Women in Pro Audio: Emily Phillips
“Working towards my goal of becoming a System Engineer has allowed me to work through obstacles I was told I could not overcome. By succeeding, I was able to prove the naysayers wrong and also prove myself right. Yes, I can do this. Yes, this is what I want to do.” – Emily Phillips
With Coachella lineup and festival announcements littering everyone’s social feed (here’s looking at you, When We Were Young festival), many people are feeling more excited about the live show industry. With emails from ticket vendors and bands trickling in, people sit back to take a moment and remember the live show thrill they love so much as they grab their credit cards to purchase tickets to these events.
But while we’re taking a moment, let’s not forget the talented people working behind the scenes of these events—namely the smart, talented, and resilient women in this pro audio industry. Hence the reason for our monthly Women in Pro Audio series.
L-Acoustics got to interview Emily Phillips. Systems Engineer and Crew Chief with Clair Global, Emily is one of those critical women in pro audio who’s making those show moments so thrilling. She’s up in the mornings (not her favorite time of day), marking out the floor for audio points and drawing the room for the prediction software to ensure that everyone in the audience has the same listening experience. And after the trucks unload all the gear and PA system, she’s hanging massive rigs, setting up the FOH, and tuning the system. As Crew Chief, Emily is the go-between for the audio team, shop, and production.
How She Started
“Audio was definitely not on my radar. I grew up playing cello in orchestras and small ensembles, but I was all set for Med school until October of my senior year of high school. My dad and I went to a concert, and I realized I wanted to ensure I had time for music, but not necessarily be the one on stage making it. At the last minute, I applied to Elon University—my application was postmarked on the last possible date—and I was accepted into their Music Technology program,” Emily recounts.
She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Technology from Elon University in North Carolina in 2013 (now called a Music Production and Recording Arts degree) while working on campus doing concerts, performances, and other live events such as the New Student Convocation. Her internship in the summer before her graduation, in 2012, allowed her to get a job with Maryland Sound.
“Girls Aren’t Strong Enough”
Every job has its challenges. But to be told you’re not strong enough physically or emotionally is, unfortunately, sometimes a common theme for women to hear in certain fields. “Coworkers would tell me that I would fail in this career because I wasn’t strong enough—physically to do the work—or emotionally to handle the stress. Working towards my goal of becoming a System Engineer has allowed me to work through obstacles I was told I could not overcome. By succeeding, I was able to prove the naysayers wrong and also prove myself right. Yes, I can do this. Yes, this is what I want to do.”
Emily has also noted that being young and female has presented some extra hurdles. “Often, I am the only female on the tour or the only female tech, and that can be very isolating. I have been overlooked, and my voice not heard when collaborating on projects. In those instances, I have relied on the communication skills I’ve learned along the way.”
When she hits a roadblock, she consults with others in similar situations and uses their experience as well as her own skills to develop the best plan of action to tackle the issue head-on.
Resources & Tips
Emily commends Clair Global’s support network through the shop staff and road staff. “I have utilized Clair’s fabulous support network. Going through the L-Acoustics training, both the Level I & II and the different speaker training classes, has given me an excellent foundation to build my skills.”
As for pro-tips: “‘Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?’ Many problems are fixed by a hard reset, reseating a cable, or reloading a file.”
Not a Morning Person
If she could change one thing about the industry, it would be: “Early mornings, for sure. Nothing that requires actual brain power should happen before 9 am! In all seriousness, I would like to see more acceptance when talking about mental health. This is such a physically and mentally grueling job that burnout is common. So few people want to talk about it, fearing they might appear weak. After 2020 there has been much more talk about mental health awareness, and some support programs have sprung up, which is excellent. I hope we can keep this trend going. It’s important.”
Best Advice Given and Received
“Advice I would give out, and the best advice I’ve received: Work smarter, not harder. Also, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You don’t expect your peers to know everything. You should give yourself the same leeway.”
The Best Parts About What She Does
Emily loves what she does because of all the different experiences of live shows, and she gets to travel and work with all kinds of music. “I was once doing a show in an arena, and about four songs in—the breaker for the audio service was tripped—and the entire system shut down! The artist was given a bullhorn and did a sing-along with the audience as we scrambled to find the house electrician and turn everything back on. It was crazy, but we made it work.”
Emily also appreciates how every day is different. “It’s dissimilar enough to keep it interesting. It is the same system every show, yes, but being in a different venue each time presents new challenges. I have always loved puzzles, and it’s neat to get to solve a new one every day.”
Another moment that makes the job all worth it: “When I was asked back on tour for a show next year, it was the ultimate accolade to have someone appreciate the work you had done and want to continue to work with you.”
“The Wheels Up Tour with Lady A in 2015 is probably one of my favorites! It was such a wonderful group of people to work with and learn from. The Foo Fighters show at MSG this past June 2021 was special, too, because it felt like events were finally coming out of the shadows of the pandemic. The energy from the band and crowd was amazing to witness and be a part of.”
Signal flow. “This is not only important for pulling the show together, but for troubleshooting problems that arise during the day. Communication is also a huge factor. A lot of our job is personality and working as a team. The whole project becomes infinitely harder if the team has a communication breakdown.”
The Future of Pro Audio
If anyone is unfamiliar with the L-ISA technology, it’s a ground-breaking tool that enables artists to create and deliver immersive sound for live and recorded productions of any scale. L-ISA provides a natural and vivid experience that heightens emotion and invites the listener inside the music with a comprehensive ecosystem of audio tools.
Emily talks about her experience using L-ISA: “I have done two tours with the L-ISA system, and I love the different levels of experience that this gave the audience. Taking a surround system and implementing it every day in different venues was a lot of fun. L-ISA was great to work with, and I am excited for future developments that can create such a unique show for the audience.”