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Life as a female production crew in Singapore

Disclaimer: Dear readers, the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to me, and not necessarily to any of my past employers, organizations, committee, other groups, or individuals.

Being part of a production crew in Singapore is no walk in the park. Late nights, bruises, and cuts are all in a day’s work. To all my colleagues who I have worked with, whether male or female, I love and respect each and every one of you. I feel that it is important to describe my journey in the industry as it has not only shaped me as a person but also Position Five as an event management company.

I always get sentimental when I reminisce about my little Yamaha MW8CX mixer which my father bought for me at the age of 13. I had a little Macbook that had Apple’s GarageBand and a couple of cables. Much of my time was spent trying to figure out how to even start recording and I slowly managed to figure everything out on my own. I had begun guitar and drum lessons when I was 12 and had a keen interest in music and recording. Who knew that it would progress into a career that I love and am passionate about today.

So here are 5 tips and insights to give you a taste of what life is like as a female production crew member in Singapore.

1. If you are a female in Singapore’s production industry, KNOW that it is largely male-dominated.

At the age of 18, I was hired by the Esplanade and I was exhilarated. Two years prior, before I was about to take my O levels, I would visit the Esplanade library every single day to study and listen to their CDs. My favourite albums then were from Linkin Park, Metallica, Limp Bizkit and many other rock and heavy metal bands. I aspired to work at the Esplanade and always wanted to be employed by Singapore’s top performing arts centre. So naturally when I received the news that I was hired as a crew at the Esplanade, I was elated!

Back then, my dream was to become a rockstar and I was set on pursuing a career in music upon completing my ‘O’ levels. Soon after, I was accepted into Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Film, Sound and Video course which put my dreams on the backburner. That said, I do not regret pursuing film studies as it put many things into perspective for me. I learnt more about the beauty and technicalities of film production and fell in love with film.

Whilst undertaking my diploma, I underwent training from the Esplanade in order to work there. Thinking back, meeting my new colleagues for the first time made me feel overwhelmed and intimidated. There were only two females amongst the 40 other new crew and many of them were much more experienced and older than me. Even so, I chose to push on with my training since working at the Esplanade was one of my aspirations. As someone who is terrified of heights, having to complete the ‘Work at Heights’ and ‘Elevated Platforms’ courses were a nightmare. However, my phobia of heights did not stop me from learning how to operate a cherry plucker and telescopic booms. That is because I am always up for a challenge.

In between training, I had ample time to bond with my new colleagues and slowly but surely, friendships were forged. As part of the ‘Work at Heights’ course, I was required to jump off a platform in a harness to experience what a fall would feel like. This will also allow me to know when I am experiencing suspension trauma and how to get out of tricky situations. When it came my turn to jump, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. My instructor tried to encourage me by saying: “Most girls have no problems jumping because they have no balls!”

All the guys burst into laughter and started to cheer me on and encourage me. At that time, my mind was unable to process the ball joke due to my fear of heights, but I jumped and the harness caught me. While the feeling was incredible, I started to feel tired after a few seconds and voiced it out immediately. I was pulled back to safety and that’s when I knew what suspension trauma felt like and how to identify the symptoms. In addition, I learnt the importance of safety protocols and procedures in events.

Once the adrenaline wore off, I realised the benefits of being a female and finally understood the “no balls” joke. At first, I thought it was an insult that I was ball-less. On second thought, I realised that being a female, wearing a harness, and jumping from a tall platform without having to worry about balls does help slightly. I worked part-time at the Esplanade doing main RF and a little bit of mixing, until I graduated from Ngee AnnPolytechnic, in which I moved on to a full-time position at a Live Sound and Production Company.

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(2014, during my Work at Heights training)

2. Build a strong bond with your team and never be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

When I was working at the Live Sound and Production company, we had multiple shows on a weekly basis. Often, our schedule will be packed with setting up multiple shows on the same day. Even though the working hours were long and the work was tough, I realised that the only thing keeping me going was my love for the team. I was doing a mixture of production and sales which I never thought I would enjoy. Gradually, I began to appreciate the bonds I made with my clients when servicing them and advising them on the right set up. I would always try to recommend the right sound system, lighting, and props to fit their budget and event scale, all while keeping my clients’ best intentions in mind.

One of the hardest things I came to realise is that I have limitations and I don’t possess superpowers. Instead, what I do have is an amazing team who are willing to help in times of need. Once, it was almost 4am in the morning and my partner and I were trying to load up some staging panels into a van for a show the next day. He could clearly lift one side of the flight case, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t lift my side. It shattered me to see him work so hard and I blamed myself for not being able to do my job. Knowing that we were running out of time, I called for help and my boys came to the rescue, no questions asked. The two key takeaways from this incident is to know your and your peers’ limitations, as well as to always ask for help if you need it. Be open to helping and be kind. At the end of the day,  we all just want the best outcome possible for the event.

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(2017, Weekly event production meetings with the boys)

3. Take time during your career to do things you are passionate about.

During the final year of my diploma studies, I was given a choice to choose between an internship and a final year film project. While many of my lecturers encouraged me to opt for the latter, I wanted a change in my environment. Although unorthodox for a film student to intern at a recording studio, I decided to do just that and intern at one of Singapore’s most renowned recording studios, Snakeweed Studios. Initially, I thought I had a good grasp of recording and how to operate Pro Tools. I must confess that I was most definitely overwhelmed on my first day at Snakeweed studios. I had never worked in a studio of that scale before and only had the knowledge on how to operate my own home recording studio at that point of time. However, after keeping an open mind and asking endless questions, I slowly got the hang of how things worked. My mentor, Mr. Leonard Soosay, was extremely patient and took the time to teach me the ropes along the way. I was also very thankful that my 10 years of music lessons paid off as I was able to help my fellow musicians achieve the tone, sound, and soul that they were looking for. 

One of my most memorable experiences was being able to record my guitar teacher, Mr. Simon Yong’s second album. I truly hope I managed to play a small part in contributing to Singapore’s music scene and hope that I made a difference in helping the various artists I have worked with. Being in the studio inspired me to return to music and I even plucked up the courage to play live with a band once again after many years of not gigging. This made me realise that music is still my passion, love, and refuge when life became overwhelming. 

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(2015, Mr Simon Yong and I tracking drums at Snakeweed Studios)

I also made furry friends during my time in the studio. The three resident cats would always keep me company during my late nights at work. I would often feel afraid to be there, but they always reassured me that I wasn’t alone and would never fail to welcome me with open paws. 

Being a production crew can be mentally draining at times, so it is crucial to maintain a balanced lifestyle as much as possible. You may have little spare time on your hands, but it is always important to set aside time for your hobbies and passion to blow off steam and make work a little more tolerable. 

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(2015, Two out of three of my furry friends at Snakeweeds)

4. You will face hardships on a daily basis. 

Of course, I won’t deny that each job has its difficulties and obstacles. One of the hardest things I had to learn was when to step away and focus on my own job responsibilities. Some of these experiences could be sensitive, but I believe that they should be addressed nonetheless.

When doing set-ups in shopping malls or crowded places in general, it is not uncommon for me to hear parents telling their children, “If you don’t study, you will end up like her.” I used to get affected by those remarks. As time passed, however, I learnt to brush them off and just give them a smile. I would like to challenge the stereotype that production crew members and sound engineers are not well-educated. In fact, most, if not all, the production crew I know are actually extremely qualified and have spent years mastering their craft. It is not an easy job and we often double up with multiple roles when the situation calls for it. So yes, you will be faced with these kinds of situations,  but I pray that you will learn to take it in stride. 

Another incident occured when I was working in a club on New Year’s Eve. There was a drunk partygoer who continuously offered me drinks and got a little handsy with me. After multiple attempts of telling him that I was working, I eventually had to give him a slap on the arm. I was thankful that my crew noticed my discomfort and came to the rescue. I have also overheard insensitive remarks that were said about me on set, which I learnt to once again brush them off. Ladies, the production world is not an easy place but don’t let these things get to you. While I acknowledge that it is easier said than done, my advice is that you need to know your self-worth and stand firm on your beliefs. 

Another hardship you may face is meeting the production requirements and expectations which your clients place on you. One of my toughest production requirements was when my client wanted a multi camera live feed to be set up and their event product launch. The catch was that the cameras needed to be hidden and the video needed to be streamed live. It took us a total of 4 days of testing various products, cameras, and video switchers until we were confident about our set-up. Nevertheless, it is extremely fulfilling when you manage to pull it off. 

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(2016, Our little multi-camera hidden set up)

5. Don’t be afraid to work and learn from the various different departments or try new things.

I first started off my career as a casual crew member at the Esplanade. However, the day after I graduated from polytechnic, I was working as an assistant to the director of a Live Sound and Production company. I never thought I would enjoy client management and sales however, after keeping an open mind and a “can do” attitude, I realised that I did like working with clients, managing them and keeping their expectations in check. I would enjoy both the office work where I spent most of my time advising clients on the best possible set-ups, and working with their deadlines and budgets. However, I also enjoyed going out for shows and setting up large scale shows. 

Later, I decided that I wanted a change of environment and went back to film production by working at a production house for a short while. I had the opportunity to produce, manage productions, and assist in directing. Aside from being exposed to the aesthetics and beauty of film production, I also gained greater knowledge about film technicalities and set etiquette. Many of my film crew were skeptical of working with such a young production manager at first. However, I always kept an open mind and tried my best to get to know each and everyone of my crew members as individuals. This undoubtedly helped me to form strong bonds with them and achieve the best production value for my clients. 

By getting involved in various aspects of production, be it music or event or film, I managed to get a good grasp of the market rates, production etiquette, and safety procedures. This played a significant role when I finally landed a job as an event producer at one of the largest Advertising and PR agencies in Singapore. I made use of my technical knowledge and experience to manage my clients’ expectations and run large festivals, product launches, and press conferences. They were all well received by my clients and I always ensured that their events ran smoothly and safely. 

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(2018, After finishing a runway video shoot for Umo Group)

Also, I learnt the importance of digital marketing and how it works hand in hand with event management and conceptualization. Living in such a technologically advanced society, we always need to bear in mind that in order to run a successful event, there has to be some digital element involved to keep things current. 

By learning, experiencing, and going through all the hardships and victories, I eventually decided I was ready to start my events and digital marketing company, Position 5.

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