An Interview With Tangela
Stories Through Sound is a blog featuring interviews by industry professionals across the audio and post production fields. This week, we're interviewing Tangela.
Tangela is an Austin based audio engineer. She has worked on a plethora of productions, including Hamilton, In the Heights, 42nd Street and The Little Mermaid. She has also worked festivals, such as Riders Against the Storm (RAS) Day, International Multicultural Fest, and SheShreds Showcase at SXSW. With well over 10 years audio experience, Tangela is a member of SoundGirls, Austin Podcasters, and Audio Engineering Society (AES). Most recently, she has created and served as host and executive producer of her podcast Let's Talk...Audio, of which she records.
What was the moment you realized you wanted to pursue a career in audio?
What drew you into live sound?
Ultimately, I became a sound engineer because it was a way for me to be a part of the music and musicals that I loved without being the center of attention.
You’ve worked on so many cool productions like Hamilton and The Little Mermaid! What would you say the highlight of your career has been thus far?
I think it would be really easy to say Hamilton for various reasons. They came in with Anna boxes from Eastern Acoustics Works, which was amazing to hear since if I remember correctly it had either just come out or was on limited release at the time. They had top of the line EVERYTHING! I mean the gear that gig had was mind blowing. Either way, it was an incredible experience. Especially getting to talk to the advance team. They were just giving out information and nuggets of gold every time I turned around. Add to that my love for that musical and all of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s works, and I was over the moon.
However, as much as I loved my job those days, I think I would have to choose the opening night of 42nd Street at Georgetown Palace Theater. It was a community theater production and it was my first time doing a show that large. For context, the way the theater is set up, there is the main theater which is a repurposed old movie theater, a separate building across the alley that hosts the changing rooms, rehearsal space, and a green room. Then across a small parking lot and the same ally is a separate space for classes that hosted the band. For those who do not know, 42nd Street is a large ensemble cast with a full band. We used all the channels on the Yamaha M7CL-48 and had to double up on some channels. It was a lot but the reason I chose this show is because of opening night. Everything was fine, so much so that the sound designer left because he had confidence in me and my skills. (Usually, he stays for the first portion of the show). Everything was set to go. Then we went to run the Pre-Show speech and the power went out. About five seconds later, it came back on but nothing audio related worked! I spent the next 45 minutes reprogramming the board. Luckily the stuff for the computer had a back up. But as someone who was hired to simply push faders and make minor adjustments as needed, I did not know how to program anything or where anything was run to and from. In hindsight, it was something I should have learned, but when I was hired no one showed me. I was too green to ask or even know to ask. So based on my limited knowledge, Google searches and sheer luck, I got the show back up and running. It was not pretty, but it worked. I say all this because, in this moment, I learned more about myself, my skills, and why I love live sound so much.
As a member of multiple audio organizations, how would you say these groups have helped you? Are there any experiences you wouldn’t have had without them?
There has been value in being a part of these different groups. For me, I use these groups as a means to get outside of my comfort zone. I am a naturally anxious person while being very extroverted. So, I use these groups as a way to both learn through classes, tours of different facilities, and discussions, while also networking. For example, I got to take a tour of Zach Theater here in Austin where I met their head of audio guy. As a result, I was allowed to do a shadowing event. Some time later, I was hired to do an event in one of their smaller theaters for a fundraiser.
I was also able to participate in a Q&A session at a local AES panel at Texas State University’s Sound Recording Technology. I was unique because I was the youngest person on the panel, in live sound, and a Black lady. It was nice to be able to connect with the students and my fellow panelists.
Ultimately, being a part of different organizations can be great, but in some cases it is not for everyone. Part of it is what you put into it and part of it is what do they have to offer. If someone is considering joining a group, test it out with the free activities first, then go from there.
What is some of your go-to gear in the live sound field? Any piece of equipment you can’t live without?
A cell phone charger! In all seriousness, sometimes in life, I have come across certain gear or problems that I needed assistance with, either through an internet search or through a phone-a-friend moment. Of course, always be as prepared as possible for any gig, but when that moment happens and you need help, a charged phone can be the difference between failure and victory. Also, there are so many different apps that can be beneficial such as db level meter, or a spectrum frequency graph. Additionally, I usually take a solid pair of headphones for monitoring purposes and my ear plugs. I have a pair of custom fitted ear plugs where I can change the filters out for different levels of db reduction. Ear fatigue is real and so is hearing damage. Protection is definitely a must for me!
It is important to note that each sound gig can be heavily varied, so having specific gear can be difficult. If possible, carry a backpack full of basic gear like XLR cables or adaptors, a multitool, gaff tape, etc. If that’s not feasible, then one's knowledge of the venue and the needs for that event is going to be what sets one up for success. Make sure to ask in advance about the gear at the venue to better determine what might need to be brought.
As a freelancer, what advice would you give to someone trying to start their audio freelance career?
Make yourself as open and available as possible. Growth is a part of the many tools for success, so do not be afraid to take classes and learn, even if they don’t seem relevant. For example, I had to realize that as a freelancer/independent contractor I am considered a business. In the state of Texas, a freelancer/independent contractor is considered at a minimum a sole proprietor to my understanding. As such, on taxes a Schedule C has to be filed. There are all different kinds of ways that this can play out, depending on your city, county, state and even the federal laws, or if one has a limited liability corporation (LLC), or some other business entity type. It can get complicated very quickly, so if you decide to tackle taxes alone or get help from a certified public accountant (CPA) those are decisions that need to be made. Having a basic understanding can go a long way. I have been actively increasing my understanding of my taxes and what it means for me to run a business, through online classes, books, and even podcasts. This principle applies to marketing, accounting, and communications.
For a practical audio example, in my Let’s Talk...Audio episode with my guest Amanda Justice, she mentions a time when someone wanted to hire her for a gig on a board she did not know. She accepted the job on the spot, went home and read and watched YouTube videos covering everything there was to know about said board. She prepared and set herself up for success by doing the work. It is a fact that it is impossible to know everything about all gear, and trying to learn everything is going to be a mighty hard task. However, knowing how your brain processes and retains information to self-teach, is a super helpful tool. Learning is a part of life, so finding a way to use it is invaluable.
Note that on-the-job learning is not the same thing as being unprepared for work and not knowing what is needed to do the job correctly. There are no shortcuts when it comes to being well-versed in the craft of audio. Do not reach too far ahead and fall. Just set up for the next step and embrace the challenge.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Since this pandemic started, live sound has been on the outs, especially here in the states. Being out of work sucks, but this is also why I think being open to different skills inside and out of the world of audio is so important. I made a slightly weird transition into podcasting. Yes, I had the idea right before the start of the pandemic, but I was not able to really sit down and focus on it until more recently. Although being a podcast engineer is similar to live sound, the learning curve that I have is real. It has been truly a joy to interview the different ladies that I have had on my show. I have learned so much! I just want to encourage everyone who is facing new adversity that although it is hard, pivoting and finding a new way to do what you love, or finding something else you can care about, I am sure you will be triumphant.
Keep up with Tangela!