If you asked a 12-year-old Hyacinth Belcher whether or not she wanted to get into pro audio as an adult, her answer would have been, "Absolutely!"
This March, in honor of Women's History Month, L-Acoustics is kicking off the Women in Pro Audio Series: a series that recognizes and celebrates the achievements of many of the phenomenal women in pro audio. Whether they're a sound mixer, engineer, or owner, many women in this industry elevate the pro audio field with their innovation, talent, and perseverance - and should be recognized for it.
For this interview round, we had the pleasure of talking with Hyacinth Belcher, President of Onstage Systems.
Onstage Systems is an award-winning audio-visual company based in Dallas, Texas, providing a wide range of AV services and rental equipment for various successful events. They use audio-visual solutions to solve complex event production challenges, large or small. If you want an event that will awe and inspire guests and get people talking for years to come, you would want to get in touch with Hyacinth - who happens to be one of the few female production company owners in the nation.
With a childhood rich in music, Hyacinth was playing drums at the age of 12. "From the moment I picked up a pair of drumsticks, I've loved the music industry," she comments. "I participated in the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra and was named the first female snare drum player in my High School Marching band. While in college, I continued to play drums in local bands while working for my family's production company as a call steward. From there, I moved to Lighting and Theater. After college, I continued working and developed an ear for great audio along the way." Hyacinth then playfully notes that she's "loved the brown boxes since 1994."
Hyacinth acquired Onstage Systems about ten years after college, all the while, her adoration of the business never wavering. She states, "I love the journey from chaos (so many cases out of the truck) to order (a well-installed event), the push to get there, and most especially the end result. Helping people heal and celebrate life with music."
Running an AV business over the past 25 years has its share of stories. Most of those compelling stories are intertwined with the unpredictability of the weather. "I can think of many. A tropical depression in Houston? Yes. Let's load in NOW. Moats appeared out of nowhere, my subs floating in 3' of water! Now that was a bad day. It continued to rain for two more days, and moats continued to rise. We did our best, got the subs out of the water, and waited six more days before we could begin to pull out the three stages of festival gear. We've all had them - those days. What I can say is, I'm right there in the middle of it with everyone as often as possible."
When we asked about some of her favorite shows that she's worked on, she replied, "The last Ozzfest in Dallas years ago. I got to hang L-Acoustics subs (for the first time ever) along with our huge PA (Pre K1), and as soon as Metallica hit the stage and I heard our PA roar... That made me so happy and proud to be where we were right then! Also - I'd have to say – touring with George Strait in the big 100,000+ stadiums right before COVID was some of my favorite shows as well."
As with any career, no industry is without its challenges or roadblocks. And women are no exception to that rule; if anything, they often find their own set of unique challenges in any field. Being a female owner of Onstage Systems, especially early on, has had its hurdles for Hyacinth. Purchasing the family business (along with her brother, who is now her partner) and turning a well-established company with one set of values into a new set of leaders and values was challenging. "At times, when trying to make moves within the industry, I've hit a wall and felt overlooked. I've been younger than - and the only female - in many rooms with all business owners, and sometimes that's hard. Also, networking can be a challenge since I'm more of an introvert. But despite that, I really learned how to find my tribe' over a three-year period.
"I will say that with running a production company, 90-95% of the people I employ or work with respect me for my knowledge, skills, and vision. Though I've always dealt with challenges as a female owner, I know my actions, work ethic, and vision will have to suffice. I can't let that other small percentage gnaw at me. I have to keep moving forward."
And if she could change one thing about the industry, "That we have a voice with our State and Federal legislature and government leaders. We're working on that now." Which, we agree, is a great step in the right direction.
Her advice to other women who want to get started in this industry?
"DO IT. Believe in yourself, your vision, and your direction. Find someone who values your curiosity and wants to mentor you. Intern if you can. It allows you to see how things work and decide if that specific way aligns with you or not. Knowing what you don't want out of this business is as important as what you do like. Like anything, jump in 100% and stay focused."
And the proudest moment in her career? Well, she couldn't choose just one; it was more of an overarching feeling of pride - one that encompasses and spans her whole career as an owner. "Growing a family business. Looking around our warehouse and seeing the faces of people who have believed in us for many, many years who are still here today. I value people. Turning visions into reality and having fun (and working hard) along the way. There is no one moment – the journey is long and beautiful."
Before thanking Hyacinth for being a part of our Women in Pro Audio Series, we had to address the elephant in the room of the pandemic and the future of live events. Despite the current social climate of anxiety and fear, Hyacinth remains hopeful. "I think events will tiptoe back for a short span, then hit the road fast and hard. I believe people are ready to live life again, and a large population sees that as going to concerts, festivals and seeing their favorite artists while on tour. Music heals, and so many people need that right now."