Badass Woman spotlights women who not only have a voice but defy the irrelevant preconceptions of gender. (Not to mention, they are exceptionally cool.) Here, sound engineer Laura Sisk talks about what it takes to make top-selling albums sound so good.
Why she’s a badass: Sisk is owning her field as the go-to sound engineer for pop artists. After she collaborated with artist and producer Jack Antonoff on a Bleachers album in 2014, he connected her with Taylor Swift to work on Swift’s 1989, which earned Sisk, then just 26, her first Grammy. Since then she’s worked on Pink’s Beautiful Trauma, Swift’s Reputation, and Lorde’s Melodrama (for which Sisk received her second Grammy nomination, in 2017).
Getting her start: An oboe player in high school, Sisk learned how to record school-band audition tapes for friends, which sparked her interest in pursuing sound engineering. After majoring in audio engineering and sound production at Indiana University, she decided to focus on studio recording, inspired by the Flaming Lips’ sonically dense 2002 album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
What she actually does: Sisk operates audio equipment and uses software like Pro Tools in recording sessions to adjust pitch, timbre, and make sure that tracks have the highest-quality sound. For vocal production, Sisk weighs in on tonal decisions, such as suggesting a voice crack on a certain word, to ensure singers’ lyrics match their song’s overall emotion. And since few words exist to distinguish between types of sounds, she develops a unique language with each artist.
Overcoming obstacles: Often, Sisk is the only woman behind the recording console during a session. “People have assumed that I’m someone’s girlfriend [in the studio], even if I’m clearly working on the computer,” she says. But recently, she’s started asserting her role as engineer and hopes other women join her in the field. “Female artists ask me a lot of questions about what I’m doing technically, and I’ll help them get set up with their own systems. I’d love to inspire more women to pursue the technical side of the music industry.” Sisk even builds private recording studios for her clients in her spare time.
Her mantra: Sisk says she always pushes herself to keep learning so that she feels as though her latest project “is the best thing I’ve done so far.”
For more stories like this, pick up the February issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Jan. 5.