Yuna Qian: ‘She’s Got Swagger’
By: Pamela Chan
August 17, 2016
Any woman working as a producer or engineer in the music industry could tell you that it is a difficult field for anyone. The profession, by itself, is a fiercely competitive one. Add on top of that gender bias and it becomes even more excruciating. So why is it that while artists like Adele and Beyoncé have continued to dominate the charts, the stages, and even behind the scenes, things haven’t gone the same way for leading ladies sitting on the other side of the booth-- those behind the sound board?
It’s certainly something to ponder on, especially as cultural attitudes slowly shift and as the music industry, as a whole, goes through a terribly painful not-to-mention cathartic moment of transformation. The world of music production is evolving, and though it was only six years ago that the Nashville Scene noted that women accounted for less than five percent of music producers and sound engineers, things have certainly come a long way since for female engineers choosing to pay their dues and to develop their artistic craft.
Some say that the first rule of doing anything — especially something as demanding as engineering or producing music— is believing that you in fact can. And though "it's a renegade profession,” as Susan Rogers, a one-time studio engineer for Prince, and now an associate professor at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston once put it to BBC News, all you really need to be successful is to “have a lot of swagger.”
Meet Yuna Qian—one of few who definitely carries that said swagger. She’s a rarity all in herself, having been born and raised in China as a classical pianist, as well as having carried that lifelong musical passion all the way to the United States.
Based in Los Angeles, the ever-rising sound and music engineer was selected as a Global Exchange Student to study at UCLA film school during her undergraduate studies in 2012 and later went on to earn a Master of Arts degree in Audio Sciences from Johns Hopkins University in 2015. During her tenure with Peabody Institute Musicians, Qian worked as a graduate assistant and had the opportunity to record and mix numerous music projects ranging from classical or full orchestra scores to jazz ensemble pieces and hip-hop or indie/alternative rock songs. Her final recording/mixing projects, 'Sanctuary' EP by Super City, 'If Ever' EP by W4Y1 Collective, and 'Nielsen Quintet Op.43,’ were also highly lauded by a panel of external producers and engineers including Paul Wickliffe, Pat Dillett, and Dr. Toby Mountain.
Now fresh out of school and fully armed with ample training in both music production and postproduction in film, Qian has already managed to make a name for herself on the West Coast since permanently relocating to Hollywood to fully live out her dreams. As a member of the Audio Engineering Society, she has worked at Sound City Studios and has participated in recording and mixing projects such as the upcoming ‘Smellin Like A Pound' - Album 'Mood Swings' (Feat. Hip-pop artist Ego); 'Find Your Bae' EP by Ego (Feat. Sippi Slick & Kenny Vic); and 'Tito Mays' by Trenches (Feat. Izaya).
2016 has proven to be all the more creatively fulfilling for this pure music aficionado, who hopes not only to continue exploring her talents as a sound engineer, but also to witness her aspiring music career transcend before her eyes. Her start as an Intern at Hans Zimmer's Studio Remote Control Productions has certainly prompted further musical inspiration by broadening her horizons into the field of film scoring. Earlier this year, Qian had the opportunity to work on the postproduction team as a Foley artist and a sound designer for various film projects, including the horror feature film, “U.Z.L.A,” directed by Dallas King, and the feature film documentary, “Behind Karate Kill,” which was shot in America and produced out of Japan. She was also recently recommended by Remote Control Productions to Sacred Tiger Music and began working for film composer Henry Jackman. Her journey into film music will continue later this year under the supervision of the famed Dominic Lewis (“Money Monster”).
As a music engineer, Qian deals specifically with the technical and mechanical aspects of music and sound during the processes of recording, mixing, and reproduction. However, just like she’s breaking boundaries in a field that was once ruled by "a boys' club, or a guild mentality," Qian’s also keen on breaking the rules when it comes to music. “I think sound engineers can come in many guises, but none of those are mutually exclusive,” she says. “For me it’s [just] always about the music.”
The self-proclaimed ‘sound chick’ has often believed that her ultimate job is to make magic happen, to make sure everything works during the scoring process, and to bring both music and film to vivid life. “If the film composer is the painter, the engineer is the one who mixes the color on the palette and carefully chooses the right brush for the painter to use,” Qian notes. She truly feels that sound engineers are ‘problem solvers’ who grasp an in-depth understanding of audio technology, physics, and acoustics— and fortunately, those are all crucial skills that this aspiring audio engineer possesses.
So while it may have once been rare to see a female sound engineer leading music production behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, it’s safe to say that times are changing. There may very well be plenty more pioneers like Trina Shoemaker out there—strong women with tons of swagger that can sprinkle unique and special views into the wonderful world of music. Qian’s multi-cultural background and experience with global music from different countries makes her all the more creative and rare—a true inspiration for others in the studio and definitely a rising star to keep our eyes (and ears) out for.
Qian’s Upcoming Projects include:
- 'Groove Therapy' Compilation: 'Groove Therapy' is a compilation comprised of retro instrumentals, Hip Hop and R&B elements. The album will also be comprised of 7-10 various artists and Qian will be working on both the recording and mixing sessions for the project.
- 'Mood Swings' pt. 2: 'Mood Swings' part 2 will be an addition to the original Hip-Hop R&B compilation, 'Mood Swings' pt.’ It will be an exciting combined effort of 24 songs and will be comprised of singles from previously featured artists with additional ASCAP songwriters and artists involved, showcasing highly regarded and selected artists from San Diego, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York.