Daychia Sledge, Audio Engineer, R. O. C. U. (Part 2)
By Liam Klenk
Daychia Sledge is a successful audio engineer. She has experience as a recording engineer in the studio, as a live sound engineer, and as a sound engineer for television. As part of an interview series with members of Roadies Of Color United (R. O. C. U.), this story in three parts focuses on Daychia. She tells us about her life and how amazing circumstances, great timing, hard work, grit, focus, and determination aided her in making her dreams come true. This is Part 2 of 3.
A couple days after talking to Admiral in the light and sound booth at the Apollo, on Saturday morning, I finished work as usual at 8am.
My mom came by and picked me up from work to drive me home. But I said, “Actually Mom, I would love it if you could drive me to the Apollo. Let’s take the long way home.”
Where I worked was downtown Manhattan, on 46th Street. The Apollo is all the way in Harlem, on 125th Street.
My mom said, “Ok, let’s get some breakfast, stay in Harlem for a while, and then you go to the Apollo for your appointment at 1pm.”
Mike Jenkins was there and said, “Alright, we’ll start you off interning.” And just like that, this became my first weekend as part of the Apollo sound crew.
Mike offered that I could work the entire week with them, preparing for “Showtime at the Apollo.” I was so excited about being given this opportunity.
Straight after, I went back to my job at Sam Goodies. And I said, “Hey listen, I have an opportunity at the Apollo theatre. I can work with them for a week.”
And my boss was like, “Well, that’s good for you, but you can’t have it all.”
So, I said, “But I am a part-time worker. I should be able to get off when I need to.”
She answered, “I wanted to make you a manager. I need you to be present.”
I said, “I don’t wanna be a manager.”
But she remained adamant and didn’t want to give me the time off.
I was really upset and stewed about it for the whole day.
I went into the back of the shop where we had the Jazz music section. The Jazz music department was always kind of mellow and chill. I went back there to gather my thoughts and called my mom.
“Mom, I have this opportunity to intern this whole week at the Apollo. I have a chance to be there. And this lady here says I need to stay here.”
My mom said, “Ok, well, let’s think about this. You are nineteen years old. You still live at home. And you don’t have a lot of bills to pay. If there is ever a time when I would tell you to quit something – the time is now. Especially if you quit for the right reasons.”
So, I went out front, took my apron off, and said, “Either you let me take this week off or I need to resign.”
She thought I was bluffing. But I wasn’t. In the end, I walked out the door and never went back.
I worked that week as an intern at the Apollo. Got to know the team. And got to understand things better than ever before. From then on, for a year, I interned at the Apollo every Wednesday night.
I was in school, learning recording. Through being at the Apollo, however, I also learned the similarities and differences of working as a studio and a live audio engineer. I became both types of engineer without being aware of it.
I had a notebook that was about as big as three encyclopaedias put together. It was filled with my notes from engineering school.
The guys at the Apollo used to say, “She’s gonna be somebody someday. Look at her studying!” I was comparing my notes with what I saw happening live. I asked many questions. That’s how I got through school. Because, I had real engineers around me and real-live places to try everything first-hand.
Insert points, for example, really bothered me. I couldn’t figure them out for a long time. Just couldn’t grasp the concept.
I kept asking the engineers, “Show me the cable.” One of them showed it to me close-up, walked me through it, and said, “Look, this is what’s in your book.”
I was loving my life at the time. Gathering all sorts information. I was so busy learning stuff that I almost forgot that I initially went to school to make my own music.
I hadn’t made a song in months. Before I knew it, I had become a professional engineer. More accurately, I had become a professional live sound engineer. Live sound embraced me more than recording sound did.
I had even done a bit of time at a recording studio. I interned there for a little while, too. But all they had me doing was stocking the coffee. They didn’t trust me to do much more than that.
At the Apollo theatre, on the other hand, I was running cable, ‘mic’ed up the stage. I was involved. So, I naturally gravitated to live sound engineering as my main career point.
Fast forward. It was during Mothers’ Day time of the following year. Two to three months beforehand, I had read an article in Essence Magazine about a female sound engineer. Her name was Rebekah Foster. At the time, she was Whitney Houston’s sound engineer. I was so fascinated by her, because I hadn’t seen any women do anything in sound engineering in all of the time I had studied and interned.
There were never any women. Period.
When I saw this article, I was “Wooowww.” And she was a black woman. From that point in my career onwards, my whole goal was to work with Rebekah Foster someday.
I ended up carrying that article together with my big notebook. I carried the article with me everywhere. Every day. I had no idea who Rebekah Foster really was. Or how to reach her.
Then, low and behold, here I was, working a Mothers’ Day show. At that point, I was getting paid at the Apollo theatre. I was backstage, wrapping up some cable, when Martin Devonish came up to me and said, “Hey Daych, I think there is somebody here whom you should meet. Her name is Rebekah Foster. She used to be like you. She used to work here like you.”
I stood up, dumbfounded, and asked, “Who did you say?”
He said, “Rebekah.”
I was like, “Oh my God, of course I want to meet her. She is in my bag. In my notebook. I’ve carried her with me every day!” I fixed my hair and was really nervous.
Rebekah Foster walked up to me and she was really brief and reserved to be honest.
She was just like, “Yeah, I hear you’re looking for work? Call this number.”
She wrote something on a paper, gave it to me, and walked off.
I just stood there staring at the piece of paper, thinking, “Did Rebekah just give this to me?”
I called the number the next morning. It was for the African Roots Sound Company. The only real black recording sound equipment company.
They were the company that Rebekah used at the time for all of her sound vending. It was run by Derek Prescott and Peter Campbell.
Peter Campbell picked up the phone. He said, “Yeah, what’s up?”
I asked, “Is this Peter Campbell?”
And he answered, a bit annoyed, “Yeah. Who is this?”
I said, “My name is Daychia Sledge. Rebekah gave me your number. To call you for work.”
He’s like, “Rebekah? Ok… what can you do?”
“I work at the Apollo. Mic up the stage, run cables, etc.”
“Alright,” Peter said. “Come this weekend. You have a car, right? Come meet us at our place. Then follow us to New Jersey to do a Naughty by Nature concert.”
So, I slept in my car. Then went and did the show and worked with African Roots for the next ten years of my life.
I learned everything. Derek Prescod showed me how to solder cables, fix cables, and how to run an entire system for a concert.
Derek and I, we ran a lot of concerts together over the next years. We did all sorts of different stuff together.
And all those years, I never heard from Rebekah.
I saw her sporadically. Sometimes, she would come out to where Peter kept his equipment. But I didn’t interact with her much. Never really physically worked for her like I had dreamed I would do one day.
But I worked for the people she had set me up with.
The only thing I did for her at some point was take care of the sound in her dad’s church.
Then, after about ten years of working with African Roots, I graduated to a new level of being an engineer. A decade later and I still hadn’t made a record. But I ran all over the place, doing sound for recording artists.
I was more like a monitor tech at the time. However, not allowed yet to engineer a show. Trini (Derek) was training me to actually engineer a live show.
Derek and Peter had met me as a young, green student and I guess in their mind that stuck a bit. They were very supportive and taught me a lot, yet didn’t quite see me as a fully-fledged engineer.
And, as everywhere in our industry at the time (and to this day), there was also a bit of “engineering is a man’s job” going on. Women in sound engineering were (and are) still few and far between.
I realized, after running with African Roots for a decade, if I was ever going to be an engineer, I needed to put myself out there, gain additional experience in other places, with other companies.
And I needed to let someone else put their trust in me. Like Rebekah Foster did when she put that note in my hand.
So, I started sending my resume out to see what kind of work I could get…
Stay tuned for the last part of Daychia’s story: Part 3.