Music Industry Careers: Danny Champion

  • Name:
    Danny Champion
    Hometown: Auckland
    Job: Live sound engineer at Oceania Productions and self-employed at DC Sound
    Education: Bachelor of Arts from SAE, supported with student loans but paid off through income from DC Sound

    How did you become interested in sound engineering?
    I enjoyed the academic side when I was in school but I didn't like the culture of the school and I didn't like the people. I would go hide in the theatre and climb up the lighting rigs and eat my lunch so nobody could find me! One day the house sound tech found crumbs on the stage and looked up and said "What do you think you're doing? If you're going to be up there come down and sweep the stage!" This went on for a week and then I started to take an interest in what he had to say. He started teaching me about microphones and speakers and gave me some simple jobs to do. When the school put on musicals, he trained me up so that I'd be able to work on them. I absolutely enjoyed it, it just clicked, and best of all I really liked the other people doing it.

    I really wanted to continue with it as a career, and the house tech - Ian - discouraged me from studying and to go straight into the industry. He took me to Oceania and said, they're the best in the industry, don't settle for anything less! The CEO told me I was better off going to study because I had so little experience. I was gutted that day! But I completed the bachelor's degree at SAE and ended up getting hired by Oceania.

    Tell us about DC Sound.
    DC Sound is my own business. My lecturers were very supportive and helped me make up my work at SAE while started it. I wanted to support local bands because I hugely admire musicians - I never learned to play any instruments and I've got huge stage fright so I won't become a performer, ever - I find it frustrating that they do a lot of the work and they get too little of the money. I did the sound at a lot of small venues around town where my mates were playing. I just bought about $25,000 of specialist gear that I rent out to other companies when I'm not using it, and when I do sound for local bands I don't charge for equipment, just for me, and I keep the prices cheap.

    What's it like as a female in a male dominated industry?

    I don't believe I've been in the industry long enough to have a professional opinion. There's a hierarchy in the industry based on experience, and if you can do the job, that's it. I will be treated as a junior because I've only been doing it for four years. You do in general have to be a stronger person. I wasn't confident when I came into the industry, but I had to develop confidence in myself. It's really hard, there will be people who discriminate against you for whatever reason, saying you can't do that because you're a girl. Even if they're a million dollar client you don't need that person in your life. You go to the grave with no dollars, so [stuff] them! Have the confidence to leave them and that you're better than that.
    Your high school had a pretty flash theatre department and you learned a lot there.

    What's your advice to other students who don't have that opportunity?
    If you want to do it, you will seek it out. I was lucky that I went to a privileged school and it was all there for me on a plate. A lot of people don't have that. But I will tell you that 80% of live sound is dedicated to churches. Go to your church or mosque if you're a religious person, see if someone is willing to teach you and pick up skills there. If you're over 18, go to your local bars, befriend the bands and the house techs - the house techs are always willing to teach. There are so many books and resources out there; there are software programmes you muck around with for free. Go to my Facebook page, contact me and I can connect you with anyone in any town who can teach you and help you.

    How do you look after your health in the industry?

    It can be dangerous. Once a 100 KG box fell on my hand, and I was out for two months. I've seen forklifts fall on people, I've seen people fall off buildings. It's pretty grim out there. But with the health and safety laws, your employer is supposed to supply safety gear like steel capped boots, gloves and high-viz helmets if you can't afford it yourself so you should always be firm about that. You have to keep onto your sleep and food. Demand that you are treated right. They will respect you for saying it.

    What about looking after your mental health?
    I'm still working on that. Some of the music gigs I love, corporate gigs and theatre, I don't. You've got to have someone you can talk to. That could be your parents, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or a close friend in the industry, that you can have a recreational cry to if you want. I've had four days off this year, I don't get to enjoy things I used to do like horse-riding. Some people turn to drugs for stress relief. Some people will get super-plastered as soon as they finish work. You really have to manage it - don't try to compete with your friends, if you don't want to do it, you never have to do it. Be confident enough in yourself to control it, or you'll burn out.