The Women's Audio Mission is a San Francisco based, nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in music production and recording arts. WAM provides hands-on training, experience, career counseling and job placement for women and girls.
I spoke with WAM's founder and executive director, Terri Winston, by phone earlier this week. Before she started WAM seven years ago, she was a college professor and developed the recording arts degree program at City College of San Francisco. Ms. Winston is also an electrical engineer, musician, recording engineer, and record producer.
Steve Guttenberg: Is it fair to describe WAM as a school?
Terri Winston: Yes, but it's small and it doesn't look like a school; more like a studio. The classes are small, with between seven and fifteen students. WAM has 350 to 400 students a year, and we try to funnel them into two- and four-year programs.
SG: Can local musicians and bands record at WAM?
TW: Yes, we offer no- and low-cost recording services for independent artists. We did a band called Built For the Sea that was on Live 105, and we're currently working on other projects.
SG: I truly admire WAM's goals, but recording studios are closing left and right. It's not a growth industry; why train a new generation of engineers? More and more bands are recording themselves, aren't they?
TW: Yes, but that's why we train them in a recording studio, so they can hear the difference between that and cobbling something together in their bedroom. The main advantage is the acoustic environment of a recording studio, and the work flow goes a lot faster.
SG: Right, I believe in the division of labor, and just because you're a great guitar player or singer doesn't mean you can make the best possible recording of your music.
TW: You use your brain a certain way when you're creating music and a different way when you're engineering it. It's a relief when someone else takes care of it for you. A lot of singers that come here are amazed how good their voices sound. Listening over really good studio monitors instead of headphones is also part of the experience.
SG: Better gear and technical know-how can really make a difference. Do you also cover live sound mixing for concerts?
TW: Yes, we get them started here and then work off-site at a local venue called Bottom Of The Hill, a popular indie club and a bigger place called The Independent.
SG: You offer classes for girls as young as 8 years old. That's really cool!
TW: We set them up with a little four-track cassette and anything that makes noise: a couple of speakers, a microphone, electric guitars, keyboards and drum machines. Even if they just get on a mic and start singing my job's done. We're getting them into music and technology, and a lot of them are brilliant, I'm shocked by the things they can do. There's not really a curriculum for the 8-year-olds; it's more about exposure.
SG: WAM doesn't offer degrees?
TW: We're not accredited yet, but we do offer a certificate, which opens some doors at local studios and manufacturers that know us. By the end of this year we'll start to offer our certificate program online.