Audio boss: Pam Barnes of Cloudbass talks stubbornness, shifting opinions and a love of sport

Barnes: ‘Sharing of knowledge is so important and the best learning is making mistakes’

By Pam Barnes, Cloudbass head of sound resources

I think it takes incredible determination – regardless of your sex – to work in TV. I don’t think being male or female has any bearing on your ability to do the job, deal with the pressure or the hours that are involved.

Yes, I absolutely have had to deal with the “you can’t, you are a girl” comments, but I’m afraid I am so incredibly stubborn and always have been, that comments like that stopped causing me any concern a long time ago. I have proved to myself that I am capable and for a long time, I had such doubts about my abilities. Imposter syndrome is a very real thing!

I would also like to point out that in the 15 years I have been in OBs, the shift in opinions about women in senior technical roles has moved considerably.

From music to sports

I kind of fell into sports broadcasting really. I wanted to work in recording studios, making really cool records! I was working in a recording studio in Glasgow after getting an HND from Perth College, and they had a radio OB truck.

I was deciding what I was actually going to do with my life, so I applied to the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in Beaconsfield where I did the ‘Sound for Film and TV’ course. I quickly realised that a future of standing on set was not my cup of tea, but the NFTS was such a great way to meet people in ‘The Industry’. When I graduated in the winter of 2008, I sent my CV to all the OB companies and was given a tech assist role at CTV in the warehouse initially, and then out on the European Tour golf from 2009.

Pam Barnes, head of sound resources, Cloudbass

However, two years of non-stop golf, including the Ryder Cup in Wales in 2010, took its toll on me, physically and emotionally. After the initial rush of excitement about all the travel, it soon became very tiring! There is always a cycle of staff around companies; I jokingly think there should be a transfer window like football.

I was taken on by Bowtie in Erith as a trainee guarantee. Bowties’ work was very much UK-based and was a nice mix of jobs, often ‘subbed in’ by CTV when they were short of trucks. NEP bought out Bowtie in 2012 and I stayed there until 2021, when I made the move to Cloudbass.

By this point, I had started a family with my (very patient!) husband, and travel to base was taking time away from my little one. On site days are long and with a two-hour commute on each end of a base day, it just wasn’t sustainable.

I was then approached by a former NEP colleague to add some experience to the audio department at Cloudbass. Cloudbass works in a very different way to NEP, and to be honest I was a bit institutionalised! It was a challenge to start with to keep track of how the logistics and the kit was moving around between jobs.

I am really enjoying my time at Cloudbass; we are a young company and have a lot to offer clients both in terms of kit and great crew. We have a really nice audio department growing, with a good mix of skills.

Admiration for dedication

I really, really enjoy watching athletes at the top of their sports. I have such admiration for these people who dedicate years of their lives to achieving such incredible achievements. I particularly enjoy watching women’s football; having spent too many hours watching the men’s games, the women’s game is so much more entertaining.

I really enjoyed working on ITV’s coverage of the Lionesses mini tournament last spring. It was a great warm up for them for the European Championships. The game we did later in the year – England vs USA at Wembley – was a great night to be involved in.

There have been so many highlights of my career. As a muso, BBC Proms was an absolute highlight for me, summer outside the Albert Hall. Cloudbass was the BBC Presentation truck for the Queen’s Jubilee last summer; a very exhausting week, but a week filled with real joy around the TV compound at Canada Gate that finally the world was starting to return to some kind of normality.

Social bee

As a bit of social bee, I found the introduction of remote production quite a change in working environment. Being the only audio person in the truck for these games was very strange. I really enjoy the interaction I have as a guarantee with a supervisor; you are always looking out for each other. It was very strange being so far removed from the whole process.

The jobs that Cloudbass do are less reliant on the remote production process, so it is nice to be on site, in a big truck, chatting round the tea urn.

“The time they give for technical rigging and testing is, on occasions, way beyond what is physically possible. When you pull a rabbit out a hat once, it suddenly becomes the norm”

2023 – I am hoping – will be a bit less intense than 2022 was. It was the ‘catch up’ year after COVID, the collapse of Arena, and I don’t think we were the only company who felt stretched to beyond breaking at certain points. The resource pool of freelancers were all tired and exhausted.

Since 2020 and the return from lockdowns, I have been conscious of my physical wellbeing, which I have recently started to realise has had a remarked influence on my mental wellbeing. The time I have ‘gained’ back from my former commute time to Bracknell has become so precious; time to do the school run and get to the gym. Lifting heavy things has given me a lot of confidence in myself.

Rabbit out of a hat

The challenges in this job? Production expectations! The time they give for technical rigging and testing is, on occasions, way beyond what is physically possible. When you pull a rabbit out a hat once, it suddenly becomes the norm.

As a woman speaking to other women, I say don’t be scared to ask for help! Even the boys don’t know everything; they are just better at bluffing it! I am very keen to make sure that when one person learns something in our department, we all learn it. Sharing of knowledge is so important and the best learning is making mistakes.

I have many female role models; a friend who I met through NCT when we had our child runs the HS2 Project. I think she is absolutely incredible! But we are all different. I don’t judge anyone on their choices, everyone has something that makes them tick and brings them joy. I am just lucky that I happen to have always had an incredibly strong idea about what I wanted to do and have been able to achieve this through hard work and having a very, very, very patient and understanding husband.

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