Can you hear me? Can you hear me now? Sound and music play a huge part in most people’s daily lives and shapes the way we consume media. Iggle Eleanor Thibeaux took her love of music to the next level. Continuing with our “I Have a Cool Job” series, we interviewed her about what it is like to be an audio engineer.
Thank you so much for doing this interview… can you tell me – What’s your job title and where do you work?
Audio Producer / Project Manager for Polarity Post Production in San Francisco, California.
Can you tell us a bit about the studio you work in and what makes it a cool place to work?
It’s an audio post production studio – which means that we work on the audio aspect of pretty much every type of media out there right now – audio books, film, TV shows, advertising/corporate instructional campaigns, lots of sound design and voiceover recording and mixing.
I love it because there is always something different going on. One week you’ll be working on looping, or ADR, for a film, and the next week you’ll have 3 or 4 different advertising campaigns coming in. I get bored doing the same thing over and over again, so this job is pretty tailored to avoid that.
When did you first realize you wanted to become a professional audio engineer?
I have always loved music and live performances, but I started working with sound design/audio when I was in high school. I was the sound technician for all of our drama department’s productions. Being an audio engineer means mastering technical skills for a medium you cannot visually analyze, and what can I say? I’m a sucker for a good challenge.
What did you go to school for? Did school primarily help you for this job, or did other hobbies, work experience, and personal learning on your own time help more?
I actually have a Bachelors Degree in Audio Engineering, but in such a small industry, a lot of your success relies on maintaining a passion for the work you do. My degree got me in the door for some internships, but I worked extra hours, did freelance jobs, lived and breathed audio to get the chance to work as a studio engineer. For every one position available, there are 1,000 people vying for it. You have to want it, and you have to be willing to fight for it.
What’s a typical work day like?
First, there is coffee. Then, there is another cup of coffee.
Lots of e-mail correspondence – I usually start off my day scanning through my inbox. Clients will e-mail at all hours of the day (or night), and if you miss one, it could mean botching an entire job or project. For me, as a producer, there are a lot of excel spreadsheets and budget tracking. Sometimes there are sessions that I direct, often I just wait for my engineering team to hand over deliverables, and I listen through before handing them back to the client. More e-mails. A few phone calls. Mostly e-mails, though, it’s rare these days that anyone takes the time to chat on the phone. Too many pleasantries and small talk, ain’t nobody got time for that.
What sort of specific role do you play in keeping the studio ticking over?
I make sure the projects are turned around on time, within budgetary confines, and that the client gets exactly what he/she wants, regardless of whether or not he/she knew what they wanted in the first place. Audio Post Production studios are essentially independent contractors – all our work comes from other companies hiring us to work on aspects of their projects – so my role can be pivotal in making sure the clients want to KEEP hiring us.
Are there a lot of women in your workplace? Do you ever feel like you have to make a special effort to hold your own as a women, or are you treated as a total equal?
At my current job, the only other woman on staff is the receptionist. It was the same way at my previous job, and the one before it I was the only woman. This is generally how the audio industry is. (The school I went to was 92% male.) There have been many times in my career that I have had to fight for a voice because of this, and it can be quite frustrating. However, I have been fortunate to find many male colleagues that put work ethic and skill sets first, rather than leaning on the industry’s gender bias. After all, statistically, women have better hearing!
What’s the most interesting and exciting part of your job? What has been most rewarding part of your job?
Interesting and exciting, as far as my work is concerned, would have to be watching the completion of a project, and knowing that my hard work will be enjoyed by strangers. A lot of the work I do doesn’t land me in the title credits of a film, but it’s out there. And every time I overhear someone using a product I helped build the audio interface for, or watching a commercial I mixed, it feels awesome.
Once, in an interview, I was asked what the mark of a good audio engineer was. I answered, “invisibility.” If the job is done right, no one notices any work was done at all. Somedays I’d like to force everyone on the street to recognize my work and praise me, sure, but I’ll take “I love these characters!” as acknowledgement enough.
What are some of the more unusual perks of your job?
Working from home. Is that unusual? I guess a lot of tech industry jobs these days get to do that, but I love every minute of rolling out of bed, over to my computer, and starting my work day in sweats. Also, I get to use our cloud storage for my personal stuff! Okay, these probably only sound like cool perks to me, but hey, data storage subscriptions are expensive!
What would you offer as advice to someone who wanted to get into the same type of job as you?
Intern. Seriously. You don’t really need a degree, though any form of training in an educational setting is helpful. (Way less nerve-wracking then trying to learn how to patch a studio with a client in the room,) but there is so much value in internships. In our industry, a lot of the studio internships are still unpaid, but if you make the most of it and go above and beyond the minimum requirements, we’ll want to keep you. Even if you think no one is looking, someone is looking. Also, be a nice person. I’ve kept employees with less experience because of their attitude. Studios are small, no one wants to work with a grouch every day.
If you want to get into audio post production, or music recording, or live sound, just look for any audio work. I worked as a live sound engineer for 5 years before transitioning into the studio, and in so many ways, I still use that experience in this job. Also, don’t hesitate to branch out to other mediums, get some video editing experience, or graphic design work. Production houses love the employees that can say, “yes, and I also…” The more you know, the more of an asset you’ll be.
Do you have a cool job, or know someone who has a cool job? We would love to interview them! Leave a comment and let us know!