SSG intern Sam Schulte had a chat with freelance audio engineer Amy Piñon. Amy is a board member at The Vera Project where we'll be hosting this year's Music Production Summer Camp. She's also a musician who continues to develop her craft as a singer/songwriter while also working with Art Corps as the Communications Lead, producing media to tell the stories of Art Corps programs.
Sam: Can you tell us a little bit about The Vera Project?
Amy: It’s a rad all-ages arts and music venue. Vera arose as a response to the Teen Dance Ordinance, which severely limited all-ages shows in Seattle. It is a DIY volunteer and member-powered space with a silkscreen studio, art gallery, show room, and recording studio. Vera offers silkscreen and live sound classes, various workshops, and a non-hierarchical space to participate in the programming and governance of the organization.
S: How did you get started at Vera?
A: To make a complex story short, I started volunteering. That’s how most folks get involved at Vera. I was going to school for audio engineering, so volunteering to run sound at shows gave me a good hands-on experience to accompany my education. I started going to different committee meetings, eventually finding my place in the Audio Committee working on revising class curriculum and developing programming. I became a Front of House Engineer and I do sound for live shows and teach sound classes now and then. Now I’m on the Board of Directors, with the heavy responsibility of planning for Vera’s future.
S: What is best part of (your involvement at Vera)?
A: I have been a part of the Vera family since I was 19 (I’m 24 now) and I have always felt valued and respected as a young leader and important voice in decision making. Vera is where I found my voice and as a result, I have been able to rise as a leader within the organization and beyond, and define my own ways to impact the arts community with Vera as my platform. Last year, in collaboration with the Program Manager Elizabeth Maze, I organized my own event for the first time – the Women’s Creative Industries Forum. The event centered on women who produce different types of media such as film, radio broadcast, art collectives, and more, with a very intentional spotlight on women of color. This event was something I absolutely needed to do. Not only are there less women in music and media production fields, there is even less representation of women of color – in production as well as on the stage. And even less women of color who do audio production. There is practically no one that looks like me that I can look up to in my field – which is why it’s critically important to create visibility and viability for women in media production careers of the future. In that sense, the best part about Vera is being able to create that kind of programming. Creating this event is the best thing I can do for the community, Vera, and myself, and I’m proud to say that the second annual event is in production!
S: What is the hardest part of your job?
A: Navigating the waters of micro-aggressions and sexism that I face being a young woman of color in the white male dominated music and media production world. I’ve experienced many a time when band members wouldn’t believe that I was the engineer or would only talk to male volunteers at a show, asking where the “sound guy” was. It’s exhausting. But as frustrating as that reality is, it drives me to show up in even stronger ways – at Vera, in the community, in life – because there’s no way I’m going to let oppressive dynamics stop me from doing anything, ever.
S: What advice would you give girls looking to get into the industry?
A: The industry needs you. In terms of audio and film production, it’s a white male dominated space. We need more women, and trans and gender non-binary individuals to share experiences and tell stories that are not white cis-male experiences and stories. We need to shake up this industry and empower the next generation of young women to take up space in it. That said, I realize my own achievements would not have been possible without men who were positively eager to teach me how to use sound equipment, to record my own projects, to encourage me to become an engineer at Vera, to answer my questions and offer advice. I’ve had great mentors and friends and I’ve dealt with sexist teachers and colleagues – so it’s important to find mentors and or/programs that actively support women doing this work (like Reel Grrls and Rain City Rock Camp). I don’t think you necessarily need to have a formal education to break into the media world, as it’s all about experience. Create a strong network with other women and men who support women doing this work. Tell someone what your interests are and create goals for yourself. Don’t let anyone talk you out of those goals.
S: What challenges does Vera face being volunteer-driven?
A: Vera has a slew of committed returning volunteers who are in the Vera family for life, but volunteer turnover is pretty high and Vera is always looking for volunteers – especially if you want to get into the technical side of running sound for shows. Since Vera is mostly volunteer-powered, it’s always a great time to get involved.
S: What do you think everyone could do to stress the importance of community, that would help participation in projects like Vera?
A: To stress the importance of community, people need to get actively involved in their community. “Community” in itself is a complex thing, because we can be a part of multiple communities and have different identities within each of them. The Vera Project is one community I’m part of, but I’m also a part of the Arts Corps community, the teaching artist community, the freelance audio engineer community, the musician community, the Asian Pacific Islander community – to name a few. Everyone has their communities that they’re a part of, whether they actively engage or not. Participation requires a passionate commitment to your communities, and when you have that it becomes an important part of your life.
S: Why do you think volunteering is important?
A: Volunteering is half of my job of being a human in this world. People wonder how I have time to do so many things around town, and I tell them that I just make the best use of my time by filling it with meaningful experiences giving back to the community, because that’s what really fuels my soul. Volunteering can be a one-time thing that fulfills your high-school service requirement, but what makes it meaningful is a commitment to a cause and a lifetime devoted to making a change in the world. I feel there is only so much you can do in the world if you are getting paid for it. But when you volunteer, the possibilities are limitless, since there are no billing hours or stakes except the goal of satisfying souls. When you become so passionate about something that you will take no compensation for your work, no matter how much time and effort that work takes, that is the kind of power that causes systemic shifts in society, for the better.