Female Firestarters: Cecilie Sadolin Shares Her Journey in Audio Production Since Graduating
On Women’s Day 2021, we’re celebrating two outstanding Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering alumni who are part of the new generation of female producers: Akila and Cecilie Sadolin. First up, read our Q&A with Cecilie.
If there’s one thing (probably the only thing) for which we can thank Corona, it’s the creative spirit it reawakened. According to The Guardian, the lockdown periods have seen a colossal spike in registrations for creative courses, as well as an uptick in ‘how-to’ searches. When it comes to the male-dominated audio production and sound engineering industry, the outlook is particularly exciting. The percentage of women in the workforce has languished at five percent for the best part of a decade – no thanks to sexism, underrepresentation and underexposure. However, in an incredible turn of events, lockdown has encouraged many more women and non-binary people to ignite their passion and take the first steps towards their dreams.
At Catalyst, we’re happy to meet more women and non-binary applicants each year – though they remain in the minority. That’s why, this Women’s Day, we’re celebrating two Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering alumni whose outstanding music is helping to change the face of the industry: 2020 graduate Akila and 2018 graduate Cecile Sadolin. We caught up with them to learn what they’ve been working on since graduation, as well as their advice to fellow females who aspire to a career in music.
Read our Q&A with Cecilie below and click here to head to Akila’s.
What was your motivation to focus your career in this field?
I was only supposed to be at Catalyst – formerly known as dBs – on an exchange programme. As I already studied my Master’s degree in composition from The Royal Academy of Music (Denmark, Aaruhs), I was only aiming for a semester at dBs. But I ended up being so thrilled about the world of audio and sound engineering, that I put my degree in Denmark on hold and finished the accelerated dBs programme, which was then called Music Production and Sound Engineering. My main focus for applying to dBs was to be able to record and produce my own music. Yet, in addition, I wanted to be able to produce, mix and master for other artists, bands and ensembles.
Coming from a more traditional background and working within the frame of musical scores, notes and rehearsals with bands and ensembles, it was such an upside-down experience, to then work with sound as the basics of all things, in studios and on computers.
"I have been able to work many different jobs, as an audio engineer, producer, mixing and mastering engineer, sound designer and as a teacher. Most importantly, I have expanded my craft as a composer in having sound as one of my main perspectives and parts of my creative process."
It was the best decision I ever made – as it gave me a foundation of knowledge and experience that I would have never gotten in a basic three-week course. Since graduation, I have been able to work many different jobs, as an audio engineer, producer, mixing and mastering engineer, sound designer and as a teacher. Most importantly, I have expanded my craft as a composer in having sound as one of my main perspectives and parts of my creative process.
What are your current projects/endeavours/jobs in the music industry?
I recently finished my Master’s project in composition from The Royal Academy of Music in Denmark, Aarhus, with my project, PROJECT X. My wish was to connect all of my identities as a sound engineer, electronic music producer and sound designer, with my work as a classical composer, singer and musician. Corona happened in the middle of it all, and I had to rethink all my ways of working. I was forced into diminishing my plans of recording, composing and producing three big orchestral pieces and I decided to narrow it down to: how much sound could I create with very few musicians? I wanted to recreate classical music with an electronic music perspective where diffusion of sound, panning, movement and change in timbre and acoustics, was central as part of the listener’s experience. For acoustic instruments and ensembles and with the concept of Ambisonics – spherical surround sound – I wanted to see if it was possible to create something totally new. Due to Corona, all the venues and musical platforms had been shut down, and I wanted to bring a live-concert experience to people. To create a dialogue between the different styles of contemporary-acoustic and electronic music. And for everyone to be able to listen, I decided to compose music only for headphones.
By using a specific microphone setup NT-SF1 from RØDE – a tonne of spot and room mics – I could recreate the piece to be central to the listener’s perspective in post-production. Working with software in the surround-sound format of Ambisonics, I could record musicians from different angles and directions within an acoustic space, and then recreate the whole piece in post-production. It opened up a whole new world for me as a composer. It was powerful to be able to create and move sound sources within a virtual acoustic space; to change the sonic quality of the instruments over time; and to combine it with the basics of sound design: doubling, layering, panning, deconstructing audio, resampling and using effects.
I ended up having three recordings: Sandstorm (for a string quartet), My Authentic Voice (for a choir of three singers) and Symphony for Two Flutes (for two flutes). They are musical pieces that have an out of this world quality to them. Additionally, I have been granted a sum of money from The Nordic Cultural Fund to recreate this idea as a livestream performance for headphones and media, in a binaural format. In a combination of light-design, film and performance of a virtual cinematic experience, I wish to take sound, space and visual media to a new level. The music from PROJECTX and livestream will be available to listen and watch in the summer of 2021.
Since Corona, I’ve also put my mind into mixing and mastering for others, and I have been working with producing, mixing and mastering many different artists since I graduated – the Danish National Theater, known and unknown artists, and currently I’m working on a mix for BBC 4, for the artist Bichi. Being so versatile in ways of working, makes me constantly evolve and expand my view on what music is. I also teach composition, music production and recording for students at post-degree level.
What is your advice to future female students considering their studies in CAP?
I think it’s important to be hungry to learn, versatile in your ways of working, and always willing to evolve as a person. To be able to master an idea and put it into a finished product has helped me build a sense of freedom that I felt like I lacked. To keep on doing that, I constantly try to challenge myself and put myself into new environments. It's good if it scares the shit out of me.
“I love to see how much of a focus there is on why women have been misrepresented everywhere in society – and especially within the music industry.”
What are the obstacles you perceive? What should we work collectively to overcome?
What is my take on the today? I think we all have to be better in asking for help, help each other out and be brave – especially women. BUT I love to see how much of a focus there is on why women have been misrepresented everywhere in society – and especially within the music industry. Change is coming and it makes my heart cry out of joy, to see how much focus the imbalance of power in society between the sexes has now. Women – and everyone on the genderfluid spectrum – have been treated horribly since the beginning of mankind. Thank god for #metoo, and for every person who has been brave enough to speak out, and still does. I applaud all institutions and people in a position of power that take the necessary responsibility, listen and acknowledge the truth: that women and men are not and have never been treated equally. So many have been blinded by their privilege since birth and it’s about time that they see truth for what it is. To see the beginning of a much more inclusive, diverse and loving atmosphere in all parts of society brings me hope.
We stand on the shoulders of people who paved the way for us, asked the uncomfortable questions, stood up for injustice and demanded change. All of them – the ones who lost their lives, the ones who were belittled and mistreated – have reaped the ground for all of us to stand where we are today. It is our responsibility to honour them and keep the ball rolling. I never want to become complacent.