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Omnii Collective balances gender gap with audio engineering workshops

Daniel Gumble met one Omnii's co-founders, Naomi Jackson, to discover more about the project

Omnii Collective in action

Omnii has made great strides over the past three years. Its mission – to provide courses and workshops in everything from recording techniques to live sound mixing for women and non-binary people – has transformed from a passion project conceived by its core team of engineers – Naomi Jackson, Francine Perry, Joy Stacey and Phoebe Robinson – into a nationwide concern.

However, with ambitions to spread its reach further afield and make its free services accessible to a wider audience, it still requires support from across the the music business and the professional audio market. To find out more, PSNEurope editor Daniel Gumble caught up with Omnii co-founder Naomi Jackson to reflect on an incredibly encouraging three years to date and to discuss her hopes for greater industry diversity…

How did you first get involved in the audio industry?

I studied Popular Music at university, which included music production. I went on to do a Masters Degree and I was working a lot at the same time; one of my jobs was working at the student union, which is where I got into live sound. That was where Francine Perry and I met, who co-founded Omnii with me.

We were learning on the fly, and through that I picked up work doing touring theatre. I worked on some projects at Goldsmiths University, the Roundhouse and the Southbank Centre, which is where I currently work. Very quickly we started to notice that there weren’t many other women and trans or non-binary people in these roles. So we decided to start training people and through that we met Joy Stacey and Phoebe Robinson and we started running workshops.

We’ve been going for about three years now and when we started it seemed like a lot of conversations about equality in the music industry were starting to take place. We did some stuff with Red Bull’s Normal Not Novelty project, then Native Instruments and Ableton got in touch, so word started to get out a bit more. Then last year we had this idea to try and take what we were doing outside of London and expand it nationwide.

What is Omnii’s mission statement?

Our mission is to contribute to addressing the gender imbalance in the more technical side of the music industry, whether that’s in the studio or in live sound. When we started, all four of us were working on the same things. As it became more apparent that me and Phoebe were more interested in live sound and Francine and Joy were working in studios we started to build a programme that would cover both disciplines.

The workshops we hold are standalone classes – we do an introductory course on how to run live sound in small venues, how to soundcheck a band, while Francine and Joy run a studio course in conjunction with Goldsmiths Music Studios, which runs over an academic year. It provides an introduction to recording, mic techniques, mixing, mastering, recording a full band. We’re hoping to do the same and have a consistent partner on the live side, but it’s difficult to get into venues for that extended period of time.

And as a charity we rely on funding from larger bodies or partnerships with brands, so trying to find a venue to commit to us for that long is tough. We’ve done some stuff at the Roundhouse, but that’s downstairs and not in the actual venue.

L-R: Phoebe Robinson, Francine Perry, Naomi Jackson and Joy Stacey

Are you starting to see more women in audio engineering roles?

Yes, we are starting to see more women but it’s happening slowly. As with a lot of technical jobs, it needs to be instilled at a much earlier age that these roles are available to women. I think it will change over time. I certainly don’t feel like I’m always the only woman in the room anymore.

Did you have any role models when you first started out?

When I first started it felt like there were no women in sound, but there were quite a few women in lighting. That was quite useful, listening to them and hearing about their experiences. Through Omnii we’ve met a lot of great people, such as Mandy Parnell, and listening to her talk about her experiences was really inspiring. These days, it’s not very often that you encounter overt sexism; it tends to be little things. But 20 or 30 years ago it must’ve been incredibly difficult. So I’ve not really had any role models as such, but I’ve met some very inspiring people.

What would your advice be to any young people considering a career in audio engineering?

On the studio side, if you’re a musician it’s best to just start recording your own stuff. If you have Logic on your laptop then you already have a powerful studio there. It may not feel especially grand, but you have some great tools to help you learn. You can also start by recording your friends or bands in your scene. Learning about mics is important too – going into shops and asking about different mics, reading up about them online and in books. There are some great guides out there.

On the live side, it’s difficult if you are under 18 because you can’t go into a bar. But if you are 18 and there is a local pub that has live music on a Friday night, just go and pester the sound engineer. Ask them if you can shadow them and watch what they’re doing. They might say no at first, but if you go back to ask again and again they might say yes.

Putting on your own gigs is great for learning as well. If you’re at school, ask the music department if you can put on a small gig. And of course, going to gigs and listening out for what you like or don’t like about the sound. Then you can read up on why things might sound a certain way. It’s one of those industries where you really have to work hard and invest a lot of time in it, and then it becomes such a rewarding experience.

You can find the extended version of this interview in the digital edition of the mag.