The Women’s Audio Mission and Sound Channel: An Interview with Terri Winston

Last year (2010) at the AES convention in San Francisco, I took a few moments to visit and chat with the wonderful ladies of the Women’s Audio Mission. Women’s Audio Mission is a non-profit organization, “dedicated to the advancement of women in music production and the recording arts.” This visit to their booth was the first time I had heard of the organization, but their passion was (and is) both admirable and infectious.

At that show in San Francisco, they were excited about a new training tool they had just introduced, Sound Channel. One year later, Sound Channel has continued to grow in both content and reach. The time was well overdue that our community be introduced to theirs…WAM is doing some amazing things. I got in touch with the founder of WAM, Terri Winston, and scheduled some time to sit down and talk with her at their booth at this year’s AES convention in New York.

Designing Sound: Women’s Audio Mission is focused on getting more women into the audio industry, making it easier for them…

Terri Winston: We’re exposing them to the opportunity.

I know you’ve got the studio…you run educational programs there?

We have educational programs on site in our studio, that’s run entirely by women, and then we also have a collection of e-textbooks online. That reaches men and women, and it reached about 6,000 students in 105 countries last year.

That’s fantastic! What kind of outreach programs do you have to get young women interested in audio as a career?

That’s a really good question. Mostly, what we’re working on is communicating with schools: how they can attract women to their program, and then retention. It’s mostly that retention is the problem, it’s not actually getting them into the program. So, we’re finding that where a lot of women are entering a college program, which is great, we’re still working on retention. That’s where the training materials come in.

If women, for instance, are entering a program where there’s no female faculty, or there aren’t a lot of women in their program, that’s going to be difficult for retention. So, having materials that feature women, that are narrated by women…that gives a female presence in the classroom. That tends to keep women in the program.

Do you feel there’s a difference in retention…

Between men and women?

Maybe as far as a percentage. If women tend to be a lower percentage of the student body? I have a little bit of a teaching background as well, and I had a ton of students after the first classes who just said, “I’m done with this.”

I think the percentages are the same…but when you have so few women in the program, you need 100 percent retention. If you only have five, you need them all to stay in. We’re really good at that. So, if we can get them in the door, we can keep them in a program. We are trying to spread how we do that. That’s being done through this curriculum.

If you’re saying to them, “We really want you here,” and, “We need you to stay here,” and the curriculum and training materials are supporting that, then they stay. They’re genuinely great students.

Are you helping students who are in colleges, or is this only through the WAM program that you’re affecting retention?

Yes, we’re training them on site. We do that very well. In colleges, we’re helping through our membership program. We have over 850 women who are members, from all over the world. That network is helpful, because the students know that there’s this great network of women who are working in audio. It helps create this camaraderie and community with those folks. Then there’s the job board, so we’re helping them with placement, discounts to these kinds of events [AES], free magazines…So there’s this feeling that, “Oh, we’re being taken care of,” and there’s this sense that they’re entering a community and not just two women in a program.

Now, I imagine this is easier in a regional focus than it is in a broader, maybe global sense, in terms of where you’re having impact. Is that an accurate thought?

No, we’re pretty global. At this point we’ve gotten to be much more global. Obviously, the on-site training is mainly people from the bay area [San Francisco], and a higher percentage of interns in our studio come from California. We still get people coming in from out of town.

It is easier to track women that have gone through our program, but we’re with so many schools now. We can talk with the schools and see how much impact we’re having through collaboration in reaching their students. I also travel a lot and lecture about how to get women into the industry, how to keep them in the industry. Just being able to visit for a few hours with the women in somebody’s program is really helpful. They really get into their program, because they recognize that the school cares enough about them to fly somebody out to talk to them.

So, how do you approach those schools, or are they finding you?

They’re finding us. We’re gaining a lot of traction. We’ve been getting enough press where people are hearing about us and what we’re doing. We’ve been very fortunate in that a lot of the trade magazines…Pro Sound News, Mix Magazine, Electronic Musician, Tape Op…they donate ads. So we have ad-space, like in the AES daily we were given free ad-space…we were featured in the AES daily today. So, I think we’re getting enough traction where most colleges know about us at this point.

When did Sound Channel launch exactly?

Sound Channel launched a year ago at AES. The library wasn’t finished. We didn’t do a big push to college programs, because we wanted to have a semester’s worth of training materials. The weird thing is, those 6,000 people in 105 countries found us online on their own. We have interesting pockets of people from places like Romania, Turkey and Trinidad. We’re getting comments from them that, “There’s nothing like this for us here,” and, “Thank God this is online.” We have, something like, 23 percent who have completed it on a public computer, which is really good for us. It’s a population we were targeting, because we wanted to reach people who have no access. It’s cool that they could find a way. There is no university or trade school. There’s nothing, but they’re finding us online somehow. That’s really cool.

This year, because the curriculum is done, we’re trying to get this into schools and academic programs.

I see you’ve been adding modules.

Yeah, and there’s more coming. We’re adding furiously…there’s more coming when I get back home.

What different directions are you planning on going with those modules?

We currently have enough for an introductory audio class, but you could easily spread it out over a year. The next step will be the more intermediate style, production oriented, classes. The first set was fundamentals about sound, that could be applied to any discipline. Next, we’re going to be focusing more on each discipline.

And will you be focusing specifically on music production, live applications…

We’ll be doing live, sound for picture and studio production. We’ll probably start with studio production, because that’s where the demand is.

It also translates, to some degree, to the other areas.

Yeah. It’s mostly a demand thing. We have an influx of people who really want training in studio production. That’s my background, we have a studio and that’s a natural progression for us. We have a very deep contact list in terms of the areas: live sound, and sound for film in San Francisco. So those will definitely happen. We’ll start rolling them out incrementally. If I focus on only one series, all of a sudden it will be a year later. We’re very happy to have the intro one, because it’s super thorough.

When you start adding the more production oriented modules, you’re really starting to get into the realm of skills development. It can be hard to progress without having someone who can critique your work. Will there be some sort of feedback mechanism to for students who are studying these modules?

Currently all of the training modules do have a lot of self-testing incorporated for students to assess their understanding of the materials. Next year we will be incorporating the training library into a Learning Management System which will allow students to upload projects for feedback. Also, to clarify, Sound Channel is not meant to replace a classroom/studio environment where one would gain hands-on experience. It is most effective when used as a hybrid online/hands-on/classroom combination.

Is there anything you’d like to say directly to the Designing Sound readers?

Women’s Audio Mission focuses on any discipline with audio in it. Sound Channel, right now, isn’t very particular about the different fields. It’s really in depth on what sound is. It’s more about the physics and the electronics and science behind it, than something like a software platform…

We feel very strongly about having those fundamentals that translate into any discipline, and it’s really intense base tools. Instead of talking simply about decibels, we talk about why it’s 20Log instead of 10Log. So it really gets underneath it. That’s something tat I think is important, especially for sound design. Because, more than any other discipline, that’s what sound design is, focusing on what sound is…at least in my mind. These modules that are currently available really focus on what sound is and the physics of how it behaves, and I think that sound design is interested in that.

If anyone wants to get involved with WAM, how can they do that?

Terri: Probably obvious, but they can become a member. Membership is per year, and it’s $30 for a student; $40 for non-student. The benefits of that are access to our meetings (and we webcast all of our meetings, and people from all over the world participate in those), we have guest lectures in some of those meetings (we just had Rich Topham from Professional Sound Services recently, talking about location sound), really heavy discounts on gear (like 30% off of Earthworks microphones and more listed on the website), free magazines and trade publications, discounts to conventions and conferences, and the big one is the job board. Due to our non-profit purpose, WAM membership is for women only. However, Sound Channel training and WAM’s e-mail list of upcoming events and activities are open to everyone.

All of this information, and how to join, is up on the Women’s Audio Mission website, and there are links to Sound Channel there as well. So it’s all conveniently there.

I’d like to thank Terri for taking time out of her very busy convention schedule to chat with me. For more information, visit the Women’s Audio Mission and Sound Channel websites. WAM can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

4 Comments on “The Women’s Audio Mission and Sound Channel: An Interview with Terri Winston

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