Name: Emma Butt
Course: Audio & Music Technology 2 Year Diploma
Year of Graduation: 2007
With a passion for music technology, Pulse College Alumnus Emma Butt has gone from taking part in her secondary school choir (and baking “terrible cakes” – her words, not ours) to working as a professional Sound Editor on animations and drama series for the BBC and RTÉ. After completing her studies in Pulse, gaining work experience in Radio City and starting out as a runner in Screen Scene, she now enjoys the luxury of working on her own projects.
We caught up with her recently to find out how she managed to avoid a career in baked goods and get into the altogether tastier sound industry.
Q1. So Emma, where did your love of music come from?
One of my first teachers in school was really enthusiastic about music – she made everyone try out for the school choir and I started to learn more about music as a result. We weren’t just taught gospel songs either, but also what was current at the time, which was great.
Q2. You were interested in Music Technology from an early age, creating a charity CD as part of a transition year project. How did this come about?
Every year our school choir tried to raise money for different charities and every year they had a bake sale. I think all the school staff got fed up eating our terrible cakes so our music teacher suggested we record a CD instead. She knew someone who worked as a sound engineer and they offered to record us for free so it worked out perfectly!
Q3. Your CD further fuelled your passion, which led you to study in Pulse. What made you decide to pursue a career in audio?
I always knew I wanted to work in music but I didn’t want to be a musician and I’m way too disorganised to work in event management, so when I began to learn about sound engineering after recording the CD it seemed like a good fit – still being involved with music but not having to play an instrument!
Q4. What made you want to go into live sound initially?
I liked that every day in live sound was never going to be the same, especially if you were working in a venue – different bands playing different styles, and always something new to learn. I remember one occasion where a band of about 8 people tried to fit on the stage – everything from trumpet players to a violinist to drummers – and seeing how the engineer mixed everything together so you could still hear everyone clearly was really interesting.
Q5. You went on to work in Screen Scene post. Tell us about your experiences there?
I started working in Screen Scene near the end of my second year in Pulse and ended up finishing the course part time while working there. I started out as a runner, making tea and coffee, going on errands for all the staff – anything that needed to be done. It was really tough and horrible work, but any spare time that I had I sat with one of the engineers to learn as much as I could. Occasionally they would give me small jobs to practice on in my own time and allowed me to use the studio out of hours. Eventually, after about five months, I was promoted to receptionist/audio bookings which let me get to know the clients and gain more of a sense of how things worked. That job was probably as tough as being a runner but it taught me great people skills. After a few more months I started in audio as an audio assistant, first for the commercials department and then for commercials and broadcast. Then, after about two years of assisting I started working on projects.
Q6. How did you manage the transition to working on your own projects?
I just had to work hard. I sat in with the engineers as much as I could and practiced mixing and editing outside of my work hours. I think the bosses saw how determined I was to work in audio and decided to give me a chance.
Q7. To date you have worked on the highly acclaimed series “Raw”, “When Harvey met Bob”, and animations called “Mad Cow” and “Punky”. What has been the highlight?
Probably “Punky”. I did everything on the job from script prep, to recording the voices, to sound editing and mixing on both the English and Irish language versions of the show. The more tea you make for an engineer, the more willing they are to teach you!
Q8. What was the most challenging element?
Probably the sound editing. Although it’s a kids’ animation the client wanted to keep the sound effects as realistic as possible. Trying to find the perfect balance between real sound effects and animation sound effects to make it fun for kids was tough, as your first instinct with an animation is to just put in cartoon sound effects. It took a few episodes for me to really get a good idea of what worked for the client and what didn’t.
Q9. What element of the Pulse course did you find most beneficial in the real world?
Definitely knowing Pro Tools. All the audio suites in Screen Scene have Pro Tools along with Digidesign desks. There’s no way I could have gotten that job without having some Pro Tools knowledge. Learning the Pro Tools keyboard shortcuts has been a huge advantage too. When I’m working to a really tight schedule, knowing the quickest way to set up a session or edit sound effects can save so much time.
Q10. What advice would you give to our Students who are about to embark on their career?
Never think you’re too good to fetch the drinks! Most people have to start out as a runner or an assistant and will have to make a lot of tea and coffee during that time. The more tea you make for an engineer, the more willing they are to teach you!
Q11. What’s next for you?
I never really know with my job! Hopefully more animation work, and I’d like to get more mixing experience. Eventually I’d love to mix feature films and dramas but that’s a long long way off!
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