Stepping Stones: Cloudbass’ Esme Racey on forging a career in audio and why you should never stop learning

Esme Racey, sound engineer, Cloudbass

Cloudbass sound engineer Esme Racey did not expect to have a career in TV, but she’s now living the OB life working on some of the world’s biggest sporting events. In this Stepping Stones interview, she tells us about how she found her way into the industry and why she has a new-found love of boxing.

How did you first find out about TV broadcasting as a career? What was your inspiration or idea, and why sports broadcasting?

I didn’t really know about careers in TV, so it didn’t cross my mind to look for one until I was in my last year of university. A local TV station that worked with the college advertised a role as a volunteer sound mixer for its daily evening live show, Ey Up Notts. I worked with them for eight months until my graduation. When I went for the interview at Cloudbass they asked about my time at Notts TV and it just so happened that my senior there actually once worked at Cloudbass.

What got you from college into the TV business?

I studied music technology at BTEC Level 3 at West Notts College and went on to do a HND there for two years. My main focus was on recording bands and mixing the tracks. Setting up a studio and hearing how a microphone sounds has always been my favourite thing so the move to Confetti at Notts Trent University to do my BSc top up year in audio and music technology was definitely the right move. Cloudbass was my first what I would call ‘real’ job, being a full time one. I can see myself working on events with them for some time.

How did you get your current job?

After my time at Notts TV I decided to search for sound mixer roles and that’s when the OB company Cloudbass popped up. I didn’t know what an OB was, but the company’s base wasn’t far and they had trucks that looked like the studio gallery I was used to but on wheels, so I was sold.

I started as a multi skilled operator, but sound is where my heart is. Technology is advancing and the equipment we use is changing. Either out on the floor or in the trucks you need to know the kit and I think the most challenging thing is feeling comfortable when using something new and not fearing it.

Cloudbass feels like a close-knit family and I really enjoy the fact that I have a great working relationship with people from other departments not just audio folk. I think that makes us all a bit better at what we do because we appreciate the role that we all play in the overall success of a job.

What challenges have you faced over the course of your career and how did you get past those challenges?

Starting in the industry as a young woman in audio, straight from uni, in a heavily male-dominated area, was kind of intimidating at first. I do however appreciate that young men deal with those feelings too, where you worry that your abilities aren’t going to be recognised and you won’t be respected as an engineer because you are still learning. I understand now though that we don’t ever stop learning and it’s better to ask for help than sacrifice the success of a job. A good engineer will always be happy to share what they know and will not care if you are a woman.

I must also say that over the last year a lot has changed. I have noticed that crews seem to be a better mix of age and background rather than all coming from one place. People are joining OBs from theatre and drama backgrounds and it’s really mixing it up. I feel like there’s a lot of respect between crew members who are drawing on their different technical backgrounds to get on with the job together.

“I feel like there’s a lot of respect between crew members who are drawing on their different technical backgrounds to get on with the job together”

What’s the most challenging thing about working in live sport today?

Live telly is all go, go, go, especially since COVID. I think we are all a little weird because as stressful as that is it’s what we love about it. However, sometimes it could do with being a little less go. Rig days can be extra tough when meeting a director facs check feels like an impossible task.

What draws you to your career in live sport?

Sport is all about community, even the solo competitors are part of one, and the crowd, the fans, they are one big community too no matter where they are from or what they do. There is no better feeling than a sense of belonging and when you find yourself among that energy you almost feel like you are one of the fans yourself. It’s a total buzz to be in a packed-out stadium, and to be able to capture that and share it through a TV or phone screen is pretty cool.

Over the last two years how has your role changed and moved forward? What does 2023 bring for you and your career?

I’m now in the third year of what I hope to be a long career in audio engineering. I started only three months before the first COVID lockdown so for me the past two years have been an introduction into what the industry actually looks like, although we do still find ourselves on site questioning ‘is this a COVID hangover’ when approaching set ups. I think for me 2023 is about getting stuck in, learning, listening to others and putting in the work.

Can you tell us about a particularly exciting or cutting-edge project that your company or any of your sports clients have been involved with in 2022?

Working on the Commonwealth Games was probably the most exciting. Three sporting events, two locations, and many people involved to guarantee the coverage was a success. Knowing the reach that sporting events like that have really made the long site days feel worthwhile.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve worked on in the course of your career? Why?

Boxing events have become an absolute favourite for me. For some reason the long days are as addictive as the buzz off the crowd. The crew always seem to be so genuinely nice, we get catering which is always a bonus and I usually get to work with another female soundie.

What advice would you give to other women looking to move into a role in sports broadcasting like your own?

My main advice is to ask for help, there is no shame in that, and help others. Learn from each other and enjoy doing so. Most importantly enjoy the little things, being in a new city each week, meeting a new face each week. Make sure to take pictures sitting in seats at sporting events you wouldn’t dream of paying for yourself and keep your lanyard passes ‘cause they’re cool!

If you walk onto site and you’re the only female engineer in your department don’t see that as a bad thing or worry what people are thinking, just show everyone there that you can do the job the same as anyone else. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone but you.

It can feel weird, but someone has to be the first so if that just so happens to be you then go for it. You don’t know who will come along next and if a woman sees you there, they might feel more comfortable coming back.

OB life can be hard mentally and physically as it’s such a demanding industry. But what I will say is that you are not alone in your thoughts and the great thing about OB life, especially when staff, is that you become part of a little family and those people (who you might find you see more than your own family some weeks) are there for you. Make sure you take time to reflect on your progress and be kind to yourself on hard days.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters