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2019 Top 20 | #17: 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.

Additional Pursuits

Intent on staying off the road but with little desire to do corporate AV, she wasn’t sure how to move forward. “I wanted to continue working in audio,” she says. “I mean, when I was a kid my stuffed horse was named ‘Beep.’ I think early on I heard the world more than saw it.”

Even as a child she gravitated towards sound and audio gear, but also to storytelling; recording and re-recording stories she made up on her father’s tape recorder – which she often powered using batteries stolen from her friend’s TV remotes.

Touring also provided her with a unique opportunity to hone her skills in other disciplines, specifically photography, film-making and writing. Wilson had worked as a photographer from 2002 onward, providing images for album artwork, MI and consumer audio companies, magazines, retailers and others.

“Being on tour was fundamental to what started me writing. You’re not part of the place you’re in, so you’re looking at it objectively as if you’re watching television, and the channel changes every day. I love writing because of the simplicity of it – there are no bad cables. But I moved into the visual space because it felt familiar to me. Then I got a call saying, ‘We need you to mix the Dalai Lama’.”

That job had a profound effect on her, she notes: “After the fingerprinting and signing all the federal documents, I go into the dressing room and it was just the Dalai Lama, another monk, an FBI guy and me. I had an indescribable experience in his presence, a feeling of total contentment and peace. I could have just stood there for 10 hours.”

The “peace buzz” lingered, she adds. “For a couple of days everybody was like, ‘you look different. Did you cut your hair?’”

Other opportunities in audio – more in line with her goals going forward – followed, including additional work as A2 for the Dalai Lama on the west and east coasts, as well as an invitation from Robert Thurman, co-founder of Tibet House New York, to take on a three-year contract as the organization’s media director.

Within two weeks Wilson had packed up and moved to New York City. The job involved the conversion of roughly three decades of analog audio and video to digital format and the installation of a webcast system. “It was challenging, and I didn’t want to mess it up. They’re important historical resources,” Wilson explains, including recordings of the Dalai Lama’s early talks in the U.S. “The live webcasting part – mixing audio and switching cameras for broadcast – felt familiar.”

Still, she adds, the learning curve was steep, but she reached out to friends and colleagues and, as with audio, asked questions incessantly. “I researched best practices for file transfers and archiving, streaming and international content delivery networks and learned audio compression and ID tagging for the web. And we ended up getting it archived and online in fifteen months.”

Through Tibet House she also began working as communications director for the Siddhartha School Project – founded in 1995 in Stok, India to educate children from grades kindergarten through 10. Since, Wilson has traveled twice to the northern Indian region of Ladakh to create photo and video resources for the school. “I was at about 11,000 feet for a month each time. It’s challenging, but mind blowing.” She continues to work with the school alongside her duties at TED.

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The Road Ahead

Having put down roots in New York, Wilson looked for other jobs in the city and applied at TED as a video engineer in 2017. Although she wasn’t hired for that position, the company reached out to her again when the current position was created.

While the city doesn’t offer the same sunny options as the California coast, Wilson seems more than content. “I’ve surfed at Rockaway a few times. I hike in New Jersey and go to the gym incessantly. Outside of work I’ve been a meditation teacher and facilitator, which I really found engaging. I’m involved with a screenwriting and a poetry group in Brooklyn. As long as I have about five things in my life, I can pretty much do anything without causing a fire,” she says, laughing. “And I can be agile and extroverted as long as I have some outside space, but the road took that away.”

As for the job itself, given TED’s capacity to inspire others with stories of innovation and personal triumph, it’s a perfect fit. “It really is,” she affirms. “It’s all the things that, for me, keep the existential demons at bay; the people I work with are incredible, it’s challenging and the culture here is really about, ‘Am I useful to people?’”

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