Editor’s Note: Five years ago we had an idea. Being a woman-owned publication, it made sense to us to celebrate women who were making a difference in the industries we cover. So, we started a “little” feature for Women’s History Month called “Reel Women.” To say it blossomed into something special would be a vast understatement. It exploded. Over the last four years, we have gotten to know leaders, mentors and visionaries from a variety of creative industries. We have learned about their ups. And how they get back up after being down. This is our 5th Annual REEL WOMEN. For the month of March, let us introduce you to some very special women like Sonic Union’s Senior Producer Carolyn Mandlavitz.
Carolyn is a Senior Producer and Studio Director for creative sound, music, and audio post company Sonic Union. During her six years at Sonic Union, she has produced for many top agencies, editorial houses, and brands, including Aveeno, Nascar, Ulta and UPMC. She was part of the production team for the 2022 “Hologic” Super Bowl spot featuring Mary J Blige.
She began her post-production career at NY-based Photomag Sound Studio. She was hired as a receptionist and, through hard work and dedication, advanced to become the VP. She was involved in every aspect of the business including cultivating talent.
This was Carolyn’s training ground for all aspects of production including everything from client relationships to future business growth. After Photomag, she joined another iconic sound studio in NYC, Blast as a senior producer, before joining Sonic Union’s team of award-winning sound designers, mix engineers and creative producers.
Let’s meet Carolyn.
What’s your origin story?
I would sum up my origin as a product of New York City. I feel so lucky to have NYC as the foundation of my life. The energy of the city supplies me with love for diversity, endless opportunities, and cultivating lasting friendships.
Growing up in the NYC area was instrumental in my pursuit of a creative career. I was born and raised in Queens, New York. From a young age, I learned the power and pride of a job well done as my parents instilled a very strong work ethic within me. This ethic taught me to work hard and persevere.
The New York City of my childhood and young adult years is very different from the NYC I know today. I can remember back in high school, my friends and I would take advantage of all the creativity and opportunity that NYC provided.
We used to explore all the eclectic clothing, art and record stores in the Village. We loved going to Tower Records, Unique Boutique and Trash and Vaudeville. We were a constant at the museums, going to the Paris theater for movies, and experiencing the club scene. I knew the creative dream career was out there and did not want to accept anything less. There was no mention of a career in production anywhere, so I was truly lucky to have that door eventually open.
How did you get into production and audio?
My connection to production and the audio world was Edna Paul. She was an amazing editor and a trailblazer for women in the industry. She recommended me for my first job at Photomag Sound Studio in New York City.
I started as a receptionist and ultimately became the Vice President. I met so many incredible clients and life long friends there. Edna knew Joel Cohen and we were able to have a small screening of one of his films at Photomag – one of the many epic memories of that time. Our clients were among the top agencies and editorial houses.
We worked accounts such as Burger King, Gillette, Amex, Staples and Little Caesar’s. Being inspired by the genius of Cliff Freeman, the copywriter most famous for “Where’s the Beef.”
I would schedule on paper books, log 24 tracks into our library and arrange fedex all at the same time. Pretty epic multitasking! I knew I found an industry that I wanted to stay and grow in. I loved the creativity, the people, the energy and the chaos.
Who were your mentors?
Beverly Dichter Jacobs was a very important mentor to me. She hired me at Photomag and taught me so much about production and understanding the industry. She promoted me from receptionist to scheduler and provided me with the opportunity to learn. It was not always easy being a woman in the industry and she was such a great teacher. She was my introduction to the family aspect of the industry and the importance of trust and respect.
Another important mentor team was Mark Polycon and Arthur Williams. They were co-owners of Photomag and the Tape House. I admired their teamwork and respected their rise from editors to owners. Mark and Arthur led in all aspects of editorial, color and audio. They were fearless with advancing technology and were forward-thinking with all their companies.
While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
It is hard to really pin down one achievement. I think having a 20-year-plus career in this industry has been pretty magnificent and truly humbling. But I think navigating the pandemic was very insightful. I am so proud of the Sonic Union team and how we powered through. We overcame the challenges of the moment thanks to the creativity, resiliency and close-knit nature of the team.
What drives you to create?
I love the idea of not knowing what my next project will bring, since every single project, spot, video, podcast, and sound design will bring new aspects of creativity and challenges. I thrive on the excitement that there is always something new and never boring. One day I could be working on an ASMR project and the next a new Podcast series.
What shows are doing the best job of portraying strong women on TV?
I have always enjoyed Law + Order, and the character of Detective Olivia Benson. She heads the Special Victims Unit for the NY Police and is superb at her job. Showing empathy for all the victims and leaves no details undone.
Best line: “You think I’m a bitch, don’t you? You’re not the first.”
Game of Thrones – Daenerys Targaryen – the world is ruled by men and she pushes to lead and conquer the cities. Plus she has some very cool dragons that she rides into battle.
Best line “The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands.”
Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman you would like to attend each function with.
For coffee, I would like to sit with Princess Diana. I think that would be a fascinating conversation. She is the pillar of strength and courage. She was passionate with all her charity work and activism. And maybe she would spill the tea on the Royal family.
For Happy Hour, I would love to drink with Cleopatra. I am fascinated with Egyptian culture and her story. She had such a mix of glamor and power. I would be curious about what cocktail she would choose. I would also love to know about her political mindset and sentiments on her husbands and death. Most importantly, I want to know if she really killed herself.
Lunch: I would like to have a bite with Betty White. Her lasting grace and ability to stay on track.
What is the biggest challenge to women in your industry?
I feel very strongly that women need to empower each other. I think we need to make sure to help the next generation realize what is possible. At Sonic Union, I work with the most fierce group of women engineers. When I worked at Photomag Sound there was one woman engineer and sexism was real at that time. Some clients would tell me, “ I don’t want to work with a woman.” Of course, that was very challenging to deal with. To witness such growth and progress with women engineers in the audio world makes me very happy.
How has having the superpower helped you?
I would not necessarily say being a woman is a superpower. If anything, it has helped me maintain an awareness. It reminds me to step outside of myself and think about another’s perspective. When I think about someone’s outlook, I realize that I am in a great position to help. The quality I love about this industry is how people are promoted and nurtured from within. I intend to keep this tradition alive.
If being a woman is your superpower, what is your kryptonite?
My kryptonite is definitely fear of heights. Hate them. I will never go zip lining or visit that new observation deck in NYC, called “Edge”. Just looking at that glass floor makes me unnerved.
When you’re not creating, what do you do in your off time?
Since production can be very demanding, I think everyone needs to have some downtime to prevent and avoid burnout. During the pandemic, I discovered my love for bike riding again. Biking around the neighborhood has been a blast despite my fear of crashing into an open car door. I also make time for the gym and yoga classes.
Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years?
I am looking forward to a bright and productive future. I am blessed to have a wonderful career. I see my future as an expansion. I will continue to learn new methods and technology for work while also expanding.