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Iconic Music Documentary Cinches Raina Villareal's Career Track

From internships, involvement in a student organization, and time spent as a student worker in the Audio Department, Columbia College Chicago senior Audio Arts and Acoustics major Raina Villareal has crafted well-rounded experiences that have prepared her for a flourishing career in audio.

Growing up in Bridgeport, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, Raina’s education in music began due to two key factors in her life, her grandfather and father. “When I was young, I was always surrounded by music. My grandfather was a musician and songwriter who was in a mariachi band which he created with his group of friends. My dad was a big music lover and had a lot of knowledge about well-known rock bands like Queen and The Beatles. So both my father and grandfather influenced my love for music and creativity.”

While attending De La Salle Institute, a college prep high school located in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side, she became increasingly interested in audio and music, and also was inspired by a documentary she watched with her father. “I always knew that I wanted to do something with music for my career, but I did not know what. I have learned the basics to guitar, trumpet, and flute as well as performing in the choir but more recently I have been applying the music theory I have learned to piano and composition. But it wasn’t until I watched Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s documentary, The Defiant Ones, with my dad, that I knew I wanted to be producing audio.”

When it came time to deciding on a college, Raina investigated schools that offered a program that could fit her needs. Additionally, her support system helped in pointing out Columbia’s stellar program. According to Raina, “When family and friends heard about my passion for music, they recommended Columbia College Chicago, telling me it’s an amazing school for music production. I did my research and I automatically fell in love with the school even though it was not in LA, but it had the resources, the people, and the courses to improve my skills.”

As a female in the audio industry, Raina made it a point to get involved with a student organization on-campus that is helping to make inroads in the industry for aspiring female audio professionals. That student organization, Women in Audio, has hosted events and workshops, and has had members participate on projects that serve to enhance experiences and bonding outside of class. For Raina, the impetus to get involved was a no-brainer. “So, you know those statistics where it goes 'one in five people are blah blah blah?’ For my very first audio class, one in 15 people were women. I was that one in 15 in my class, and it felt intimating. I felt like I had this very big spotlight over my head every time I entered a room. It wasn’t until one of the student Teacher Assistants in my class invited me to Women in Audio to get involved and meet successful women like faculty members Visda Goudarzi and Jesse Seay, as well as many of my classmates who inspired me to continue my career choice.”

As Raina’s skills started to expand, she took it upon herself to apply for a student worker position in the Audio Department, which gave her the opportunity to further connect her to industry, while helping students, faculty, and staff. “My skills that were enhanced during my time as a student worker in the Audio Department were troubleshooting and networking. During the time I was working at the school, I had a restaurant job which I’ve been working at for three years, so I already knew the basics like ‘customer service.’ Some advice I have for students is that it’s a worthwhile experience to work as a student worker. With on-campus employment, especially if you are looking for a job in your department, you’ll see teachers who you had from previous courses, and they’ll remember you and notice your dedication and passion for your career. They can most definitely help you get internships or actual jobs.”

Regarding internships, Raina’s first experience in the summer of 2020 was different than she originally imagined due to the pandemic. Working with Columbia alums at Zoetic Management, she was welcomed with open arms into an environment that gave her experience, while utilizing her skills. “I learned during my time at Zoetic the different styles and techniques of recording and mixing, as well as listening for the technical details like EQ and compression, to improve my mix for others since I had to provide feedback to young producers and engineers who were clients. That summer, I kept my eyes on the prize. I invested in myself by buying equipment and making my own home studio in the basement of my parents’ house as well as taking the internship with Zoetic to keep me active in my career.”

This summer she returned to interning by securing a coveted spot with Gravity Studios in Chicago. Working under the tutelage of several engineers, she describes the environment as, “super-chill but still business. The place is very homey and comfortable. The people there are very nice and are willing to help improve one’s skills as a young engineer. Some of my duties are to assist engineers before, during, and after the recording session, as well as learning more about the different techniques and styles of recording and mixing.”

With the fall semester being her final one, Raina will be traveling to Los Angeles to take part in Columbia’s Semester in LA program (SILA), an endeavor that she is eagerly awaiting. “I am extremely excited. It has been a dream of mine to live in LA ever since I was interested in music. I cannot wait for the opportunities that await me there. This falls in line with my future goals, as I plan on looking for a job in Los Angeles and eventually moving out there.”

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