The Music Lab’s highly gifted sound editor/designer, songwriter and vocalist talks sound around the world and the healing power of music
An all-round explorer of sound, The Music Lab’s Lea Lea Ratcliffe has had a unique and varied career - writing songs for artists at Def Jam and RCA at the age of 17 and tipped as “An Artist To Watch” by BBC Introducing. Lea Lea’s work has gone on to garner the attention of Noisey, MTVIggy, OkayPlayer, Wild Magazine, XLR8R, and Red Bull Music Academy. She was music supervisor for C4's BAFTA nominated drama 'Through The Gates’, and sound designer on London Short Film Festival awarded ‘Little Soldier’. Lea Lea has also assisted field recording teams on productions such as Sky Comedy’s 'Brassic' and has created original music for shows such as HBO’s Wig, ABC's High Fidelity, and Channel 4’s Hollyoaks and Made in Chelsea.
Most recently Lea Lea has been cherry-picked to join the team at bespoke music creation and supervision house, The Music Lab - and she now joins LBB’s Sunna Coleman, to discuss obsession with sound and music, multi-cultural influences and supporting underrepresented talent.
LBB> When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point?
Lea Lea Ratcliffe> It depends what I'm working on, as I am both a musician and a sound editor. If I'm working on a track as a top liner - creating the lyrical and vocal composition - I start by getting lost in the song, playing around with melodies and humming away. If I’m sound editing, then it’s a more technical approach. But regardless of if I’m working on a vocal part or sound editing, much of my inspiration simply comes from listening to other artists. I love listening to, or watching a show and looking out for clarity - a good clean take on the dialogue and edit.
LBB> What are some of your most memorable professional collaborations?
Lea Lea> One of my big music highlights was a duet with a reggae legend called Horace Andy. That was a really sweet moment as he's reggae royalty and I got to co-write and craft a song with him, so I will always be really proud of that.
More recently, I did a sound edit with The Music Lab for Vogue’s ‘Black Love Is The Revolutionary Act’ Pride series. Working on projects that I want to support, politically and ethically speaking, is always an incredible opportunity.
LBB> As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?
Lea Lea> My first piece of music was for a shampoo advert - and seems like a long time ago now. When I think back, and compare it to the kind of music I'm making now, I realise that adverts are becoming more and more experimental with sound. In the past, there was a less nuanced correlation between the music and selling the product.
It seems there’s more of an adventurous element now, maybe it’s a reflection of generational change and liberalism. I recently worked with The Music Lab on an advert for Danone which was based around punk influences - and has been described as ‘refreshingly rebellious’ - it feels very contemporary and like something I couldn’t imagine being made a few years ago.
LBB> Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang?
Lea Lea> They're both very important to me. For example I've learned so much from working collaboratively and with the team at The Music Lab, which has a great combination of experience and experimentation. I’ve had some great experiences working alongside people whose approach to editing is so creative and project enhancing, that you go wow that's so insightful, and then incorporate what I’ve learnt into my own practice. When you create together, you evolve something, and that is really beautiful. Having a lot of musicians, and creatives in a room is electrifying.
Equally, it’s also so important to have the time and the space to be solo, and express what's going on with you, creatively. For me to articulate exactly what I'm thinking, I need to be alone.
LBB> What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why?
Lea Lea> Being on stage singing is probably the most satisfying thing. Delivering something that's so physical, so incredibly creative and so in the moment, there's nothing that really compares to that.
But there’s also something very rewarding about the energy of the studio, working with a team of creatives and seeing a whole project piece together like a puzzle.
LBB> Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music?
Lea Lea> I actually co-run a nonprofit for a music studio called ‘Baltic’. It's incredible when I'm working with so many different charities that work with other artists and help them access the music industry. I’m working on more of a community level, but also assist and help emerging talent artists that have mental health issues, or young people who are underrepresented to allocate them studio time. It's been one of the most rewarding projects I've been on for a while.
Outside of that, I’m really into fashion, although it's been a bit of a weird year for it because we’ve been in our pjs the whole time. But I love making clothes and styling. My mum made all our clothes growing up, and I guess she always really inspired me to make my own. I’m moving more into the sustainable fashion space now and being more responsible with it.
I’ve also just moved back to London from Portugal, but when I was out there I did a lot of nature hikes. Now that I’m back, I’m trying to keep that going - I visited Suffolk recently which was a wonderful way to escape the city.
LBB> What are the most exciting or inspiring experiences you’ve had when it comes to sound and music on your travels?
Lea Lea> So I actually studied field recording, and I have a whole kit which was perfect in Portugal because it was the most incredible landscape for recording birds and natural sounds from the coastline. I got some incredible reverb in some of the caves which were quite haunting too.
I also think that listening to different music from different cultures is such an important experience for growth, but also for how you can then apply it to the way that you create - as long as you're paying homage to the origins of the music. Travel is one of the most important things that any human can do because it opens your mind to new experiences which is essential for creativity in any form. Culture is the mechanism of creating some of the best work you ever do.
LBB> Finally, how are you hoping to develop your craft?
Lea Lea> I really want to study sound therapy. My dad was a very experienced Tai Chi teacher, so Chinese medicine and healing was something that was very much carried out in my family. Eastern philosophy and Eastern teachings were implemented in my upbringing so it's always been something I've wanted to learn more about.
I love the idea of being able to create different sounds in a more therapeutic way and use it in a healing mode. Learning to work with various meditative instruments, understanding the different frequencies they produce and how they connect to humans emotionally is something I’d love to implement into my work.
The Music Lab, based in London and LA, create or curate - make or find - music for advertising, television, film and video games. The award-winning team combines experience with experiment, fusing your visuals with music and sound.