Making Sound: Audio Engineering

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Leslie Gaston-Bird is a re-recording mixer and sound editor with over 30 years of audio engineering experience.

Currently specialising in mixing feature-length films, she is also a voting member of The Recording Academy (Grammys), was previously Governor-at-Large for the Audio Engineering Society, and is a member of the Association of Motion Picture Sound and Motion Picture Sound Editors. Her book, Women in Audio, features almost 100 profiles and stories of female audio engineers throughout history.

In this episode of Create the Future, we speak with Leslie about her audio engineering journey through to her recent PhD, entitled Immersive & Inclusive, which seeks to understand and address the lack of representation in immersive audio. Leslie shares tales from her Women In Audio book, and we hear how—as a classically trained pianist and electric bassist herself—creativity is at the heart of everything she does.

Episode Highlights

  • “Audio engineering is a way of communicating, because the thing I'm hearing is something I want to share with you. For any audio engineer I think you need a desire to communicate in a way that your intended message is received in the way you want it to be received.”
  • “Today we can make sounds that shouldn't really exist […] That's creativity and I don't think everybody has the urge to do that. But it sure is fun if you have access to the tools. It's a lot of fun.”
  • “I’m doing a dissertation called ‘immersive and inclusive’, because what I'd like to do is for there to be more access for women and underrepresented groups. I happen to be a black woman, I identify as African American. When I go to academic conferences, when I’m taking courses, and learning about immersive audio, I'm very often the only woman in the room, or one of two women in the room, or the only black person in the room. In my dissertation, what I want to do is discover, why is that? What I'd like to do is invite women and underrepresented groups to come to experience immersive audio, and to come and learn about immersive audio […] It's so important for us to be able to tell our own stories and to have those tools and to see what can be created by everybody. Anybody who's interested in immersive audio, I think, should try it out.”
  • “We have to be careful when we talk about why aren't there any women here, we are here. Women are definitely here. We're making songs we're recording, but in a lot of classroom environments and academic conferences we're not represented. It's not the fact that women aren't interested, of course they are. In the words of, it’s ‘how do you break the glass ceiling, or the studio glass?’”
  • On stories from her book ‘Women in Audio’: “Marie Louise Killick had been a nurse in World War Two. She didn't like the fact that record needles were damaging the records, so she came up with a rounded tip to the stylus […] A company infringed on her patent. Mary sued them and won, and she won a multi-million-dollar settlement, which in today's dollars would be very, very hefty. But she never saw a dime of it because they litigated it to death. And she ended up dying homeless, with four children. This is another reason why the experience of writing this book was more than a research paper. It moved me in unspeakable ways it moved me because I realised the work that I was doing was so important. And she's not the only one who was brilliant enough to invent something and patent it and who ultimately had to fight for it.”
  • On judging the Grammy Awards: “Every year there are hundreds of submissions, an absolutely enormous amount of material to listen to every year. What we do as members of the Recording Academy is we get an email saying it's time to judge and then you can pick which categories you listen to […] I vote in the Best Engineered Album or Producer of the Year categories because I'm an engineer and not an artist.”
  • “I think if I would have my druthers, I would have a million-dollar studio and I would have musicians show up and I would work from 10-6pm and I would have somebody take over because I do not do nights. Since I don't have that, what makes me most happy is working on sound for films and bringing those sounds together to tell stories.”

    Photo by FOTEROS from Pexels

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