Following the wave of momentum for widespread cultural and political change stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement and in proactive response to #BlackOutTuesday, 10 Black women were chosen from a talent pool of 550 applicants to take part in a 12-weekend-long live music training programme based at ICMP in central London. The 3T (Tour Tech Training) course was founded by multi-GRAMMY, Mercury and BRIT-nominated artist, Nao and GRAMMY award-winning singer-songwriter, Mura Masa, and funded by the artists, Native Management, Sony Music UK, and several other private individuals.
Black women are not only under-represented in the live music and production sector, they are almost entirely absent from the crew call sheet. The 3T course was designed to address the imbalance and provide visibility and confidence for Black women by teaching the broad set of technical skills and knowledge required to break into the live music and production sector, and assist across all departments during a final, pass-out ‘Big Weekend’ performance. Following an initial call to action on social media and an intensive Zoom-led interview process, the team whittled down 550 prospective applicants to a final 10 students – Emily Odamtten, Genny Turay, Grace Esia, Helena Scotland, Iman Muhammad, Kariss Townsend, Mercy Sotire, Michelle Shaiyen, Perusi Kakaire and Yasmine St. Croix.
“Native Management was looking to employ a more diverse touring crew,” explained Course Leader, AJ Sutherland, who was in Mura Masa’s touring team when they were hiring the artist’s first monitor engineer and fellow 3T Course Leader, Freyja Lawson.
When searching for monitor engineers, Sutherland and the management team discovered that the applicants were “overwhelmingly” white men. “Thankfully, we found a fantastic sound engineer in Freyja Lawson – which highlighted to the artist and Native Management the lack of diversity in the talent pool of the UK touring scene. Once that was on their radar, they were keen to take action to affect change,” Sutherland added.
“This course was an opportunity for the touring industry to start making some real changes that go further than just a hashtag or words of support,” Lawson recalled, describing the experience as a “much welcomed” education for herself as much as the students. “What we’ve learned from the BLM movement is that, to be a better ally, you can’t ask what is needed of you; you need to go out and discover and educate yourself.”
Although the sector remains a predominantly white male space, Lawson believes that the industry is evolving. “A lot has changed over the past eight years I’ve been in the industry – there’s a drive now to incorporate more women and non-binary people, which is great as we were a little behind the times for a creative and technically minded industry.” Sutherland chimed in: “We all want to make the industry a better, more enjoyable and vibrant place to work.”
The concept of the name, Tour Tech Training, was a nod to the open arms for dynamic and well-educated roles in the industry. “One thing our industry has not been great at as well as diversity, which we recognise and want to improve, is the process of introducing new talent.”
As the COVID-19 crisis hit, the freelance PM began searching for opportunities in the TV/film industry and was struck by how advanced the sector is not only in encouraging diversity and inclusion but also putting the procedures and structures in place for introducing and encouraging new talent. “There are apprenticeships with paid trainees who learn from experienced crew members, which is a well-established and integral part of the sector.”
He believes this is something that is almost entirely missing from live touring. “I’ve had people shadowing me on tour, however, I think it’s uncommon – which is understandable given the fast-paced nature of the environment and the longevity of the touring cycle,” he added. “We’ve been looking at ways to make that process more streamlined.”
The 3T course aims to challenge the perception that there is a better and more viable way of breaking into the industry other than the fabled ‘pub gig’ circuit route, which he described as not a very sensible learning environment. “If you’re touring with a band at that level, chances are there’s only going to be one crew person doing everything, so there’s a glass ceiling of growth, immediately,” he continued. “This programme aims not to replace local crew or seasoned professionals, but instead assist and support across a range of departments on the tour.”
Struck by the simplicity of the application process, TPi was keen to discover whether the open nature of the course was key to attracting individuals with a range of diverse backgrounds and capabilities. “We wanted to ensure that as many people as possible expressed interest in the initiative,” Sutherland explained, pointing out that the application process didn’t require any previous experience. “All we ask for is a positive attitude and the capability to work hard.”
Successful applicants were based on their personality and transferable skills, keeping the talent pool as diverse as possible, from the experienced to the inexperienced. “We were there to teach a broad range of basics so, although it’s desirable, it didn’t necessarily matter that people didn’t have any professional experience. We wanted people keen to get involved, with the right personality to survive and thrive on tour and willingness to learn and develop their skills,” he said.
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“Neither of us are qualified teachers. I come from a teaching family and have done some GCSE physics tutoring and guest lecturing at BIMM Institute, so I have a bit of experience putting together a lesson and speaking in front of people in a classroom environment. However, and I’m sure Freyja will agree, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and teaching during the course, which has been really useful.”
Additional guest tutors comprised industry figures such as Tori Lucion, Carl Griffin, Ben Jackson, Kwake Bass, Herman Kiafuca, Franki McDade, Hadyn Williams, Duncan Harrop, Frank Williams, Matt Eden, Amy Kerr, Miles Weaver and Josh Thomas.
With only 12 weekends of tuition at their disposal, Lawson and Sutherland were mindful about how to impart their advanced knowledge of touring, which they have accumulated over years in the field, into the tight schedule.
“I’ve found that the best way to learn is by doing,” Lawson explained. “Everything we taught them was about being hands-on. Most subjects involved a practical and theory day, so they could learn and put into action. After all, there’s no chapter in a book that can tell you what to do when there’s no power in a venue.”
The 3T course introduced a range of technical skills to unrepresented people in the industry. Each of the theoretical and practical sessions were underpinned by modules that covered the basics of touring, from cable making, to building LED walls, tuning RF kit, operating follow spots to DMX addressing, audio patching, reskinning drums, looming, loading and many more useful skills.
“This makes them extremely valuable all-round tour techs on shows of any scale,” remarked Lawson. “There are multiple skilled technical elements to this course such as cable manufacturing, fixing and soldering. That attention to detail in those areas, from an engineer’s perspective, is vital. There are certain institutes that offer training in the technical aspects of the industry. However, they don’t underpin them with lifelong skills, such as soldering a cable in a pinch – which is quite the art.”
There was even attention to detail such as labelling kit. “It seems really mundane, however, for anybody who uses a cable/connection, being able to label stuff is really useful and helpful on site,” Lawson added. “It’s about being able to work smarter, not harder.”
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The 3T course was supported in various capacities by several music industry stakeholders – 46 individuals and 17 companies contributed their time and resources to give the students a comprehensive introduction to the live music industry.
“For years, we’d spoken about adding more Black women to our touring party, but we literally couldn’t find one for any of the technical roles. Spurred on by what was happening around BLM, we decided to stop talking about it and do something. As it turned out, there was no lack of women wanting to work in these roles; quite the opposite!” Nao explained.
The artist added that the issue was that Black women “just couldn’t see a way in”. He commented: “It has made me so happy to open that door a little and our great hope is that this group of amazing women then smash it down for the next generation.” Mura Masa furthered: “As a crew on my show, we had always privately discussed the lack of representation within the pool of people working in live music, so this course became an actionable way of us working to correct that.”
He added: “There was an awful lot of posturing and performative support earlier this year around the initial BLM protests, so we as a group wanted to go further and investigate how we could support a message of anti-racism within our discipline. I came in for a Q&A session during the first week of the course and re-joined for the penultimate week, and seeing the progression and skill in this group of women made me thrilled to be a small part of it. This is the first step in a continuing and exciting journey for them, and hopefully a step in the direction of a wider change that the industry desperately needs to undergo. I’m so looking forward to seeing these women killing it on the road!”
Course funding came from Native Management, Sony Music UK, Nao, Mura Masa, and several other private individuals. Damaris Rex Taylor, Director of Marketing at RCA UK and Sony Music UK’s Social Justice Fund, said: “We are always keen to support our artists and this idea really stood out. It’s been a pleasure to partner with Nao, Mura Masa and Native Management on 3T – meeting the women and listening to how helpful they’ve found the course inspires us to do as much as we can to make our industry inclusive and open to all.”
ICMP, TPi Magazine, Colour Sound Experiment, Triplex Productions, Delta Live, Ableton, Ritz Rehearsal Studios, Millennium Studios, Shure, VDC, Robe, Audio-Technica, D’Addario, Jägermeister, Tokio Myers and Gig Rigs provided a mixture of kit and services for the 3T course.
“We were very fortunate to have a range of supporters from the industry helping us out,” Sutherland said. “They were all really keen to support and facilitate the vision of the course and the eventual ‘Big Weekend’ gig.”
Having laid the foundations for potentially expanding and running future courses, Sutherland pointed out: “It’s going to be an industry-wide effort to enact change in the industry when it comes to diversity. All the supporters involved were more than willing to provide personnel, kit, and facilities for students.” Sutherland pointed out access to the inventories of supporters was invaluable. “This was incredible and meant that we could be as practical as possible,” he added. “In hindsight, I’m positive we couldn’t have done it without their support.”
Ross Cornwall, Triplex Productions, commented: “When AJ asked us to help out, we were only too happy to get involved. It’s something we all need to work hard at to tip the balance of not only racial but also gender equality in our industry. It’s not going to happen on its own and we all need to make conscious choices to adjust the years of privilege and prejudice that is prevalent in our industry.”
Alex Ryan, Colour Sound Experiment added: “It’s been a pleasure to be involved with this project. In such uncertain and unique times, it’s been a very welcome ray of sunshine as helping assist teaching and imparting knowledge into people is an extremely positive experience.”
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THE BIG WEEKEND
“We always wanted to do something at the end of the course to bring the 12 weeks to a crescendo,” Sutherland informed TPi, speaking as the dust began to settle on the programme. “Once we had some of the suppliers and big names throwing their weight behind the course, we wanted to be more ambitious than simply running a gig in a college hall.”
The team put together an ambitious plan – liaising with venues, rehearsal studios and technical suppliers to simulate a full-scale show. The result was a couple of trucks worth of lighting, video, audio and backline equipment making its way to Millennium Studios.
Simulating a show day without an audience, with a traditional load-in, build, and load-out, the cohort of 3T students assumed the role of local crew for the day, with experienced technicians on site responsible for their respective departments. “Having the students as the local crew was vital,” Sutherland reported. “For us, it was evidence of them experiencing and using all the skills and knowledge we’ve taught them over the past 12 weekends and putting them to use in a real-life, dynamic, and fast-paced working environment.”
Sutherland recalled an “authentic” experience of what a show day is like, including the time it takes, how tiring it can be, and how many people are involved in the process from concept to delivery – with a support band and headline artists performing a set. “It’s been valuable for the students to operate in a real-world environment, so when they walk onto a tour bus or load into a venue during their first job, they feel well prepared for all eventualities.”
The guest panellists and performers included Nao, Mura Masa, Cosha, Fliss Jackson, Damaris Rex-Taylor, Whitney Boateng, Alexandra Ampofo, Sunny Jaspal, Trevor Williams, Harry Grove, Selena Dion, Kojo Samuel, Alex Ryan, Nick Mathius, Janelle Fraser, Alex Cerutti, Terence Hulkes, Sammi Goundry, Nick Cox, Toni Cardow, Charlotte Pearman, Sam Stubbings, Lizzy Farrall, Steve Muncaster and Ben Witherstone.
“3T – what a brilliant idea!” exclaimed Selena Dion of Eleven Mgmt, reflecting on her involvement in the course. “The skills and knowledge that the 3T team imparted to the students will be invaluable. It was a pleasure to be asked to speak to these 10 engaging, intelligent, brilliant, kickass young women.”
Musical Director, Kojo Samuel commented: “I had an absolutely fantastic experience with all of the 3T crew. Being a part of something so important and so unique was an inspiration. It’s important that doors are continually being opened and widened to allow more people in. There are so many super-talented and more than qualified individuals who can make a positive contribution to the music industry. The 3T course is an excellent example of what can be achieved when information is shared, and people can be exposed to the numerous work possibilities and opportunities there are in the music industry. I look forward to working with and seeing the 3T crew around soon.”
Additional staff for the ‘Big Weekend’ comprised Jon Ricketts, Lucy Mackinnon, Eiran Simpson, Scott Barnett, Ruth Sutherland and Tom Pullen. “The feedback and reception from the techs were absolutely brilliant!” Sutherland exclaimed.
As chairperson of a Production Futures Online panel with the 3T graduates, Lawson reported: “The team said that the students were genuinely better than any local crew that they’ve ever had – we were all hugely proud of them for taking on what we’ve bombarded them with because, let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot to teach someone who doesn’t know about touring in 12 weeks.”
Tour Music Live’s Janelle Fraser commented: “It was fantastic to see so many fellow young women being able to get hands-on experience and immerse themselves fully into this industry. I hope to see them all at upcoming events.”
Tour Music Live MD, Trevor Williams furthered: “To be in the room with such talented women who shared their excitement of wanting to learn and enter the live music industry made it more of a privilege for me. I look forward to hiring them!”
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Asked his advice for industry newcomers and young people looking to break into the industry during this time, Sutherland, who had every vision of starting his career as a touring audio engineer before he got his first call to join the road as a backline tech, said: “Approach every task with an open mind and take every opportunity that lands on your doorstep.”
Case in point, all 10 graduates discovered the 3T course on social media and what became apparent during Lawson’s virtual conversation with them at Production Futures Online, is that they all applied for the course after much encouragement from peers and friends, and none thought much about their prospects until they received an interview request.
“Use this opportunity to the best of your ability,” Lawson underlined, speaking to TPi after the event. “There are so many incredible technical-minded people in this industry, so my advice would be to immerse yourself in the community, network with them, get in amongst it and make the most of it. After all, this is the time when people are excited to talk about their jobs because they miss it.”
Overjoyed with the “incredible and mind-blowing” experience, Lawson concluded: “We are so proud of all these women – who were anxious and shy to begin with – watching them develop into capable professionals has been an incredibly humbling experience during a particularly tough year for the industry.”
TOUR TECH /tour teck/
1. A crew person with a broad skill set, able to assist all departments on a touring production.
Mercy Sotire commented: “Most of us were too afraid to apply, but we applied and got on the course, so my advice is to be confident, trust the process and your ability, and get stuck in. In this industry, you can be your own biggest enemy if you don’t have the right mindset.”
Grace Esia commented: “The 3T course opened my eyes to what goes into making a live event. Even though it can be exhausting at times, you create a touring family, and are rewarded with a final show, which makes all the long days worth it.”
Michelle Shaiyen commented: “This course has taught me that there is an entry point into an industry that is normally so closed off. You can work your way up and the industry is receptive and open to that.”
Helena Scotland commented: “The 3T course was unique as we got to learn from people who are currently touring industry professionals. Having access to the wealth of people we did gave us the opportunity to ask questions and get honest, insightful and current answers.”
Yasmin St. Croix commented: “This course has boosted my confidence that there are roles open to me on tour and each of us can make an impact on the industry – which is crying out for more strong-minded women.”
Kariss Townsend commented: “I’ve learned that teamwork is important. Maintaining a positive mindset, the willingness to collaborate and networking with the industry are key to success.”
Emily Odamtten commented: “At the very least, we can leave this course and can go on tour as local crew. A curtain has been lifted; breaking into the industry is no longer a mystery.”
Genny Turay commented: “Speaking to leading figures in the industry who gave us their spare time to share everything they know was invaluable. This course has shown that if you’re hardworking and creative, you’ll succeed in this industry. We’ve opened up one door to 50 others.”
Iman Muhammad commented: “I really enjoyed the learning aspect of the course. It didn’t have a lecturer–student vibe – we got to engage and ask practical questions. There was a lot of transparency. I’ve learned that the industry is fluid with job roles and entry, as long as you’re willing and passionate.”
Perusi Kakaire commented: “I enjoyed the learning process and absorbing all the information thrown at us over over the past 12 weeks. Keeping us engaged every weekend is a testament to AJ, Freyja and all the guest lecturers.”
This article originally appeared in issue #256 of TPi, which you can read here.