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An Interview with Yang Tan - 4/15/2021

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

Interview by Claire Liu - Illinois, USA

The creation of a song is a process with numerous steps. From songwriting to recording and mixing to producing, truly great music is the result of a collaboration of efforts and creativity between numerous artists, producers, sound engineers, composers, lyricists,and many others. Out of these parts, sound mixing is one of the most typically overlooked but crucial roles in the creation of music and nearly every hit song can be made or broken by the individuals manning the board. One of the leading engineers in the industry and a master of the board is Yang Tan, an LA-based mixer and vocal engineer who is changing the world of music today.

Yang (pronounced "Young") Tan is currently a mixer and vocal engineer at Paramount Recording Studios as well as the owner of Absolute Magnitude Entertainment Records. Throughout her career, Yang has accrued an impressive resume of clients and projects. Most people have probably heard her work with artists such as Kanye West, Jackson Wang, Stephanie Poetri, J. Cole, Kid Cudi, and Pentatonix. She was also recently featured as a hitmaker engineer in Variety. Nevertheless, the true scope of Yang's career and work in music is much more complex than these awe-inducing achievements.

Despite her current work in pop, urban, and hip hop, Yang began her musical journey with a classical background in Guangzhou, China. Born to a family of visual artists, Yang relied on herself from an early age to pursue her passion in music.

"I don't know why, music always speaks to me. That's the only thing I can't live without," Yang said. From tutoring kids at her school to fund secret music lessons to compiling her own mixtapes on old CDs and cassettes with smuggled music, Yang's dedication to music under the guidance of her music teacher carried her through university and to her eventual role as a sound engineer for the China National Orchestra.

Yang expresses a deep love for her base in classical music. "I still love classical music, I think that's my original passion," Yang said. Still as time went on, she became eager to explore different genres and forms of music. "I found that it was the same thing over and over again, in terms of production and mixing... that's how I got more into modern pop music and production," Yang recalled.

In terms of style, Yang keeps herself open to a wide variety of genres. She cites many different artists, including Eminem, Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey, and Dr. Dre as influences on her musical style. Even after moving to L.A., Yang sought to explore greater musical styles in her work, especially in hip hop after she joined Paramount Recordings Studio.

"I applied for Paramount Recordings Studio... they are very hip hop driven and heavy so I had to reinvent myself back into that route," Yang said. Although she experienced bouts of self doubt and questioning during this time, Yang cites the importance of constantly learning and committing to time in the studio for improvement. "I believe in 10,000 hour rules... Trust in the process. Don't be frustrated about yourself, don't let negative thoughts go in your way... you easily talk yourself out of it and that's the least thing you want to do. Go down to the studio every day and slowly craft your art, keep making it," Yang recommended.

After working on a wide variety of projects with many artists, she also emphasizes the necessity of sharing skills and lessons among artists for growth, personally recalling memories with artists such as Jackson Wang and J. Cole as having massive impacts on her view of herself and her work. In addition to her own talent in understanding subtle differences in sound, she highlights the value of experimentation and expression in production and mixing.

"The very basic of mixing is balancing... the left and right, the volume, the texture... but then there's also a lot of creativity you can express through the songs," Yang pointed out. "It elevates the whole energy. For me, mixing is very much an energy you deliver to the audience... sometimes a little thing can really help [people] be excited about a track."

The energy transferred in sound mixing and producing is one Yang translates to art. "I think mixing is kind of like painting sound to me... I see sound as color and I feel like the balance, the subtle differences, the texture of it really translate from the art aspect to sound," Yang said. In describing her own music, Yang identifies it as a complex image, similar to that of a Monet painting with ambiguous greys and hints of pink and blue. These nuances and complexities are still areas she seeks to discover and refine, stressing the importance of continuing to improve and grow in music. "It's a whole process... in music you're always working towards your next goal," Yang remarked.

Nevertheless, Yang argues that the two most important lessons she has learned throughout her experiences is the sharing of ideas and trusting in the creative process. After experiencing much doubt in herself over her years in music, Yang strongly values not only the content created but the mentality she holds when she makes music. "I feel like I have nothing to lose... you don't know the result until you start to work on it, and you can only get better from here. Keep working on it and trust the process," Yang said.

While she argues that sharing ideas and skills is a core element of music for all individuals, she especially stresses the importance it holds among female sound engineers. According to the aforementioned Variety article, only 2% of working music producers identify as female. As the sole woman at her department in China, Yang is well-versed with the severe gender gap in the audio engineering industry. However, Yang remembers the acceptance and value she experienced in that department.

"They never really treated me separately. They always treated me like one of them and listened to my opinions so I never really thought about discrimination up until I came here and a lot more people were talking about it," Yang said. After moving to L.A., Yang recalls facing much more direct discrimination in offhand comments at studios. "'I never knew a girl could be an engineer' is what I heard the most.. they didn't have ill intentions at all but it's sad they would address that," Yang remembered.

Yang argues that some of the greatest steps towards gender equality in the industry must be taken by women. Due to the deep lack of women in the audio engineering industry, there is often a mentality of needing to reserve strength and knowledge. "There are so little of us... everyone tends to think that you're stealing my spot if you're here. That's not good. I really encourage more women and more girls to come in and join. That's the best thing we can do. We need to speak out, use our voices, and have more people in here," Yang argued.

In her current position, Yang works to increase female empowerment and encourages women to support other women. "You don't have to take out other girls to stand here. We have to work together," Yang said. She emphasizes the responsibility she carries to give back to the community and share the knowledge she has accrued over her years of experience. She has previously worked with organizations such as Girls Who Listen, a non-profit organization supporting women in the music industry, to release a tutorial on mixing and make it more accessible to female beginners. With more education and popularity, Yang hopes to increase female presence and gender equality in sound mixing and producing in the future. "I feel like we really need more girls in this game. That's my biggest thing. I feel like we can do a lot better with all of us combined... our voice will be stronger," Yang said.

As an artist, Yang looks forward to exploring and distinguishing her own sound. "Working as a producer and mixing engineer with an up and coming artist to create a sound that is really unique to the world... that's what I've always wanted to do. Build everything from the ground up creatively," Yang said. One of her upcoming projects that she looks forward to contributing to is an album with singer-songwriter Maddi Jane and she hopes that as a part of this process, she will be able to greater understand and craft her sound.

Ultimately, Yang seeks to continue creating her own sound and sharing her knowledge with others. "I love to share. I think that's what I love to do," Yang said. She strongly encourages more young women to approach sound mixing and producing and commits to support other women in their journeys through music. From her future projects to the support she engenders among prospective female audio engineers, Yang is sure to shift the world of music for the better.

This or That with Yang Tan:

1. Books or movies? - Movies

2. Winter or summer? - Summer

3. Singing or dancing? - Singing

4. Cake or pie? - Pie (apple pie!)

5. Chocolate or vanilla? - Chocolate (dark chocolate only)

Connect and follow Yang at the following links!

Check out some of the organizations mentioned in this article:

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