashong, Kojo Samuel, Franki McDade, Tori Lucion, Ben Jackson, Selena Dion and Alex Cerutti.