Interview with Sound Designer, Noah Woodburn

Field Notes Interview #75: Noah Woodburn, Sound Designer

Sound is immersive. It's a special element that can act as a bridge between an image and dynamic emotions. We chat with sound designer, producer, filmmaker and Marmoset artist, Noah Woodburn about how he mixes multiple disciplines into a compelling and creative life.

Finding himself at 21,000 feet in the Himalayas, Noah Woodburn might be the first to tell you that he never thought his life in sound design would have brought him here. This is just one of the many fascinating places he's been able to travel to and explore as a creative. Equal parts musician, producer and sound engineer, Woodburn has been involved in with clients ranging from Coca-Cola and Old Spice to non-profits helping victims of natural disasters. To meet Noah Woodburn is to meet joy in the every day. Noah approaches each project with the same intensity, curiosity and care -- and he's been able to use all parts of his creative life to inform the other. Read on and get to know his multi-faceted world and how he is an agent for social change. Enjoy.

M: Who are you and what do you do in the world?

NW: I'm Noah. Twenty nine years old working full time in sound and music. Currently, working for Wieden & Kennedy's "Joint" as their mixer, sound designer and composer. Before taking the full time position here, I was a freelance audio person, doing everything from producing records, mixing commercials, and recording sound for films. 

M: How did you get into filmmaking and sound design?

NW: My journey into film and sound design started with music. I think there is an easy transition there and it seems very common. I started with piano lessons at a very young age, then moving on to playing guitar and rocking out in high school. But, I think the moments of great importance were during the emo stint I had, writing and recording in my bedroom with my M-audio firewire interface. I would do many layers of guitars and vocals, and experimenting with recording techniques, which eventually landed me at a music technology path in college. I ended up transferring schools and attending Savannah College of Art and Design for Sound Design. Here, I honed in my ability to create, explore, design, mix, record, and collaborate with people in ways I never had before. This is when I first started composing for picture and realized how much fun it was.

M: What was your first project?

NW: My first project after college was composing on Coke spot called "Makeshift." It was for their Refreshing Filmmakers Awards. I still had access to my school's facilities and a few weeks to compose for it. It was all unpaid, which unfortunately, is key to gaining trust and starting your career. I think this spot helped me a lot!

M: How has travel impacted your work?

NW: I would have never guessed that being a sound person would allow me to travel the world. I made friends with filmmakers who enjoy the outdoors, who like adventure, who live to experience different cultures, and who like giving back and working hard to better our planet! This gave me the opportunity to expand my understanding of our world and communicate even with language barriers. It's helped put a lot in perspective and truly impacts everything I do.

M: What was a memorable trip and project you've recently had?

NW: "Kumari - The Jagat Lama Story." I found myself 21,000 feet high on the top of a mountain in the Himalayas holding a boom pole, audio recorder and ice axe. I also got to live alongside the people of Kumari for 6 weeks. I got to see what happens when communities work together to create something better. I got to listen to people's life stories through a Sennheiser 416 and a few Lectrosonics lavs. I got to really hear what that community wanted to say to the world. The message was always the same: Love.

M: How do you feel music plays a role in film?

NW: Music is like the nervous system of a film. It's a network of sounds that transmits impulses directly to our brain. It makes us feel. It defines edits and direction, it creates space, it pushes and pulls, and leaves your viewer right where you want them. I think pairing music with picture may be the single-handedly sexiest relationship ever created. It's like if film and music started dating, and then got married, and had super cute babies, and those babies grew up to be sexy Egyptian goddesses and gods, whose sole purpose what to make people feel stuff.

M: How does your life as a musician inform your work?

NW: Being a musician has influenced every aspect of my life. Being able to bring that ability to my sound design and mixing opens a different path for creativity. Most of my job mixing is problem solving, and more often than not there are music issues that need a musician to fix. My mixing clients are surprised to find out I've composed for Super Bowl spots and that we can very easily solve music issues without having to postpone the mix.

M: What's the first sentence you'd write in a letter to a young artist?

NW: Just do it ; ) For real. Just play, and play as much as possible for as many people as you can, at every chance you get. If someone wants to hear a song, sing it for them. Play loud and don't worry if you suck. If you are worried that you suck, chances are you probably do, but now that you've come to terms with that, you've just opened up unlimited possibilities to improve. I always felt like I wasn't a great singer, and it held me back a lot. But I listen to so much music where the vocalist sounds pretty bad on a technical level, and nobody cares. If it's got soul and sound real, that's all that matters. Once you start working, take every job you can -- don't turn anything down, as soon as you say no, that filmmaker / director will move on and find someone who will say yes. I worked for free on a documentary shoot for a day. I could have easily said no. A few weeks later that director hired me on 2 month long job to India to film the Dalai Lama. So, just say yes to everything. 

M: Where do you want to go next?

NW: Currently I'm mixing, sound designing, and composing for the greatest ad makers on earth. So, whats next is a tough question. I believe in today. I think if you keep doing good work, focus on your craft, lean on the people who support you, and return as much gratitude as humanly possible, then doors will open themselves. I feel fortunate, lucky, and privileged to be doing what I love… I have a lot of people to thank for that.

M: What's coming up for you?

NW: We have an obvious need for more diversity in this industry. I'm currently working on integrating a paid audio internship program with me here at Joint, focusing on supporting people of color and women in film and sound. I stand for racial equality, women's equality, and social justice, and I've been trying to figure out how I can make a difference for a while now. I know I can give real world experience with sound and music in film and TVfor people who might have less opportunities based on their race, or gender.  If your interested, send me a message. I will teach you everything I know. 


Posted on February 29, 2016 and filed under Field Notes.