When I recently spoke with Daychia Sledge, it was the New York City-based engineer/entrepreneur’s second day in Hawaii, a rare day off prior to a Honolulu Pride gig with Deborah Cox. “It’s a little rainy this morning, but the sun’s starting to come out. I was too tired for anything yesterday. I had all these ideas, but everything was in my dreams,” Sledge says, laughing.
Via MixWellWorld.com (founded in 2006), Sledge operates as a “one-stop-shop,” managing a production company, recording studio, and multiple clients as a touring audio engineer and a television mixer, including her job as the floor audio lead at ABC television for The Tamron Hall Show and covering for engineers at NBC on shows including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and The Amber Ruffin Show. Later this year, she intends to expand with the launch of Mixwell University, an online pro audio school.
Dealing with all that, especially from the road, would be challenging if Sledge didn’t have a system. “I call myself a transactional specialist,” she explains. “Everything I do, it’s all engineering, putting together a system. During COVID, my little brothers and I started an Airbnb business out of Las Vegas, and I learned through that I was a transactional specialist.”
Initially, it was rough going: “My brothers, they’re trying to organize incoming and outgoing people, getting train wrecks, people booking at the same time. I was like, ‘Whoa,’ we can’t run a business like this, we’ve gotta build a system and have some structure.”
Making It Automatic
In a process similar to selecting components for a sound system, Sledge combined three apps in a way that allowed them to automatically provide everyone, from guests to cleaning staff, with all the information they might need. “It got so good we had to keep checking the system because it was so quiet,” she says, laughing again, something she does easily and often during our call. “That’s how my family survived COVID. Once society opened up again, the building didn’t want to do it anymore. But we got a good year out of it. I learned from that I’ve been building systems all my life. That showed me what I needed to do for MixWell World. To nurture clients every step of the way without me losing a beat because I’m on a plane or touring or wherever.”
The system does all the labor, paperwork, and organization, mostly automatically, she explains. “Let’s say a live sound client has three shows they want a sound system for. They go into the live sound section of MixWell World and fill out a form that tells me all about what they’re doing and what they need. I get the form in my email, and I have two young ladies I’ve been training who – if I’m on a plane for 15 hours like yesterday – they’ll respond right away. Before, I was doing everything myself, which was just crazy.”
Her studio gets booked similarly: “Just like an Airbnb, with instructions and videos showing how to get there from the airport (I even drove it and videotaped it myself), how to get into the gate, put in the code. I’m creating the MixWell World system so that my clients all feel safe, cozy, warm, and taken care of.”
Sledge is also developing an online recording platform aimed at bringing multiple players and studio staff together to record in real-time but remotely. “In a nutshell, I make things work. Even as a kid, I was the technical one my family went to when they were like, ‘I can’t get this thing to work. Daychia, come hook up my TV.’ That filtered over into my adult life as a sound engineer and production coordinator. I just naturally think about how to make things user-friendly,” she adds, referencing her work installing small home studios in the early 1990s.
“I had one client, a man paralyzed from the waist down in a workplace accident who always wanted to do music. He wanted to put a studio together in his living room but didn’t know where to begin.” Sledge talked him through the process, itemizing what gear to buy and – after picking up and installing everything – how to make it work. “That was my first time helping somebody who wanted to do this and didn’t know how, and that’s how I found out I could teach.”
Over time, she’s found plenty of opportunities to educate other aspiring engineers and technicians. In her mid-20s, at a Queens-based venue employing theatre students from a nearby community college and, roughly a decade later, at Mount Vernon’s Grace Baptist Church, teaching volunteers. “People that wanted to help the church but didn’t know what they were doing. I started giving classes there every Saturday for volunteers and on Friday nights teaching youth to keep them off the streets.”
At the time, her sole regular touring client was Chaka Khan, so teaching provided a stable gig between tours. As her live roster grew, Sledge implemented a remote teaching system. “I started making videos, which is how I got into making the website because I had to put them somewhere volunteers could go to easily.”
Currently, Sledge teaches at a different church and continues to compile videos in anticipation of launching MixWell University. “Every problem I’ve run into over the past few years I make videos about, and now I’m putting them all in a database for a new online classroom.”
Sledge’s career and approach to learning audio is a byproduct of her early desire to become a recording artist. “Music has always been something I loved; my family is musically inclined. I’m actually related to the group Sister Sledge,” she explains, adding that wasn’t something her family ever mentioned when she was growing up.
She explains that her father and his brothers had a band in the sixties and released music on CBS Records. Her uncle Tommy was the first Black radio host at a small Rocky Mountain, NC radio station. But Sledge’s father, given his own experiences in the industry, didn’t want her to pursue music. “So he kept it a secret that Percy (Sledge) and the band were family. He didn’t want me to sing. He didn’t want me to rap. He didn’t want me getting into it any more than I already was.”
What he sought was for his daughter to follow him into the medical field. “He wanted me to do respiratory therapy like he did. He’d try to entice me, saying, ‘Look, if you don’t like respiratory, you could do radiology; it even looks like a recording studio. You’ve got a big glass window and a computer.’ I said, yeah, but I don’t want to do that.”
She only found out about the connection to her well-known cousins during a festival in Bern, Switzerland, where Chaka Khan and Sister Sledge were both performing. “We’re on one stage and Sister Sledge was on the other, but we’re all in that same backstage area.” Upon finding out Daychia’s last name, she and the band discovered a family connection through her Aunt Mary and invited her on stage during their show to introduce her to the audience.
“When I got back home, I called my father and asked him, did you know we were related? He was like, ‘Talk to your mother.’ I was like, what do you mean talk to my mother? You didn’t tell me all these years?”
Those musical connections helped explain her desire to make music and the lengths she’d go to follow that path. “I was 14 and trying to make a record with this guy, Dave, who had a home recording studio down the road. I saved up my allowance and money from my job at a laundromat and gave it to him.” There was only one problem – Dave was narcoleptic. “We’d be in the middle of a session, and he’d fall asleep. That’s what got me into engineering because sometimes he wouldn’t wake up right away, so I had to learn to use the equipment.”
Eventually, she realized she’d have to take steps to learn outside of Dave’s studio. “My mother told me, ‘You’ve got to learn this so you can buy your own equipment.’ I went to Sam Ash and asked them, ‘What do I need to get?’ And it was never less than $10,000. So, at 14, I was on a mission to come up with $10,000.
“Then, one day, my father came home with one of those original Apple computers. He said, ‘I don’t know what you’ll do with this, but I hear it’s what you need for a studio. My parents never had a problem with me being on the streets. After I got that computer, you’d have to peel me off the chair to get me outside. There was no manual and no online resources like now. I just kept clicking stuff until I figured it out.”
By age 18, she’d moved from working on the Mac at her dining room table into her first studio in the family garage. “Instead of paying Dave, I was buying equipment, adding it to my studio, and recording loops for drummers.” Word spread, and Sledge soon found herself with a growing local client base. “I realized this was a business, and that’s when my mom said, ‘You gotta go to school.’ I didn’t know engineering was what you called what I was doing until I went to college.”
The Way Forward
The first program she enrolled in left her asking, “Where’s the recording studio? Where’s the equipment I see in magazines?” She went looking for a better direction, but although she was working two jobs, selling popcorn at Radio City Music Hall and a night job cataloging records at Sam Goody, the price of entry was a shock.
Sledge found numerous options in a special edition of Mix magazine featuring information on audio engineering programs, but only one school that was affordable and driving distance from her home. A program run out of a converted single-family home by someone who’d previously taught audio at a nearby college. “He wanted $50 a class, cash. So I went there for 10 months, twice a week,” she notes. “That’s when I found out engineering was a career. Until then, I was just trying to learn how to work my studio. I still wanted to make my album. But now I knew this was a career; I wanted to get really good as an engineer.”
Sledge began an unpaid internship at The Apollo Theater in 1993 and continued studying and learning independently. “People used to tease me because I had this huge notebook I carried with me everywhere, especially to the Apollo because I’d compare what I saw in class to what we were doing on stage.”
Eventually, she was offered a one-time paid gig on Showtime at the Apollo. But to do it, she needed a week off from Sam Goody. “I remember this like yesterday. I told the manager, ‘I have an opportunity to work at the Apollo as a paid employee. Could I have next week off?’ The answer was no, she couldn’t, and she’d get fired if she took the time off. But, if she didn’t, they’d offer her a full-time manager’s position.
“I wanted to stay part-time. I didn’t want to work there for the rest of my life. So I walked to the back of the store, to the jazz section, and called my mom. I said, Mom, I don’t want to quit, but this is the first time I’m going to get paid for doing something that I went to school for. She told me, ‘Look at it this way; you still live at home. You don’t have a lot of bills. If ever it was the time for you to quit a job, now is the best time. You’re young and have the freedom to do that.’ I hung up the phone, went back to the front of the store, and said one more time, ‘I don’t want to quit, but I need to take this opportunity. If you don’t let me go, I have to give you my resignation.”
It was a pivotal decision that led to a key introduction that propelled her career forward. After becoming a regular member of the Apollo crew, Sledge met one of her inspirations, a woman who was the subject of an Essence magazine article she carried around along with her notebook, Rebecca Foster, who mixed Whitney Houston.
“I’m working the Mother’s Day show, and Marvin Devonish, one of the Apollo stagehands, said, ‘Hey, Daychia, I think I got someone you want to meet.’ Rebecca walked up to me and says, ‘You looking for work? Call this number.’ And she puts this piece of paper in my hand and walked off,” Sledge says, chuckling. “I’m looking at it thinking you’re the lady in my book bag. I want to talk to you. I want to work with you.’”
The number was for the Afrikan Roots Sound Company (a company Sledge still works with now). “Through them, I ended up on tour with Naughty By Nature. From there I started touring, from that handshake, that phone call.”
Before that, she hadn’t seen touring as an option, but it was another crucial element of her education. “I learned how to system tech. I learned everything from Derek Prescod, the lead tech for Afrikan Roots. I learned how to tour with him. It was me and Derek all the time; we did Faith Evans, Puff Daddy, all that stuff.”
Sledge was also working the Apollo when another opportunity came her way, owing to former MTV VJ Ananda Lewis, who insisted on having, at the very least, one female sound person on her new CBS talk show. “Charlie Jones from CBS Studios called Mike Jenkins, the leader of the tech team at Apollo, one night when I was working the desk. So I’m mixing, and Mike’s standing next to me with the phone to his ear, looking at me, and I hear him saying, ‘Yeah. I think I know someone.’ Then he says, ‘Hold on a minute’ and asks me if I’d be interested in doing sound over at CBS for a new talk show?’ That was my in – Charlie looking for a female engineer based in the city.”
Sledge didn’t have experience in TV at that point, but CBS didn’t mind training someone in that aspect of the job. “They didn’t want to have to teach someone how to engineer, but they wanted to meet Ananda’s specific request for at least one female on the crew.”
While Lewis’ show was short-lived, word got around, and Sledge found herself in high demand for the kind of stable gig she’d been looking for. “I’ve been blessed to be able to go do touring shows and, when I come back, work in TV. I call myself a ‘permalancer’ at the networks. I’m freelance, but I’m permanent freelance. I can call and say, I’m home, and they’ll bring me in for different shows, especially music-related stuff.”
In a twist of fate, her first gig working the late shift for a new client brought Sledge full circle – to the exact place she’d decided to go all-in as an audio professional. “One day, I get called to mix cut-ins at Fox [television network]. They were looking for somebody to work the night shift and said, ‘We’ll give you the freedom to tour; just give us advance notice.’ I was still trying to find something steady that would give me the freedom I needed.
“So I go down to Fox at 46th Street and 6th Avenue, and I’m like, oh my, this is my old Sam Goody. They got me mixing Geraldo [The Geraldo Rivera Show]. It’s about 1 am. I look around and realize I’m sitting in the jazz section mixing Geraldo, the same place I called my mother from almost 20 years before. Imagine what would’ve happened if I didn’t go to the Apollo that week. The Apollo, that was an internship. I wasn’t getting paid. They were just going to pay me for one gig. I didn’t know if they were going to pay me again after that. That Sam Goody manager was trying to give me 40 hours a week, and now they’re not even in business.”
Since then, her resume on the road and in television has continued to grow. She still works for Fox, CBS, BET, NBC and ABC on shows like The View and Good Morning America, as well as with many of the artists – including Chaka Khan – that she’s worked with for over two decades, in addition to others as a monitor engineer, a production manager and/or in other capacities, as necessary.
Those artists have become part of her varied roster of regular clients, extended musical families that include Deborah Cox, John Legend (who stands out for Sledge in terms of a level of professionalism that, she notes, “Made me stronger”), and, more recently, After Seven, an act whose songs she remembers belting out in the shower when she was younger. Other current clients include Offset and The Tamron Hall Show. “I really like working with Tamron. I came on board in the middle of COVID, and we were doing it with a virtual audience and scaled-down crew. It’s just a pleasure to work with people that appreciate your work and your skills.”
Although the applications Sledge has applied her talents to and the gigs she’s done over time vary widely, there is, perhaps, one constant that’s been integral to her approach from day one – well before she even knew what she wanted to do was an actual job. And something she’s happy to share with anyone coming up in the business.
“Stay true to yourself. Follow your heart. That’s your inner spirit telling you what your assignment is from God. Pay attention, and you could end up in a career you’re passionate about. I feel like I haven’t had a ‘job’ my entire adult life, except for Sam Goody,” she laughs. “That was my last job. The fact that I wanted to be in music and was intrigued about how things worked before I even had a studio when I was technical support for my family. I was fixing things, creating systems; that’s always been my purpose.”
Granted, Sledge recognizes that not everyone can do what she did in the Sam Goody jazz section that day so long ago. For some, it’s a nigh on impossible to quit something steady and follow their dream. But it’s not always a case of one or the other: “I try to give people inspiration; the inspiration to find something in their church or somewhere else, where they can learn hands-on. That’s the key. Find a path.”
Finding her own path wasn’t always easy or comfortable. “I was sleeping in my car some nights because I worked that night shift at the record store and had to be at school in the morning. Sometimes I’d get off work and go straight out to the school and just sleep in the parking lot at the school.
“I always have my mother’s voice in the back of my head,” she continues, “saying, ‘If you want to do this, you’ve got to be serious about it. You’ve got to educate yourself.’ Knowledge is power. Knowledge is the gasoline that makes the car go – if you have a thought and empower that thought, that goal, with knowledge, you can do anything.”
As she put it in a Soundgirls.org interview a few years back: “I ate, slept, and drank audio for the entire year I was in audio classes. I studied frequencies in my sleep, literally – I let a frequency CD play overnight so I would naturally hear and know what it was on stage ringing. I worked hard and broke a sweat every gig.”
That last bit, she added, was critical, something pointed out by Ollie Cotton, one of her friends and mentors from the Apollo days. “Because you never know who might be out there, watching you work and maybe thinking about hiring you.”
To underscore that, Sledge offers up an example from early on in her career. “I’ll tell you this: I spiritually claimed the Chaka Khan gig. I was working with Freddie Jackson, and we were going to a gig in London opening for her. All the way on the plane there, I was like, ‘I want to work with Chaka Khan. I think she’s gonna like me. I’m gonna work with her.’ I had never met her, but sure enough, when we did the show, she was standing next to me for a bit of time while I was mixing Freddie.”
Later that night – after Sledge’s band left for the hotel, she stayed behind, and Chaka Khan’s road manager approached her and asked if she’d like to work with them. Khan also offered her a ride back to the hotel on their bus. “After that, I was full-time with her for about five years – from about 2003 up to 2008. And I met (and worked with) so many people doing shows for her.”
That inner voice, that inner spirit, be it underpinned by her mother’s advice or Sledge’s own positive self-talk, at the core – beyond teaching others about audio, beyond finding the right system to solve a specific problem or streamline the work she’s doing – that’s what she cites as the key to a healthy, happy life and career.
“Audio, my studio – those are my business babies. The rest of my life is my family, doing things for my church, and teaching people who have a passion for audio, especially when I see somebody who reminds me of me when I was going to school. I just like helping people. Especially helping people find their purpose.”