Alumni Achievements: Debbie Melliard

Debbie Melliard joined our very first class of Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering students in 2015.  After graduating the following year she started out as a runner at Metropolis Studios. We first interviewed Debbie in 2017 and have since caught up with her again in March 2021 to find out how she’s getting on and what she’s doing now.

First published in May 2017.

Debbie, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got into music?

I’m from a classical music background (my Dad was a professional musician) and I love all kinds of music. I started as a performer in the children’s chorus at English National Opera and in concert halls growing up, but have always been curious about the technical side because I also sang in a few recordings.

What was your motivation for studying at Abbey Road Institute and what were you hoping to get out of the course?

I didn’t realise that a job in sound was a realistic option until I was about 40, and when I learned about Abbey Road Institute I decided to go for it. I wanted to learn how to use all the equipment found in a recording studio, in the best and most creative ways. A school attached to the world’s most prestigious studio was the place to go!

What was your experience like at Abbey Road Institute? 

On the first day of the course, it was clear that I had found my people; we’re like a family, and it’s uncanny how everyone is on the same wavelength and gets on socially as well as creatively. We are all from diverse backgrounds in terms of age, musical taste, and geography; but because everyone is so into music and the technology used with it, we just gel. On a typical day, we would have a lecture from 10-1, then we’d go and get some lunch, then in the afternoon and into the evening I would work on my projects in a production suite, or be involved in a recording in our studio; as a producer, engineer, or performer.

Can you describe a highlight of your experience at Abbey Road Institute?

My favourite thing was to run a recording session, and my highlights were when we captured some truly magical moments; of emotion, of musical brilliance, of perfectly-nuanced performances. Nothing beats the feeling that you’ve got a great moment, recorded with some beautiful equipment, and can then use it in your mix and make it even greater.

What’s your favourite thing about studying in London?

It’s an inspirational city, and it’s my home, which is an advantage!

Do you think the course was valuable? What is it worth doing?

The course was amazing, and the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. The lecturers and technicians really want us to do well, and are extremely helpful.

What would you say are the 3 most important things you learnt at Abbey Road Institute?

I consolidated what my strengths and weaknesses are; I struggled with some parts of the course but found that hard work and teamwork will lift you up to achieve more than you can imagine. I learned that there are people out there who feel just as you do, about music, audio, and life, and it fell into place that I belong in that world. It’s never too late.

What’s next for you? What are you doing now and what are your ambitions for the future?

I’m working out what specifically my role is within sound; producing is a possibility. I’m currently a runner at Metropolis Studios, which I’m finding a very useful stepping stone between the Abbey Road course, and whatever I go on to do next. I help with the everyday running of the studio; preparing lounges for clients, running errands, moving equipment, or helping in the technical department (I’m learning to solder), and every day is enjoyable and I pick up something new by helping or asking questions. Metropolis hosts live events occasionally which I’m looking forward to getting involved in, and also works with a music college and I set up and assist in sessions in the college’s studio, which is an excellent chance to gain experience.

Four years have passed since our first interview and it’s now March 2021. Read on to find out what direction Debbie’s career has gone in and what she’s doing now.

You started out at Metropolis Studios as a runner after graduating. What did you go onto after that?

Actually, my first live event at Metropolis revealed to me where I belong in sound! Part of it was a music industry conference with 7 people speaking, and one of the more experienced runners was at the side of the stage, bringing up each person’s mic when they spoke, and down again when they had finished. I knew that this was essentially what people who mix musical theatre do, (line by line mixing) and I really wanted to have a try at this and I had never mixed anything live. I’d been wondering about what it might be like to mix a musical, as I love the genre. So I hovered near the desk and when he needed a break, I jumped on. That was it! Everything fell into place and just from 7 mics at a conference, I knew this was what to pursue. It was extraordinary. I took to it and loved the immediacy and the live element. It really was that simple.

So next I started visiting West End shows for a couple of days’ work experience; School Of Rock, Caroline Or Change, Waitress, and Come From Away. Everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful.

I also did two great short courses at Orbital Sound, in Sound Fundamentals For Theatre, and Mixing For Musicals. At the Orbital courses we met some people from Thriller Live, and Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical (which had recently closed).  Amongst other things we each had a turn at mixing a multitrack recording of a scene and the title song from Bat Out Of Hell, and it was incredible, blasting it out in a large empty space and getting to mix that awesome track! Just amazing. I’d found my thing!

How did you get into working in the West End and what does that kind of work involve?

You don’t get to mix a musical for real until you’ve gained a great deal of experience, so I asked Thriller Live for some work experience, having visited their sound department as a group on the Orbital course. After work experience, the next step is to ‘dep’ (cover) for the Sound Number 3 job in a show. This is the most junior role and involves looking after all the mics. The role at Thriller Live also involved in-ear monitors, the radio rack, and changing the lead guitar patches a few times to change the tone when the guitarist moved to the front of the stage for solos.

Thriller Live were kind enough to offer me my first dep work for a week. However, shortly after that, they contacted me again, and it turned out that they needed someone to fill in for 3 months! Right place, right time.

What have been some of your highlights working in the west end?

So far my only experience has been Thriller Live, and I hope for more in various shows when they can reopen. I met great people there and learned so much.

Changing the guitar patches during the show was the most fun thing to do; you’re on stage with the band “being the guitarist’s foot” while they’re out at the front. 

Another highlight was when Peter Andre sang with us for 2 weeks. He’s a kind and generous person and it was great to work with him. I adapted the mic plot (list of tasks during the show for the Sound No.3) to accommodate an extra singer on two different types of microphone, and his first night was exhilarating because I felt a great sense of achievement and because the audience was going crazy!

What other jobs do our graduates go onto?

If you’re interested to read more interviews with our alumni, check out our Alumni Achievements series to find out about the many career trajectories in the music industry.