“So I grew up with this attitude that everything can be fixed, you just need to learn how.”~Mary Podio
There are so many things I love about Mary Podio. After spending the last couple of months working with her, I’ve gotten to know her beyond the external veneer of engineer/musician badassery. I’ve watched her solve layered technical problems, deal with human drama, cook dinner while wrangling musicians and simultaneously cleaning me off with a garden hose (see the video for Mother Nature). She does it all with a smile and a weird glint in her eye that suggests she knows more about you than you do.
If somethings breaks, she WILL fix it.
I started writing this blog with a statistic in mind. You may not be aware that only 5% of audio engineers are female. You might not really care. Unless, of course, you are a woman who is trying to make a record. It’s hard for me to write this and not focus on the fact that Mary is a woman. I would be lying if I told you that her being female wasn’t part of the deciding factor in choosing her and John to make my record. Life has taught me to be on guard around men in certain spaces, and the studio is full of the male sex! In the past I’ve been told to “stick to what I was good at,” that “I shouldn’t concern myself with such things” and “that’s what you’re paying me [a dude] for anyway so...” I’m not making this up or being hyperbolic for the sense of an interesting article. When you’re asked things like “which guy in the band is your boyfriend” when you’re seen loading music equipment or you are repeatedly denied respect from male sound engineers, you start to LOOK. you start to think if you could just find someone to trust. An extra added bonus of working with a woman was that I didn't have to worry about her trying to sleep with me.
But I don’t want to paint the picture that she is badass engineer only because she is a woman. I want to say that she is badass, period. The problem is I cannot erase my history and my baggage from this story. I’m struggling to he honest here. I want to say that she allowed me to do one simple thing that I’ve wanted to do my entire life: trust myself and my own voice and talent.
DAMN. Isn’t that everything? She will tell you she didn’t do anything. I will tell you she did everything.
Let’s get back to the woman: Mary Podio.
[Before we do that! I must note that at the end of this blog I provide links to a group of websites that belong to organizations supporting women in audio. I’ve spent my entire life trying to prove my own worth in a man’s world and I’ve WASTED A TON OF TIME doing it. We are smart enough. We are good enough. We are better than enough.]
Now I digress for real:
When you were young, did you ever imagine yourself as an audio engineer?
Not at all, it never occurred to me that audio engineering was something that people did. I never thought about the recording process, I just loved music. I grew up in a house where there was music all the time. My Father had the radio tuned to the classical station in the background in the house all day. My parents both played instruments, and when they had friends over, there was always someone with a guitar playing the popular tunes and everyone else singing along. Music just existed, there was no why or how, it was always around. No need to wonder about how it got there or who helped get it there.
Many people probably don’t know that you’re also a fine singer. Who are some of the musicians who inspired you to want to sing?
The musicians who inspired me to sing on recordings, are most of the people we've worked with over the years. I've been lucky to have been in the studio when some amazing vocals have been recorded. Singing along to your favorite song in the car is easy. Singing into a microphone and recording it, so you can hear it played back at you really takes guts. Watching our clients stand up to the mic and recorder over the years, that's what really inspired me.
I know from talking to you that you basically taught yourself how to fix computers. Can you explain to the rest of the world what it takes to solve complicated tech problems? In other words, most of us just give up and call someone else to fix it. What personality trait or gene made you want to stick with it?
The personality trait that enables me to solve problems is tenacity. I've always been interested in whatever someone was fixing, whether it was dinner, or a car. I've asked countless questions of hundreds of people over the years about what they were doing, and most of them had the patience to slow down and teach me how whatever it was worked. So I grew up with this attitude that everything can be fixed, you just need to learn how. There's always a manual out there somewhere that will give you more information about the problem, just gotta find it and read it. There's always someone out there who knows more about the problem than you do, just gotta find them and ask. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the key piece of information you need, but eventually, you will come across it, just gotta hang in there.
Research indicates that only 5% of the music audio world is comprised of women. What do you think accounts for this statistic?
From what I've read, our society has been slanted towards not teaching girls things like math and science until very recently. Audio engineers started out as electrical engineers, with real electrical engineering degrees back in the 1950's because they were building the audio equipment as they needed it. Essentially, they were inventing recording. When someone thought of a new thing they wanted to try, the engineers would have to design and build it. Today, most audio engineers don't have electrical engineering degrees, but the name still suggests some sort of math and science background. By the time girls are teenagers, and forming their own ideas about what they might want to pursue as a career, they've been told over and over by society, that they are no good at math. This bias is changing, there are new pushes to encourage girls to take on math, science, programming, etc. But it's a slow process. Eventually, I think it might be 50/50, but we've got a long way to go.
I know from my own eye-witness account that John, your partner, treats you as an equal and is in general and amazing human being. That being said, have you ever encountered any sexism or bias in your work?
I have encountered sexism in all aspects of my life, just like most women. I have also encountered employers and teachers along the way that showed no bias toward anyone working or learning under them on the basis of sex, religion, or color. In an ideal world, there would be no biases toward anyone, but that's not how people work. I have learned to use the sexism I've encountered as a way to make me stronger and smarter. I try to learn from it, so when I encounter it the next time, I might actually educate the person who is being sexist. It's a chance to change a viewpoint, and therefore change the entire community one person at a time. Don't get me wrong, the bad experiences have been BAD. However, you can't let it get to you, or prejudice wins. Where would we be if every person who had a bad experience trying to do something just gave up? Nowhere. Over time, you develop a thicker skin, and it's no longer about you, it's about the person trying to hold you back, and what can you do to change their approach for the next person who has to confront their prejudices. If you can give purpose to the bad experiences, you can change them to not-so-bad experiences, even decent ones, or good ones on occasion. Then you've contributed something instead of being beaten down.
What advice would you give to a young woman who may just be starting her journey in the audio engineering world?
I give the same advice to anyone who asks me about starting in the audio engineering world, male, female, young, old, doesn't matter. Keep your eyes and ears open and take good notes. You will come across people who will be full of valuable information, and they will be willing to share it. Ask questions, respectfully, and learn as much as you can from these people. Keep this info in your "toolkit", and it will help you develop your own methods and style in recording. The really cool thing about recording, it that it's an art in itself. There's no one right way to do it, so if you watch other people do it, you learn many different approaches, and you start to think of other ways that maybe no one else is doing. Don't be afraid to try and fail, you can always fall back on your "toolkit" of how others have done it, but you might come up with a way that works even better for you.
What is the best part of your job?
The people we get to work with are absolutely the best part of my job. They have done so much planning and creating before they ever step into the studio, it's just so cool to help them get their art out of their head and into the world. It's a really magical thing to be a part of, and each time it's different because of the people.
What is the worst or most challenging part of your job?
The worst part of my job is software maintenance and archiving data. It is total drudgery. Upgrading software, and operating systems takes a lot of time and you have to babysit the computer. Backing up data takes time too, and you have to do it at the end of every session. It's a pain, but it has to be done. Even in the old days, before we recorded to the computer, we had to make backup copies of tapes in case something happened to the original. With every thing that's fun, there's gonna be a certain amount of maintenance, so just you just have to get over your lack of motivation and do it. At least with technology there's always time saving improvements. When we were archiving tape, we had to do it in real time, which meant if there was 30 minutes of recorded music to back up, it would take 30 minutes to play it onto the backup tape plus however long it took to label the backup, box it up, and store it in the tape vault. Now all I have to do is drag and drop it onto an external hard drive (copying in less than real time), eject the drive, label the box it goes in, and store it in the tape vault.
Finally, when can we expect the next musical release from you and your partner John Harvey?
We're shooting for recording, mixing and mastering our record this year with a tentative release date of Feb. 25, 2018 (my 50th birthday).
Through my little bit of research into women in sound engineering, I found the following resources: