Bringing Smiles to People’s Faces—Joy with Music.
(Part 2)

Wataru Tanaka / Sound Engineer

A Full Life with a Family.

Musician, audience, sound engineer. The cycle of joy is the best thing about my job, says Wataru Tanaka. But having a family adds another dimension to life. “My family has shifted the way I live,” he says. “Before it was all about work; now it’s different.” We asked Wataru about the life he now lives with a family and his current thoughts on sound and music.

I want to experience all kinds of special things through my job.

I love traveling and want to go to all kinds of places. I’m especially excited about gigs that take me to farther-away places. At one point I even pondered moving out of Tokyo and doing my work in the countryside. But trips, of course, are only special when life in Tokyo is the norm. Special is only special for its difference from everyday life.

Once, after finishing a job at the World Music and Dance Festival in Hakodate, I went traveling all around Hokkaido in this mini-van with all of my equipment piled onto it. I went to hot springs, slept at campgrounds, and ate amazing food. Those were a memorable two weeks.

Another time I was called out to work in a town called Ama on a remote island in Shimane Prefecture. A producer wanted to compile a CD from the sounds of Ama together with music by musicians visiting the island. My connection with the people of Ama blossomed. They invited me back to put me in charge of the “Kinnyamonnya Festival,” the town’s biggest and most important event. They paid my transportation all the way from Tokyo instead of saving money by asking a local sound engineer. I felt blessed to be thought of so highly.

The year 2017 was my fifth year in charge of sound engineering at the World Music and Dance Festival in Hakodate. They had heard I was good at acoustic sound and wanted me on board.

A lifelong joy through a job in Okinawa.

I worked on a similar project on Iheya Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The island has no high school, so children who want to continue their educations must leave after their middle school graduation. My mission was to create a CD for these children, a collection of sounds from the island they could listen to for spiritual replenishment when life on the mainland stressed them out. We wanted to restore their pride and confidence by giving them memories in sound of the amazing island where they were born and raised.

The hushed rustling of a sugarcane field in the wind. The sounds of the ocean and a ferry arriving at the port. The sounds of the faraway school bell and the children playing at the school. The sound of a harvester. The humming of bugs. A few buddies of mine I had worked with on a different island asked me to create songs with the children and musicians of Iheya Island. Together we captured these songs on tape.

Iheya Island is home to the “Moonlight Marathon.” The runners start in the early evening and finish with a view of the full moon as they reach their goal. We mixed in sounds like the blast of the starting gun and calls from the crowd cheering the runners on.

My wife was actually in charge of the design for this CD. We met on the island during the project and eventually married.

Recording at Iheya Island. The children’s voices give me strength.

I want to continue forward as a couple while we work independently.

In the 10 years after I quit my life as a ‘salaryman’ to become a full-time sound engineer, everything in life was fun. My work life and personal life were basically the same. I was happy to be married and have a wife beside me. It was clear, of course, that life could never stay the same: I was a workaholic and had just become a dad. That was a year ago. Now my life has completely changed.

My wife is also self-employed, which means we can both look after the baby. It also means that it will be best for both of us to keep working equally. Compared to a company employee, a freelancer has much more control over his time. If things change and we run into challenges that seem insurmountable, we will pool our strengths and somehow overcome them together.

The most important thing in my life as a sound engineer is “emotional richness.” For me, sound engineering is less about shaping sound in specific ways than making people smile and giving them joy. Those are things I have always tried to do both in my professional and personal lives. Life now with my family is fuller than ever before.

I spent quality time with close friends from the Iheya Island project and met my life partner through the project, as well.

Read the Part 1

Wataru Tanaka / Sound Engineer
Wataru Tanaka started working as a sound engineer at concerts and live events while still only in high school. He went fulltime as a freelance sound engineer in 2007. Though based in Tokyo, he works on projects all throughout Japan. He also records, mixes, and masters CDs for various artists. Wataru’s specialty is acoustic music.

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