Sound Check: Interview with LaRon, the Sound Designer
Words and Interview by Muenfua Lewis
Sometimes being one of the few people of color in your field of work can be tough, especially when the field itself is naturally unappreciated within its industry. I had an honest and casual sit down conversation with my friend LaRon Cooper, who is a Sound Designer and Field Recorder who works in the film/cinematography industry. As an important back bone to visual creative work, he’s the needed audio man. LaRon has had to overcome too much adversity to be overlooked. Respect his hustle and his grind because this dope creative has a lot to say!
What's your official audio title? Like what do people refer to you as in your industry?
I tell people I do Sound Design or right now Field Recording. If someone asked me to do Field recording, I know exactly what to do. Sound Design is a little bit more intuitive when it comes to making noises, making sounds and actually fine-tuning. You’re adding stuff to make the visual piece sound more appealing, more moving. So yeah, I would definitely say Field Recording. Field Recordist. Sound Mixer and then Sound Design.
Essentially, I grew up in a really musically inclined household. I played the trumpet growing up in elementary school.
And then I got into a really bad accident, when I was in Middle School. I stepped away from the trumpet. Back then, I’d go with my dad and him being a DJ and do sound checks with him. Once I got to college, I wanted to do something in film work, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly. Once I got to sounds class, my teacher started talking about EQ use and XLR cables and stuff like that. I was like, “You know what? I like this, this is fun!” I started doing more of it .
The rest is history.
Talk to me a little bit more about that accident that happened in your life. How did that shape your life? Then how did that play into what you're doing now as a Sound Designer? How can something so traumatic play such a major part in what you do now?
It was when I was 13. Essentially, me and my brother were riding bikes on Easter Sunday we got into a bad accident. I ended up stepping in front of my brother and took the bulk of the impact. We both got hit by the car and I shattered my ribs, collapsed a lung, broken collarbone,
and had a broken femur. I just got a hip replacement last year which was amazing.
It was a six month recovery so that's why I had to step away from the trumpet because you have to have a lot of lung strength to produce air when your play the trumpet. Funny enough, I wanted to be a baseball player and do that route as far as career-wise, so this now was a plan B at the time. My dreams of baseball went away and I looked to pursue something else.
It’s crazy how some things can come full circle. Crazy how something tragic can help develop your true passion.
Oh yeah, it pushed me fore sure. I call it all a “feel good tired” because essentially if you never had to train your body or if you never had to go through something like that to push you to your limits... when you're working, especially in film work... you have a job that you're out 12 hours at a time, you're going to get tired. With me going through something so traumatic you always lean to yourself and say “Hey you know where you’ve been, but you can do this you know?” Don’t let yourself be your own demise. When I'm on set and I get tired...
I call it a feel good tired because it's something that clicks in me.
Let's talk about audio work. The missed element in videography and cinematography. What do you think sets audio apart from other aspects of video production? Why is it so important?
Thanks again for asking me that!
A lot of DPs (Directors of Photography) may not think this, but essentially audio is way more important than video because the fact that you can hear something before you see it.
You get that? You can hear something before you see it.
Sounds moves faster than your visuals.
When you watch a film, you can design it to where you can focus on something that's more sound driven so that you focus your eyes on to whatever that that thing is. If you’re ever watching a scary movie...walking down the hallway in the movie and with the audio you (the viewer) hears something coming out from your right you’re going to focus your eyes to your right side of the picture if something traumatic happens.
Audio is better than video. Visuals are the pleasing aspect. No shame to DPs out there.
Audio is really the first attention grabber.
Language is a universal thing. People make noises. Essentially our language, our our English is music.
People can tell like by sound whether someone is happy, sad, etc.
Someone can hear that you have some type of feeling toward something.
That’s why I think sound is such an important thing.
That’s why music is such a huge ordeal around the around the world. Not everyone knows the lyrics to Michael Jackson in another country where they don't speak English, but they know the vibes. They know the sounds. They know how the music sounds.
With sound being so important, do you believe it is neglected in production? In that creative process? Even in the world of creativity I feel like its something people don’t think about. You tell me! Is it forgotten about? Why?
I do think it is forgotten about because the fact that media portrays everything as visually pleasing as possible and sometimes when sound is done so good it's an afterthought. So a lot of people don’t focus on the audio and that's why people think video is more important audio. When it mixes so well together, audio should be a silent thing when it comes to that. It shouldn't be overpowering for people to recognize that there was audio work done.
Audio could make or break a video.
So talk to me about about your place as a Sound Designer.
It's important, but it feels like a niche at times.
How have you navigated with so little audio focused creators out here in Kansas City, especially.
That’s a good question.I feel like sometimes when I go out on jobs, people think you can just
Press record and that's it.
On huge productions sets, there’s a reason why they hire audio guys.
When people don't recognize what it takes to be an audio technician, they think you can just press record and it's more than that. You have to get really close, you have to angle the microphone a certain way, the whole nine. It is difficult sometimes, I’m not going to lie.
So what are some barriers you face in your in your current creative journey right now? Especially with people having to trust your expertise be in sound.
I want to touch on race a tad because even in quote on quote the film professional world, everything's whitewashed. I'm being honest.
Whether on huge sets or smaller sets, I go inside being black African-American, the folks on set either ask me a ton of questions that they probably wouldn't ask a white professional, or they’ll ask me to do 10 times the work. It's sad because I shouldn’t be used to it.
I shouldn't be used to going on set and knowing 10 times more than what I should actually just know about why I’m being treated the way I am.
But in the same token, this all has made me better.
I was on a shoot, much less a year ago I had that issue of being the only minority on set. There was multiple audio guys on set and essentially I was helping out myself plus the other audio guys on set.
I was just kind of like, “How Sway?”
I'm spending more time and effort to not only do my job, but do their job too and make it sound good because my name is on the credit.
So, do you feel like you had to work twice as hard as an African American man to get to where you are?
Not even twice, like 10 times harder because I only know two other audio guys that are black. There's only three of us I know at the top of my head.
And it's crazy because we're really good at what we do, really good! I feel like it should be more of us.
You do have to work 10 times as hard and it sucks because I go on huge sets and say something to a white professional. “How long you been doing?” “Only 2 years, oh a year and a half”
I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been in those same spaces where there aren’t too many black people in the room. It’s exhausting How do you push through?
I would say I'm still figuring out but, I honestly think the more I go out and meet people that are like myself, surrounded by the greats, will make you great. If you're surrounded by people that aren't doing just as good or better than you,
what are you doing?
I'm not saying rethink your friends, what I'm saying is if you want to do something that that you can empower yourself more, in a certain category in your life...focus on that. Get around the greatest people you possibly can find. Especially when they look like you. That’s how I feel like i cope with it. Especially, giving back to the community the things that wasn't given to me growing up because in college no one actually helped me.
I appreciate my dad so much because my dad never can candy-coded anything to me.
Even after my accident, he said you’re not disable, call yourself injured. If you called yourself disabled, it lasts forever. If you have an injury, an injury doesn't last forever. If you approach everything like that, you’ll think of your life in a totally different aspect.
With knowledge my dad gave to me and him just being upfront, my mentor.. push me
How do you feel about being a local creative in a Kansas City as opposed to a major city?
I think Kansas City started growing when the World Series happened. When the Royals won, I think that really put Kansas City on the map.
I want us to get to a spot that's where it's not so cliquish. In Kansas City sometime people don’t always see the behind the scenes and assume you to be famous just based upon social media.
They don't see those days.
They don't see that man I'm up at 2 in the morning like any jobs opening for Sound Design.
What are some qualities to what you do? How would you describe your work?
Anybody can do audio.
Anybody can do the job that you’re doing.
I really think it boils down to personality.
My personality, I really believe in strong friendships. I really believe in building something out of that and not bull crapping people. I really believe in longevity building friendships.
I believe in working hard, but don't overwork yourself. Balance.
What is something that you would want to leave for creatives? What is something that inspires you?
I’m inspired by cooking.
It's it's a muse to me.
When you cook, you have certain noises that chicken makes or that pasta makes, or that meatballs make.
Cooking inspires me because when cooking that is the calmest I am.
I feel like people that like yourself, other people, that are on the same path as me give me inspiration.
Interesting stuff. I know for damn sure I can do anything because my mom and dad were entrepreneurs and supported a family of 6.
There's no way I can't not do this.
Honestly, my inspiration boils down to who you're around and the longevity of friendship because a lot of people remember how you treat them.
Good or bad.
LaRon, what advice or something that you’ve learned would you give to creatives and young professionals?
My advice would just be, Hold on to somebody that you feel like that can help you.
Look up someone that is better than you because you're going to find yourself always wanting to better yourself.
And that what seems to have happened with me, I was running into all these audio guys and I was like damn like “I'm going to not only become their friend, not like to bandwagon, but to actually get to know them.
And get into the lifestyle because maybe I can learn something from you.”