Alumni Profile: Kristin Bidwell '04
Kristin Bidwell '04 enjoyed working as a mixing engineer after college in the San Francisco/Oakland hip-hop scene. But after a few years, Bidwell, who double-majored in music production and engineering and music business/management, craved a new intellectual challenge. When her former acoustics professor announced at a conference that he was leaving Berklee for a job she'd never even heard of, with an acoustics and media systems consultancy, Bidwell walked right up. Soon afterwards she joined McKay Conant Hoover as its first female audiovisual consultant.
Three years later, she's working at Charles Salter Associates in her home of San Francisco while studying, singing, playing bass, and occasionally mixing a track or two. It might sound like all work and no play—except that for Bidwell, work is play. The following is a condensed and edited account of our conversation.
What do you do?
It's so hard to explain—but it's the one of the coolest jobs. I am an audiovisual design consultant. We're on the architecture team. We design sound systems, videoconferencing systems, projection, broadcast, digital signage, sound masking for anything from residential to courthouses, training centers, performing arts centers. I work in the audio forensics lab as well, consulting on audiovisual recording analysis, enhancement and authentication, voice identification, lawsuits, and patents. That's more hands-on. We have a lab.
How does this work in practice? Tell us about one of your projects.
I was working on the Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix. Courthouses are actually extremely complex for audiovisual design. Maricopa was crazy. You had flat panels all over the place. If there are holding cells, you have to have televisions that are in security cages that [people in custody] can't break and then hidden microphones that they can't break. If the architect wants a certain table for the lawyers you have make sure your microphones and your boxes fit in the table correctly. There's so much, so much, so much detail. And then how you're running all the wires. I was just blown away.
What's the job market like for your field, and how much do consultants earn?
[The pay scale is] 50 grand to six figures and up. You can make a lot of money. And there's work. I know a lot of people that are moving around and getting hired. We're kind of a necessity now, with the way technology is going.
How did your classes at Berklee help you with your job now?
First of all, the connections. I made sure at Berklee that I knew my professors, and that has been key. Because the professors all work or have worked in the industry and have connections. That alone has helped me get a ton of different kinds of gigs. I also have a degree in music business/management and that's really helped a lot too.
Berklee did a really good job of preparing me for what I'm doing. A lot of people think "you did MP&E, you must be a recording engineer," but there's a whole lot more to that program. Especially the audio tech classes and the acoustics classes. You can learn about electrical engineering, about loudspeakers. It's great to hear they're doing a minor in acoustics now.
It's definitely a difficult major. I lived on Starbucks. I learned even if you don't know how to do something you say yes and then you learn how to do it. They'd give you constructive criticism—Mitch Benoff did that a lot in his classes. You learn to respect their opinions and you don't take it negatively. That's definitely something that you can take and use in the rest of your life.
I had a blast doing that degree. I know a lot of people that have gotten their master's and they're disappointed—it's not as challenging.
Are there a lot of women in the field?
I am the only female audiovisual consultant at Salter. I was the first and only female consultant at McKay Conant Hoover. The people I work with and have worked with have been amazing. They're totally supportive. But as far as outside the office, maybe working with different architects or other engineers, they kind of look at you like hmmm, does she know what she's doing? I'm going to cuss—you have to know your @#$%. It feels weird sometimes. I think I've encountered a lot of respect, though, for it, and I hope there's more girls that go into this field.
How do you keep up on everything?
There's about 25 areas that we're supposed to be experts in. It's structural engineering, it's electrical engineering, it's architecture. There's new gear coming out every day.
Our hours at Salter are 8 to 5, but I have a 50- to 60-hour work week, maybe 70 hours if I'm really studying for something. I'll do online courses and that'll take up a lot of time. I read, probably on average, four to five books per couple of weeks. I try to make sure I get a weekend just because you need the break. There's always more to learn, more certifications to get. But I love it. It's like when I was in MP&E. I'm also singing and I'm playing a lot of bass, which is really fun. I've got some cool gigs coming up.
How on earth do you fit it all in?
I still don't sleep too much. It's just too much fun. I'd rather be playing bass than sleeping. I'll get maybe 2 to 5 [hours of sleep] a night, and that's including weekends. I've switched from Starbucks to Peet's.