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‘Your gear collection grows organically as you build your skills’: Catching up with podcast sound designer So Wylie

Here, we discover more about the significance of sound design and music composition in the podcast world, as well as its more obvious presence in music production, through the well-informed lense of So Wylie, music producer and sound designer for Gimlet Media (Spotify)

So Wylie

So Wylie is a 27-year-old sound designer and music producer, currently working in her dream job spinning out sound designs for Gimlet Media (Spotify) and producing music for various artists, currently Shilo Gold and Archana.

Among the pro audio industry’s most prosperous sectors at present is the podcast market, a market that So Wylie has certainly made her mark on. Her resume has already been significantly populated, having designed, mixed and written the original scores for the podcasts The Habitat and Conviction, created the sound design and music for Spotify’s Mogul, the inaugural season of Jonathan Goldstein’s Heavyweight, and Peabody-winning series Uncivil. She’s also dipped her toes in custom music to support brands such as Reebok, The Wall Street Journal and The Cut, not to mention entering the world of film by sound designing the score for When We Grow up (Catherine Curtin, Best Feature, Indy Film Fest) and An Aspirational Space (Best Original Score Silver Award, ISA).

Here, PSNEurope’s Fiona Hope chats to So Wylie about how classical music played a part in getting to where she is now and her experiences in this vast and varied industry to date…

How did you get into this industry?

My background is in classical music. I studied composition and music technology in undergrad, mostly writing experimental chamber music. I got into audio working in sound crews for live events while in school, because the level of detail was appealing, and I began mixing and composing music for films. Eventually, I built up a portfolio that led to my current position at Gimlet Media, and I also produce music for recording artists.

Who are your influences within the industry?

I’m really inspired by the composer Jesse Novak, who does the music for Bojack Horseman and Tuca and Bertie. He’s able to create absolutely zany music cues that subvert our expectations of how music works in television. He’s incredibly prolific and has to jump into many different genres but manages to keep a stylistic throughline. He tends to blur the line between what is music and what is sound design; I try to blend the two myself, so I appreciate that a lot as a viewer.

What’s the worst advice you’ve been given?

When I was first starting out, I was told I needed a ton of expensive gear and plugins and a studio space to do anything “right”. I have access to these now, but back then it felt like without them I didn’t have a chance. However, so much of what I learned starting out didn’t require that; the rise of consumer audio allows anyone to learn about audio with a much lower price tag. Now, I know your gear collection grows organically as you build your skills.

And the best tips you’ve received?

My colleagues at Gimlet, Austin Thompson and Matthew Boll, raised the importance of file-naming and organisation habits to me. Because of this, I’ve been able to pull up years-old sessions without much fuss, find exactly what I need when I need it, pass sessions back and forth between engineers, and rarely lose any work. Creating solid templates, strict specs, and developing naming conventions allows my creativity to flourish.

What’s your favourite thing about the industry?

I love being able to wear the hats of music producer, sound designer, and mixing engineer all at once. These positions really inform each other, and it’s been great to have simultaneous practice in them all. Our audio tools are so powerful and flexible now that we can artfully combine all of the functions of audio to serve whatever project is at hand and treat them as one, whereas before it made more sense to stratify them. I also like working with so many different types of creatives.

What are the biggest challenges of the job?

Communicating about music and sound is difficult because we don’t have a full vocabulary to discuss it. A lot of what we use to converse about it is based in music theory or technical skill, but everyone has different levels of experience. Coming to an understanding with an artistic partner about how to create a sonic identity that doesn’t exist yet is difficult, but it is also one of my favourite parts of the job. Each time I create work for a project it feels like I’m learning a new language.