Life After SAE Series: Philip Townsend

24 Oct 2017



Life After SAE Series: Philip Townsend

24 Oct 2017

Philip Townsend is a Higher Certificate in Sound production graduate with an amazing and unique story and certainly someone all students can admire.

Having studied and qualified from UCT, Philip had the courage and conviction to realise that he wished to pursue a creative career, as opposed to the more conventional path he’d originally chosen.

Once he’d settled on SAE Cape Town, he was inspired by our scholarship program and, being the self-starter that he is, Philip Townsend decided to launch his own scholarship initiative.

This is Philip’s story…

“This world needs more creative dreamers to solve the problems we face”

Philip Townsend

What prompted you to start the Swim for Change initiative?

After studying and qualifying as a Quantity Surveyor from UCT, I went to work in the Middle East in the Oil and Gas sector.

After a year I decided that it was not what I wanted to do with my life and that I needed a full time creative outlet.

This was when I enroled at SAE and came back to study sound engineering at their Cape Town campus. While at SAE I noticed the four scholarships that are offered each year and realized how lucky I had been to be able to change my vocation from an academic one to a creative one.

After some reflection I decided to use my love of extreme swimming to raise funds for someone less fortunate than myself to follow the dream that I was pursuing.

Some people have asked why the creative route in particular; I believe that there are enough people who are following either academic or practical careers in law, accounting, etc. and that the individuals who want to follow creative professions are side-lined as dreamers.

This world needs more creative dreamers to solve the problems we face, and I think that these bright minds need to have that creativity sparked inside of them in some way or another, hence the realization of the Swim for Change initiative.

Congratulations on successfully achieving your fundraising target for the first year. How did it feel when you realised you’d get there? 

The moment that I realized that the goal we had set at the outset was going to be reached, I thought back to the day that I told Anele that we were going to try to raise the money to get him through a year at SAE.

The surprise and the happiness that I saw in him that day was echoed in my own demeanour for at least a week! I was truly taken aback at the positive support for something that we believed in. Once we reached the goal, it was only a matter of deciding on the next goal to set!

Was there ever a time of uncertainty where you wondered if people would reach into their pockets and support the cause?

Most definitely! It is always difficult to ask people to support a cause that they haven’t heard of before, especially if said cause isn’t registered as a Non-Profit. I have been incredibly fortunate to have an empathetic network of friends who care about this beautiful country as much as I do and believe in its future through the education of the current and future generations.

Tell us a bit about the swim itself; how you prepared for it, what support you got on the day and was it easier or harder than anticipated?

The swim was epic! I really had so much fun preparing for it with the knowledge that there was the support of all the benefactors.

I was however, very nervous in the weeks before the date that we were aiming for as the swim is very dependent on conditions. You may think it’s going to happen the next day and then philipswimming3some crazy weather will come in in typical Cape Town fashion. We made the call to swim at 5.30am in the morning and by 8am we were already 1km in!

Something that not many people know is that for the swim to be an accredited the swimmer needs to comply with ‘channel rules’ which means a speedo, silicon cap and goggles are the only items that can be worn.

A support boat is allowed to carry a drink and snack for the crossing, however, the swimmer cannot touch the boat at all otherwise he or she will be disqualified.

On the day I had a good swimming friend of mine swimming with me and 2 people on the boat to throw me water and a banana during the one scheduled stop.

The swim was as hard as I had expected it to be, with the cold causing some serious fatigue near the end! Since then I have done another crossing which was easier though.

You must have had quite a focused training regime leading up the swim…

I did. My swimming regime involves training 4 – 5 times a week. 4 swims are shorter sessions where I focus on economising my stroke and the 5th session will be a distance swim to build up my overall endurance. In the months leading up to the day,

I tried to swim these in the tidal pool in Camps Bay to ensure that I acclimatized to the cold water conditions that I would face during the crossing (between 10 – 15c).

How did you choose the beneficiary to the inaugural campaign, Anele Noranya?

How I came upon Anele is by looking through the top applicants to the other scholarships. Anele had applied to 2 of the scholarships in consecutive years.

It was this perseverance as well as the deeply moving story he outlined in his application that led to me selecting him as the inaugural candidate.

I do feel blessed to have chosen him, as we have become friends over the past year having worked on 2 songs together and finding a lot of common ground in the conversations we have shared.

“I chose SAE because of its reputation for offering impactful courses that are taught in a practical, skills-based way.”


You are yourself an SAE Institute Cape Town graduate. Tell us a bit about your time with us.


a) Why’d you choose SAE

I chose SAE because of its reputation for offering impactful courses that are taught in a practical, skills-based way. I had had enough of textbooks with my previous degree! So that was definitely appealing to me.

b) What did you study and why?

I studied the Higher Certificate in Sound Engineering. I decided on this course as I had been a hobbyist electronic music producer (bedroom keyboard warrior) for many years before.

c) What your lasting impression of the institution is?

That they delivered on their promise of a practical education that is relevant in the fast paced, high-technology based world that we live in today.

I would encourage anyone with a creative passion to look seriously at the courses that they offer and speak to a few of the world-class lecturers that teach at SAE.

You’ve had support from both SAE and Bridges for Music for the Swim for Change initiative. Was this part of your original concept or did this happen after you pitched the idea?

I was lucky to connect with one of the lead people in both organizations at the very beginning of the initiative and he gave me a lot of advice that helped lay the ground work for the initiative to be successful.

Having both the institutions support the initiative was definitely not a part of the original plan, but it helped immeasurably. Going forward I would like to have an even closer relationship with both SAE and Bridges for Music to allow Anele and future candidates to benefit from the extensive network that they offer globally.


After graduating from SAE, how have you used what you learnt in your career?

SAE helped to augment the skills and training that I got from my previous degree in Quantity Surveying and apply these to the creative industry.

At the outset of the Higher Certificate I was at a loss as how to use this course to start my own business, which was the ultimate goal, and make it successful.

Some of the courses, while still keeping a creative thread, taught me the ins and outs of the music industry (and by extension; other creative professions). This provided the framework for me to apply my previous skills and start a successful business with my business partner in 2017.

What advice would you offer those thinking of studying creative curricula such as Audio, Film or Animation?

I would say; firstly, ensure that you have the drive and the passion to make a success of whatever you choose.

Skills can always be acquired while determination and perseverance cannot. Secondly, be professional in everything that you touch, be it your course work or the relationships you form throughout the degree.

You never know when you may need to draw on the knowledge you learnt from a project or ask for advice from a lecturer. Ensuring that you have professional resources to draw on is crucial to success in any industry, not only the creative ones.

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