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Top 10 Chicago Sound Destinations

Chicago is a great city for sound. With numerous concert halls, recording studios, radio stations and other storied spaces near Northwestern’s campus, Sound Arts and Industries students have access to incredible opportunities.

Great Live Music

#1 Double Door

The Rolling Stones. Rise Against. Sonic Youth. These are just a few of the bands that have graced the stage at Double Door, the live music venue at the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Featuring a main room, a hayloft-style balcony and a downstairs bar that hosts comedy nights, DJs and acoustic shows, Double Door is one of the premier places to catch a live show in Chicago.

Showcasing some of the best rock, metal, punk, hip-hop and funk artists, Double Door has hosted up-and-coming acts and bonafide superstars alike and has even helped launch some of those up-and-comers to superstardom.

Studio Time

#2 Experimental Sound Studio

Five miles from campus, the Experimental Sound Studio’s Edgewater facility boasts a full-service recording, mixing and mastering studio for hire. Founded in 1986, the ESS is more than a sound space – it’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to community development.

Students in the SAI program can attend workshops and installations by sound artists at the ESS, or rent studio time to use the studio’s state-of-the-art facilities.

#3 Periscope

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios sits on the west side of downtown Chicago. Here you’ll find Periscope, Chicago’s one-stop shop for post-production in film and TV. With six studios and live recording spaces, Periscope offers a variety of sound services, from mixing and mastering to music recording and sound design. Periscope’s clients include Showtime, Universal, CNN and WB.

#4 Electrical Audio

Northwestern University grad, legendary musician and sound engineer, Steve Albini, has worked with many artists, including Nirvana and The Pixies. Electrical Audio is Albini’s recording complex, complete with two studios featuring adobe walls, musical instruments, an isolation room, amplifiers and cabinets. The studio is available for tours and open to all freelance artists for booking.

Radio’s Past and Present

#5 WBEZ Chicago

One of the country’s most well-known public radio stations, WBEZ Chicago, went on the air in 1943, broadcasting instructional programming for Chicago’s Public Schools. Today, the station (located at Navy Pier) and its parent company are known as Chicago Public Media. Many people are familiar with WBEZ thanks to notable national programs like “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition” or “A Prairie Home Companion” and from WBEZ-produced podcasts like “This American Life” and “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!

#6 Studs Terkel Archive

Louis “Studs” Terkel was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian, actor, broadcaster and Chicagoan. His work, including recordings of his radio show and his engaging and historically significant oral histories of ordinary Americans, were largely inaccessible, until now.

The WFMT Radio Network, in conjunction with the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History Museum and other partners, is creating an online Studs Terkel Radio Archive. The Archive will feature Terkel’s interviews with jazz, blues and folk musicians, novelists, scientists, activists and more, all originally guests on Terkel’s daily radio show, which ran from 1952 to 1997 on WFMT.

The Sound of Theatre

#7 Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Before they were household Hollywood names, Jeff Perry, Terry Kinney and Gary Sinise were just college friends. In the mid-1970s, they started performing in the basement of a Highland Park church, and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company was born.

Forty years later, the company has become the nation’s premier ensemble theater and includes 47 members representing actors, directors and playwrights. Operating as a non-profit, Steppenwolf relies on community support to bring plays, performances, readings and other events to the stage every year.

#8 The Second City Theater

Pay a visit to the famed Second City Theater Chicago, and you’ll hear sounds of a different kind: laughter. Part theater, part training center and part comedy club, The Second City is the most famous comedy site in the world. It’s helped produce comedy giants like John Belushi, Jane Lynch, Joan Rivers and Steve Carrell. If you don’t manage to score tickets to a Chicago show, the theater’s touring troupes perform around the country, bringing laughs to cities across America.

#9 Looking Glass Theater

Founded by Northwestern graduates, Lookingglass Theatre Company creates and presents new and cutting-edge theater and provides theater education through its community and educational programming. Lookingglass aims to redefine the theater experience, using multi-disciplined art training including dance, music and even circus arts, to make the theatrical experience fun, inspirational and accessible to all.

Expand Your Horizons

#10 Old Town School of Folk Music

Dedicated to providing music, dance, theater and visual arts to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, the Old Town School of Folk Music first opened its doors in 1957 in a space on North Avenue. In its early years, Old Town hosted artists like Pete Seeger, Mahalia Jackson, Jimmy Driftwood and Josh White.

Now operating out of three facilities in Lincoln Park and Lincoln Square, Old Town has two concert halls, 64 classrooms, two music stores, a café and a resource center. The school leads more than 700 classes, private lessons and workshops across a variety of genres and sponsors special events like World Music Wednesdays and the Square Roots Festival.

While the school has grown over the last five decades, it’s still loyal to Old Town’s original mission: to teach and present music that reflects the cultural traditions of Chicago’s diverse communities.

While you’re in town exploring Chicago’s sound scene, don’t forget to drop by Northwestern’s campus for a visit.