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Audio Arts Major Emma Butterworth Finds Her True Calling

Sessions @33 is a brand-new series featuring Columbia College Chicago music artists performing a 4-song set in an intimate performance space at WCRXFM, Columbia’s very own radio station. In addition to the artists getting exposure, students from various departments are gaining real-world experience by filming, recording, and collaborating on each session. Every Monday for the next 15 weeks, the series, sponsored by the Career Center and Communication Department, will feature a new artist. This week we kick things off with Emma Butterworth. Please support these fantastic up-n-coming artists, as well as the collaborative efforts of the students involved behind the scenes, by watching Emma's session on YouTube, as well as listening to the podcast version on either Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher. Emma is also featured below in my Profilin' blog entry this week.

Columbia College Chicago junior Audio Arts major Emma Butterworth has found success in both the audio and music industries by plying her craft through challenging courses, an internship at one of the premier studios in Chicago, and never turning down opportunities to perform as a burgeoning singer/songwriter.

Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, and attending Roosevelt High School, Emma was indoctrinated into the music world at an early age. Her dad is a professional musician and has been playing in his own band, The Nadas, for many years. In fact, The Nadas have been very successful throughout the years including opening slots for Bon Jovi, The Beach Boys, and Huey Lewis to name a few. Familial support along with her dad as a role model gave Emma the confidence and tools to begin her career. According to Emma, “I grew up watching my dad navigate the music industry and play gigs, so it was pretty natural that I would become a musician myself.”

As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. As a precursor to her future audio endeavors, Emma spent many years honing her style and developing her set list. This led her to secure her first gig in 2019, which became a pivotal key to the realization that playing music was definitely one of her callings. "My first opening show that I was booked at was at a small bar and venue in Des Moines called The Gas Lamp. I don't remember who I was opening for, but I do remember that most of the small audience there was my family. I was so incredibly nervous to be performing, but I really loved it. I think the biggest thing that I took from that experience was how much I loved performing professionally, and how much more work I was excited to put into my career.”

After recording her first EP, Wild Life, in her parents’ basement in 2020, a newfound passion emerged, audio recording. “This really sparked my love for recording and audio, and I decided that's what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I had a lot to learn so I wanted to go to a college that offered a degree in audio engineering, which led me to finding out about Columbia. Everything about it excited me, and the thought of moving to Chicago sounded amazing. Then I went and toured the school and really fell in love with both Columbia and Chicago. The rest was history after that.”

Her audio courses at Columbia have run the gamut from Multitrack Music Recording I to Live Sound Recording. Through it all, Emma has been a sponge, absorbing as much as she can from her professional instructors working in the industry. “I have learned so much that I'm not even the same engineer as I was when I started. I would say that one of the biggest takeaways from my courses is how audio can be its own art. I never really paid that close attention to how songs were recorded until I entered the industry, and I've come to see recording as an art in itself. How the engineer decides which mics to use, how to place them, what gear to use, how to mix it, really shapes how a song sounds and can be so different for every engineer. It's a really unique and cool thing to see.”

Her extraordinary work ethic inside and outside of the classroom led her to secure an internship at Rax Trax Recording. This experience, which is still ongoing, has cemented her career goals. “My internship at Rax Trax has really fueled my passion for audio more than ever before. I knew that I eventually wanted to work in and own my own studio, and it's been absolutely wonderful to see how Rax Trax is run, and to work with all of the engineers there. Every part of your internship has the ability to teach you something valuable. It just really inspires me to keep working, learning, and recording so that I can grow as an engineer and achieve my goals.”

Though some might have difficulty being able to combine two true loves, Emma had this advice. “I'm fortunate enough that my passions intersect. I would really have a hard time being passionate about one without the other. I think that if you have two passions, you should try and make them intersect as much as possible. It makes your work in both fields so much more interesting and fulfilling.”

With musical influences as far ranging as Brandi Carlile, The Head and the Heart, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, and First Aid Kit, Emma will have a busy year ahead. “I'm currently finishing up an album that is to be released soon, and I'm super excited for it to come out. I'm also getting a band together to play shows for this upcoming school year. I'm also working with a lot of my lovely, talented friends, to find time to record their projects. There are very exciting things to come.”

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