Moving On Up With Sound Engineer, Alice Asbury
We have a chat with Alice Asbury who is a 24-year-old live sound engineer based in Oxford. Although early in her career, Alice has already worked with some of the best artists on the circuit and gives us some insight into how she broke into the industry, what it’s like to be a female working in a predominantly male industry and how a little kindness can go a very long way.
Tell us a little about you, how did you get to where you are today?
“I have been working as a live sound engineer for the past 6 years. I went to the University of Lincoln and studied ‘Audio Production’, a course focused on studio sound and sound for film, which is where I learnt about the fundamentals of sound.
My career itself though, definitely started off when I got a bar job at ‘The Engine Shed’ in Lincoln which is a 1500 capacity live music venue. From the bar job I then applied to work as part of their tech team, which was student staff that mainly handled the club nights, conferences and crewing but the Technical manager and Assistant (Luke Maxwell + Katherine Campbell) allowed a lot of opportunities to shadow and then later work the bigger shows. After a lot of shadow shifts and learning on the job I started to focus more of my time on live sound and lights.
I finished my degree and was lucky enough to apply for and get the position as the Assistant Technical Manager at the O2 Academy Oxford in 2016. This job entailed me taking the lead on all things sound in the venue, advancing, health and safety, maintenance and operating shows. Again quite a lot of it was learning on the job and I did have the help and support from the team at the O2 Academy and all the Freelancers we hire in to help with shows. This job is where I really started to develop my skills as a sound engineer and meet a lot of brilliant touring engineers.
At the O2 Academy, we have quieter seasons in the summertime, so it gave me the opportunity to go out and try and start getting some freelance work. This is probably what I have found the most difficult, I spent a lot of time emailing out to audio companies and keeping an eye on social media groups offering to do patch/stage crew and detailing my experience and getting little responses. Although I received a few job offers that looked and sounded great, most eventually fell through. It can be quite disconcerting when you want to progress your skills and career. I eventually started getting offers through from sound engineers and bands that I had met through the O2 Academy. This allowed me to start getting some festival experience, which in itself helped me gain some more knowledge about different equipment and the other side of the live sound industry.
In 2019 I got a promotion to Technical Manager at the O2 Academy Oxford which is a great step forward in my venue work. During my years here the O2 Academy has been great with helping me progress and giving me training in multiple different areas.
In 2019 I was offered the position of monitor engineer for an Artist called Mahalia. I had met the Tour manager when he had come through the O2 Academy a year before and they were looking to expand their team, I also had a few other engineers recommend me for the job which was really amazing! The tour itself was the biggest I’d done with an artist across the UK and Europe and was an incredible team and experience.”
You do have to be really persistent and determined in what you do to succeed in it.
Did you find live sound a difficult industry to break into?
“I think it is really difficult yes and not only when you you are just starting out but for quite a lot of time after your first successful job as well.
When I first started learning about sound I never really saw Live sound as an option – because it seemed so inaccessible for someone with no experience. It’s always the catch where you need work experience to get the job but sometimes you need work experience to get the work experience! I do, however, know there are places and people out there that are giving a lot of opportunities to people who want to give it a go. I definitely wouldn’t have been where I am today without all of the shadowing and the job I had at ‘The Engine Shed’. You do have to be really persistent and determined in what you do to succeed in it. Even after you have a few things to add to your CV you still have to stay relevant and keep progressing, which is why it is so important to keep learning and try not to get trapped too much in what you already know.”
Do you think there is enough support for people to get into the live music scene?
“I think it is out there, it just can sometimes be difficult to find. I think it’s really important to try and give opportunities to people starting out in the industry. Each year I do a crew training day for anybody that wants to join at the O2 Academy Oxford in the hopes to give people a steppingstone into the industry. We teach things like manual handling, different types of touring equipment and how to approach different set ups as well as general industry etiquette. I also offer shadowing to shows that I engineer and now I have freelancers working for me that started off shadowing me. It’s how I started out so I think it’s important to give the same back. I think getting in touch with local venues/crewing companies/audio companies is a good place to start, even if they don’t have the capacity to help then they might give you pointers/contacts of where to go next. There are lots of Facebook groups that give opportunities or even just speaking to other engineers and seeing how they started out. As well as lots of online courses available to help expand knowledge.”
I think we are now working towards an industry where equality is fundamental to its success.
Do you think it was important to get an audio education?
“I know a lot of excellent engineers that didn’t go through the degree route that I did and that certainly isn’t something I look for when I employ freelancers to do shows. However, I will say that I wouldn’t have got the opportunities that started off my career without going to university. I’ve always thought it since I left University, it’s extremely easy to focus just on the projects and assignments of the courses and think it’ll be easy to get a job straight after. When in reality this isn’t the case. University gave me an opportunity to learn and the time to gain skills outside of it and time to figure out what area I wanted to work in. Any sort of additional audio education is what you make it, you might find the best route is to try and start shadowing/working straight away.”
Be kind! You don’t know who might offer you the next job, this industries core is through working relationships.”
Do you have any words of advice for other females who might be looking to get into audio?
“I think it can be a little daunting as there are substantially less females working in the industry. However, there are also a lot of great and inspiring ones out there as well. I think we are now working towards an industry where equality is fundamental to its success. Anyone who is not of that mindset will simply not be tolerated by so many people within the industry. One of the things I would say when you get the opportunity to, is to try and surround yourself with like minded colleagues who have a passion for the work.
My advice would be to always keep learning, technology is constantly progressing and there is no one that will ever know it all. Be confident, confidence comes with practice and knowledge; if you don’t know something ask questions, if someone gets annoyed at you for asking questions then they aren’t worth your time – but also bare in mind you sometimes people may be super busy. Try not to get too disheartened if you don’t get the job, there can sometimes be a lot of opportunities that simply aren’t meant to be, I struggle with this myself but I think the key is to not take it personally and to try and work on the reasons why you didn’t get it. Take no prisoners – meaning if you see someone treating someone else differently or disrespectfully, call them out, they might not realise they are doing it or if they do then its even more important to speak up about it. Be kind! You don’t know who might offer you the next job, this industries core is through working relationships.”