Amanda Davis is on a mission to get women of color behind the mixing board. As the Front of House engineer (FOH) for GRAMMY-nominated superstar musician Janelle Monáe, she's helped deliver the best sonic experiences at live shows across the world. And the Memphis native isn't done there; She's currently also the FOH and production manager for GRAMMY-winning rising star Ella Mai.
But Davis didn't always know live sound was the path she wanted to go down in the music industry; even when she did, she maneuvered the road with little guidance. Thanks to her strong faith and some risk-taking, she's become a powerhouse engineer who has Tegan and Sara, Jidenna, Wale and more under her FOH repertoire.
Now established and knowing the challenges women of color face, she wants to help pave the way for female engineers through a production program called LineCheck! (While all women are welcome to apply, Davis targets women of color as she says they face a particular lack of opportunity in the field.)
Davis spoke to the Recording Academy about the way she's helping young women become engineers through her program and how they can get involved, how she began her career, working with Monáe and why mentorship is so important to her.
Tell me about yourself, where did you grow up? When did your interest in music begin?
I was born and grew up in Memphis, Tenn. That alone is the best inclination as to where/when my interest in music began. The soul of Memphis is music. I honestly have no idea when/where the interest in music began because that's all I know. I think I started piano lessons when I was between three and five years old. By the time I was in middle school I realized I could sing and started to focus on that until I was about 23, had a real come to Jesus moment with myself (laughs) and concluded that I didn't want to sing anymore. I still wanted and needed to be involved in music. So I took a leap of faith and went to audio school. Put in the time, participated in multiple internships and hustled my butt off in Atlanta. Through many trials and errors, here I am six years into a career.
How did you begin working with music?
I first started working as a lab tech at SAE Institute. Then I started teaching music theory there. While doing that I was working as a FOH at a church and different clubs around the Atlanta area.
When did you realize you wanted to be an engineer?
It kind of happened organically. I was just trying to find my way through the industry and where I belonged. Becoming an engineer was something I really started focusing on once I was almost done with my time at SAE.
How did you begin working with Janelle Monáe?
My friend, Jeff Cohran, who's also Janelle's tour & production manager, called me and explained that Janelle expressed wanting a woman as her FOH. I immediately sent my resume, mind you, I had never toured at this point in my career so the resume wasn't really that long (laughs) and the rest is history.
Fondest memory in the studio so far?
My second to last internship I got to work with producer Dru Castro. He produced a couple of my favorite songs on an India.Airie album.
Talk to me about the LineCheck! Women In Production program you have going on, what is it?
LineCheck! is a program I initiated to have a small group of young ladies shadow me during sound checks while I'm on tour. These are young ladies who are pursuing and/or interested in live concert production. Whether that be live sound, tour management, production management, production assisting. It's to give exposure to this side of things and show them that these positions are viable careers to pursue. I show them stage set up, how I build my show files, explain load ins and load outs, etc. They sometimes even get the chance to speak with other women who are on tour with me in the aforementioned positions.
How did this idea come about and what do you hope participants get out of it?
When I got the call to go out on tour with Janelle I realized I had no one to call to ask how to do this. I didn't know how much I should get paid, how to advance, how to build an input list, tune a room....nothing! I had one person I called on, but it wasn't a woman and he hadn't really toured on this level, so, unfortunately, I was really winging it! (laughs) So as I grew as a woman and engineer, I realized that I wanted to help those coming along after me so they wouldn't feel alone and as uneducated as I did starting out on this journey. There are a lot of things I wish someone told me that I just had to learn the hard way. No need for others to go through that way, right?!
Who is eligible and how can they get involved?
Any young lady 16 years of age and above are welcomed! I will be completely transparent and say I particularly extend this offer to women of color, simply because that demographic is usually deprived of exposure to these types of opportunities, but all are welcome! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about dates.
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Why is this kind of mentorship work important to you?
Viola Davis said something at the 2017 Emmys I will never forget, I'm abbreviating a bit but she said, "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity". I'll add exposure to that. These young ladies simply don't know that this career path is even an option for them, I didn't! I want to do my part to let them know this is an option...there aren't any limits!
What’s the greatest lesson the industry has taught you so far?
Trust God, then yourself.
What is your advice for young women that want to pursue engineering?
Don't limit yourself to one sector of engineering. There are sooooo many opportunities from mixing live, studio tracking, RF coordinator, patch person, post-production mixing. Much more! It's really endless. Try it all and see what you organically gravitate towards the most.
What projects are you working on now?
I'm currently on tour with Ella Mai as Production Manager and Front of House engineer. About to go into heavy touring with my time split between Ella and Janelle.
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