SAE Audio graduate rides the sound waves to Hollywood

28 Jul 2016
Audio graduate Peter Hansen

From private jets to darkened studios, alumnus Peter Hanson’s career literally took off before he even graduated. Audio has seen him working with world leading artists and on productions from London Grammar, Faithless and Beyoncé to Mission Impossible, Ex Machina and Paddington, to name but a few. He shares his journey with us…


When did you get hooked on audio?

Well, both of my parents were musicians so I was born into a very musical family. I lightly studied woodwind as a child but straight onto the guitar the moment that I could. I always played in bands and no one else seemed to want or enjoyed taking care of the technical side of things. Whereas I was intrigued by it. I learnt how to do the mixing and audio for our tracks and events and genuinely really loved it. Studying audio was an easy decision to make.


How did you come across SAE?

I'd looked at all of the options on the market at that time and it was the facilities that won SAE my business. They were far superior to everybody else's.


What was your first foray into the world of foley?

My first work at Pinewood was assisting on the ADR for Hot Fuzz whilst cutting my teeth on the BBC series 'The Paradise' but my first big job was at on ‘The Other Man’. There were a lot of scenes involving typing on keyboards and it was my job to replicate the exact sound of the keys as they were pressed and released. Seeing all that come together with the score being overlaid was deeply interesting. I really got to see the inner workings of how the film came together, all of the darkened nerdy audio departments working away in their specialist area to create the overall effect was fantastic to be privy to. My work was only a tiny slice of the pie, but it was essential and I was challenged by it.


'My first work at Pinewood was assisting on the ADR for Hot Fuzz'


Do you find yourself taking stock of the sounds wherever you go?

I'm definitely more aware of the sound that each action can create and am used to burrowing my head away trying to figure out how to recreate it. I've turned into a Lyrebird in that sense. I'm quite content to sit or stand anywhere and take it all in.


How do you think your listening skills have developed due to your career?

Everyone has the ability to develop greater listening skills if they want to, apart from if they're suffering from a specific medical condition of course. Mine have definitely developed to the point whereby I never just ‘hear sound’ I'm analysing it. So for example, if someone yells across a street, I'll be looking out for reflections in the distance, roll-off or wondering if the person is near any hard surfaces, or water. When trying to understand audio I believe it's not about what you hear, but why things sound the way they do.


Did SAE keep your attention?

Yes. I enjoyed SAE so much - it was an untraditional method of learning. Which had its positives and negatives. I think it's changed a lot now, but when I was studying there, there was no bar, cafe or events going on. It was hard core studio time, all the time. I remember my friends who went to more traditional uni's calling me up at 2am telling me to come and party with them and I'd still be in the studios at 4am when they were calling me back.

At the time this comparison between our studying experiences was a tough one to bear. Obviously being young I wanted to go out, however, when it came to post graduation I think I was far better prepared for making the switch into the workplace.


'You literally could not have learnt any more to prepare yourself for doing the job at hand'


How so?

Not only had I been actively practicing the skills I would be using in my career, but I was also disciplined in completing projects and working hard and long hours. The requests from employers were exactly like the coursework we'd completed. You literally could not have learnt any more to prepare yourself for doing the job at hand. And because I'd practiced so much, those late nights in the studios paid off. That's why I still champion it as a place to go if you're serious about a career in the creative industries.


What sort of work have you focused on since graduating?

I've always been freelance and actually my route to graduation was delayed due to me being offered an insane opportunity.


Tell me more...

I was doing regular work experience at Sensible Studios which at that time was just around the corner from the old SAE campus in Islington. I'd generally make tea and burn DVD's. One day they had a rehearsal for Craig David's band and I was asked if I knew Logic as the guy that would normally do the job wasn't in. I blagged it and said 'yes' and was sampling the drum sounds for each album track an hour later. Fortunately for me I'd been set the exact same challenge by my lecturers two weeks previously. After that day I was offered a six month tour working with the band so I deferred my studies, which SAE supported, and off I went on a private jet flying around with the band and working my ass off.


That's an insane story to starting your career.

Actually that brings me to a point that I really want to make. When I tell this story it sounds fantastic but it doesn't include all the times that I wasn't in the right place at the right time, and believe me there were loads. I managed to get work in the industry because I absolutely went all out to get it. I played in rock bands and managed the sound which got around to other performing bands. If anyone asked me to do anything I always said yes. Recording bands, front of house mixes, I'd never turn it down. Some of which would be quite daunting, turning up to do live sound on a new console that I'd never used before with only thirty minutes to set up.

How did you cope with the pressure?

I really focused. If I made a mistake I'd kick myself, but the chances were that I wouldn't make it again. 95% of the work I did for free in that time never went to anything major, but it was all experience, making contacts and learning for me and I soaked it up. It taught me to be both independent and tenacious.


Have you always been competitive?

I've always liked competitive sports, I like winning. I have a brother and sister but never felt particularly competitive with them. I just like the idea of being the most competent at something, the most successful. I think it's just the nature of the industry. I have always wanted to be the best that I can possibly be. When I entered the industry properly I was working as a runner and assistant but I always aimed as high as possible


'The place to go if you're serious about a career in the creative industries'


'I have always wanted to be the best that I can possibly be'


Do you still feel that drive today?

Yes definitely. Always. I want to be the best at what I do. I set myself high targets and goals and work hard to complete them, sometimes at the detriment of my personal life which is a balance I'm learning to achieve.


What is it about audio that keeps you engaged?

As a career there is always something new to be challenged by, the kit is fantastic and I geek out on that, old style and new advances. There's always some new area to move into, specialise in or learn. I get really bored if I'm not learning.


How did Pinewood come about?

I've loved playing rugby and it turned out that the coach, my best friend's father, was a foley mixer with them. He was very honourable and knew that the small teams there couldn't afford to carry any dead weight, so he made an introduction for me and then left me to my own devices. I started off helping out on reception and slowly worked my way up


What advice would you give to students today?

Be polite, be keen, be useful and that will stand you in good stead for getting a job. Tenacity and proficiency is obviously essential – but if you focus on getting the job without first learning the right skills you're going to be chucked out faster than you can apologise for.


'Be polite, be keen, be useful and that will stand you in good stead for getting a job'


What productions are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently putting the finishing foley touches to Bridget Jones’ Diary 3 and programming some music for 2 Door Cinema Club, and then I’ll be working on ‘Assassin's Creed’ and ‘First they Killed my Father’ as well as some exciting projects with Sony.


Peter’s IMDb.