Published in the Summer 2004 issue • Woman on the Job
Who: Marlin Saraiva, 34
Job: Sound Engineer/House Technician
Job description: A lot of it is co-ordinating people because you’ll get, on any given night, three bands, five people in a band. That’s 15 people just aimlessly dropping gear. A sound engineer is responsible for mixing a band, setting up the sound system if need be, setting up the stage, miking the bands, and assessing sonically what a band needs to perform. A house technician takes care of the house P.A., maintains and advances a lot of the show.
Career break: I was about 21 and my friend said there was this really great band playing at the Rivoli [a Toronto club]. I walked in and I found myself really drawn to the soundboard, and was just like, “Wow, look at all these knobs and dials and stuff, what’s this guy doing? What’s going on here?” The next day, I started calling government agencies that would sponsor an apprenticeship program, and within the week I had managed to get a job placement [at the Rivoli]. I got paid minimum wage for four months, and then volunteered for another three months.
Hours: It varies. When I was working at Lee’s Palace there were a lot of all-ages shows where I’d start at 11 a.m. and work until 2 or 3 a.m. But, for the most part, I start around 6 p.m., and end between 1 and 3 a.m.
Pay: Depends on the venue. Usually a flat rate of $100 to $125 for a house gig. A touring sound person generally starts at $150. Wage hasn’t really set my parameters for where I like to work. I prefer house gigs. I find them more stable. I like going home after the gigs.
Education/training: I haven’t gone to school for [sound engineering] but I did apprentice at the Rivoli with one of the old techs. Then I moved on and apprenticed with another tech for another two months. So I did a good eight months of full-on 40 to 60 hours a week of training.
Work environment: Dusty, loud, luckily not so smoky anymore. It can be very stimulating because there’s so much going on, but you are working very much alone. The people that you work with are in the bands, but once you set up and sound check you’re not working with them anymore. You’re working with the music.
Job perks: I don’t feel like I have too many people over my shoulder telling me how to do my job. I take pride in what I do and I feel like I do it well. A lot of people in the audience come by the soundboard, especially because I’m female. I think that gets noticed a lot.
Dangers: Drugs and alcohol and deviant lifestyle tend to be prevalent in this industry. I’ve seen a lot of people go down hard and get addicted to heroin. It becomes very unhealthy; smoking a lot, drinking a lot, and it’s easy to get sucked in because you’re living the nightlife. Fortunately for me, I chose a different path.
On being a woman in a male-dominated field: I feel like I’m treated better now because I think I’ve got a little bit of a name, people know me. When I was just starting out, I overheard somebody in the dressing room say that I was just in it to hang out with the bands, and it shocked me. I became very conservative after that. I adopted this personality of being a tough girl. I think it happens to a lot of women who get into jobs that aren’t necessarily viewed as female dominated. It gets perceived as a power thing, but it’s not. You’re just trying to make a point that you don’t want the fact that you’re female getting in the way. To gain people’s respect you have to be very professional. You overcompensate.
Career advancement: There’s a lot of room for advancement in this industry. You can become a booker. You could become a band manager. You could tour with bands doing sound. There are so many transferable skills.
Career advice: You don’t necessarily have to go to school for this. A lot of people prefer to hire someone who hasn’t been moulded by the way schools structure their teaching. I’ve witnessed a lot of that with certain sound people that come out of school. They’re like, “Well, this is the way we were taught,” and it’s not necessarily the only way to do something. The plus side is that by going to school you learn the electronic groundwork that is very necessary in this job. I had to learn it through a lot of trial and error.
Inspiration: I was doing a day show, feeling pretty tired and not very perky. I was thinking, “Why am I here?” and I overheard this girl who was probably about 10. She was in front of the monitors, hanging off the rails and watching me work. I overheard her say, “Wow, she’s so cool, I wanna be just like her,” and my heart just kinda went, “Oh my God!” It was such a turning point in my career.