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Pearl Jam’s Karrie Keyes to Receive “the Oscar” of the Live Event Industry

How Keyes followed her passion and inspires other young women to do the same 

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Karrie Keyes is a rock star in the live audio industry. For 28 years, she has been the mastermind behind the unparalleled sound that fans have experienced at countless Pearl Jam shows. But Keyes’ rock star status reaches beyond her years of dedication as monitor engineer for the rock band and frontman Eddie Vedder. 

Since 2013, Keyes has been inspiring and empowering the next generation of women in audio and music production as the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization, SoundGirls.

On Friday, January 17, 2020, this humble audio artist from Los Angeles, California, will be honored for her significant impact on the audio industry. During the NAAM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention in Anaheim, California, Keyes will receive the Parnelli Audio Innovator Award at the 19th Annual Parnelli Awards in Anaheim, California. 

I had the great opportunity to speak with Keyes about her passion for the live audio industry and how she hopes to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Chrissie: Congratulations, Karrie, on your upcoming award. I hear the Parnelli Audio Innovator award is the industry’s highest honor for live event professionals. They say it’s “the Oscar” of the industry.

Karrie: Thank you! 

Chrissie: It is certainly well-deserved. Will this award be honoring your work with Pearl Jam over the years, as well as your work with SoundGirls?

Karrie: Yes, I believe they have combined it into this one award.

Chrissie: I know that you began your career in audio when you were just 17-years-old. Then you worked in live audio for bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers for 10 years, Sonic Youth and Fugazi. Many know you best as the monitor engineer for Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder’s solo tours. But I would love to know more about SoundGirls. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the organization?

Karrie: Part of my acceptance speech includes our co-founder, Michelle Sabolchick Pettinatoit. She co-founded SoundGirls with me, so I’m making sure that she also gets recognition for the award because it feels odd to accept it on behalf of myself. She started her career about the same time I did and worked for the Spin Doctors and is currently working for Elvis Costello. She’s had a long career, as I have. She’s a very well-respected live audio engineer. We knew each other’s names for years and years, but our paths never crossed. We finally met for the first time in 2012 at a panel that we were both on at an AES (Audio Engineer Society) convention that they hold each year. There were three other women on the panel. None of us knew each other until that panel, and we all bonded and stayed in touch after the panel. We had all worked in the industry for 20 plus years and had all been asked the same question, “Why aren’t there more women in audio?” We kept talking and thought that it would have been great if we had known each other when we had first started – if we had just had mentors or peers that we could call that had the same issues that we all faced with being women in the industry. That was the inspiration to start SoundGirls, and it has just grown from there. 

Chrissie: The mission for SoundGirls is to inspire and empower young women and girls to enter the world of professional audio and music production. How does the organization inspire and empower young women?

Karrie: I just heard a great story from the people from Parnelli’s. The stage manager for the awards show is a woman, and she said that she had just crossed paths this last weekend with a young woman who was up in the (San Francisco) Bay Area. She wanted to go into sound engineering, and her family discouraged her from it — saying that she couldn’t do it and that only men do it. She felt very disappointed, and then she found SoundGirls. Just seeing how many other women were in audio gave her the courage to pursue sound engineering. And now she is interning and working up in the Bay Area. 

Chrissie: What does SoundGirls.org offer young women who are interested in pursuing audio as a career? 

Karrie: The first part is making people aware that there are women in the industry. Imagine if you are 13 and you want to be a sound engineer, and then you google it and only pictures of men come up. That’s pretty discouraging. So when we first started, we started doing feature profiles each month on a woman who works in audio. Now, if you do a google search and you are looking for women in audio – women will come up. That has been a big thing. Personally, I went from knowing five to ten women in audio to knowing thousands of women all around the world. That has been great. We also have volunteer bloggers who commit to writing blogs every month or every other month. They are all written by women who work in different areas of audio. It’s more about them offering their advice. We didn’t do the camp this summer, but we are hoping to do one this summer. We have chapters all over the world now. Each chapter runs under SoundGirls, but they do their own programming for their members. 

Chrissie: I know that you have dealt with adversity throughout your career in audio and music production. What would you say to a young woman who might face the same issues as she becomes involved in the industry?

Karrie: The number one advice is that you have to have a passion for this, regardless of what gender you are. It is a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours. It’s not a typical industry. So if you are thinking that you are going to have a 9 to 5 job, that’s not going to happen, which makes it hard to balance having a family, but it can be done. There have been a lot of women who have had children, and they have figured out how to make their careers work and raise children, whether they are married or not. But again, you need to have that passion and drive for it, or you are going to burn out on it. People that do have that drive are going to succeed because they are going to be happy going to work every day. Not every day is going to be a dream. But for the most part, the bad days are very few and far between. Then, find a support group – whether it’s SoundGirls or another organization or just making your own. Having that support network at the end of a bad day makes the world of difference so that you don’t feel all alone. You have to realize that you have to have a good attitude and be willing to work hard, and this goes for men, women, and nonbinary people. Be willing to work hard, ask questions and be reliable. 

Chrissie: How have you balanced your life and stayed centered all of these years?

Karrie: I think a lot of times people get burned out because they are working long hours, and it’s really hard to have a home balance. For me, most of my friends and family network ended up being in the industry, and I think that happens to a lot of us. For me, it was beneficial because at work, I was with my family and friends. You really have to figure out what you want, have a passion for it, and make sure that you do have some type of balance. And that may be turning down certain jobs so that you have a couple months at home. But it’s different for everybody. You have to figure out what works for you. What works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone. 

Chrissie: What are you most proud of in your career so far?

Karrie: I’m very proud of starting SoundGirls, and hearing stories like the one I relayed to you makes it worth it. If we can inspire one girl not to give up, that makes everything worth it. Working for the same band for as long as I have isn’t always perfect. There have been a lot of growing pains. I think one of the greater accomplishments is not giving up and being willing to stick it through and see where we end up. That’s been really rewarding to see where we started and where we are now – and having that dedication and loyalty on both ends.

Chrissie: Who will be in attendance at the awards ceremony? 

Karrie: I have a couple crew people from Pearl Jam coming. Our co-directors will be there. My daughters will be there. I believe that Stone Gossard will be there. I believe he is presenting the award to me. And the Rat Sound family who I spent 20 years of my career with will be there. 


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