April Tucker is an audio professional who specializes in post-production television work including sound design, mixing, audio editing, and more. Pandora sat down to talk about her journey into the audio space, the women she’s inspired by, and the projects she’s working on—from a documentary about an early woman record producer to a “how-to” audio textbook.
You’re a re-recording mixer and sound editor—how did you get your start in audio?
I started college as a music performance major, but found it boring to spend all day in practice rooms. Music technology sounded interesting from the coursework, so I switched majors. I had no problem spending all day (or night) in the studio. Learning audio gear, software, and critical listening came very easily to me. After doing two degrees in sound (Bachelors and Masters), I moved to Los Angeles to work in recording studios. I pivoted into television (post-production sound), which is still my main work today.
What do each of these roles look like exactly? What’s a typical day for you?
When a TV show or film is delivered to an audio team for post-production, it entails cleaning up the audio that’s been recorded on set (dialog editing), adding additional sounds (sound design), recording new sounds (Foley and ADR), music editing (or adding music that was composed), and combining and balancing all of those sounds together (mixing). In LA, it’s usually different people in each of those roles, and I’ve done them all over my career. While I spent years doing TV shows and movies, now I do marketing work called “promos.” When you hear “Coming up tonight on (your favorite show)”, it’s someone like me doing the audio work. Promo mixers do all of the above roles.
On a typical day, I’m usually doing some sound editing, sound design, and mixing. There’s always curveballs—like a coworker recording me slurping spaghetti for a promo that needed more Foley. The picture editors I work with, who are mostly male, will ask me to record myself when they need to add a female voice. Promo work can be fast turnaround, so I could be working on a spot that will be on-air the same day. I try to get some time in every day on a couple side projects—a documentary I’m co-producing, and writing a textbook. Since COVID I’ve been working from home (sharing a studio with my husband, who also works in audio) but we’re somehow making it work!
Tell us more about some of your side projects—you’re writing a textbook for people looking to get into the audio industry. How did you get involved in this project, and can you give us a sneak preview of some highlights from the final book?
Routledge, who publishes some of the most well-known textbooks for the audio industry, approached me about writing a book as I’ve had two blogs and written for other industry sites for years. The book is about how to survive the early years in the audio industry, where it can be incredibly hard to find stable work. I’m interviewing audio professionals from around the world in a lot of different areas of sound such as music, TV/film, theater, video games, podcasts, and more, and finding a lot of commonalities in their experiences. The book is scheduled to publish in 2022, and I hope by then my colleagues whose careers are on pause or slowed down from COVID will be back to full speed.
You’re also co-producing a film called Living Sound, the Ethel Gabriel Documentary, all about a ground-breaking female record producer—tell us more about this project.
Last year, I came across a story about Ethel Gabriel when I was researching for a blog post. Ethel was the first female record producer for popular music and worked for RCA over 40 years. I was shocked to find Ethel was still alive (she’s 98!). Karrie Keyes, the executive director of SoundGirls, arranged for filmmakers Caroline Losneck and Christoph Gelfand to meet and film Ethel. They were so inspired by Ethel’s story they wanted to make a full documentary about her. I came on as a researcher, but it’s evolved into the three of us producing the film together, with SoundGirls as a major supporter. Caroline and I recently joined the SoundGirls podcast to talk more about what we’re learning, and we’re hoping to have the film completed for Ethel’s 100th birthday, in November 2021.
What’s been one of your favorite audio projects you’ve worked on?
In 2015, I was on the music team for a documentary series called the Great Human Odyssey by director Niobe Thompson. We recorded 85 minutes of music with a full orchestra of over 70 musicians during three days, which is a huge undertaking. Niobe also produced a featurette about it called The Making of a Film Score.
Darren Fung, the composer who brought me on the project, is a friend I’ve known since college. Early on in our careers, he hired me (and musicians) paying in pizza and beer. It just shows that relationships in the entertainment industry are crucial, and sometimes it’s worth it to just help people out when they need it. As your friends’ careers grow, your opportunities will, also.
What advice do you have for other aspiring female audio engineers?
Follow your interests, your curiosity, and your instinct even if it’s not exactly how you picture your career path. Focus on doing the best you can every day, knowing that tomorrow you’ll probably know more and do things differently. Spend time learning about business and finance, not just on the craft.
I’d also say it’s totally possible to be a mom and work in audio. Becoming a parent will change you, and your career may not look exactly the same after, but it is possible. Before my son was born, I was happy to spend my free time on side work like documentaries and TV shows. Now, having family time is priority, so I’m doing side projects that are more in line with that (like the book or documentary).
Do you have any female mentors or inspirations?
Ethel Gabriel. The more I learn about her story, the more I am amazed by what she was able to accomplish—especially at times (like the 1950s) when most women weren’t even in the workforce. I’ve met so many inspirational women through SoundGirls, an organization that supports women in the audio industry. The efforts that the founders of SoundGirls (Karrie Keyes and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato) put in to get the organization off the ground—on top of having careers in sound (!) is really amazing.
I’m especially inspired by women who have gone to great lengths just to have a career in audio, and I’m learning about many of these stories for my book. My friend Karol Urban worked five jobs while in college to pay her tuition and expenses. She’s become a top re-recording mixer in LA, with major TV credits like Grey’s Anatomy. Fela Davis finished audio school then worked deboning chickens and folding airbags at a car factory before she was able to start her professional career. She would commute hours each way just to do gigs that could accelerate her career. She’s now Christian McBride’s front of house engineer.
How will you Pass the Mic?
One goal of my book is to share stories of underrepresented groups in the audio industry (including women). I’m really inspired by up-and-coming women who clearly are on the right path towards having successful careers. I hope to do more to bring attention to their stories and help support building their careers.