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Fall Event Recap: From Oscar-Winning Design to Sound Logos

Northwestern’s MA in Sound Arts and Industries program sponsored more than 10 events during the fall quarter, from career development workshops to guest lectures on industry trends.

What stood out to students in the program? Events that gave them the opportunity to connect what they’re studying in the classroom to what’s happening in the industry and how to apply it.

“I think the programs that are lined up for our studies absolutely coincide with what people are learning about,” said Adam Mizner, one of 12 students in this year’s inaugural program.

The Rise of Podcasting

For Mizner, one of the semester’s standout events was The Future of Podcasts and Digital Media, part of the program’s Speaker Series featuring alumnus and former CEO of Midroll Media, Adam Sachs. Midroll Media produces popular podcasts including “Comedy Bang Bang.” The Future of Podcasts and Digital Media event on October 6, co-sponsored with the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, peaked Mizner’s interest in the emerging podcasting industry, an area he had not considered before beginning the MA in Sound Arts and Industries.

“I pursued the program because I have sound for film experience,” Mizner said. “I had no interest in learning about podcasting or radio. I was under the impression that radio is dying when actually it’s the complete opposite; everyone’s making a podcast.”

A podcasting course Mizner took during the fall semester, paired with Sachs’ insights during the event, opened his eyes to the industry and its career potential. Having the opportunity to see and hear from Sachs, someone who didn’t set out to produce podcasts for a living, was proof of professional possibilities Mizner hadn’t previously considered.

“Being there in person was a big indicator that the industry is blossoming,” Mizner said. “I thought I was only going to care about sound for film, but taking these different courses and hearing these different speakers makes me think I could go into other things.”

Branding Through Sound

Master’s student Russell Gillespie also enjoyed The Future of Podcasting and Digital Media event, but his favorite event was the sonic branding workshop on October 27 with Steve Milton. This experiential workshop brought together students from the Designing Product Interaction course in the MS in Engineering Design Innovation with the Sound Arts and Industries program.

One of the founding partners of Listen, an agency that works with brands to develop sound and music strategies, Milton gave students a crash course on how brands can grow through creative application of sounds, citing Microsoft and Tinder as examples. He then divided the students into small groups to have them create their own sound logos.

“It was one of the more interactive visits we had,” Gillespie said. “The fact that we all had to present something was a highlight.”

Like Mizner, Gillespie said it was the workshop’s real-world application that made it so valuable.

“In the research area, it’s easy to get bogged down with reading and analytics,” Gillespie said. “I think it’s harder sometimes to see how to put that stuff into practice.”

Academy-Award-Winning Sound

One event was a major highlight for students: sound designer and director Gary Rydtstrom’s two-part visit to the school in early October.

Nominated for 18 Academy Awards and the winner of seven, Rydstrom is considered a giant in the sound industry. His work includes films like Jurassic Park, Titanic and Minority Report. After a presentation for the program’s Speaker Series, students had the chance to meet with Rydstrom in a more casual setting during a lunch the following day.

“It was a big thing to be able to talk to Gary Rydstrom,” said Mizner. “[He’s] the reason I do this for a living.”

Rydstrom’s presentation focused on storytelling with sound in movies and explored how films use sound to create emotion. Rydstrom pointed to examples of his own work in Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 and even revealed secrets on how various sounds in those movies were created. 

“Gary had good examples of sound design and showed clips,” Mizner said. “Like how that dinosaur is actually 15 animals layered on top of each other. He broke it down by each sound that creates a dinosaur noise.”

Both Mizner and Gillespie said the fall event lineup helped close the gap between the classroom and the real world.

Meeting professionals practicing the art form students are studying in the classroom opened Gillespie’s mind to other fields of sound design he hadn’t previously considered.

“Having someone bring these speakers in makes you think about industries you may not have thought of before,” he said.

Northwestern has exciting events lined up for the winter quarter, including a visit from Third Coast Executive Director Johanna Zorn and multiple career and professional development workshops.