For nearly 30 years, Karrie Keyes has been helping Pearl Jam sound great onstage. But instead of overseeing the band’s monitors all summer, the sound engineer is stuck at home for the foreseeable future — and her concerns go far beyond her own career. Keyes is the co-founder of SoundGirls, a 6,000-plus-member organization that provides scholarships, mentorships, workshops, and job placement for women in audio — most of whom are now also unemployed. Keyes spoke about the pandemic’s swift takedown of her industry and what comes next.
When people started worrying about COVID-19 in February, I was in Seattle doing rehearsals for the upcoming Pearl Jam tour. At that point, we were wondering, “What are the chances of us postponing?” Then there was an outbreak in Seattle and we postponed the tour on March 9th. When Coachella was canceled, I knew the industry was in hot water. By the end of the next week, pretty much anybody that worked in live events was unemployed.
At that point, we hoped Pearl Jam would still be able to go to Europe in June. Every day since, things have gotten worse. I would say there are 50-plus people on the road. Crews for the most part work tour to tour, and they’re not employees — and sorry, everybody’s out of work.
I started SoundGirls in 2013. Right now, we’re trying to figure out how we can help our unemployed members. The only thing close to this was 9/11. People lost work then, but this is on another scale. With 9/11, you still had 25 percent of your work.
There are not going to be huge stadium shows any time soon; I don’t know how we’re going to tour. How do you route a tour around a city that’s on lockdown? So, it’s going to change. And, at this point, I don’t think anybody knows realistically how it’s going to change.
Most people who work live events have accepted the fact that they’re not going to work this year. Several members of SoundGirls have had a difficult time filing for unemployment, mainly because they can’t get into the system no matter what state they live in. Some of them are diversified in other areas [of work], but most of their services revolve around providing rentals for live shows. We’re going to lose a lot of talented people that have dedicated their lives to doing this. They’re going to take a [different] job, and they’re not going to come back.
For more info on SoundGirls, visit soundgirls.org.