"You can count on your hands number of successful women sound engineers in the county," says Boden Sandstrom, herself one of the best-known female audio engineers in town and owner of Woman Sound, a local sound reinforcement and conference recording company. "We're just starting to think in terms of large-scale success."
Woman Sound celebrates its sixth year in business in August with a new SBA loan, $50,000 worth of equipment and an impressive line-up of concert, conference and rally clients.
Among Woman Sound's recent jobs: graduation at the University of the District of Columbia, Deaf Pride Day, a conference of American Women in Radio and Television, a "Save The Children" demonstration, a Red Cross convention, a punk rock concert at the Ontario Theater, an SBA conference, the Urban League marathon run and a Kennedy Center concert.
For the past two years, the firm has managed the Smithsonian's Frisbee Disc Festival. This month, the Smithsonian will rent equipment for $2,000 from Woman Sound for its Folklife Festival on the Mall, and Amnesty International and the organizers of Gay Pride Day are counting on its expertise for rallies.
Its sounds cross ideological lines: from National Organization for Women's pro-ERA rally to the apolitical National Metric Council's conference at the Capitol Hilton.
"By virtue of the name, Woman Sound has political implications. But we've never turned down work," says chief engineer Sandstrom. Groups who differ with their approach "on human rights grounds, won't approach us in the first place," she says.
Woman Sound's staff -- two fulltime and one part time, plus subcontracted engineers for certain jobs -- are nearly all women. Sandstrom, 35, makes a case for female audio engineers: "The care we put in our work is different; we are totally conscientious. Beyond that, it's a subtle difference. Women are raised to care.
"I mix as an art. I'm a musician," says Sandstrom, who is classically trained in the French horn. "At the UDC graduation, for example, there was a chorus and brass ensemble. It was a challenge to make it a large sound like in a church, although it was outside. At the end, people stood up and roared."
Says Charles Cassell, UDC's director of facilities planning, who hired Woman Sound, "The work they did in setting up and monitoring the sound during the graduation was the finest I've ever seen. The sound was so full and rich we got comments on it, which is unusual."
Concert jobs are the most grueling, Sandstrom says. For a gospel concert at Constitution Hall, Woman Sound staffers arrived at noon and unloaded equipment, ran a sound check about 3, paused for dinner, did the show, reloaded and left the scene "around 2 in the morning."
"In ideal weeks, we do a conference during the week, 9 to 5, and two concert jobs on the weekend," Sandstrom says.
The conference business, recording and duplicating tapes for meetings and conventions, requires minimal equipment and is a steady source of income. Woman Sound records session at $40 an hour, and sells duplicates at $2.50 per casette (plus postage and handling for mail orders).
In the fall, Sandstrom will resume teaching audio courses at American University and privately, in addition to keeping the business well-tuned.
With gross income rising steadily since the company's modest start in 1975, Woman Sound took in $36,000 in 1979. "Going after the SBA loan was the turning point," Sandstrom said. "At that point, we understood that we had a valuable business.