We reached out to Hazel Turnbull and asked her to write a blog post for us highlighting women in the sound design industry from her own perspective as a composer. Hazel is a composer for film, television and video games, as well as being a Women in Games Ambassador. Read on below to find out how a video game soundtrack changed her perspective!
When I was approached to write a guest article for the Sound Ideas blog I was thrilled, but admittedly a little daunted too. I don’t think I am alone in the game audio world when I say I suffer from imposter syndrome; what could little old me possibly have to say, that people might want to hear?
In the end I have opted to write not what I think people might want to hear, but instead give a little insight into my life as a composer and sound designer for video games; from my childhood dreams to now. (There’s a point to this, trust me!)
From as early as I can remember, I was very musical. My earliest school reports had me marked for a career in music – even when I still had high hopes of being a paleontologist (hey, Jurassic Park had just been released). When I began learning to play the bagpipes at ten years old, thoughts of making a career in music began to formulate – but what to do ? At that age, it was as simple as “I just want to make music”. I had plenty of time to make more solid decisions on that front. As I progressed through high school music I began learning the piano, and also received percussion lessons from an intimidating, yet lovely, former Army musician.
You might wonder where I am going with this glimpse into my early music experiences, but I hope you can bear with me! As I demonstrated an aptitude for music, my teachers encouraged me to pursue a career as a music teacher. Sadly, this had me a little dismayed. I did not feel cut out for teaching. Surely there were more options open to me? Yet, the only options I could see were teaching…or joining the Army. It might surprise you to know that it wasn’t until I was partway through my Bachelors degree in Music that I started considering composing as a possible career.
It seems strange to me now, to think that I landed on composing through sheer stubbornness. I refused to go down the teaching route, but it took me a long time to realise that composition – something which I dearly loved – could be more than just a passion. I believe a large part of this stems from how masculine the composition world seemed to me. All throughout my education, the only composers I was taught about were male. Now, being older and ever so slightly wiser, I realise that this was not a true reflection of the composing world. I do not think I can do justice to just how weird it was to not have known about any female-composers until I was in my early-twenties.
My heroes up until then were all male. In fact, it was the composer Trevor Morris (Dragon Age: Inquisition) who inspired me to pursue video game composition. Then, just a few years ago, I remember hearing about Jessica Curry. I remember the thrill that went through me upon discovering the composer for the wonderful narrative video game Dear Esther, was a woman.
Suddenly my entire perspective on composing for games changed from something that I wanted to do, to something that was feasible, possible. It became something I could do. It wasn’t until that point that I realised just how important role models are. I had always been aware of the lack of women in composing/film scoring. I had just blindly accepted this as fact. It wasn’t until I heard of Jessica Curry that I realised what I had been missing.
The actor Geena Davis, a staunch advocate of women in media, put it rather succinctly in an interview for The Wall Street Journal:
“Negative images can powerfully affect boys and girls, but positive images have the same kind of impact. We know that if girls can see characters doing unstereotyped kinds of occupations and activities, they’re much more likely as an adult to pursue unusual and outside-the-box occupations. I really believe that if you can see it, you can be it.”
“If you can see it, you can be it.” These words resonate with me. All those years ago when I saw Laura Dern play Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park , I wanted to be a paleontologist too. I could imagine it, because I had seen it.
Up until the moment when I discovered Jessica Curry, it was incredibly difficult for me to visualise myself as a composer for video games. Now, as a composer and sound designer in my own right, and also in my capacity as a Women in Games ambassador, my hope is to make women in game audio more visible so that young girls and women can see the multitude of career options that are open to them. The more they see, the more they can be.
I also think it is important that these options are made obvious to younger children – no person should reach their twenties never having seen or heard of another person of the same gender doing that job. There’s something profoundly wrong about that.
So, I hope that by reaching out to schools in my capacity as a Women in Games ambassador, I can reach out to those young girls who may be feeling just how I felt at that age, and show them that there are more options out there for them should they be music/sound inclined.
To finish, I would love to draw attention to just a few of the women who I have come across and been inspired by, and continue to be inspired by:
Composer for video games Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. An amazing advocate for video game music, host of Classic FM’s High Score, and just a really lovely person!
Award winning sound designer and founder of Magicbrew Audio Production company. One of the voluntary mentors for The Audio Mentoring Project who I was incredibly lucky to be paired with. Rebecca has given me a lot of support and advice on sound design.
Composer, orchestrator, sonic artist and advocate for youth music. Luci is doing a wonderful job at promoting music and sound to young children through the Tinderbox Project, she also promoted video game music through her work for the Edinburgh Game Symposium.
If you would like to learn more about Women in Games and their new ambassador project, please do visit their website:
Sound Ideas would like to thank Hazel for writing this guest post for us!
To find out more or contact Hazel, visit her website below: