Krysten Dean, better known as “KD,” is a touring system engineer and crew chief currently working with Eighth Day Sound (based in Cleveland and now part of Clair Global) who’s been in professional audio for the past 17 years since leaving the world of corporate engineering.
She’s toured with Jay-Z, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Earth, Wind and Fire, Drake, and Madonna, to name a few, and is also an entrepreneur working to introduce more women and people of color to the technical side of the touring industry through what she likes to call S.T.E.M.M. – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Music.
An Early Love
KD grew up in a musically inclined family, with her mom and grandfather being singers, and she and her siblings all learned to play a musical instrument. She also was a member of choirs. Her love for audio started in her youth when she volunteered on the media team at her church, where she learned the basics of audio.
However, when it came time to decide on college and a career path, she was discouraged by educators from pursuing a career in the music industry, instead studying mechanical engineering. After graduating with both Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering, she went on to work in the auto industry for eight years. Unhappy in that field, she decided to return to school to study to become an audio engineer.
“I knew I had to take a chance and bet on myself so that I could be happy,” she explains “I secured an 85-percent scholarship and attended Full Sail University (in Orlando).”
After graduating with an Associate of Science Degree in Show Production and Touring, KD first honed her skills as the technical director at her church. At the same time, she applied to Eighth Day Sound, which chose to bring her aboard. “My boss really took a chance on me,” she notes. “I sent in my resume with no touring experience and little audio experience and he took a chance on me. He told me that someone smart enough to have a successful engineering career – with a Master’s in engineering to boot – could learn how to do audio, especially if they were passionate about it.”
She also had a co-worker who took her under his wing and introduced her to the touring world, which helped her navigate the culture. Following a six-month internship where she learned the company’s philosophy and basic touring gear packages, she was sent out on the road: “It was fast-paced and exhilarating for me and a welcome change from corporate America.”
KD’s corporate background did prove beneficial, providing her with a strong work ethic, she notes, adding, “I’m not afraid of the long hours, the grueling pace at times and the commitment required for touring.”
Prior to the pandemic, she was spending a good portion of each year on the road, with longer-term goals that still include establishing an organization to encourage minority women to become involved in the entertainment industry’s technical side.
“I’m passionate about seeing people that look like me doing what I am doing. By that, I not only mean women but people of color,” she says. “There’s something to be said about representation and achievement. I want to give back and make a difference.”
That goal is now being realized with the founding of KMissionD (pronounced ka-miss-ion-ed), organization devoted to encourage more women and people of color to pursue STEMM. Let’s move along to a fast-paced Q&A with KD on her work, both pre-pandemic as well as in light of the current situation.
Q: What’s a typical day like on tour?
KD: Hectic, fast paced. Arrive at the venue early (before most of the crew is even awake) to measure the room and plan the PA points and location with the rigger. Help the team to set it all up and get it working and sounding proper. This is usually when any problems are noticed with the system, but not always.
Time-align and tune the system, line check, and sound check. Set up and handle the opening acts, do a show, tear it all down, pack it back into the trucks and do it all over again the next day. And somewhere in there, I manage to eat at least one meal for the day.
Q: How do you stay organized and focused?
KD: I usually have a game plan on what needs to be accomplished for the day. Although most would say we do the same thing every day, we’re in a new location every day, which presents its own challenges. Thankfully, I’ve been doing this for a while now, so I’ve been to many venues multiple times and know what to expect, but each tour is different.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about your job?
KD: Touring becomes your extended family. I can literally go anywhere in the world and reach out to someone I’ve toured with, met while on tour, or have a mutual friend.
Q: What do you like best about touring?
KD: I love to travel. I’ve been all over the world in this career. I also love when my crew and I can overcome the daily challenges we face in getting the job done effectively and efficiently.
Q: What do you like least?
KD: Being away from my family and my dog, Layla, for extended periods of time year-round.
Q: What is your favorite day-off activity?
KD: Sleep! No, really, it’s important, but I also like to take in the sights of whatever city I’m in, especially if I’ve never been there. I also like to try some of the favorite local cuisines.
Q: What, if any, obstacles or barriers have you faced?
KD: Touring is still very much a male-dominated industry. As a result, you sometimes get treated as inferior or even invisible. I’ve dealt with some difficult engineers and difficult situations, but at the end of the day, if I can say that I approached them with integrity, that’s important to me.
I’m a firm believer in having a strong character; my reputation is important, especially in this industry.
Q: Advice you have for other women, particularly younger women, who wish to enter the field?
KD: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and when unsure, ask for clarification. We aren’t meant to go through life alone, and SoundGirls is an excellent resource. Also, learn as much as you can. But not only that, practice what you learn so that you don’t forget it.
Q: Must-have skills?
KD: One thing that’s saved me time and time again when issues occur is that one thing our teachers always say is important, but we’re like, yeah…OK. And that one thing is signal flow. Tracing a problem from beginning to end usually shows you right where the issue is, and you can quickly move toward a solution. In touring, this skill can save your career.
Q: Favorite gear?
KD: I’m blessed to be able to use a little bit of everything. My company stays ahead of the curve with gear and is able to provide what engineers like and request. That’s one aspect that I like about my job. I get to use a lot of new and exciting gear regularly.
Q: Closing thoughts?
KD: Although I still love audio, I’m looking to add a new dimension to my career and focus on giving back and helping others. I’m discouraged by the lack of women and people of color doing what I do, and I’m passionate about changing the narrative. I’ve started speaking to women’s groups and technical societies to introduce them to what I do, and encourage others that it’s possible to do it, do it well, and be successful. I also coach and mentor other women who want help navigating it all.
I have a YouTube channel coming soon, highlighting people behind the scenes in the live touring industry. I want to amplify others’ voices, allow them to share their stories, and inspire others that they can do it too. The channel will be called KMissionD. Check it out!