How She Got There: Terri Winston, Executive Director of Women’s Audio Mission

Name: Terri Winston
Job Title and Description: Executive Director, Women’s Audio Mission
College/Major: Purdue University/ B.S.E.E. (Electrical Engineering)
Website: www.womensaudiomission.org
Twitter Handle: @womensaudio

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Terri Winston:
I am the Executive Director of Women’s Audio Mission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in music production and the recording arts. I manage the long-term strategic plan of Women’s Audio Mission [as well as] oversee all of the fundraising, operations, programming, recording sessions and staff. I make sure the organization grows and stays on mission.

As a whole, Women’s Audio Mission prepares women and girls for careers in pro audio through in-person classes, online training materials, a nationally recognized youth program and a recording studio run entirely by women.

What is the best part of your job?
TW:
Nothing makes me happier than when one of our students or members lands a job, internship or project through WAM that really changes her life and jumpstarts her career. I love being a part of making the connections between training, experience and success in the recording arts.

Why did you decide to start Women’s Audio Mission?
TW:
There are still less than five percent of women [who are] on the production side of the media and  entertainment industry. There has been a slow decline in women in technology careers, down 20 percent from the 80’s. When women aren’t part of the technical and production side of the media and music content that we consume, women’s views, interests and perceptions aren’t represented in our culture. I wanted to see more women with the technical power to make a change. 

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
TW:
I had two entry-level jobs happening simultaneously. I was working my way through college as an electrical engineer in the co-op program at my college and also playing in bands, eventually signing a major label recording contract with Phonogram/Polygram in the 80’s. The engineer job came from a selection process. I had tested out of a lot of math and science courses and had a good GPA. Then there was a series of interviews to be selected. I would work every other semester at various locations across the country. It paid very well and put me through college. I was also a musician playing in punk bands in the 80’s. After I graduated, I joined a band that rehearsed obsessively and played a lot of live shows. We hounded a local manager to help us and eventually we became a part of his roster, which included the Pixies and Throwing Muses. We played and toured a lot with those bands and eventually were picked up by Phonogram/Polygam.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?
TW:
The smartest and most accomplished people are usually the most helpful and kindest people. If you meet a bad apple, don’t waste any time. Move on and find the good apple, because there are plenty of them out there that like to help people.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?
TW:
One of my biggest influences was working with the Producer/Musician Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group. He produced the band I was in and really opened my mind to combining my engineering skills with my music skills. He is the one that turned me on to music production/recording and engineering. I learned an incredible amount about producing and engineering from him as well as how to be an encouraging musical influence. 

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
TW:
There is no one else like you, and you have to make sure you honor and follow that.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
TW:
I was pretty cocky and stubborn when I went to college. I had tested out of most of my math and science courses and was placed in classes with everyone who had done the same. I made the mistake of thinking I would probably be one of the best students in the class, but quickly realized I was now “average”. I was also used to being able to figure everything out myself. This taught me so many things. I learned how to ask for help from my professors and fellow students. I learned that there will always be someone that knows more about something than I do and not to be intimidated by this but embrace it. I learned to surround myself with smart people. It makes my life so much more interesting and (by association) makes me smarter.

Where do you hope you (and Women’s Audio Mission) will be in 10 years, professionally?
TW:
WAM is actually celebrating its 10 year anniversary this year. We’ve trained over 4,500 women and girls, placed over 117 women in great audio jobs and recorded some amazing artists like GRAMMY winners Kronos Quartet, the acclaimed author Salman Rushdie and master musicians from Mongolia, Peru, Brazil, Vietnam, Mexico, Sweden and Japan. We are very proud of our growth and are looking forward to a lot more. We are planning a move to a larger facility in 2015 that will allow us to greatly expand our programs and accommodate the growing number of artists that want to record at Women’s Audio Mission. In 10 years, WAM will be serving twice as many students and recording artists, developing more women audio entrepreneurs and builders, having more meetings and curriculum online and there will be a stronger focus on technology programming in our course offerings. 

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
TW:
First and foremost, are they a good person with a “can-do” attitude? I want someone I can trust with the keys, money and the gear in our studio. Then we look at technical chops. You can be an audio genius but if you are unreliable and not kind or helpful, you are not an asset to anyone’s business. We have an incredible staff here at WAM so we have very high expectations in both regards.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
TW:
Follow your curiosity, follow your education path as far as it takes you, be a life-long learner and then never say no to a gig. Always consider internships, and any other work experience, regardless of pay, as free education. If you are good at what you do, those experiences will lead to bigger and better things.

 

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