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A Day in the Life of a Sound Student

The first time Patrick Hockberger remembers dreaming of being a musician, he was 11 years old.

“In sixth grade, I drew a picture of my sister and me playing music and being starving musicians,” he says laughing.

Now one of the twelve students in Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries program, Hockberger’s career path has deviated slightly from that of a starving musician. However, the Aurora, Illinois native hasn’t ruled out a career in the music industry completely.

“The biggest challenge for young people who are good at music is you think you don’t have that many options,” Hockberger says. “The only musician role models I really had were teachers … but the reality is, there’s a lot of money in music. You just have to figure out how to get into that.”

Hockberger credits the MA in Sound Arts and Industries program for exposing him to the professional possibilities in music and other sound industries.

“Undergrad was about developing skills and not about jobs and what to do,” says Hockberger, who graduated from Northwestern with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition in 2015. “Graduate school, to me, is 100 percent about jobs and learning industry-specific skills.”

Hockberger was enrolled in three courses last quarter – Introduction to Sound Science, Sound and Vision: Experimental and Radio Documentary. While most Sound Arts and Industries courses consist of fewer than 15 students, the Introduction to Sound Science class had 50, including students from various programs. After Hockberger’s morning Introduction to Sound Science section, it was on to Sound and Vision: Experimental, a much smaller class of just Sound Arts and Industries students, which lasted two to three hours.

“We would all show up really early and just hang out before class,” Hockberger says. This isn’t unusual for the tight-knit group of students who are the first to go through the school’s program.

“We’ve had at least one required class every quarter for our program, so we all learned each other’s names within two weeks,” Hockberger says. “We get lunch with each other … It didn’t take very long to have those encounters with everyone in the group.”

The bonds the cohort has developed outside of the classroom have proven beneficial inside the classroom as well. In the Sound and Vision: Experimental course, for example, students were tasked with watching film and television clips, designing their own sound for the visuals and presenting them to the class.

“People always had feedback for me,” Hockberger says. “They’d ask, ‘Did you think about this?’ and they would help me.”

Collaboration has also been important in Hockberger’s podcast courses, where students often worked in pairs or groups to produce a show.

Sound software programs like Pro Tools – which Hockberger describes as the Microsoft Word or Photoshop of sound editing – allow students to record or edit existing audio files. This program, paired with access to Northwestern’s state-of-the-art sound facilities, helps students like Hockberger work on sound projects outside of the classroom. When he’s not in class, you’ll most likely find Hockberger inside those facilities or at his own home studio.

“The software and tools are important,” he says. “It’s valuable to get time in front of that mixing board because if you go on to do this professionally, you’re going to be working with soundboards.”

As Hockberger thinks more seriously about what he plans to do professionally, is the starving artist he prophesized as a sixth-grader still an option? Well, not exactly.

“I’m applying to things right now in several different categories of careers,” Hockberger says, adding that the MA program piqued his interest in other areas of sound. “I am applying to things in the podcast realm, which I wasn’t expecting. But The New York Times has a new podcast division that started in the last year, and that would kind of be the dream job.”