The Jungle Studios sound designer on not settling for the obvious, continually striving to do better and his newfound DIY skills, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani
“I have certain personal goals that I like to keep to myself but what is most important to me is that my next project is better than my last. I’m always striving to go above and beyond on a project and not just settle for the obvious,” says Jungle Studios’ Sean Mahoney. With an affinity for music and sound from a young age, his career as a sound designer was no fluke, but a goal that he was determined to achieve.
As a child, Sean loved physical activity, especially when it came to sports: “I suddenly decided at age 10 I wanted to play ice hockey, this meant I needed all the gear and my mum would now have to drive me to and from our nearest ice rink as well as playing football twice a week.” Combining this with his adventurous nature and outgoing personality, Sean’s mum had a lot to keep up with, but she continued to encourage him and support his various activities and pursuits.
Aside from his sporting activities, Sean had a draw to what he’d eventually make his career. “Music was my biggest passion growing up, I started with the trumpet then moved on to guitar,” says Sean. His first introduction to instruments was from a school friend’s dad, who showed him his very own electric guitar and gave him some sound advice: “He told me there were no rules you could do anything you wanted with it, you could even play it with your teeth (Jimi Hendrix!!) I became obsessed.” Without a physical guitar, Sean decided to research, read up on and hone his knowledge for the instrument: “I would get different books on guitars out from the library and just look through the pictures. My mum finally gave in and bought me one, I was hooked. This was where I definitely found my passion for music and sound.”
While academics weren’t necessarily something that came naturally to Sean, music seemed to click more easily and he wound up using his new guitar to strum chords and let the music take him where the melody went. He says: “I loved to write my own songs, there was something about making something out of nothing that felt really magical.”
After school, Sean embarked on a BTEC Music Technology course: “It really helped that I had teachers that were really passionate about what they were teaching. It was great to have access to all the studios and equipment and you really got out of the course what you put in.” He describes the difference between this way of learning, as compared to the academic based system which wasn’t for him. “It also helped that everything was a lot more practical as opposed to being in school, where everything was graded at the end of the year with a written test which I really struggled with. I also went on to Kingston University for a BMus [Bachelors’ in Music], this was where I really fell in love with sound for moving image.”
Following his passion, Sean was a musician after leaving university, which allowed him to travel around the world while making a career out of something he loved. “Touring was something I’d always dreamt of doing when I was a kid and was really important to get out of my system. Playing music every day has definitely helped me with what I do now.” After this period, Sean was determined to become a sound designer: “I really loved the collaborative aspect of working on sound for picture. I was lucky enough to get an interview at Jungle for a runners position which got my foot in the door. From there I got my head down and worked my way up to a sound designer.”
It was at Jungle Studios as a runner, that Sean made sure to continue to challenge himself and develop his craft. He describes using the studio in lunch breaks and after work to curate his very own short films and ‘passion projects’.
“I still love to work on as many passion projects as I can. You are often left to your own devices and given a lot more creative freedom on these sorts of projects allowing you to try different things out.” And through these projects, he collaborates with friends and colleagues in the industry, who share the same drive to create using their skills.
Continually honing his craft is something that Sean is determined to do as he furthers his career in the industry. By joining Jungle Studios it was clear that attention to detail was prioritised, with ‘an expectation of a high standard’ throughout the entire process. “I can be fairly OCD when it comes to doing pretty much anything so pushing myself for those finer details is what really gets me going,” he says. Falling in line with what he describes as his ‘OCD’ nature, Sean is also ambitious: “I'm always striving to go above and beyond on a project and not just settle for the obvious.” However, he also says, “I do also try to not take myself and life too seriously, ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted’, as Charlie Chaplin put it.”
Initially, Sean began with re-dubbing for Nickelodeon’s Nella the Princess Knight. “It was great fun to work on and I was really excited to see something I’d worked on TV for the first time. It was a great opportunity for me to get super quick with my editing skills, there were always plenty of lines to get through in every session.” And soon, he was working on projects that he felt made his job all the more worthwhile. “I was lucky enough to be involved in a really moving video on mental health for Network Rail. It’s been a really tough couple of years on everyone's mental health so being a part of something that could make a little bit of difference was really special.”
With projects evolving and changing day to day, Sean enjoyed the variety he encounters within his job. “There's no room to be complacent as you need to always be on your toes as you never know what challenges your next project will bring you. I love working with a variety of brilliantly creative people, helping deliver what they are hearing in their head.” But music and sound elements aren’t always appreciated and this is what Sean finds challenging throughout his work: “Sound is pretty much always the last part in the process so it can sometimes be a bit of an afterthought. There can be times when you wish sound had been considered earlier in the project.”
Consideration for sound is something that tends to get under Sean’s skin, as he feels investment into your TV should align with an investment into sound systems. He says, “So much work goes into sound for both music and film of which people are not able to appreciate. When I first met my girlfriend she would listen to music in her kitchen just through her iPhone speaker. I couldn't believe it!!”
With all the time Sean puts into reading, watching videos and listening to podcasts on production and sound, it’s understandable that he’s determined not to see his efforts go to waste. “I’ll even watch films that I'm not necessarily interested in just to listen to the sound mix. There's always so much to learn and new toys (software) coming out. It's hard to not get carried away as there's so much great stuff out there!!”
Sean’s sound design inspiration comes from his peers and colleagues at Jungle Studios, who share ideas and support each other. “We're always getting together discussing new and different ways of going about things and if someone discovers a new way of doing something it is always shared,” he says. Sean also cites Mark Mangini for his passion and excitement for sound design, which inspires Sean throughout his work. And while being inspired, he’s also inspiring the next generation: “I’m also involved in Jungle’s mentorship scheme. We’re taking a sound design roadshow out to schools to demonstrate the opportunities found in all areas of production to a wider audience - kids who don’t have a friend of a friend in the industry who can give them a leg up!”
Outside of sound and its creation, Sean still has his athleticism, going for runs and to the gym which helps him decompress. Getting out to see some sunshine, he says, is important when you’ve been in the studio all day. He adds: “Apart from listening to music and watching films I love going out for dinner after a busy week at work. I also love to cook for friends and family. There's no better satisfaction cooking some good food for your friends and them really enjoying it.” And when that’s all said and done, Sean is in the process of renovating his home, trying his hand at DIY and making sure he’s got a sleek finish, hiding all the wires away.
In his career and generally in life, Sean makes sure to see every day as a fresh start. He says, “I think what motivates me both in work life is to not take any day or opportunity for granted. I know how extremely lucky I am to have a job that I love and great family and friends. As cliche as it may sound I am always striving to learn and better myself every day.”