(Raffaella Mezzanzanica – 31 agosto 2020)
Marcela Rada is a sound engineer with several years of experience using audio technology to record, edit, and mix. She specializes in ambisonics and 360 videos for VR and social media platforms. On top of this, she is also a mentor at She Knows Tech, an organization working towards closing the music tech gender gap.
And if you want to better understand the reasons why sound engineering is not just a man’s job, read the interview and find out what she does and thinks.
Q.: Music comes out of passion but it’s also a matter of study and you have an impressive background, including a Master’s Degree from Berklee College of Music with an emphasis on Music Production, Technology and Innovation. How important was studying for developing/improving your skills?
M.R.: School played a crucial role in developing my skills as a sound engineer and it’s been quite the journey! I took the Music Industry Arts program at Algonquin College, where I learned the basics of audio engineering and music production as well as the ins and outs of the music industry as a whole. I then moved on to complete a Bachelor of Music with a major in Digital Audio Arts from the University of Lethbridge. This four-year degree provided me with plenty of hands-on experience in recording studio settings as well as live performance settings. I also improved my musicianship skills, which allowed me to train my ears making them my most precious tools. Subsequently, I moved to Spain to complete my master’s degree at Berklee College of Music, where I mainly focused my research on immersive productions, which included ambisonic audio and 360 video production. I have been able to work and collaborate with world-class musicians on all kinds of projects and music genres. Finally, I stayed another year following my master’s program and I completed a fellowship in Academic Technology. This allowed me to improve my skills as a researcher and audio engineering educator. I wouldn’t be the well-rounded professional I am today if it wasn’t for all the learning opportunities my education provided.
Q.: Having discovered that you focused your studies on Technology and Innovation brings me straight to my second question: how important is technology to music today?
M.R.: I am a very techy person and I feel in my element when I’m able to use the latest technology. Thus, I strongly believe that technology plays a major role in music production today. Technology is allowing us to be more innovative, to collaborate more efficiently, and to challenge the ways we produce music. For instance, spatial audio and head-tracking devices are allowing us to create 3D sound fields that evolve into more realistic listening experiences for different platforms, such as VR, AR, and 360 videos for social media. I always encourage musicians, producers and my own students to explore everything that is available to them and to not be afraid to think outside the box.
Q.: A research focusing on Women in Engineering published by The Guardian* points out that there are not so many women in sound engineering (less than 5% in both UK and USA) and for this reason many organizations, courses have been built in order “to push the conversation forward”. Is this really a fact or we are misinterpreting data? Are you part of any organization focusing on female sound engineers?
M.R.: It is not a secret that there is a huge gender gap in the audio engineering industry and I am a big advocate for supporting women that want to pursue a career as audio engineers. In fact, I am a mentor at She Knows Tech. She Knows Tech is a collective that trains and educates female identifying individuals in music technology. I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring a number of female students that have gone to pursue careers as audio engineers and producers and this whole experience has been extremely rewarding. I plan to continue being involved with this type of organization as I strongly believe that we are making a change.
Q.: In addition, it’s getting more and more complicated even for women who have the knowledge, the experience, the background and even the passion needed to do a great job. It seems like men are always the first choice. Have you ever experienced this kind of attitude towards your work?
M.R.: I have noticed people’s preferences towards hiring male engineers and this could be due to many different reasons such as thinking that men would be better with technology, thinking that this is a man’s job and that this is why not many women do it, or it could also be due to male engineers being more well-known than female engineers (again, because of the gender gap in the industry). With that being said, from experience, once a client has worked with me or heard about my work, they fully trust my work ethic and professionalism so I have been able to build a good reputation. My gender has not come up as a conversation topic with potential clients and I have been able focus discussions around my experience and what I can do for clients.
Q.: You have matured a great experience in all fields of sound engineering (recording, editing, mixing music, sound effects etc.). You have also been working cross-genres, from string quartets to orchestras and independent artists. Have you found a genre or a field that really defines you as a sound engineer?
M.R.: I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a lot and meet musicians and producers from all kinds of backgrounds, so I’ve been exposed to many different music styles and instruments. I can’t choose just one genre but I can see that I do truly enjoy recording organic instruments so it’s always a lot of fun to have projects within genres that have a lot of percussion or that require me to really catch the live vibe of the room.
Q.: Looking at your portfolios, my attention got caught by the project “Women of War”. Could you tell me more about this?
M.R.: Women of War is a piece written by film composer Julie McCarthy. We recorded this piece at Air Studios in London and I attended this session to produce an ambisonic recording of it and a 360 video. In Julie’s words: “Woman of War is a piece from Captain Marvel where a woman transitions into a hero. The melody starts with one or two notes and gradually develops into an elaborate character. Just like how Captain Marvel breaks the chip to which was once holding her back, and flying through the barriers of the glass ceiling which was first imposed upon her. The title: Woman of War was from a quote in Volume #8 #2: “My name is Captain Marvel…I am an Earthling and an Avenger. But today I stand as one with the settlers of Torfa, who claim this planet and its resources as they were freely given in the aftermath of the Behemoth disaster…They are a peaceful people, but I am a woman of war. If you move against them, you move against me. I am willing to die here today, for this cause. I have made my choice…Now you make yours.” – Captain Marvel Vol. 8 #2”
Q.: We all know these are tough times for everybody because the art and entertainment business has been deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you think this situation will affect women more than men once we’ll get back to normal? Is there a project you were working on before the pandemic and that you had to put in “stand-by” because of the lockdown?
M.R.: I can’t think of a reason why women will be more affected than men, I think we will all have to work hard to get back on track. I certainly did have a number of projects that got cancelled due to the pandemic: art installations, concerts, album recordings, etc. However, we continue to find safe ways to collaborate using technology while adapting to our new lives, so I am hopeful that most of these projects will resume. I continue to be very busy through the pandemic so far so I know that the circumstances did not put a stop on creativity and we will continue to create and produce content.
Q.: How do you see your future? If you had think about a female artist (well-known or emerging) you would like to work with, who would she be and why?
M.R.: My future is bright. I have lots of plans and goals for my career and I am working very hard to adapt these plans to the new normal. If I could work with any female artist in the future, I would love to work with Sabrina Claudio; I am a big fan of her voice and her music has gotten me through a lot.
Find out more about Marcela Rada:
Source: “Engineering: Time for Change – How women are making a difference” (The Guardian – June 24th, 2019)