For Brooke Wyatt ’23, the piano lessons she started in first grade set the groundwork for a life filled with music and performance. While growing up, she spent time at a performing arts school in her hometown of Houston where she focused on jazz piano, and she also participated in a Houston program called The Summer Jazz Workshop, which centers on music fundamentals for young musicians.
Fast forward years later to the pandemic, and Wyatt was studying music performance at Columbia College Chicago. After the campus closed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, she returned to Houston and transitioned to online learning.
“They did a great job of still making music performance engaging, but I obviously wasn’t getting to perform,” explains Wyatt. “I still feel like I gained from the experience, though, because it helped me develop an interest in audio engineering. We utilized software to create mixes and a final product of something musical from a computer based on what we recorded to it. I hadn’t been exposed to that side of music yet, and I realized how much I enjoyed it.”
On her own, she experimented with the software and developed her passion for mixing and behind-the-scenes work. She also started writing her own music, paying closer attention to how things sound—especially when recording.
She says the sound and audio classes at Columbia inspired her to search for a graduate program where she could learn even more about mixing and post-production. In her search, she uncovered Northwestern’s MA in Sound Arts and Industries program.
“I’ll always want to perform and play, but I want to make sure I’m well rounded and can bring more to the table, too. I don’t want to be put in a box,” she explains. “I want to be able to write and record songs, take recorded songs and mix them to a final product, and maybe even get into mastering.”
She says the hands-on work she’s getting in her classes will pay off in the real world. For example, in her Intro to Sound Production course, she recently had the opportunity to act as the lead audio engineer for a group of rappers from a local Chicago studio.
“We got to run the session without much assistance from our teacher. I wasn’t expecting it when I walked into class that day, but it’s what you’d have to do in any studio scenario,” she explains. “It showed me that I can rise to the occasion and helped me learn more about how I handle work that I don’t fully understand in the beginning. It was a little jolting at first, but we settled in and got through it. It was a great project.”
She calls herself a “behind-the-scenes” person—and says that’s part of the reason the MA in Sound Arts and Industries program has been such a great fit. Discovering more about sound work and audio engineering—a behind-the-scenes game—aligns well with how she sees herself within the world of music and performance.
“No one ever talks about who mixed a hit song,” she points out. “They just listen to the artist. I have no problem being that unknown name. I’d love to be a mixing engineer not only for myself and my own music, but also for other people or at a studio. I want my work to help or bless someone else. It’s all about giving back and helping, whether that’s through teaching or working. I want to impact people without needing to be at the forefront of it all, just doing what I love.”