Driven To Excellence: Inside The World Of Multifaceted Audio Professional Rebecca Wilson
Backstage with a former touring monitor engineer turned head audio engineer for the TED headquarters and TED World Theatre.
By Kevin Young • February 15, 2019
If there’s one thing Rebecca Wilson is always up for, it’s a challenge. The 44-year-old audio professional views stretching her comfort zone as a means of living up to her potential, and if she can help others live up to their own potential along the way, even better. That’s one reason the long-time touring monitor mixer finds her current gig as head audio engineer for the TED headquarters and TED World Theatre in New York City so appealing.
For most of her two-decades plus career, Wilson was based in San Diego, but she relocated to New York in 2015. “At one point, if you’d told me I’d live here, I’d say ‘no way.’ I’m not a city person. I’m more about nature and I struggle with New York a bit because it’s just so much cement. But I have to say, the people here, I love them,” she says.
During our interviews (one while Wilson was in her office in Manhattan’s Soho district, and one during her getaway to Maine last Thanksgiving), we covered a lot of ground. She tends to ask as many questions as she answers. Undoubtedly that’s part of what’s driven her pursuit of excellence in audio and other disciplines, among them screenwriting and photography. There is, however, a common thread in our conversation: Wilson’s desire to ensure she’s fully living up to her potential both professionally and personally.
Her work at TED allows her to do that, but it doesn’t take her out of what she calls “the technology rat race” – a race she felt she was running constantly on the road. Given that TED recently designed and implemented a sophisticated interactive live, AV, broadcast and webcast system, far from getting a breather, it seems she’s instead transitioned right to the “bleeding edge” of technological innovation.
Specifically, her issue isn’t with technology itself, but with being constantly plugged in. “Ironically it’s all these devices that drain my battery. So for Thanksgiving I rented a cabin in Maine, by myself, for a week. I was just going to write. I love the solitude of it. Don’t get me wrong. I love people, but I like to be able to choose when I’m around them. The older I get the more I like to spend time in contemplation, learning and growing.”
“Musicians, I feel, are my tribe,” she continues. “So TED is a departure, but I wanted to find an outlet that wasn’t entertainment based. I’ve had some great success, worked with amazing people who I’ve learned so much from, and short touring stints are invigorating, but the loss of personal choice weighs on me. I’ve had offers to tour, but I’ve been there, done that.”
Conversely, this is a completely fresh challenge. “It’s a small venue – more along the lines of a broadcast situation. Basically you’re seeing TED Talks and various bands being taped. But there’s also the TED World Theatre Technology; a platform that integrates live and remote participants, which is like conference technology on steroids.”
Essentially, up to 64 live video participants can be projected on the venue’s wall and/or stage display screens, enabling remote participants to attend, virtually, as audience members or speakers. “I’m also the production manager for the theater, and the technical moderator for the portal technology, so I drag and drop virtual people onto the screens so their audio and video become live and they can interact. Up to five participants’ audio can be live and fully interactive with the host simultaneously. The system was designed before I was hired, but was only in beta testing when I arrived in June 2018, and the troubleshooting was mainly with coding, not audio.”
While the live and virtual environments require a large number of wireless microphones and cameras to present varying perspectives of participants to the host and audience, and for live streaming, broadcast, and multi-track recording, the venue’s PA is actually quite compact.
“Right now we have a Yamaha QL5 console, and all of our processing is done onboard. We also have JBL loudspeakers and use DPA headset microphones because that’s TED’s branded look, but we’re rebuilding the PA and working on developing our own microphone with Sennheiser.”