As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we will present two very different views of what it is like to be a woman in the West Point Band. The first comes from one of the band’s audio engineers, Staff Sgt. Brandie Lane.
One of the best things about being a woman in the audio industry is never waiting in a line for the bathroom at conventions. Bathroom humor aside, I am very lucky. I work in a field for which I have absolute love and passion. What many people consider a hobby, I consider a career. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the most talented people in the music business, been recognized as a Grammy winning engineer, and been trusted to inspire and educate future members of this industry. These opportunities are vastly different from the stereotypical memories that many women audio engineers (including myself) have. These memories include weird looks when seen behind a mixing board or setting up a speaker…usually followed by the statements: “isn’t that too heavy for you?” and “you don’t see that very often” as if describing a teacup poodle running with a pack of wolves. Instead of taking these moments as insults, I took them as fuel. This fuel was used to work harder and be the ultimate professional. The goal was not to prove anyone wrong, but to gain respect and to be hired again.
The main responsibilities of an audio engineer include dealing with the technical aspects of the recording and/or sound reinforcement process: setting up gear, turning knobs, knowing the software, and artistically enhancing the recording or reinforcement as necessary. These responsibilities are gender neutral…meaning, there are not gender specific awards for recording or engineering, I don’t sign as “Brandie Lane, Female Audio Engineer”, and there are no music reviews referencing the “feminine recording quality” of an album or concert.
However, being a minority in a professional field comes with many unwritten guidelines. There’s not a real chance of blending in and most actions are automatically under an imaginary microscope. There’s a spotlight that seems to magically cut on when asked a simple question and the example is set in the answer. For instance, people usually don’t want to hear from the 8th place finisher in a NASCAR race. However, when that driver is the only one with long brown hair and makeup, it’s a big deal. Throw in some digicam and combat boots to this equation…you might as well have a red-headed black sheep.
After the perplexed looks have faded, I always enjoy answering questions about my job as audio engineer in the United States Military Academy Band, being an active duty solider, not a cadet, who sets up speakers, and stands behind a mixing board, and works in a recording studio, in the Army, and went to basic training, and went to college for music engineering technology at the University of Miami, and yes…really went to basic training, and wears a uniform, and no…it’s not too heavy. It gives me a chance to show the public my passion for everything audio and to set a positive example for future audio engineers, minority or majority.
So, I’ll keep walking into that empty bathroom at the audio convention every year…and out of instinct, I’ll slowly open the swinging door so I don’t have a repeat offense of slamming some poor woman in the face who’s strategically wedged herself between the door hinge and hand dryer. Then, I’ll tune my senses to the nearest opening stall door, ready to play a game of musical chairs with the former tenant, the person behind me ready to pull a secret ninja move to the stall if I look down at my shoe, and the person who I thought was next, but they’re “just waiting for someone”. However, these instincts won’t be necessary. It will be an odd, yet reflective, moment as a woman in the audio industry as I realize there’s no one around me …just many porcelain options.
Words by Staff Sgt. Brandie Lane