Interview with Isabella Di Biase - Sound Engineer

What does a Sound Engineer do, especially when working in a historic Gothic masterpiece? Ahead of the ReBalance International Women’s Day music industry meet up and live show on 8th March at Union Chapel you can find out with this interview the award-winning music venue has done with Isabella Di Biase. She’s a great sound engineer we’ve seen in action at many gigs including Nasty Women UK festival.

Isabella Di Biase

How did you come to know about and work at Union Chapel?

I first heard of Union Chapel in 2008. Jonathan Davis from Korn (one of my favorite bands) played an amazing semi-acoustic set there and a recording of that gig ended up being released as a live album. When I moved to London to study as a sound engineer, bands and techs I was working with always said very good things about Union Chapel. At the end of 2017 I met the former Union Chapel’s tech manager during a training that he did at Scala (my main venue) and later he asked me to work a couple of shifts. When he left, Bryan (the actual tech manager) kept me in the tech team.

What is your work at Union Chapel, and what does it involve? I’m a sound engineer. It means that I mix monitors or FOH (front of house) for the bands or acts that play at Union Chapel. It involves setting up the stage, placing mics and wedges, connecting them, testing them and then mixing sound during the soundcheck and the gig.

Union Chapel, Organ Reframed - © Daniela Sbrisny

What has it been like being female working in a male-dominated industry? What needs to change?

Before I started working as a sound engineer I was employed in logistics and transports, which are also male-dominated industries, so I was kind of used to be a minority. Prejudices like the ones that we’re less strong, we’re not cut out for tech jobs, we’re groupies etc. are present in the live events industry, they’re hard to debunk and they effect both men’s and women’s minds and attitude.

I get along and I’m friends with most of my male colleagues, some of them have taught me a lot of things and have given me work opportunities. But I can’t deny that it often happens that women have to work/struggle twice as much as male colleagues to prove that they can do this job, still some employers are inclined not to hire them or male colleagues turn up their nose if they do. I’ve been trying my best to focus on the passion that I have for this job.

My main purpose is to expand my tech knowledge, to improve my skills and to gain as much working experience as I can in order to explore all the aspects of this job and not to compete with my (male) colleagues or prove them wrong. In general I try to avoid toxic working environments and speak up in a professional and calm way if I feel that lines have been crossed, but it’s not easy when it’s you vs the rest.

That’s why creating women-friendly workplaces (like Union Chapel is doing) or organizing events like ReBalance can help female techs to get out there, see our jobs in a new light, build our technical and personal confidence, discuss matters with other female techs and create a sort of community. For example I really like what Women in Live and do: they organize women-only technical trainings, meet-ups, shadowing opportunities and internships.

Union Chapel - © Daniela Sbrisny

Tell us a bit more about yourself – as much as you’re happy to share with the world!

I’m Italian, I’m 38 and I moved to London six years ago to become a sound engineer. I’m mainly an in-house FOH/mons tech in various London venues and I also work as stage tech in festivals like All Points East and British Summer Time Hyde Park. I play electric guitar and I’m a straightedge metal head. I love poetry and contemporary art.

What has working/volunteering at Union Chapel made a difference to you/your career?

Working at Union Chapel has definitively made a difference. I’m lucky to be part of one of the very
few venues that has a “mission” to hire female techs and techs from different backgrounds and I’m grateful to Bryan and team for making it happen.

It is a prestigious venue, with a welcoming environment, where you can work with professional and nice colleagues, very good equipment (like DPA mics, L-Acoustic PA) and very good bands. Here I’ve learnt a different approach to my job. Bands that play at Union Chapel are not the typical indie rock bands or even if they are they always reinvent their sets in a more acoustic/intimate way, so it means that I have to slightly change the way I mix to adapt it to the acoustic vibe.

Bands often bring interesting and peculiar instruments like oud guitar or Celtic harp or Moroccan tamtam, etc so everytime I work here I learn something new about mixing different instruments.

Union Chapel - © Daniela Sbrisny

Union Chapel

Union Chapel is the iconic award winning music venue doing genuine social good in Islington, North London. It’s a Victorian Gothic architectural jewel, that’s an inclusive and progressive church, home to an incredible organ and The Margins Project, which works with people facing homelessness and isolation. Coming to an event at Union Chapel supports the conservation and development of the building and wider charitable work with the community.

ReBalance Celebrates International Women’s Day: Meet the Women in the Music Industry

On Sunday 8th March ReBalance Celebrates International Women’s Day invites those wanting a career in music to meet women in the industry, and see Nilüfer Yanya, Tamzene, and Martha Hill perform live at the Union Chapel. You can make connections with pros in their field that can offer their advice through one to ones and networking opportunities plus educational talks to encouraging words of wisdom, this is the chance to meet women in the industry who have experienced the professional music world across all kinds of sectors – from management to agents, promoters to marketers, riggers to stage managers, and beyond! Missed out on speed networking? Not a problem as the day will end with drinks giving attendees extra face time with some of the speakers.

Women from Festival Republic, Live Nation, Academy Music Group, Big Scary Monsters, Sony Music, MAMA, Ogle Hog, Metropolis, Melody VR, National Merchandise, BBC, Safe Gigs for Women, and PRS Foundation will be in attendance, with many more to be announced.

ReBalance began as a pioneering 3-year programme that launched in 2017, which has now expanded into an additional 3 years, offering 5 day’s studio time to a core female or female identified artists each month in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023, as well as a slot at a Festival Republic or Live Nation Festival. So far, there has been 300 nominations across 6 rounds, resulting in 19 finalists, and have seen live performances at The Great Escape, Wireless, Latitude, and Reading & Leeds Festivals.

Once you have purchased your ticket (£2), you can register for Speed Networking and select a session to attend.