Iat Weng “Jessica” Wong, originally from Macao, is a highly successful recording/mixing engineer and music producer who’s now based in Atlanta, where she has worked with some of the biggest names around, including SZA, Cardi B, Tyrese, and many, many others.
With her musical roots set from an early age, Wong found her way to engineering and producing by the time she was ready to head off to college.
Historically, these aren’t roles that have been filled by women. Engineering and producing work in the mainline music industry has been dominated by men for decades, but that didn’t faze Wong, who brought a unique perspective to her work.
In fact, following our conversation with Wong, which you’ll find below, it really seems as though many within the industry are ready for more women to take on prominent roles and, further, be recognized for their contributions.
But this is just one of the topics we covered, and there’s also a lot here about the creative decision-making that goes into recording and how engineers can adapt to the workflows of different artists.
Thanks for joining us. Let’s start at the very beginning of your career. At what stage did you decide to pursue engineering and producing specifically?
Iat Weng Wong (IWW): I decided to pursue music production and engineering when I was in junior high school. I’ve been in music my whole life. I started playing classical piano at the age of four. Therefore, it was only natural for me to continue my study in music for college. However, I knew that I didn’t want to be a performer. So, after doing some research, I became interested in Berklee College of Music’s music production and engineering major. I envisioned myself engineering and producing at studios, so then I decided to pursue it.
You’ve clearly been successful in the industry, and you’ve also been working in Atlanta for quite a while. When were you first introduced to the Atlanta music scene?
IWW: I was first introduced to the Atlanta music scene when I was in college. During my freshman year, the Atlanta music scene caught my attention, as it’s the home of hip-hop and R&B. The following year, I joined Berklee’s spring break trip and visited Atlanta for the first time.
I fell in love with the city and decided to pursue my career here. From there, I visited Atlanta every chance I had and took internships there. I worked with legends like Leslie Brathwaite and Drumma Boy while I was here. I loved the music here and the southern hospitality. So eventually, I moved to Atlanta after graduation.
You’ve worked with many well-known artists. Do you have to adjust your methods for each artist?
IWW: Definitely. Each and every artist likes to work differently. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to music, especially for engineering. I believe a good engineer is able to adapt to different workflows easily. Within the first few minutes of working with the artist, the engineer should be able to understand the artist’s workflow and how to communicate with them. Some artists will let you know exactly what they want, and some will expect you to figure it out along the way.
Also, different artists need different amounts of creative direction while working. For artists who are more experienced and know exactly how to execute their music, my job is to synchronize with their workflow. I want to complement their creative process instead of getting in the way. For artists that are still trying to figure out their sound, I would then guide them by sharing my ideas and feedback, vocal production, etc. Ultimately, my job is to make hit records with artists and accommodate their needs. Therefore, it’s important for me to adjust my methods in order to achieve that goal.
Was it difficult pursuing a career as an engineer and producer, specifically as a woman, since these roles are often dominated by men?
IWW: I wouldn’t say that’s the case for me. In my experience, I’ve been able to pursue my career pretty smoothly. Sure, there have been times when people doubted my ability at first since I’m an Asian female. But once they see what I can do, they believe in me. Other than that, I actually think there are plenty of advantages to being a dope female engineer/producer.
One of the things I tend to hear often is when new clients first walk into the studio and realize I’m a female engineer, their first reaction is usually “Oh wow, this is amazing! I’ve never worked with a female engineer before!” A lot of people do enjoy working with women. Since there are not a lot of us in the music industry, we always bring new and refreshing dynamics to the people that we’re working with. On top of that, I’m very grateful to have a community that supports women, especially in music.
Following on from that, would you say that the music industry is starting to accept and acknowledge women working in these roles?
IWW: I believe so. Women have been in the music industry for a long time, but we’ve always been a minority. However, I’m seeing more females in different positions these days, such as executives, A&R, producers, engineers, songwriters, managers, etc. We’re making an impact in the music industry by providing a different perspective on things. We are powerful and unique, and we have so much to offer. I think that the music industry has certainly acknowledged that.
What about the impact of your career specifically? Do you feel that your work can encourage other women to explore careers as engineers and/or music producers?
IWW: Yes, I do. I believe that my work can inspire and influence other women to explore these careers. As a girl from Macao who came to the US at a young age to pursue her dreams, I’m now working with artists such as Cardi B, Summer Walker, SZA, Muni Long, Omah Lay, Tyrese, and more. It shows that pursuing a career as a female engineer/producer is totally achievable. This career can be challenging at times, but it is extremely rewarding when you get to work with artists that you admire or music that makes you happy.
Speaking of music that makes you happy, are there any projects you’re working on right now that you’d like to mention?
IWW: I’m working on several different projects at the moment, one of them being a project with RINI. I’ve actually loved his music for a long time, so being able to be a part of this project is very exciting for me. Another project I’m working on is artist Jabriel’s debut album. He’s a very talented artist, and I can’t wait for the world to finally hear his sound!