Women in Pro Audio: Naomi Nash Women in Pro Audio: Naomi Nash...
“I believe that women can bring a different vibe into this space which is still so male-dominated, and we should be confident to use that sometimes different attitude and approach in our work.” – Naomi Nash
For those possessing a love for music and the thrill of the show, it’s an exciting path to get into for anyone, and the brave and assured—which is often synonymous with youth—strike at it early on in life. Yet, the difference between the percentage of women compared to men is still staggering, despite the industry becoming more diverse and accessible. So, it can certainly feel like a more challenging profession for many women, especially if she decides to enter it outside her early twenties.
When forging new paths in our lives, we often wonder if we’re making the right choices. But sometimes, the more arduous the path, the more we realize it was the right one, which certainly has been the case for our latest Women in Pro Audio interviewee—and 2021 Women in Live Music (WILM) Monitor Engineer of the Year Award-winner—Naomi Nash.
Naomi Nash, an audio engineer specializing in monitor mixing, came into the industry a little later in life. “I retrained at the age of 31. I had become a little jaded in my previous office-based career and decided to get back into music technology. I had undertaken a short course on studio sound engineering in my late teens, and it just seemed natural to come back to that, so I enrolled in a two-year BTEC Live Events Production course at my local college, which enabled me to make some contacts and I started out working for a local PA company almost as soon as the course finished,” she recounts.
“It took me 18 months to feel I could quit my ‘backup’ job in hospitality and become fully self-employed in the live events industry. I was lucky to be surrounded by clever, enthusiastic, and open colleagues, and I learned so much in those first couple of years, mostly operating as a stage technician. I also did the usual warehouse work of prepping shows, PAT testing, painting speakers, loading vans, and hosing down muddy multicores. During those first few formative years, I worked as a local crew member with Rock City Stage Crew. Having the opportunity to work alongside the touring crew was essential to building an understanding of how events come together.”
“Being the only female on the local crew always felt a little intimidating. I felt as if I’d have to lift and push exactly the same as the big strong men to prove myself. But of course, at 5-foot-nothing, I would not be able to match up strength-wise. Once I had a few shows under my belt as part of the local crew, I realized that I wasn’t being judged on my strength alone, and although the camaraderie could be a little ‘laddish,’ I really enjoyed being part of a team. Even if I wasn’t much use triple-stacking cases in the back of a truck!”
After a few years in her stage tech role, Naomi realized, “I wouldn’t get too many offers of touring unless I had a more technical specialism, so I started to really try to develop my skills in mixing shows, mostly by being that annoying person asking engineers questions all of the time!”
It wasn’t until recently that Naomi forayed into front-of-house mixing, “Which I have really enjoyed! I still love to occasionally leg it around on a dark stage plugging microphones in, though; I just love the energy of a festival changeover!”
Tips and Advice
“I’m a huge fan of learning by doing; as such, I’m always on the lookout for training seminars and workshops. Many manufacturers offer training, and it was some years ago I undertook the L-Acoustics System and Line Array Optimization courses, which were really helpful and rewarding. Social media and online forums are also great sources of information and good for problem-solving. There are usually a few people with a few different options to try. There aren’t many opportunities to ‘practice’ mixing a show in a live environment outside of rehearsal time, so when I get the chance, I get into a studio space to really dig into how different tools such as compressors and reverbs work, then you can take that out into the live field with much more confidence.”
Naomi’s advice to women entering the industry is to “Be yourself. I’ve watched both men and women enter into scenarios with a preconceived notion of how they might be treated, and it actually led to a more difficult time than was necessary. Just be yourself: Friendly, capable, and with a can-do attitude. That sounds corny, but I’ve found that’s what people are looking for.”
Naomi continues on the topic of women in live sound, “I believe that women can bring a different vibe into this space which is still so male-dominated, and we should be confident to use that sometimes different attitude and approach in our work. I feel it’s a given that women can use their softer power more effectively, and more and more productions, bookers, and artists are recognizing this and opening up more opportunities for women across the industry.”
When you look back on our Women in Pro Audio series, there is a recurring theme for many women: “Most challenges for me come in the form of serious imposter syndrome,” Naomi admits. “Which can sap your ability to believe in yourself. Once you feel off balance in your confidence, it can really affect how you approach a job. When this happens, I turn to my mentors for a confidence-boosting pep talk. This usually results in me finding that I am, in fact, capable of the job, but maybe there’s a part of it I need to ‘gen up’ on – and that’s when good relationships with manufacturers and PA companies come in very handy. It’s best to get yourself in front of a piece of equipment and get the most hands-on time and experience you can.”
Also, for Naomi, getting into the industry later in life felt like a challenge for her. “When I went back to college, I got a little disillusioned because I felt like a 30-something lady from Cornwall wouldn’t get anywhere. I’d been contacting local companies for work experience with little success. We had an industry talk one day where I was amazed to meet a very accomplished female engineer who had worked with bands that I admire, and she was originally from Cornwall! After the talk, she was swamped with people asking her questions, so I decided to track her down later to ask for advice. I found her on LinkedIn (some might say stalked!), and she put me in touch with some of her contacts and gave me some really helpful tips and advice. I count her now not only as a mentor but as a good friend. I’d also like to thank all the men who have positively shaped my experience in the industry, including my partner, also a sound engineer. It’s great to have someone to geek out with back at home! And honestly, my best advice really is contacts, contacts, contacts. Put yourself out there, be curious, be presentable, and most importantly, always turn up 15 minutes early!”
Openly, Naomi adds, “Harnessing my nerves is also something I’ve had to work hard on, but I figure if you’re not a little bit nervous when you unmute that PA, then you’re probably doing it all wrong! Feel the fear. Then do it anyway!”
The question of sustainability and eco-friendliness are often on Naomi’s mind when she thinks of changes to the industry:
“When I think back to some of the tours I have done and account for all the flying and traveling, I do cringe at the impact of the live event and touring industry on the environment. I’d like to see a much more sustainable way of doing events. I know some bands are trying their best to reduce their carbon footprint, and festivals are also really driving towards environmentally aware ways of running with reusable drinks, cups, cans, etc., but I always wonder if there’s more that we can all do collectively.”
Why She Loves It
Most of all, Naomi loves what she does because of the collaboration needed to bring such exhilarating entertainment to people, as well as being able to travel and see cities she wouldn’t have otherwise. “To have the opportunity to travel the world and discover new cities, towns, venues, and people. That means a lot to me. Obviously, it’s not all glamour. A lot of the time, all you will see is “Airport-Bus-Venue-Bus-Airport,” but when you do get the odd day off to explore somewhere new with friends and colleagues, well… It’s not a bad job, really!”
But the most exciting part about what she does for a live show is “What happens at the top of the show. The sound of the audience—as the house lights go out—the roars of expectation and anticipation. I love that sound! It makes me proud that all these skilled people have come together in one place on one day and dominated their individual goals and jobs to create this special moment. It’s a collective effort, and I am so happy and grateful to share that moment with people you come to know and love as family.”
One of her favorite shows over the past couple of years has been with the fantastic and talented film music composer Hans Zimmer. “A two-week LA rehearsal period was followed by some bucket list shows, including Singapore Grand Prix, Hong Kong, and Seoul. I was stage tech and monitor engineer for the local 60-piece orchestra and choir. It was a complex yet incredible show and so much fun to work on! Glastonbury is also always a favorite of mine, having attended as a punter for many years. It was a special moment when I finally stepped onto the Other Stage with my colleagues from Skan PA.”
Naomi reflects on one of the high points of 2022 for her, “The highlight of 2022 was mixing FOH for the incredibly talented Arlo Parks on the Park Stage at Glastonbury on a Friday, followed by a support show at London’s 02 Arena for Billie Eilish on that Saturday. Talk about a dream come true not only to work with a young, progressive Grammy-nominated artist and her team but to see and hear a crowd enjoy that art that I’m just a small part of is a real privilege. Both of these shows are the biggest I’ve mixed at FOH so far, and I won’t lie, I’ve never felt so nervous before a show. Thankfully after the first few minutes, I could relax a little and get my head properly into the show. It was so much fun!”
The Future of Sound and Live Events
When asked what Naomi would like to see for the future of pro sound and live events, having more resources surrounding mental health was vital to her. “Obviously, it would be great to see more women in pro audio – we are getting there, and with the help of groups such as SoundGirls and Women in Live Music, I think the profile of what women can offer and do in this industry is getting stronger all of the time. The last time I went into the Britannia Row warehouse, I was delighted to see more women on the prep floor than men. There are a lot of opportunities opening up post-Covid, where people have left the industry or moved roles, and it’s an exciting time to get into live events. One other thing I would like is a little more progress and change in how we all work. Touring, in particular, is hard with long hours, little sleep, and sometimes bad habits form around eating and drinking and looking after yourself. There’s much more awareness around mental health and touring generally now, so I’d like to see more processes implemented to make everyone’s daily experience a little easier.”