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Thinking In Sound: Saira Khan

Radio LBB 97 Add to collection

Syncsmith music supervisor on her research tactics, musical heroes and 'listening diet'

Thinking In Sound: Saira Khan

The many different facets of the music industry have always excited and intrigued Saira Khan. Throughout the course of her career, she has always strived to develop a broad set of knowledge within the music industry and that of the wider community. From sync to publishing, label management to her new role as music supervisor for Syncsmith. The music industry has always held a firm place in her heart and she has been relentlessly focused on pursuing the dream role she now finds herself in. 

Saira’s new role at Syncsmith takes on a whole host of responsibilities and keeps her abreast of all the latest developments in the advertising, film and music industries. From Music Supervision to artist development. She expresses her fortune at being able to work with a host of new and exciting artists and composers that are at the forefront of creativity. 

Having lived in London for five years she has developed a wide-ranging network of friends and contacts through her passion of live music in a broad spectrum of genres. Sitting on the Futures Group committee with the Music Publishers Association; a fantastic platform where like-minded individuals are able to discuss and drive new ideas forward. She is passionate about creating better opportunities for the underrepresented minorities within the publishing side of the industry and developing an approachable platform where younger generations can learn from people like herself with real life experience.

Away from her role as music supervisor, Saira is a big advocate for positive mental health and wellbeing.  Balancing work and social life, especially in such a demanding industry as Music is always tough but she has always approached her career with a healthy balance between her work and social life. A big F1 and car fanatic, from a young age Saira has always been surrounded by the petrol-heads in her family, her two cousins especially fueling her passion and her inspiration for relentless determination drawn from those she watched on the racetrack. 

Saira draws inspiration from all the different aspects of her life and has used it every day to develop an ambitious and respectful career. Always ready to hustle through dedication to drive both the teams around her as well as her own career forward. With her firm belief in the importance of helping others, she believes that success comes in all different forms and the importance of passing on what you’ve learnt to the next generation. 


LBB> When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point? How do you break it down and how do you like to generate your ideas or response?

Saira> I like to start by ensuring that I have all the facts on the brief in front of me. I find conducting background research on the brand, company history, production team and director can be a massive help in the research phase. Usually, I’ll generate my ideas by creating mood boards and playlists, filtering options out to ensure it's a playlist of quality not quantity. I always find it very useful to brainstorm with my team and bounce ideas off one another. I'm also a fan of testing ideas collectively on a professional AV system and dropping tracks into the edit then reviewing as a team. 


LBB> Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity - what are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang - and what are some of your most memorable professional collaborations?

Saira> Yes! Most definitely agree with this, we’ve all had that thought where we wonder if a world could exist without music, but that's just impossible! Music and sound not only play such a huge role in creativity but also in our daily lives, it breathes new life into something and helps create that human connection. Music has the ability to create a whole new identity and there are no limits to what you can do with sound. Our composers are able to manipulate and adapt sounds to a whole new extreme which provides so much more opportunity and diversity to an ever-changing landscape within film, advertising, trailers and fashion. When it comes to working solo or in a group, for me I enjoy both. I like to work solo to focus and get my own ideas down first, then I think it’s always important to brainstorm with your team. Collaboration allows ideas to flow naturally, you get a chance to explore the brief in depth and see it from different perspectives. I’ve worked within some great teams and I think more memorable and professional collaborations are definitely to come!  


LBB> What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why?

Saira> I’m a really creative person so being able to work in an environment where I can channel this through working with ground-breaking composers is a very rewarding feeling. At Syncsmith we’re constantly engaging with our artists/composers with the main focus being on how we work with them to get the absolute best output in a productive and inspired way. It’s part of my job to be thinking of new ways to develop and innovate the business, as industries begin to cultivate new plans it's in our interest to seek out those opportunities, I love the investigative and research part to my role, you learn a lot about other brands and really get a deeper understanding of how they work with music. I really relish a social opportunity, now more than ever after 2 years of lockdown, I tend to work closely with the company's new clients and this involves building good rapport, maintaining good working relationships, and taking them to gigs; these aspects of my job are definitely the parts that give me the most satisfaction. 


LBB> As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?

Saira> I think that the concept of music for advertisers has changed quite significantly over the past few years, there seems to be more appreciation and more risk taking with agencies putting a lot more emphasis on the musical aspects. Sound design and music evolves continuously and we’ve got the ability to pioneer in this regard with the composers and artists that we work with. The music industry embraces (and challenges) the way the ad world evolves, it’s creating so many different and diverse opportunities, not just for us music supervisors but also gives artists and composers a chance to be more creative, take creative risks and think outside the box. 


LBB> Who are your musical or audio heroes and why?

Saira> I find this a tough question because I have so many! I’d say my all-time musical hero is Dr. Dre, I love all his work. Someone who’s constantly evolving and has produced countless hits and collaborations with renowned artists. I also admire that he funds and helps universities, and always gets involved in different social impact projects looking to improve the community. Dre is a big inspiration! 


LBB> And when it comes to your particular field, whether sound design or composing, are there any particular ideas or pioneers that you go back to frequently or who really influence your thinking about the work you do?

Saira> I would say my biggest influence is Hans Zimmer, so when it comes to working with composers on sound design and bespoke compositions, I think back to my favourite pieces that he’s composed and draw inspiration from them. The soundtracks that he’s composed have been phenomenal, my most recent favorite is the soundtrack he composed for Dune, plus I always find myself feeling next level inspired after listening to his work.


LBB> When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music (let’s say going through client briefs or answering emails) - are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you? What are your thoughts on ‘background’ sound and music as you work?

Saira> I pretty much live and breathe music, so for me it's really important there’s some form of background music. Honestly it really depends on the mood and the type of work I’m doing. If it's a brief, the headphones will go on, anything else, then music from our roster or new music from up-and-coming artists is blasting on the speakers. In our line of work it would be weird not to play music in the background. I personally believe it helps you to concentrate better and brings out the creativity (depending on what you’re playing)!  


LBB> I guess the quality of the listening experience and the context that audiences listen to music/sound in has changed over the years. There’s the switch from analogue to digital and now we seem to be divided between bad-ass surround-sound immersive experiences and on-the-go, low quality sound (often the audio is competing with a million other distractions) - how does that factor into how you approach your work?

Saira> Listening to music is pretty much 24/7 for me, so yes, it’s important that I’ve got a decent pair of headphones and am immersed in high quality audio when working. For me noise cancellation is a god send for working because you can really focus without any distractions! 


LBB> On a typical day, what does your ‘listening diet’ look like?

Saira> My ‘listening diet’ tends to vary a lot in general! On a typical working day, I’ll be listening through our own roster which can range from Aïsha Devi through ZULI to Laurel Halo. I also like to keep my ear to the ground for new releases, up and coming artists/composers. If I'm not listening to our roster on a work day then I tend to hit the shuffle button on Spotify! 


LBB> Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take (are you a vinyl nerd, do you have hard drives full of random bird sounds, are you a hyper-organised Spotify-er…)?

Saira> Yes! I can’t claim to be a vinyl nerd, however I will pick up the occasional gem when I spot it like NWA - ‘Straight outta Compton’ and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I still have my cd collection from when I was little, don’t think I can ever bring myself to throw any of that away! And yes, nicely put - I am a hyper-organised spotifyer, my playlists range from the early 40’s right through to today, I’ve got love for all genres especially 90’Hip Hop & RnB. 


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 (e.g. history buffs who love music that can help you travel through time, gamers who love interactive sound design… I mean it really could be anything!!)

Saira> Outside the music and sound world, my biggest passion is most definitely cars and F1. I’m a big time petrol head and F1 fanatic.  I'm therefore increasingly interested in how we can bring futuristic sound design into the F1 and Automotive domains. The automotive world is ever evolving especially with the electrification of cars and motorsport also heading into an electrically powered world. I believe with the transition to electrically powered vehicles there will be some very exciting opportunities to come especially within the realms of sound design.


LBB> Let’s talk about travel! It’s often cited as one of the most creatively inspiring things you can do - I’d love to know what are the most exciting or inspiring experiences you’ve had when it comes to sound and music on your travels?

Saira> I visited Madeira not long ago. We visited an area of the island with the highest cliff point, the view was a treat! The one very distinctive part of that which I’ll always remember is this elderly gentleman dressed in traditional attire who was playing the most extraordinary beat with his drum and exquisitely harmonising with his vocals. Ranging from high to low, sometimes just holding the note, speeding up, slowing down. One of the locals said he sings because it makes him happy and anyone else that comes across him leaves with a smile on their face and a sense of warmth in their hearts. I think the simplicity of that inspires me, how you don’t need to overcomplicate things to get the results you want. 


LBB> As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth - how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years?

Saira> I think my relationship with music has changed in the obvious way in terms of how I used to ingest and listen to music versus now. I grew up in the cd, mp3, tamagotchi era! I remember having my own cassette/cd player which I was totally obsessed with. For me one of the bigger changes is music videos, often you’d wait to hear new music when the video was released. I used to love watching music videos because they all had their own individuality plus I’d always try to learn the dance moves and pretend I was in the video, like any normal child! Streaming and the digital age has by far been the biggest change, and I’m honestly so happy I got to experience the transition from watching new music on MTV through to simply clicking play on Spotify today. I'm also acutely interested in what the future holds, the possibilities, the new technology, especially as we start to see VR, virtual artists, NFT’s and tiktok take the world by storm and lead us into an ever-evolving world of generation Z and beyond! 


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Syncsmith, Mon, 22 Nov 2021 14:57:39 GMT