Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato is a sounds engineer to the stars, and founder of SoungGirls. She took the time out of her busy schedule to chat to us about life on the road, behind the soundbooth and her journey.
How did you first find you were interested in becoming a sound engineer?
I was in high school when I decided I wanted to be a recording engineer. I had played piano since I was very young but did not want to be a performer. I had a passion for music and science and figured that working behind the scenes as a recording engineer, making records, would give me a way to be creatively involved in making music without having to be a performer. I switched to live sound while I was attending a technical school for recording engineering and music production. I found live sound to be more rewarding and it would also feed my desire to travel and see the world.
The Women Who Are Behind Live Entertainment: Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato
You’ve toured with the likes of Gwen Stefani, Ke$ha, Melissa Etheridge (wow!), and Goo Goo Dolls, how demanding are these tours and do you think there are perks of being a female member of the touring crew?
Each tour is unique and they are demanding in different ways. For some it’s the travel and work load, others can be mentally taxing, some shows are very easy to mix while others can require incredible focus.
Depending on the size of the tour and production my days can be 16 hours long. On smaller productions they are usually about 12 hours long. If we are doing a lot of flying rather than travelling by tour bus that makes it very grueling. I did a tour a few years ago in South America, where we had to fly ever day and due to the schedule, no one got more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep/night. That was one of the most difficult in terms of travel.
I am currently on tour in Japan and SE Asia. We started the tour in London, spent a week in Europe before heading to Russia for shows in Moscow and St Petersburg, then on to Manila, South Korea. Right now, we’re in Japan and we’ll be here for about three weeks. Next we travel to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and finally Singapore. While most people look at that schedule and see all of these interesting and exotic places and imagine the glamorous life of Rock and Roll, they forget it’s a job and not a vacation. What it’s really like is: A very early lobby call for an hours drive in a van to the airport. We have to get to the airport about three hours before our flight because it can take an hour or two to check in all of our equipment and luggage. Fly to the next country, drive an hour in a van to the hotel, unload and find somewhere to store all of our equipment at the hotel, before I finally get to my room. Take a quick shower and try and find somewhere close and easy to eat lunch or dinner. Come back to my room, organize my bag for the next day and catch up on a few emails or work before going to sleep. Wake up, collect the equipment and spend 30 minutes or longer in a van driving to the venue. Work a 12 hour or more day, load the equipment and get back in the van to return to the hotel. Maybe have a beer or two with the crew and go to sleep for a few hours before doing it all over again the next day. Still even through all of that, this is the best job in the world. I get to mix incredible music and do what I love and that makes it all worth it.
I don’t know that I would say there are perks to being a female on the crew. I don’t really think of myself as a ‘female’ member of the crew, just another one of the crew. I don’t expect anyone to treat me any different from the men and I work just as hard as they do.
This is still an extremely male-dominated industry, did you find it hard to breakthrough?
I think it’s hard for anyone to break into. I knocked on a lot of doors before I got my first tour. I sent resumes to every sound company I could find for over a year and moved around a lot to find work and keep working. The key is being persistent. So many people think it would be great to go on tour with a band, ‘the glamorous life of rock and roll’. They severely underestimate the fact that it’s a job and a very real job at that. They have stars in their eyes and think they will be just hanging out and partying with the band. It’s not like that at all. The days are long, the conditions can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. We’ve all got a job to do to make the show happen and if you can’t do your job, it affects everyone around you and you won’t last very long.
There’s not a lot of room for BS so it’s hard for someone who no ones heard of to get their foot in the door. It’s as much about who you know as it is being in the right place at the right time – Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato
It’s also about how you present yourself. You need to know your stuff and be able to play well with others. If you know what you’re doing and act in a professional manner people will usually treat you with respect. There will always be those who just cannot get their head into the 21st century and accept that we are all equal, regardless of gender, race, etc…. but that is their problem and not yours. When you are good at your gig and take the job seriously, eventually the right people will notice and doors will open for you.
You have co-founded it, tell us a little about the site and how inspired young sound engineers can connect with you.
It gives women working in audio a place to connect, network, and support each other while also inspiring and empowering the next generation of women in audio.
The website features a Profile on a different woman every month, Blogs by myself and Karrie Keyes (co-founder and monitor engineer for Pearl Jam) as well as two women who are fairly new to the industry. There are tons of articles on topics from audio, music production, to career development. We have an ever growing group of Mentors, lots of resources for those interested in learning more about professional audio and some really great things coming up in the near future. It’s free to join and benefits of membership include access to the entire site and forums, discounts to various online training and seminars, and participation in exclusive events