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Why we need campaigns like Red Bull Studios’ Normal Not Novelty

Normal Not Novelty is a female only campaign, offering engineering workshops and a platform for collaboration and networking in the industry

Katie Tavini, mastering engineer and regular host at Red Bull Studios’ Normal Not Novelty nights – which won the Campaign Award at the 2018 Pro Sound Awards – tells PSNEurope about the benefits of such initiatives and the positive impacts they can have on those pursuing a career in pro audio…

I will admit, it’s a boring topic. Sitting around and discussing what it’s like to be a woman in a male dominated industry is tiresome and it rarely achieves anything. This is why, when Brendon Harding (formerly Red Bull Studios) phoned me in December 2016 and asked if I’d like to run an engineering workshop the following month for anyone identifying as female, I said yes.

It was so refreshing, the thought of teaching women who are interested in sound, an actual skill that they can take away and use to create beautiful music. And at the same time, it was terrifying. I’m not going to lie, a couple of days before the first workshop, I very nearly phoned him back to bail. And I’m so glad I didn’t!

The reaction to Normal Not Novelty has been mixed – set in Red Bull Studios (and occasionally at other venues) we have discussed practical engineering techniques, from mastering with Mandy Parnell and recording film scores with Fiona Cruikshank, to mixing with Lauren Deakin-Davies (winner of the Breakthrough Studio Engineer award at the 2018 Pro Sound Awards) and starting work as an engineer with Steph Marziano. However, some men have felt threatened. We share knowledge and support each other. We collaborate and make connections to further our careers. We cheer each other on and celebrate and support each others new releases.

We do not sit around and moan about being in a male-dominated industry, and we do not speak negatively of male engineers. We are not creating an anti-male club, and we are not trying to write men out of audio engineering.

Think of it like this; you’ve been working as a professional engineer for a decade, yet when you go to events, people assume you’re there to support your other half. Well unfortunately, that’s the story for a lot of females working in the industry, including myself. And so, to put your hand up at these events to ask a question can feel like the scariest thing in the world. But that’s just the beginning – mixed events are typically 90 per cent male, and some women may have had a trauma that makes them feel unsafe around men. Some women are the only female in their class at college/uni and want a change of scenery. Some women may be trans (we support you trans sisters, you are welcome at any NNN event!) and may feel threatened in a room full of cis men. And some women are just plain bored of being asked if they’re someone’s girlfriend.

Normal Not Novelty has given women a platform to share their music, either in real life or in the ever growing Facebook group. It allows women to promote their events, ask advice and to feel supported. Personally, it has given me more confidence in my own ability and also the confidence to network with other music industry workers.

It has expanded my knowledge as each month we cover a different topic, and it has taught me that there is no shame in being proud of your achievements. But mostly, Normal Not Novelty is an event where you will never be asked to justify your attendance.

It’s not necessarily changing the balance – if women aren’t interested in audio engineering, then we’re not going to try and convince them otherwise. But what we do want is women in audio to feel a sense of community, to be visible, and to be respected. And if the balance does change, then that’s cool too.