By Manus Hopkins
Sage Kim was a curious teenager , at least when it came to sound , and particularly the process behind final products . The mastering engineer , who now works for Lacquer Channel Mastering , was always coming up with questions like ; Why ‘ 60s music sounds like the ‘ 60s while ‘ 90s music sounds like the ‘ 90s ? Or why does the first Metallica album sound so different from the latest , despite being three-quarters the same band ? So , after seeing a need for quality audio engineering in her hometown ’ s music scene of Seoul , Korea , she eventually pursued a career in the field .
“ There was an indie music scene in Seoul , still very young and immature , and a lot of bands struggled because of poor recording conditions and lack of the quality postproduction process ,” says Kim . “ Back then , even the biggest star musicians in Korea had to head abroad to get the sound quality they wanted . Seeing the talented ones who couldn ’ t be captured properly in their recordings was heartbreaking , and reminded me of the critical importance of audio engineering .”
While growing up , she says music wasn ’ t considered a “ real career ” in Korea , and she had no access to formal music education . Still , her father had an extensive record collection and music became something she wanted to eventually pursue , even if only on the side of a more formal career .
“ Leading a double life pursuing academic achievements with a little too much time invested to be considered a hobby in music , that went on for quite some time until I came to Canada nine years ago ,” she says .
Kim ’ s first career – and the job she says gave her the chance to move to Canada – was as a biologist . Saying music is her “ true calling ,” she admits that she still uses a scientific approach to her audio work , and finds a lot of similarities between the two fields .
“ It is not that I didn ’ t like science or academic fields at all ,” she says . “ I actually love science and I find many common things between science and music and audio . And I still operate in a researcher mode lots of times when I deal with music and audio .”
Upon arriving in Canada , Kim enrolled in audio school at Toronto ’ s Harris Institute . She says she doesn ’ t believe schooling in audio is a necessary step for everyone who wants to work in the field , but for her , it was a good way to find her footing in a new country . Schooling was one thing , but it was also important to Kim to gain some work experience during that time .
“ Since mastering was the most mysterious process , even after the course , I focused on the process in my ‘ researcher mode ’ and tried to get hands-on experience starting from unpaid and voluntary sessions .”
Kim began working for Lacquer Channel Mastering , where she still is today , in 2015 . She has worked with musicians of various genres and styles in several countries , including Canada , Korea , the U . S ., and the U . K .
“ It is always interesting that everyone has different ideas about ideal sound ,” she says .
Right now , Kim ’ s work is mostly focused on mastering , something she says has gotten busier compared to last year , likely due to artists taking on more recording projects during the pandemic . She also sometimes works as a composer for Korean indie projects , mostly experimental theatrical projects , and is currently brushing up her knowledge and skills on composition and other parts of music production and sound design .
As far as her long-term aspirations , it ’ s “ to contribute to the definition of what the 2020s , 2030s , 2040s , or 2050s sounds will be like with the new genres that will come ,” she says boldly . “ The definition of a musically ‘ fit ’ sound can change over time . I ’ d like to be the one who ventures to the frontier of it .”
Kim still has a foot in Korea ’ s music scene , too , and says one of her most significant career highlights so far was working with a psychedelic folk band called Coreyah , whose songs she mixed and mastered .
“ Since their music was a mixture of Korean traditional music and western band music , I couldn ’ t have any proper reference and had to be more creative ,” says Kim . “ The musicians also didn ’ t have any particular reference point and just talked to me in natural language about how they feel . It gave me a great chance to rethink principles in a fundamental manner .”
English being Kim ’ s second language has brought her some challenges working in the audio industry , and in a field made up primarily of white men , she comes across people in her work who don ’ t take her seriously as they should , given her skills and credentials .
“ Being a visible minority and a non-man , I cannot be considered as ‘ one of us ’ to the industry guys with more typical profiles who want to work with similar people who they can ‘ hang out ’ with easily ,” she says . “ I have heard so many times that people skills are important from when I was in audio school and from that point of view , maybe I should do something about it seriously so I could fit in . But frankly , I haven ’ t done anything particular to deal with it because it is my thought that one ’ s apparent ‘ weakness ’ often doesn ’ t mean as much as they think , and it only becomes critical when you lose your own pace .”
Still having a curious nature , Kim finds herself driven by questions to this day , just like she did as a teenager when first taking an interest in music and audio .
“ I think what audio people do is build a bridge between human senses and human emotions ,” says Kim . “ At the end of the day , it all comes down to the fundamental question — how do I interpret various emotions , arguments , and views in terms of audio ? And being privileged to provide my creative answer to that is the best part of working in audio .”
Manus Hopkins is the Assistant Editor for Professional Sound .
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