Women in Pro Audio: Sabrina Sudhoff Women in Pro Audio: Sabrina Sudhoff...
“I do it for the smile on everyone’s faces. Seeing that smile is where the magic is for me—no matter the audience, artist, or colleague. I love getting to see the result of what we create.” – Sabrina Sudhoff
There’s much to be said about what goes on behind the scenes of live events and pro audio—and the hardworking crew making it all come to life in the most brilliant ways. There’s even more to be said about the fantastically adept and enterprising women working within those hardworking crews.
This month, for our Women in Pro Audio series, we got the chance to interview the preeminent Sabrina Sudhoff. Working with TDA Rental in Germany as Head of Audio, Project Manager, and the primary instructor for TDA Rental’s trainees, Sabrina also works as a monitor engineer (currently for the singer of Die Toten Hosen) and is an RF Tech, Crew Chief, and Monitor Tech—phew, that’s a lot of hats! She also worked with LAC Labs during the pandemic to build and promote the Li.LAC microphone disinfector.
Sabrina didn’t seek out pro sound and live events from a young age; her career beginnings were happenstance when she started working at a small club in her hometown.
“Honestly, I never thought I’d ever work in a technical job,” recounts Sabrina. “I always wanted to work with people; I might have become a therapist if I had passed my high school diploma with better grades. But when I finished school, I had no clue what I wanted to do for a living. I fell into this business when a friend asked if I wanted to join their team of volunteer stagehands at a club/cultural center in my hometown. I never thought this would lead me to a job I’d love so much.”
Sabrina then happened to meet Steve Todeskino, CEO of TDA Rental. “He offered me an internship, then to serve an apprenticeship to become an event technician at TDA. And now here I am!”
Regarding struggles women often face in predominantly male fields, Sabrina was fortunate enough to remain unscathed: “I found myself in the lucky position of not receiving any prejudice toward women. Some people asked me if I was aware of the problems I might have to face, and they tried to advise me. Aside from my first application for an apprenticeship getting rejected because they thought I wouldn’t be strong enough (there was only the boss and one more trainee, and the boss doubted we would be able to strike a van alone), I don’t remember any bad experiences.”
However, if it’s not gender, some women (and men) might face ageism: “I always looked younger and weaker than I really was. I often had to prove my knowledge, experience, and power. And my advice for achieving that knowledge, experience, and power is to watch and listen to others. Take every opportunity to learn. Don’t be afraid to use unconventional ways to solve a problem and reach your goals.”
Changing the Paradigm
“I started in a small gig environment where technical skills meant the most. Even when the gigs grew bigger, it took a while for the importance of soft skills—such as organizational skills, foresight, and communication—to be recognized as a major asset. It also took a while to overcome the pay gap between the “experienced system engineer” and me: “the person who organizes equipment and crew and runs the patch on a festival.” This might be a unique female challenge, too, because women are often considered to do better with soft skills and are sometimes pushed in that direction because it comes easily for many of us. It could also be why there aren’t as many women involved in technical roles—because of that push.”
You don’t always hear about the crazy feats a lot of crew members must endure before a show goes live. But you know what they say: the show must go on. Sabrina recounts an experience she’s amazed to have survived: “Years ago, we nearly drowned at a festival during the night and thought that the show had to go on. So everybody returned to the festival site in a serious thunderstorm and pouring rain to save what we could. The following day we ended up drilling holes in our Midas XL3 frames to let the water run out, drying console channel strips with a hairdryer and our outboard equipment in the sun. We made the gig happen. But from today’s view, I wouldn’t do this again; we were lucky nobody was harmed.”
Why She Does It
“I do it for the smile on everyone’s faces. Seeing that smile is where the magic is for me—no matter the audience, artist, or colleague. I love getting to see the result of what we create. We walk into empty halls every morning and build a whole world from scratch for a day. And of course, when people show their appreciation for my work— whether it’s the singer of the band I mix monitors for, the engineer I prepped the gear for, or the trainee getting questions answered—it all means so much when I hear their gratitude.”
Sabrina recalls a moment in her career that left her smiling: “I happened to mix monitors on a small punk rock festival where the Misfits were headlining; their FOH engineer was a little nervous about the singer’s comfort and if he would be happy with the show. However, everything went well, and straight after the gig, the singer came over, gave me a sweaty hug, and seemed to be looking for something. After a second, he took off his sweat-soaked wrist warmer and gave it to me with a smile and a big “Thank you.” It was a great feeling!”
Advice for Everyone
“Just be yourself. Whether you are male, female, or anything beyond or between is unimportant. Ask for help if you need it and tell people politely to care about their own business if you don’t. Self-reflection is key: What are your natural skills? How can you use them best?”
Sabrina adds, “Also, the ability to learn is one of the most crucial pieces of advice I have. Knowledge and experience are your most expensive goods. Then finally: Self-esteem. Be confident in yourself and always maintain a good level of self-esteem.”
The Future of Live Events
Sabrina hopes to see a more regular schedule for the future of live events. “This year has been just too much for everyone. Professionally, I hope our industry will be seen as what it is—a highly professional industrial branch of well-educated, hardworking people. I’m also delighted that our industry is slowly beginning to empower women to make their way in every job they want, but I also feel that we don’t need to highlight our particular challenges or struggles. I believe we earn the most respect being professional, well-educated, intelligent, and kind, not from the pronouns we use.”
A point well-said. We agree that gender should never be a consideration or issue when working in the world of pro audio. Let’s continue to blaze paths and ensure that those paths are accessible to all who want to traverse this wild and fulfilling road of live sound and pro audio.