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This article was written on 06 Mar 2015, and is filled under Business, Multi-tasking, Performance, Sound, Technology.

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Kirsty Gillmore: Sound designer and sound engineer

Kirsty-studiophoto-2012-MatRicardoPhotography

Kirsty Gillmore is another epic multi-tasker; she works as a sound designer, sound engineer, voice producer and voice artist. She runs her own company, Sounds Wilde which aims to remove the barriers between technology and creativity, allowing people to create the soundtracks they’ve always dreamed of.

We spoke to Kirsty about two of the main elements of her work; sound design and sound engineering.

OM: Can you describe an average day at work?

KG: I get up between 7 and 8am and start work straight away, eating breakfast as I go. I do most of my admin work, emails, social media catch up and blogging early in the morning before I devote the rest of the day to studio work.

My studio & voice booth are in my house, so it’s a short commute! If I have a client session (for voice reels, voice demo recording or mixing) they usually arrive at 11am and I’ll work with them for most of the day. Otherwise, I work through my list of recording and mixing tasks and research new sound design projects.

Lunchtimes are spent catching up on urgent emails, and industry articles, podcasts and videos. If I’m looking for inspiration for a production or just want a break from the studio I’ll take my Zoom H4 & headphones out for a field trip and spend a few hours recording sounds. One or two afternoons a week I might have meetings or attend rehearsals for the latest production I’m designing.

I try to get out of the house once a day (it’s all too easy to develop a studio tan) and I always make time to exercise – currently weight training, yoga and pilates with a bit of HIIT. Evenings are spent going to the theatre (when I can afford it), at networking events or watching great TV or films. I am making a big effort at the moment to finish work at 6pm, but I usually sneak in a couple of hours before bed.

OM: Have you always wanted to be a sound designer and sound engineer?

KG: I’ve always been an aural person, I started music lessons when I was a toddler, so I think I always imagined my life would involve music and sound in some way.

I didn’t consider sound as a career until my last year of my degrees (Music and English/Theatre) when I was disillusioned with the idea of pursuing an academic or performance music career and a friend suggested I look into music production.

At the same time, theatre and performance was a major part of my life too so I was toying with training in technical theatre work, specifically stage management as that was the only course on offer in New Zealand at the time. Focusing on sound and music production appealed more though (and the course was more established) so I trained for two years in music production, then worked in post production before I moved to the UK in 2002. I didn’t know theatrical sound design was even a job back then, but it completely makes sense that this is one of my roles now, as it combines so many of my interests and skills.

OM: What was the hardest part about becoming a sound designer and sound engineer?

KG: Continuing to pursue my goal of working full time in sound through lack of opportunities, multiple rejections and life changes. Lack of opportunities drove me to move from New Zealand to the UK; New Zealand’s a small place with a small number of studios. As soon as I reached the UK, I realised how much more competitive the industry was, each job had hundreds of qualified applicants – one job had over 2000 applicants for 6 trainee positions! I was gutted when I got down to the last 10 and didn’t get a job. The majority of the jobs I did get were short-term contracts, so for years I’d feel like I was back to square one every few months. I had to learn to persevere through rejection and also to reframe my expectations. My initial dream of working in post production turned into a few years in broadcasting, which I then reshaped into a career in theatrical sound design and voice production. Each time my career progression has stalled, I have assessed my opportunities and held to my core goal, which was to have a career in sound. This got me through when my dreams of working as a post production engineer, then a radio engineer faltered, when I had to take non-sound jobs I didn’t want to do because of visa requirements and when I’m rejected from sound design jobs I really want.

OM: And what’s the best part of the job?

KG: Being able to work in sound as my full time job. Balancing technical skills with creativity every day working from my own studio, with my own clients. Being self employed I also have a degree of freedom in being able to choose my clients and projects.

OM: Do you feel you’re treated differently in your industry because you’re a woman?

KG: Definitely when I was training and in the early part of my career.

I remember one of my tutors at sound school telling me I didn’t get a particular job “because I didn’t have a wanger”. As one of only 2 women who graduated from my final year of training, I felt a certain amount of expectation from other tutors that I would find some aspects of the course (like electronics) harder because women were “less technically minded” and that I needed to prove myself to be worthy of their time.

I’ve lost count how many times a colleague or artist has expressed surprise when I’m introduced as the sound designer or engineer, or has felt the need to show me how to do something, or correct me while I’m working. This has happened less frequently over the past 5 years. I’m confident enough in my skills and experience now to challenge someone if they behave in a discriminatory way, or if they harass me. I didn’t have the courage to do that at times in the early part of my career.

OM: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? And what other advice would you give to anyone looking to become an X ? What qualifications and experience do you need?

KG: Best career advice I’ve ever been given: Your ears are your biggest asset and your best tool, protect them and learn how to use them to listen critically and objectively. The advice I would give is to invest time in your skills, be persistent, create your own opportunities and never stop learning.

To do any job in sound you need to know the fundamentals, so I would suggest theoretical and practical training of some kind. There’s loads of courses and workshops out there, both in person classes and online and I’m also a big fan of internships and apprenticeships for sound jobs. If you know you definitely want to go into one aspect of sound – sound for gaming, for example – then there are lots of genre-specific courses, but if you’re not sure, then go for a more all-round sound education that covers a lot of different areas – sound theory, music production, post-production, live sound, sound design etc – as you can always specialise later. I would always look for a course that incorporates some kind of work experience  and I’d encourage new sound engineers to make their own work opportunities. There will always be bands and venues looking for engineers and techs and indie startup game designers and film makers looking for sound designers and mixing engineers.

OM: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the workplace or in your career?

KG: I’ve made hundreds of mistakes that seemed earth-shattering at the time which I now look back on as steep-curve learning experiences – I’ve inadvertently cut the sound entirely in live shows, poured orange juice down a mixing console and incurred the wrath of an entire cast through some impressive feedback loops, to name just a few. I don’t think there’s any one decision I’ve made which I regret, or see as my biggest mistake, they have all been – and will all be – part of my own learning process. I know I was a bit cocky in some of my early jobs, as a young 20-something engineer which cost me work and experiences, so if I could talk to my younger self, I’d probably tell her to listen more and talk less!

OM: What does success mean to you?

KG: Having the financial freedom and the respect of my colleagues and peers.  To be able to choose which projects I work on, allow myself proper creative time and give back to the community through mentorship without having to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills each month.

OM: What’s your feminist wish for the future?

KG: I’d like to see more girls given the opportunity to study sound.

I’d like to see more support for institutions like Sound Women and the Women’s Audio Mission which do so much to support women in sound at educational and grassroots levels, it would be great to see institutions like these across the world. I’d like to see classrooms of sound engineers with a 50/50 gender split.

Resources:

Sound Women (and their forthcoming Future Festival)

Women’s Audio Mission

Sound Girls

Tweet Kirsty here.

Photo by Mat Ricardo

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