Want my job? with Darryn de la Soul, sound engineer

Sound engineer, production manager and entrepreneur Darryn de la Soul talks to Voice about how intrigue led to her changing her career and overseeing the training of the next generation of sound engineers.

Want my job? with Darryn de la Soul, sound engineer

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

My name is Darryn de la Soul, and I run a company called Soulsound (www.soulsound.co.uk). Soulsound supports Sound Engineers with online education, as well as all live event technicians (including Lighting Engineers and AV techs) with low cost Public Liability Insurance through our membership scheme. We also present live seminars and any bespoke training in the sound engineering world that we are asked to – our main presenters are highly experienced sound engineers Justin Grealy and Jon Burton. I myself present seminars on how to get noticed in the industry, making yourself more employable and getting yourself set up as a freelancer or in small business enterprises. I also still work myself as a production manager for theatre and live music.

What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?

Working for myself means I don’t have a terribly regular day, but generally I need to attend to memberships, write newsletters, keep our members Facebook group going and supporting members with problems they might be having with getting invoices paid or anything else they need help with. Often members just need someone to talk a situation through with so we can work out their best course of action.

I also spend time looking out for people I can engage with to contribute to the website, creating content and identifying potential speakers for live seminars.

What’s great about your job?

I love being in a position to be able to help people and spread good practice in the audio industry. I also absolutely love working for myself. I have spent time in my career having a proper job and a boss, but I really dislike it. I find having a boss very restrictive! This doesn’t mean I can’t work for someone else, for example when production managing, in the short term. It’s just the long-term aspect of having a boss the whole time that does something to my brain that makes me unhappy.

I am very good at project-based work – I like working to a deadline and to produce a tangible result. I work for local festivals and theatre production s where I live in Thanet and love this kind of work.

What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?

As much as I love working for myself it can get lonely. I also find there are some things I can do in my home office, but if I need to write something or concentrate for long periods I find it better to go to a shared workspace or even a coffee shop.

I like to work as part of a team, having people to bounce off, but this often doesn’t happen when working on my business.

The endless admin involved in running a business is also a bit irritating.

I don’t really mind admin, I am good at it, but it is endless!

What are the highlights of your career to date?

On of the best things I’ve ever done was to create The Exploratorium for PLASA 2016. This was an amazing space within the show that was dedicated to “experiments” in audio, lighting, VR, projection. Companies took a space inside a maze where they could show off innovative ideas and practices, which generated some of the best conversations ever at a trade show as there was no sales imperative behind the idea.

Prior to that, one of my best gigs ever was the 50th anniversary of the Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell bank. This was an incredible experience as we got to make the telescope dish “dance” for an hour. The lighting was incredibly dramatic and the music was composed specifically to include the static of the radio telescope and the creaks of the giant telescope moving.

As a side note – what sounded like static to our ears as the telescope moved around was anything but to the scientists controlling it. They could hear the tiniest variations that they identified as pulsars or other celestial objects. It was an incredible experience. I was also fascinated by their eagerness to “have [their] telescope back” once the show was over. Even the few hours they were not pointing it in the direction they really wanted to was wasted science time for them! If memory serves they were busy looking for the edge of the universe...

What was your career path into this job?  Have you also worked outside the arts?

That’s a big question! Yes, I have worked outside the arts. The first decade after university was spent in the hospitality industry (that’s what a degree in archaeology will get you) and office work. While managing a nightclub in Soho I became really intrigued by what the sound engineers were up to and decided I wanted to be them. So in 2000 I changed career paths and studied sound engineering at Alchemea College. This was a studio course, and after struggling for a year or so to get work in a studio, I fell by accident into live sound at the newly-opened 93 Feet East in Shoreditch.

There I became assistant to Paul Epworth (of Adele/James Bond fame) and learned an incredible amount from him and that firmly started me on the path of being a live sound engineer. 

Having good innate organisation skills I ended up doing many technical manager type jobs in venues and eventually tour and production management too.

In 2009 I was asked by my old college to help put together a Live Sound Diploma which was incredibly successful in getting live sound engineers into employment and giving them the best possible grounding to get careers off the ground. This became a full time job and I switched from working gigs at night to running a college course in the day.

This eventually led to opening an agency to help graduates into work, and this expanded to serve a much wider group of sound engineers, at which point I resigned (as mentioned before, I hate working for other people) and later started the Soulsound Website.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges in any career is knowing when to ask for help. When I started out as an engineer I thought I knew everything and soon discovered I didn’t, so had to learn to be humble and take advice from more experienced people.

Being a woman in a man’s world I also had to prove myself and work twice as hard as the bloke next to me to earn respect.

This only benefited me in the end because I became better at my job than I would otherwise have been, so I am weirdly grateful for that!

Apart from that most of the challenges have been financial – keeping afloat as a freelancer can prove difficult when work dries up. But this also forced me to “put myself out there” and actively seek out or create opportunities for myself.

More recently I got into a dispute with HMRC about what constitutes a freelancer while running the agency. They insisted I had to employ all my freelancers overnight which was not financially viable for a small company (the cost of employing people is huge!) Suffice it to say the HMRC won and I had to close that company overnight which cut off my main stream of income in a single blow. Luckily the Soulsound website and membership scheme was a separate company so I was able to continue with that.

The lesson learned here was to have as many streams of income as possible!

Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?

Unfortunately I have really noticed one thing not changing at all – pay rates for freelancers have not changed for years and years now. This is a real problem as the cost of living has escalated massively.

Another sad thing I’ve noticed is that younger, inexperienced engineers are so desperate for work they are undercutting more experienced people - winning work that way. This is very bad thing to do as it lowers wages for the whole industry! It also lowers the general standards of sound for audiences and musicians. Not a great result for anybody...

On the positive side, there are so many more women in the industry that when I started 19 years ago and I’m very happy to see that development.

You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?

Do everything you can to get as much experience as possible. Volunteer to shadow/help at venues and events. Do not take paid work from any other person, but work alongside them in a volunteer capacity to learn as much as you can from them. Ask many questions (but wait for an appropriate moment to do so, not in the middle of a soundcheck) and show yourself willing. So much work comes from knowing people that once people get to know you and you’ve proved yourself willing and able, the chances are they’ll be looking for you when they have a paid position.

If you’re studying at college then don’t waste time!

Attend every lesson, use every opportunity that comes your way and do your very best at all times. The way you behave at 16 sets you up for the rest of your life. No one is going to hand you a job or career on a platter, you need to put yourself in a position to be noticed – hence the volunteering idea. You’ve probably still got your parents help at least for food and accommodation, so use that to your advantage and use your time getting the experience and contacts you’re going to need to become employable.

Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job

If you’re wanting to become a technician for events – be it sound, light or AV, you need to be complete nerd about it. There is so much to learn and the technology advances at an incredible rate, so the skills I needed 20 years ago are different to what you need today. Learn everything you can. And keep learning all the time. At no point will you know everything you need to know – new things come along all the time.

Also, expect very long days! A rock show doesn’t happen in an hour – it’s a long, long day from load-in to load-out. Most days are at least 12 hours, often many hours longer.

If you’re doing it for the money, think again.

Yes, you can earn a good living but if you want a nice 8 hour day it’s not the career for you.

Be very, very respectful of those more experienced than you. These are the people who can take you under their wing and help you with opportunities – or not. Be likeable! Be the one to coil the cables, go out for coffees and bring a packet of biscuits with you. These small things make a big difference in how you are perceived. If you are well liked you’ll be helped. If you come across as an arrogant little s**t you will not be helped. Remember- no one owes you a thing. Any opportunities or help that comes your way needs to be earned.


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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