Hannah Brodrick is a live sound engineer with over 10 years of hands-on experience. She has been touring with a huge variety of artists, and her recent collaborations include realizing monitors for Florence + The Machine or Supergrass. Hannah is also a co-founder and director of the EU-based organization ‘Women in Live Music’ (WILM).

AV Tech Magazine: Hello Hannah! It’s a real pleasure and an honour to talk to you. To start I would like to go back to the past and ask if you remember how you got an idea to study Music Technology and Sound Design, do you remember what inspired you and what were your thoughts at that moment?

Hannah Brodrick: When I hit 6th form at the age of 17, Music Technology had only just established itself as an academic course. It had been running for one year at my college when I decided to enrol and was very heavily based around theory and composition. I believed for a long time that in order to succeed at music technology you had to be good at reading and writing music – and ideally also be able to play, which was a tough thing to reckon with as I was very insecure in my musical abilities. Every time I took a music exam or stepped out onto a stage I was hit with terrible stage fright, and I was extremely self-conscious about the music I wrote.
Despite that, music was such a huge part of my life. I spent a lot of time as a teenager going to concerts and festivals, hanging out at my local record stall and becoming involved in my local music scene so I figured Music Technology was still the closest thing I could get to music – without actually having to get on a stage and perform it.

It ended up being the subject I did most well in, mainly because I enjoyed it but also due to the fact it was very coursework-based and I really sucked at exams. I wanted to go to University straight away and knowing there was no end-of-year final exams to contend with, it seemed an obvious choice to study Music Technology and Sound Design at degree level. I wasn’t quite sure where it would take me at the time, I thought perhaps I would go into recording or production.

Today you have an established position as a sound engineer. Could you tell us how was it for you to get into the industry, which experiences shaped you the most and what you struggled with at the beginning of your professional path?

After I graduated I didn’t know the industry or how to get in to it, so I was blindly applying for positions at recording studios, venues, anything music-related to try to get my foot in the door. All I managed to achieve was a string of unpaid internships for various music PR/marketing companies, which was pretty miserable and exploitative.

It took around me two years of this, until I finally got my break, which came from operating lights for a show at Brighton Fringe. I had never done lights but when a friend asked if I could cover him I jumped at the chance and decided I’d figure out the rest later.

The gig was a bit of a disaster, but the production manager noticed me and asked if I wanted to do some work for them the following week in their warehouse. I was soon building stages and running sound, power and lighting for local events. I didn’t get paid much but it was a fantastic learning experience. 

I went on to work in local theatres as a stagehand until I felt that my lack of knowledge in live sound was holding me back, so I decided to enrol in an advanced live sound course with Britannia Row Productions Training in London in 2014.

After I graduated from the course I began working for Britannia Row in their warehouse, as well as crewing and corporate sound work, and touring came soon after. 
The thing I struggled with most throughout this early period in my career is that I was so alone, I had nobody to ask for help or direction. What I really needed was a role model or a mentor. The first few women I encountered working in the audio industry changed my outlook immeasurably, I just wish I’d met them sooner.

You have worked with a variety of music bands representing different genres. Have you established different mixing techniques depending on the genre and band? Does your mixing approach differ when you’re realising FOH or MON?

The bulk of my FOH mixing has been with atmospheric rock and metal bands, where a big drum sound is a prominent feature. I introduced a little bit of this to the more pop-ier acts unsure what the band or management would think, but they loved it so I’ve just always trusted my instinct there. I don’t see my role as a FOH engineer to shape the artists’ sound and put my stamp on it or add things that aren’t already there. Making it work within the space and bridging the gap between the artist and audience with honesty and minimal intervention is my style.

Mixing monitors is a different ballgame, my job isn’t to make it sound like a polished package, it’s primarily about making sure the artist has the information they need to stay in time and in key and make the experience as easy and enjoyable for them as possible. The goal is really for them to forget I’m even there.

It does require a bit of guesswork though. When I listen to an artists in-ear mix, I have to be aware that my ears hear differently, I haven’t got my own voice resonating in my head, or their guitar cabinet behind me so it requires a bit of imagination sometimes. What sounds great to them can sound ‘bad’ to me, and that’s totally fine! Working with older artists is challenging sometimes in this way when we take into account hearing loss and aversion to change.

I used to freelance at the Troxy – a 3000+ capacity venue in London and there I got to mix both FOH and monitors for many established bands of different genres. If the bands toured with an engineer it was always FOH so I found myself mixing monitors regularly enough that it fast became where I felt most comfortable.

You’re working as a MON engineer with Florence & The Machine. Can you tell us more about the setup you are using during the concerts?

I’m using a DiGiCo Quantum 7 console with 32bit DAC cards and a Shure PSM1000 In-ear monitoring system. The band are all on IEMs so the stage is fairly quiet. 
For Florence’s vocal we are using Shure AD2 transmitter with a DPA d:facto 4018V capsule.
I use DiGiGrid MADI MGB’s and Logic Pro for multitrack recording each show, and a Shure AD600 digital spectrum manager with Wireless Workbench for radio frequency management and keeping an eye on everything.

What are the most important functionalities of the DiGiCo Quantum 7 console and Shure PSM 1000 personal monitoring system for you?

I’m using around 85 input channels and 22 auxes for this show so I needed a desk that had a good amount of surface faders and screens to be able to get to things quickly. I like Digico for its flexibility in that you can program a macro to do pretty much anything you want, it’s a very powerful desk. I use timecode to trigger certain snapshots and make use of the fade time functionality to cross-fade between snapshots so there are no immediate jumps in level for the bands ears. 

For IEM’s I chose Shure PSM1000 for the audio quality and solid RF. Florence spends a lot of the show in the crowd amongst the audience and sometimes goes right out to FOH or beyond, it’s important that her mic and IEM’s both transmit and receive audio when she is 50m away from the stage.

When realising mixes for Florence’s band members, are you trying to reproduce the album sound or are you having a flexibility to implement the new ideas?

The IEM mixes sound absolutely nothing like the album for anyone. I’ve noticed that when you work with pro-musicians the mix becomes more and more “practical” rather than album-like.

Lots of vocals for those who sing, and lots of click track to help keep people in time. If it isn’t helpful to their particular task during that song, it’s not really found in their mix. 
I have worked with the band on this campaign for around 20 months now so they are pretty well settled. For Florence she has a lot of her vocal, lots of lush reverb, drums and whatever is most melodious in any particular track to help her pitch, nothing too unusual there, but some of the band members have some interesting things going on. 
In the early days when the mixes weren’t quite settled on the first leg of the tour I allowed a couple of the band to listen back to the multitrack record from the last show and adjust their mix levels on the desk themselves. It seemed like if they knew they had made those choices themselves it was less likely for them to question it and it helped pull things together a bit quicker. 

What interests me as well as a woman with the audio background is your social activity – you are a Co-Director of Women In Live Music organisation. Women are underrepresented in the live sound industry. Luckily, the times are changing and nowadays it’s much more natural to see women in different professions and roles. In your experience, did you struggle with some forms of inequality? How do you think women should approach the live industry, especially at the beginning of their career?

I think I definitely lost out on work early on due to being a woman. I was putting myself forward for van tours where crew would be room-sharing in hotels, and tour managers were either uncomfortable about this idea or assumed I would be so I was disregarded.
 Then I found more and more I was being offered job opportunities because I was a woman! Particularly post-covid, much of the workforce left and artists had to build new teams. There has been a lot of talk about diversity in recent years and many artists now wanted to hire women, so I was getting a recommended a lot. Unfortunately this induced its own special insecurity because I felt like I getting hired because of my gender and not my ability.
 Even though this was ultimately good for me, I felt like I couldn’t escape this role of being a woman even when all I wanted to do was be a sound engineer. 

The saddest thing I see with women entering this industry is they have a tendency to downplay their abilities and not put themselves forward for jobs because they think they lack the experience necessary. To progress in this industry you have to continuously take on opportunities outside of your comfort zone, and that can be nerve-wrecking.
 My advice is don’t be afraid to speak up and state your intentions. If you are an audio tech with a little bit of mixing experience dreaming of becoming a FOH engineer, start telling the world you are FOH engineer. Once you realise that everyone in this industry has made mistakes and has had to fake it at some point, it becomes a lot easier.

What also helps is to surround yourself with a support network. Have a list of people you can call on when you need help with something, whether it’s tech-related or personal.
Women in Live Music has a private Facebook group which is a great place for people to ask for advice (even anonymously if they wish) about anything from imposter syndrome to what to pack for your first bus tour and I’m immensely proud of it. There’s no need to figure it all out on your own, the support is there for those who need it.

AT WILM you’re not only offering free events and workshops for the members but it’s a great chance to find a female specialist within an industry.

If you are looking to hire more women in the industry then the WILM Crewlist is a great place to start.

It’s a free directory on our website where you can search for music industry professionals – whether you need a Pyro Technician in Germany or a Bus Driver in Ireland we now have over 200 women across Europe showcased in the Crewlist and many tour and production managers are now using it to recruit.

Keep an eye out also for our annual WILMAwards in December where we celebrate the fantastic achievements of our members working in all areas of the live music industry.

Thank you Hannah and I wish you to keep the same energy for the next projects.

Thanks to you too!

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