We had the good fortune of connecting with Spencer Ward and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Spencer, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
For me risk is a natural part of personal and professional growth. It is a foundational element of learning. If we are not willing to take risks, are afraid of embarrassment, and are not in an atmosphere conducive for experimentation then we lose the opportunity in life to learn and discover what is around us and in turn reduce the potential of making positive contributions for society.
As a freelance audio engineer I work across different platforms and mediums. When there is a high expectation and a limited amount of time involved in a given project there is a necessary amount of risk involved initially. It is part of my job as my own boss to narrow that window as much as possible with all of the information I can reasonably acquire before executing those tasks and communicate to those that need information whether it is a reasonable request or not. No two jobs are really the same for me. Being aware that changes and anomalies arise is crucial for myself and the people I work with. Narrowing tasks, increasing error handling identifiers, practicing, researching, and creating redundant systems minimise this problem of risk and failure of execution drastically.
It is my job to make things happen to help people, but as a business when the liability and responsibility outweigh the informed conceivable ability of your success and your return it is necessary to refuse the job but be polite and explain why. I grew up in a world where people were always preaching just say yes. That is fine for some things maybe, but those people are dangerous when people are counting on you and you are in charge of the health and wellbeing of yourself and / or thousands of people around you (gravity is real, people are softer than I-beams, electricity can kill you, and audio systems can make you def if improperly operated).
For the software side of my work as the projects get bigger a large part of ensuring long term success and minimising wasted or redundant time is establishing good habits such as highlighting errors and minimise risk in each stage of development. It is better to fail quickly in small ways then really be in trouble when there is a cascade of interconnected variables in front of you and you are trying to define what constitutes the time, place, and relationship of those variables for a problem to arise.
As a location audio engineer for TV when I arrive on the given location of a job I may be told you have 15 minutes before the first video shot. You may have not been to this facility before and you may be working with entirely new teams of people and new gear even. On the outset that can be a small window of time to work with. Preparation is key, but limiting surrounding noise, and stepping methodically one step at a time through the process is crucial to reliably make this happen. What is the first crucial step. For me it electrical power. I have three redundant power systems at my disposal for my audio system so that if one thing fails for whatever possible reason I have some other source right behind that which will allow the audio recording process to be continuous if one item fails. ie. What if the building shuts off? Sometimes power can not be reliable depending on where you are so if you can get this information before hand, perfect. One step is complete.
Also, be critical, don’t trust all of your sources, and do your research ( what your mother hopefully told you ). You may be stuck in the middle of a field and cannot plug into a wall or an outlet for a redundant power system to charge or your audio system may over heat from the ambient temperature of your environment. Perfectly reasonable. If you have access to the sun use solar power. Cooling and providing shade for your equipment another problem. There are different challenges that come with every job I work on and tackling those risks forces me to be creative on the job, but also forces one to do a lot in preparation to minimise errors later on. In this way my work really informs how I live and the techniques I use for the next job. Maybe the next job is looking at an analog audio circuit and I have to make it work. Evaluate all points of failure, what are the most common points, look at redundancies, do research, and find the missing link.
Part of encouraging learning for myself and being able to maintain my mental quality of life is diversifying my work. One day I may be repairing recorded audio for an interview and removing unwanted artefacts or background noise to enhance a given signal for a client. The next day I may be creating a procedural audio patch to enhance the sounds of a fire sound effect at a particular point in an animation. Working in different facets of audio for me is fun and minimises the risk of being stuck in a job or field that eventually will have a high point of saturation. You also get to meet and learn from a more diverse set of minds.
From the perspective of my everyday life outside of listening or building something for the audio medium I love spending time taking walks in nature and observing thoughtful design whether it be in food, plants, or architecture. How do others think and grow? There is a balance between taking large risks, surviving from them, and giving yourself and those around you a heart attack. Knowing how one handles stress and being willing to be a little uncomfortable every now and then in the pursuit of learning about ones-self and their environment I think is important. Doing it respectfully is even more important. Trying to be a force of positive energy and in doing so hopefully improving the process and way of life for those around you is a philosophy I stand by.
What should our readers know about your business?
What am I most proud of in my work? I am proud of the smart and fun people I have worked with on this meandering journey that has led me to be where I am today. I am proud that I have been able to make working in audio a career as a freelancer. It was not easy starting out. Most of my work outside of software is somewhat fleeting in the sense of the show happens, the product goes out the door, the chefs go home, and it is a completely new topic/place/audio source the next day. I hope I have been able to enable the people around me to be proud about their work and be able to view their ideas in the way they want and maybe see something they wouldn’t have imagined as big or small as it may be.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well I suppose if one of my best friends was visiting my hometown in New York I would take you through a walk in the mountains although for all of my friends you could be standing on a sand dune absolutely nowhere and we would have a grand time chatting away. The Catskill mountains are a beautiful place to explore though. If it was winter we could go skiing. If it was summer we could go mountain biking and kayaking. If you want to go camping it is the place to be. I love to cook and would make food that is not native to my area. The options are limited when you live in the mountains.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
In order to get to the place of where I am currently I would like to thank my family who relentlessly stressed the importance of practice and appreciation of one’s surroundings and life at a young age. I would then like to thank all of my mentors who took the time Gregory Dinger, Robert Frazza, Stephen George, Engineers at Studio G, Chris Davis, Ryan Kelly, and Craig Bundy for allowing me a view into how to problem solve on a technical level and make a life in a creative medium work. Also showing how to always be in an environment where experimentation is encouraged and is respected as a means to finding something unexpected and wonderful that could not be found otherwise. I would then like to thank my professors at Berklee in the engineering department and Richard Boulanger who inspired me to get into sound synthesis and allowed me to see the endless possibilities it holds. My many thanks to my work partners and friends who are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. To the sound design work I do with Salil Bhayani. And finally to the random people I meet that make the effort.
Photographer Laura Olmedo Rodríguez AudioCrossover LLC SoundToys 5 Effect Rack