Diploma in Audio Production alumni Daryl Michael (left) and Ernst Chua (right).
The arts being a small community can sometimes be a double-edged sword for newcomers seeking to break in. On one hand, there is easy access to the community and opportunities to work with more senior level figures in the industry; yet there is also, at times, a heightened sense of gatekeeping in industries that are smaller or perceived as being exclusive.
This guardedness is something that Daryl Michael, a Class of 2018 alumnus from the Diploma in Audio Production, has seen firsthand. But when he had the opportunity to take a junior from the Class of 2023 under his wing, Daryl decided instead to embrace mentorship with an open and collaborative mindset, seeing it as an opportunity to pay forward the generosity and guidance that he had first received from lecturer Dirk Stromberg.
“When I first graduated from LASALLE and finished my national service, the COVID-19 pandemic was still very much at its peak and finding work in the arts was relatively challenging,” recounts Daryl.
“During this period, I reconnected with Dirk, who had been my lecturer during my time at LASALLE. Through him, I managed to find work in LASALLE with the School of Contemporary Music, and work on collaborative projects across faculties.
“Throughout this time, Dirk was an incredible driving force in helping me get through the pandemic and getting back on my feet. Working on multiple projects with him both within and outside of LASALLE has honestly given me a tonne of perspective and showed me what it truly means to be collaborative and mentoring.”
Creating safe spaces to learn
When then-student Ernst Chua volunteered to work on the School of Contemporary Music graduation recitals in 2022 as a monitor engineer alongside hired professionals from the industry, he found himself inspired by the open and trusting environment that Daryl had created as the front of house engineer.
Instead of treating the student as an amateur subordinate, Daryl welcomed Ernst as a collaborator and equal in his own right, even letting Ernst take on the role of the front of house engineer for a few bands. He welcomed suggestions and ideas from Ernst without judgement, whilst sharing useful tips and knowledge on being an audio engineer.
Having worked well together, and impressed by how engaged and proactive Ernst was in approaching his craft, Daryl decided to give the younger sound engineer more opportunities that would allow him to exercise his technical and creative ability. He invited Ernst to tag along with him on live productions where he served as system designer and engineer, and the two developed an informal mentor-mentee relationship.
We spoke with both Daryl and Ernst as they look back on this mentorship process, what they’ve learnt from each other and how we can build a more inclusive culture that fosters openness and growth.
Daryl, you’ve mentioned how mentor-mentee relationships can sometimes be a bit fraught or guarded. Why do you think this mentorship with Ernst worked so well?
Daryl: I think one of the things that really helped was not formalising the mentorship. The informality of everything really facilitated the open exchange of many ideas and developed into something that was meaningful.
Looking back on my experience working with Dirk, I’ve come to understand there is a much deeper, personal aspect to mentorship that is more impactful and meaningful as opposed to when it is limited to professional work. Since then, I’ve applied that holistic ethos towards any mentorship – I want it to be like how Dirk and I worked together, where professional growth happens because you have an open and easygoing working relationship built on mutual trust.
With Ernst, it was easy to build this relationship because he had a deeper understanding of what it really meant to be a collaborator and artist in his own right. Instead of seeing himself as a service provider, he seized the opportunity to actively add value to the production. Most importantly, he wasn’t just technical, but incredibly creative as well.
So I focused on understanding Ernst and finding ways to enable him to achieve what he wanted artistically while also giving him the freedom to work and find his identity as an artist.
What are some key takeaways that you gained from your mentorship experience?
Daryl: Mentorship is a two-way street – every mentor has something to learn from their mentee and likewise. It may not always be a big thing but each party brings perspectives and insights to the table.
For instance, I’ve noticed that Ernst embraces any challenge with a deep sense of responsibility and endearing positivity. From him, I’ve learnt that a positive attitude is equally important as technical ability. The reality is that everything we do almost always involves collaborators in various levels and positions. Dealing with problems entails dealing with people, and how we react to situations can often leave a lasting impression.
Also, open and clear communication is key to a lot of things. Being able to not only articulate ideas but also respectfully and gracefully disagree while defending what is within your capabilities is an incredibly valuable skill.
Ernst: As Daryl was a systems engineer, his role required communication with other departments in the overall production. Watching him at work, I learnt to be open to opinions as everyone has their perspectives even if they may not come across well to others.
Working with Daryl also taught me to understand situations fully before making decisions as hastiness may cause more problems, especially in a large-scale production. With Daryl’s guidance, I felt that I was able to find the workflow that worked best for me and developed confidence to overcome situations.
All in all, I think I benefited from being able to observe Daryl’s impressive work ethic even when under pressure. It was an eye-opening experience where I was exposed to the realities of the industry.
Looking back on my experience working with Dirk, I’ve come to understand there is a much deeper, personal aspect to mentorship that is more impactful and meaningful as opposed to when it is limited to professional work. Since then, I’ve applied that holistic ethos towards any mentorship – I want it to be like how Dirk and I worked together, where professional growth happens because you have an open and easygoing working relationship built on mutual trust." – Daryl
What do you think can be done to foster a healthy mentorship culture in Singapore?
Daryl: It is important that we place an emphasis on inclusivity. Having open lines for communication and encouraging feedback that is respectful of people and their ideas is essential. Only then can we open opportunities for everyone and allow for the free exchange of ideas.
While a healthy mentorship has many facets, at the end of the day what is critical is that it is built on trust, respect and the mutual desire for growth.
Would you like to give a shout out to your mentor/mentee, and tell him something you did not have a chance to share while you were going through the mentorship process?
Ernst: I would like to thank Daryl for the opportunities and experiences that he has given me. It was a pleasure to understudy an expert in his craft who was willing to share his knowledge.
Daryl: A huge shout out to Dirk for showing me what it really means to be a collaborator and giving me insights into what it means to add artistic value to a field that is largely technical. I honestly would not be anywhere near where I am today without his patience and guidance.
I would also like to praise Ernst for having such a positive attitude towards everything that comes his way. We don’t see that combination of calm and confidence often. It really enables him to enter situations with a vastly different perspective from what everyone is seeing and that attitude alone will definitely bring him opportunities.