Student spotlight: Sam Burt

From piano to producer, an experimentalist at heart

Photo courtesy of Sam Burt
Student artist features experimental and cinematic sounds.

Sam Burt was welcomed into the world of music like many six-year-olds—sat before a piano, sheet music, and an unyielding instructor. And like many children forced into practicing anything, they did not enjoy it. By the age of 12, Sam was finally able to quit. But, unlike so many other children—finally allowed out of the grueling practice structure—it was in dropping lessons that first piqued Sam’s musical creativity. 

“The piano became this object in the house again, not this ominous, threatening symbol of work I was supposed to be getting done,” they said. “Once the piano was just itself again, I started experimenting with it.” 

The freedom from a lack of weekly sanctioned practice gave way to improvisation and experimentation. “It’s so funny that quitting piano lessons was what let me fall in love with the piano.” Yet while that love was budding, for some time, music stayed on the backburner as they focused on drawing and visual arts. 

“There was a fate changing road trip I took with my dad,” Sam recalled. Around the age of 13, Sam’s dad introduced them to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. They fell silent for the entire length of the car ride. From the start, the idea of this cinematic, experimental album caught Sam’s artistic attention and didn’t let go.  

“The minute it ended, I just looked at my dad and said, can we listen to that again?”  And there started an obsession with the band that elevated music from a hobby to something far more potent. For their 17th birthday, Sam’s father got them Ableton Intro—a software for everything from sound-making to recording, mixing, and mastering—accompanied by an Ableton Push—a digital instrument to create virtually anything. “That was the day where it became a full-blown obsession. I was no longer doing it as a hobby.” 

Sam also recalled a pivotal moment in their last year of high school, having recently moved to Denver from Gunnison. While listening to Kevin Gates during  what they referred to as a “self-induced meditative state of mind,” they took apart the songwriting and production intricacies. A clear epiphany washed over Sam, and they immediately put it in their journal. To this day, they still remember what they wrote:  

“For the first time in my life, I’ve found something I want to meticulously disassemble and study… Make music.”  

From here, the artistic trajectory felt clear. It was only a matter of facilitating and navigating those first steps. After a family connection, who introduced them to the artist Lucid Vision, recommended the Music Business program at CU Denver, the next step grew clear.  

Four years later, Sam is set to graduate this spring with a degree in Music Business. As they reflected on their time at CU, they described the experience as a roadmap. “I came into college pretty confident in my creativity… what I did not feel confident in entering the music industry was wandering into the deep dark woods of it with no map.” The program shaped into “a map to the forest in which I can use the skills I already have.” It has offered a real competitive edge within the many creatives attempting to navigate the environment. 

“I couldn’t have built the curriculum to self-educate a Music Business Degree,” they said—feeling well prepared to march forward. Sam describes their sound as “experimental, psychedelic, electronic pop,” they said, “and that’s really as boiled down as I’ve gotten it—sometimes the word cinematic finds its way in there.” 

Of course, genre has become an increasingly ineffective tool in describing music. “The genre is really borderless, just like my gender—it doesn’t fit in a box.” The process functions the same way. Taking inspiration from the sound they hear and sitting with ideas until they gestate into something, it’s all experimental, just as it was listening to The Wall, and just as it was when they sat before the newly unenforced piano of their childhood.   

“I really use creation as a means of release and therapy, and frequently in the best times, the product ends up as a little bonus,” they said. “Hopefully, it’s a bonus big enough to build an entire life on and feed myself with.”  

With the last year’s catastrophic effects on the music industry, even with a road map, the thoroughfare seems grim. Yet, Sam—while fully grieving the pandemic’s devastating impacts on the industry—remains creative and optimistic for the future. “[T]rying to look at it in a big picture way, within a year—god forbid two years—there’s gonna be shows again… There will be a time when the world is ready for what we were doing last year.” Not only will it come back, but Sam cited the new and creative ways that might happen. With drive-in concerts, VR, and even online shows hosted for virtual avatars, Sam feels there will always be innovative ways to bring music to people.  

Sam is a refreshingly optimistic creator—a much-needed force in the industry. “That I was ever able to compose a piece of music in the first place is all because of the technology that exists,” they said. “It’s uncharted territory, but it’s the only reason I’m doing this.”   

Music has never been so diverse—in the stylistic, sonic, and cultural collisions that can sound off in any given song. Sam is harnessing those collisions and seeing to it that the wave of music to follow this pandemic will be more lively than ever.  It all boils down to an artist whose will to make music is as strong as their will to live. “A lot of my best work comes from me needing to make it, not me needing it to be made.”  

This is a selection from the Feb. 17 issue. To view the full issue, visit:

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