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Jeanne Wu audio engineer Joanna Lynne Staub
Jeanne Wu working the console at a Super Bowl pre-party.

Jeanne Wu: Forging a Sound Career Path, From Music Ed to MLB

It’s possible that the words “self-starter” are printed in Jeanne Wu’s DNA. The Masque Sound Installations Coordinator and freelance engineer has worked as a sound designer and FOH engineer for music and theatre; she’s worked in production audio; she’s been an A1 and RF tech for special events, theatrical and corporate productions, concerts, and fashion shows. And, she recently started freelancing as an A2 for Major League Baseball. It’s a pretty broad audio resume for someone who started out as a music teacher.

Like a lot of audio engineers, Wu honed her career through fierce drive and fortuitous moments. A flautist and an artist at heart, she studied music education, painting, and ceramics at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. and earned her master’s in music education from Syracuse University. “Originally, I wanted to be an artist, a painter and ceramicist,” she explains. That may sound like a circuitous path to a career in audio, but Wu says she wasn’t exposed to the field until late in college: “I didn't know I could do this for a living.”

During summers in college, Wu worked as a stage manager at a community theater, and during the school year, she was asked to run the sound board for a few productions for the college theater department because she had a background in music. “I knew nothing about running the console; I had no idea about sound check. I just wanted the experience,” she says.

Everything changed when she landed an apprenticeship at Syracuse University’s Syracuse Stage with longtime resident sound designer Jacqui Herter. “I knew nothing until I got to Syracuse Stage, where Jacqui taught me everything.”

After her apprenticeship, she worked for a time as a substitute music teacher before landing a job as a stagehand at the Berkshire Theatre Festival; later, after grad school, she began freelancing in theaters including New York’s Public Theater, Williamstown Theater Festival, and Yale Repertory Theater; and for fashion shows and live corporate events. She thrived in the collaborative, fast-paced environments, excited by the technology, finding new ways to apply her extensive music experience to mixing gigs.

She landed a gig at entertainment tech provider PRG in Secaucus, N.J., where in addition to managing day-to-day operations and prepping audio systems for Broadway and off-Broadway shows and commercial productions, she took it upon herself to partner with audio manufacturers to create training programs for staff and clients. “I wanted to start the workshops and classes because as a freelancer I just couldn't afford to take the classes that the manufacturers were offering,” she explains. “Plus, there was nowhere in the city where there was continuing education for our profession, so that was something I wanted to start for the audio community, in addition to helping our staff stay updated on gear.”

At the end of 2016, Wu headed to neighboring Rutherford, N.J. to work at Masque Sound, where she coordinates A/V installations. She says she was surprised to discover that she could thrive in an office environment. “I didn’t think I would enjoy my job and thought I would be bored, but I’m not,” she says. “I am so busy sometimes that I lose track of time. Plus, I still get to stay in touch with all of the manufacturers I created relationships with when I was coordinating workshops.”

She jokes that it took her a while to get used to the slower pace of the integration world: “We’ve worked on jobs that lasted three years. In the integration world, you don't get an email back for three weeks sometimes. I'm used to freelance gigs where you get an email back within an hour.”

Wu is not afraid to take on new challenges or question the status quo—ideals that serve her well in the live sound world, where it’s all about learning by doing: “I took a few classes here and there, but most of my learning was working on the job and asking a lot of questions.”

“I learned early in college that if I didn't do it myself, no one would help me,” she says. Here’s to that independent spirit.

Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: MixEQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.

TAGS: Theatre
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