Hello hello, I am Klaire, a Singaporean girl who’s trying to “make it” in the film industry with audio post-production in LA. I was recently reminded that it hasn’t even been a year since I started working in audio post-production, but it already feels like quite a journey – probably because of how suddenly, quickly, and deeply I fell in love with sound, and now it’s all I want to do.
Growing up in a culture that simultaneously values and disregards the arts (Chinese/Asian culture), I started violin, piano, and singing lessons from a young age, and was encouraged to practice as much as possible; but I also had music and art classes taken away in school, only to be replaced by math, Chinese, and English classes that we already had every day. I was expected to spend hours practicing my instruments, but I never really got exposed to Art. Believe it or not, I rarely listened to music other than when I was the one playing it before the age of 12. In my confused little head, math, Chinese, and English were important, just like practicing my instruments; but music and art classes were replaceable and useless, just like listening to music, watching films, or any other kind of consumption of Art or entertainment. Not surprisingly, I did not associate playing the piano with making music, or with expressions of any kind. It was associated with skills - how fast and clean my fingers can play, how smoothly I can read and play out a difficult passage without having previously seen it, and how I can play through a sonata without making any mistakes.
Fast forward to high school, we were asked to choose our IB subjects. For those who don’t know the IB, it stands for International Baccalaureate, which is a two year program for the last two years of high school, where you choose six subjects to study. Out of the six subjects, it is required to take math, two languages, one science subject, one humanities subject, and that leaves one more for the student’s own choice. I was always eager to learn more about math and sciences, and I was good at them, so I did want to take a second science as my sixth subject. However, it meant that I could not take music. To keep my doors open for university/college, I had to give up the second science to take music as my last subject. It was engraved in my head that music and STEM subjects just don’t go together.
After high school, I attended Berklee College of Music wanting to be a self-producing artist. At this point, I have discovered the joy of expression through music. I wrote songs, recorded instruments, changed up presets on virtual synthesizers, added plugins and effects to the sounds I was making, and after all that, I struggled to show anyone the end result that I was supposed to be so proud of. I was stuck between my own sound and what others liked; between my own ideologies of spreading positivities through my music and the expected pain and suffering in music that attracted most others; between my exploration of new, strange sounds, and the more popular, familiar sounds that are in every other pop song; between feeling guilty for keeping away from social media, and feeling like someone else when making my music seen and known. How was I to know that the balance would be so difficult to find between producing work following my own intuition, and wanting attention and popularity from an audience? A year into my Berklee journey, I was looking into master’s programs for going into scientific research, so that I could leave this industry where I felt so out of place, and took everything so personally.
As I focused on getting through my degree as quickly as possible to get on with my life in something unrelated to the arts, my heart got excited for the first time in a while when I took this mandatory class on audio post-production. It opened my eyes to how important sound is in what I always thought of as visual media like film and video games – how subtle details in something seemingly tiny, like differences in frequency or filtering in the footsteps foley, can convey a different weight, attitude, distance, shoe texture, flooring texture, and more, which, in turn, can basically change the whole character. The magic of sound seems even more mind-blowing when it comes to sounds that don’t exist in our world (at least as we experience it through our human ears). The Demogorgon in Stranger Things, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and the Sandworm in Dune are only a few examples of sound design that boggle my mind. The powerful silence in A Quiet Place, the sparse and understated sound choices in Lost In Translation, and the fine line between what’s sonically scientific and what’s needed to elevate the film in Gravity, gave me insight into the delicate choices in sound that fundamentally defined the audience’s experience of the film. After this one class, I ran towards the world of audio post-production, and welcomed every opportunity I could get with open arms.
The following semester, I took a collaboration class between Berklee College of Music and Columbia University’s Film MFA program. I got to work with two filmmakers on their REAL projects, instead of replacing the sound of pre-existing films. Sound for visuals started to feel like the perfect mix between technical and creative to me: there are so many options within all the choices to be made, but with the goal of elevating the story and the visuals in mind, I can hear the possibilities of how it could sound in my head; then, I just have to find a way to realize my imagination with the tools I have. Everything about it just felt right, so right that I moved to LA two months ago without ever having been here.
When I was just starting out I was so lucky to be surrounded by people that gave me a chance and then added to that gift by holding my hand through the learning process. What process do you ask? The process of learning how to work side by side with people. That was the big challenge for me, much more than the tech. After all, I got my first job at a post production editing company at 22 years old. What the heck did I know about working in the high pressure world of film and sound editing? I mean, I did have experience working for other companies before this amazing opportunity, so why would the film business be so intimidating? I worked in an auto parts store in my teens, and I even had a great job working for the wildlife department in and around the waterways of Long Island. But nothing could prepare me for working in an environment where artistic creativity and commerce crashed into each other. I just did not have the skills needed… not yet anyway.
So when I started working at this facility, as a messenger, I failed often. Hence the title of this blog. It was a bit demoralizing for me. But thankfully, I don't think my supervisors saw my failures the same way I did. They were my mentors after all, and I think they remembered when they were my age and how intimidating it was to have a lot of responsibility as a brand new graduate. Of course, they wanted me to be an asset to the company too, so there was no such thing as failure for them… only feedback, and lots of it.
Their feedback helped me get better and turned me into a team player. Feedback that both gave me confidence and gave my co-workers confidence in me. Boy, I was lucky to know these people. These multiple mentors gave me the right custom tailored feedback that I needed to really prosper and grow. There is no way I could have learned the soft skills that helped speed up my career success. Without them and their feedback, It would have undoubtedly taken me years to get a seat at the mixing board. So thanks to these supportive mentors of my past, it only took months for me to get into the chair. Of course there are many things that also had to align just right for me to move up that fast. I had the drive and the will to succeed too. But that was my formula, the secret sauce. Great mentors, hard work and a bit of luck. Nothing is a given, only the things you can control. So, why not get as close to the perfect formula for success if you can?
So back to that failing thing… Someone coined a phrase. “Fail Fast and Fail often. I'm not saying to do that. What I am saying is to not be scared of failure. Especially when there is someone in your life to give you the feedback and help to set you on the right path.
Soft Skills, Practice Makes Perfect
Having the tools to be successful is vital when starting out. But these tools, the important ones, may not be exactly what you expect. In the audio industry it’s a given that you are expected to know DAW’s, signal flow, etc… but there are soft skills that are imperative to know as well. Those non-technical skills that relate to how you do your work. They include how you interact with colleagues, solve problems, and manage tasks. In the audio world this can translate into things like how you organize a Pro Tools session, or how you communicate with clients. Doing these things with a high level of competency is important to success, especially early on when you are just starting out. If you lack some of these important skills, your career can be stunted until you master them. As a young person entering the industry, I would advise seeking mentorship to gain a better understanding of these important skills, right alongside learning the technical aspects of being a sound professional.
Networking, Get Comfortable Doing It
When looking to get a foot on the career ladder, a strong network becomes very important. Friends and acquaintances can mean everything when it comes to starting your journey. Someone that knows about a job opening before its posted and can put a good word in for you is priceless. The trick here is knowing that someone. If you don’t have a robust network, your opportunities will be few and hard to come by. The industry can be difficult to get into, so it never hurts to have someone in your life who knows what’s happening. It’s been proven time and time again, It’s all about who you know right? One thing to keep in mind when looking to make connections is to stay open to meeting and networking with everyone, especially your peers. Even though people your age may be at the same level you are, they could still know someone that might influence your career. Heres a scenario; A friend could be climbing the ladder faster than you. An opportunity may arise that they may have already surpassed or don’t have time for. If you are maintaining and cultivating this relationship in a genuine way, your friend may recommend you. A situation like this can be a game changer. Audio Pro Network was designed exactly to help you create this scenario. The opportunity for networking with people your age, so you can create relationships that are outside of your immediate circle, is a profound advantage of my mentorship platform. Remember, the more people you know, the better your chances get for unique life changing opportunity. Also, networking on APN can be good practice if meeting new people is not exactly in your comfort zone.
Opportunities, Take Them All
Every opportunity has the potential to become something big down the line. No matter how small you think an opportunity is, the fact that someone trusted you to do a job is the beginning of your journey in sound. My entire career is based on recommendations. One client always led to another and then another. Having a strong professional network or mentor will help you develop and improve your skill set and stay on top of not only the latest trends in the industry, but the interpersonal skills you need to prosper in the industry. Your career is built one brick at a time and one relationship at a time, so it’s about taking every opportunity that comes your way, no matter how small or inconsequential you think it is.
Find a Mentor
There have probably been many moments in your life where you’ve leaned on someone you trust for advice or help. It can seem daunting when starting out in the audio industry, which is why a mentor in your life can be a great thing. Many professionals working today had mentors when starting out that helped them to navigate their journey. These mentors imparted wisdom and advice that gave inroads to their mentees, enabling them to achieve success faster. Mentors serve as a sounding board and guide for their mentees and play a large role in helping upcoming or recent graduates land their first good position within the workforce. A true mentor will always open the door to new possibilities.
Investing in building and maintaining relationships can pay back in dividends throughout the course of your career. Networking, along with mentorship will help you develop and improve your soft skill set, stay on top of the latest trends in the industry and gain access to the necessary resources that will foster your career development. The biggest lesson I hope you gain from this blog is this; Take every opportunity to learn, connect with everyone and anyone, and when you make it, continue the tradition of mentorship by helping the next person rise up behind you. Good luck!
Audio Pro Network has been a labor of love of mine for over 10 years. Although the mentorship platform is only a few years old, it's really just a continuation of the way I've always conducted my professional life. Training and educating interns and assistants I've worked with through the years has always been something I naturally did and enjoyed. So I guess you could say I've always been a mentor and I think that's because I entered the business into a very generous stable of mentors at the first company I worked for. I was lucky.
Creating the mentorship platform was simply a natural progression to solve the problem I saw young people having entering the industry. With so much competition, and audio curriculums in so many more colleges and universities, I imagined that finding a job would be really tough when starting out, not to mention finding an internship. Professional Studios seem to have less time to invest in training from the ground up these days. I’ve experienced this in some of the facilities I’ve worked, at or for, over the past 15 years. Management unfortunately has only been interested in hiring people that already possessed the necessary skills to get the job done. This got me wondering if I could do something to help, so I created Audio Pro Network as a sort of prep school for the industry. It’s a place where young graduates can get an edge on the competition and make connections that would be impossible to do on their own.
Everyone currently on the APN mentorship platform has a tailored individual experience depending on what school they attended, if they attended one at all. Some young people have great interpersonal skills and some don't; some are shy; some are outspoken. Most of them just need a boost of confidence and help getting organized. Also, most members know digital audio workstation software well enough, but don't know the real-world workflow that employers need. We include these very important things; interpersonal skills, real world Pro Audio workflow, all while enabling a work ethic that can only be learned on the job. This is how Audio Pro Network supports, prepares and inspires young people for success.
The mentorship program has a lot of great success stories, some are monumental and some of them are the results of just creating an inspiring environment for members to push past their personal challenges. These are examples of how belonging to a community like this can be life changing in ways you may never have anticipated.
Success Story 1
I met one young member at a studio I rent from time to time. She was interning there and helped to set me up for my session. Obviously knowledgeable enough to make some complicated patches in the machine room and set up my project. We got talking and I offered her an introductory membership to the mentorship platform. We worked together on her organizational skills and finding inspiration. She has already achieved a lot on her own and has proven herself in many areas. One of my professional members reached out to me looking for some new young talent for his world class mixing stage in New York City. I recommended her wholeheartedly and her in-person interview is coming up in a few days. I think this story exemplifies that it takes one person to change someone's life. Over thirty years ago someone made a similar recommendation for me and it changed my life. It's my mission with the mentorship platform to do the same for all APN members.
Success Story 2
Another success story is with a young man who really wasn't sure what kind of audio he wanted to get into. Honestly I don't think he was sure that he wanted to get into audio at all!! I took him under my wing on the network and we had many conversations about his career direction. An internship came up at a local studio I knew and I was able to get him in there for a six-week commitment. While he was interning I coached him in Pro Tools, we worked on his resume and website, and he completed many practice projects. He finally decided that audio was something he needed to do, so he enrolled in a proper audio school to fully immerse himself. Of course he remains a member of the mentorship platform and continues to grow. Using some of the business coaching he's received from me, he has found a few podcasting clients and is developing his own business acumen. Audio Pro Network succeeded in giving him direction in life. Of course he put in the work, but if he did not keep an open mind and was never a part of APN he probably would never have found his calling. I’m extremely proud of this story.
Success Story 3
The third story is about a young man who wants to compose music for video games. Having already gone to school for music but knowing nothing about audio sequencing and digital audio workstations, we were starting from the ground up. I coached him in the software and hardware he needed to purchase to compose music for games. We worked on his website, resume and networking tactics. A year later he has a wonderful website with many aspiring music demo tracks and has scored several games for a small developer. I was also able to put him in direct contact with a sound engineer that works at a major AAA game studio. They were able to have multiple inspiring conversations. This is certainly a contact that may become a transformational one as this young man's career advances. I can't emphasize enough that making connections is one of the superpowers of APN. Connecting members on the mentorship platform with our professional members is only one of the features that breaks new ground in the audio industry.
Success Story 4
The fourth and final story I'm going to present here today is about a young woman that went to school for audio recording and did very well, but truly felt lost after graduation. Unfortunately a very typical story, but this is where the Audio Pro Network mentorship platform shines. Knowledge of the audio industry is something her parents just didn't have experience in, so this is where I stepped up to help. I was able to coach her and after many communications she decided that she wanted to do sound effects for games. Together we mapped out a plan and she's working on executing that plan everyday. When she's ready I'll promote her on the professional platform and reach out to companies on her behalf.
Although there are no guarantees with the platform, what I can promise is a transformational experience. And as with any platform like this, you will get back what you put in. There is no quick fix to getting a job in audio, you need to do the work. Keep in mind, Audio Pro network is not just about community, coaching, job search, and making industry connections. It’s all of those things and so much more. In an industry that's getting more competitive every year, APN will help people succeed through sustained collaboration and a positive spirit.
One thing that is intangible in mentoring is the ability to quantify success after the fact. This begs the question; if you were never a member of Audio Pro Network would you be achieving the same success on your own? For some members that are advanced it’s hard to tell, but it’s been proven time and time again that a connection, an inspiring conversation, or a new insight gained, can be life changing. I’ve experienced these seemingly small events in my career arc many times - small events that were indeed life changing for me. For those members that do need more organization, exposure to new people, and help ‘breaking out of their shell’, APN can show very tangible and obvious results quickly. I expose members to real world workflow, industry professionals, and situational life examples that are indicative of my personal style and customized based on my relationship with each individual. It’s a two way street as I learn as much from my mentees as they learn from me. It’s collaboration, which is why it works.