Going to School For Music Production and Audio Engineering – Is It Worth it?

Going to School For Music Production and Audio Engineering

Is it Worth Going to School For Music Production or Audio Engineering?

First Thoughts on Attending Music and Recording Arts Schools

A picture of a book that says "Audio 101" with music production and audio engineering.

Music Production Schools – Are they worth attending? Almost every profession has some form of education that’s supposed to help pave your road to success. Music production and audio engineering is no different. Some of the things we hope to gain from an education include meeting people going into the same field, meeting people and gaining connections already in your field, job opportunities and placement, to get an edge on your competition, and of course the knowledge provided in the courses. All of these things also apply to audio/music fields, and can be invaluable to your success.

One of the unique things about music production, audio engineering, and other audio related fields is that it’s often something that starts as a hobby, and people decide they want to take it to a professional level later on in their life. I’m not saying no one comes straight out of high school and enrolls in a music or arts school, but there’s a good percentage of musicians, audio engineers, and would be producers that have been out of school for quite a while, and aren’t quite sure if they’re ready to go back.

Contemplating Online Courses

Setting the financial burdens of a formal education aside, one of the greatest obstacles with going back to (or continuing) school is the time involved. Whether you’ve already built a life for yourself, or you’re just starting to get things together, there are numerous reasons why you might have trouble allotting enough time to take courses at a college or school of recording arts. The upside of this particular problem is the recent integration of online courses. You don’t necessarily have to physically attend a school to gain the knowledge they provide, which can make the burden a little easier.

Unfortunately there are some negative factors in taking online courses. For one you aren’t going to get the full experience of attending a college, although this might be perfect for some of you. Another issue with online classes is that you won’t be interacting with other students and some of the most important learning experiences occur from discussions inside of a classroom. You also won’t be able to get access to some of the great facilities and equipment that’s provided students on many college campuses. Nothing beats hands on experience, and for the price you pay to take music and audio related courses, you might not be getting your moneys worth without having access to these privileged.

Discounted Music Equipment and Audio Gear

There are very few, if any, fields related to music that don’t require some type of equipment or gear. A huge benefit of being a student is the “student discount”. There’re numerous ways to get gear cheaper when you’re a student. Not only do specific companies that make music equipment and audio plugins provide student discount programs off and on, but many retailers also provide educational discounts, although sometimes this only applies to “bulk” quantities, which won’t help an individual very much. A lot of institutes that offer music and audio courses will help you with finding equipment for cheaper and provide lists of places that offer educational discounts, especially when the courses require the equipment.

Other People’s Takes on Taking Courses in Audio Related Fields:

I figured one of the best ways to assist you when contemplating taking courses in music production or audio engineering would be  other peoples opinions, both people that have attended an institute and people considering it.

Here’s the questions I asked:
“Do you feel that attending an audio engineering school is a requirement in this field? Can one achieve success in audio or mix engineering without having a formal education background? Is the price tag attached to “recording arts” courses justified? Curious to hear what everything thinks. Also if you don’t mind i’d like to use some of the replies in an article I’m writing.”

The Responses:

Chad Campsey – Mar 8, 2013
I would have to say absolutely…no! It’s music, or, as the late Jimi Hendrix said…”It’s all about sound”. I didn’t go to school to play drums, guitar, bass, keys, sing…but I can still do it? I may not be an international success, but I know I don’t suck. Some of the best things I’ve heard, are not on the radio. Today, with all of the information you can get through the internet, social media, etc. There is no need for the ” formal education”. Just like playing an instrument…”mixing or mastering” is a hands on deal, that’s how you learn it. All of the “book” stuff is at your fingertips. That’s my take on the subject…and feel free to use it.

Great topic! I pondered this question quite a bit, when I first started on this end of music.?

Christopher Smith – Mar 9, 2013
its not a requirement. And people can make it without going to school. However I went to college and graduated with honors with a BA in audio from Art Institute of Tennessee Nashville. I’ve been engineering for years but I decided I wanted a degree, and could not see myself going to school for anything else when I know it was audio I wanted to do. The first two years was mostly things I already knew. The second two years I learned things I didn’t know. Sound design, audio for video games, audio for TV film. I learned basic business stuff that has helped me as a freelance engineer. Plus the connections I made I have no regrets of going to school. Plus for 4 years I was able to get great student discounts (usually 50% off) on everything from gear to studio time.

Should you go to school or not depends on if you want teach yourself or have someone else teach you. Is the cost of school justified? Depends on your treat your time at school and what you do with the knowledge. While other skipped class or failed I was in the studio as much as I could. One of my teachers pulled me aside and asked if I worked part time. I said no, full time. He said Damn! I was like what? He said there are people here who don’t have a job and their failing, your working full time, freelancing for clients, and your getting all A’s. Its all about how hard you work and taking advantage of your opportunities . ?

Cole Rayne – Mar 8, 2013
I’m just going to school so I can call myself an engineer. I need the title! JK, nah its the money. Hey, what better way to invest in yourself than with a technical vocational program, degree and certification? I know! The equipment! (Required course materials). It’s not for everyone. I was considering going to a school for Internet Security and Computer Science IT degree. So glad I made the choice I made and that’s all I’m gonna say on that!!!!?

Mark Hall – Mar 9, 2013
I think Christopher Smith has it nailed. I got my degree in music production, but I don’t think it’s a necessity. Clients are interested in your portfolio of work, not if you have a academic certificate. The best thing about my degree with be having the time to dedicate to my craft and broadening my musical horizons. It’s only as good as what you make of it.?

Craig D. Williams – Mar 9, 2013
I studied at SAE… Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely! Did I do it for the qualification or title? No.
I had been working as an engineer for some time, completely self taught, but really had no understanding of how things worked, or why. (Having said that, this was in the mid 90′s before the Internet was useful.)
I think it’s well worth learning the ”theory” side of things somehow. It helps you work quicker and more efficiently when you understand the whole theory side of things. I had no problem with practical experience at the time, but it was well worth it to fill in the gaps.
I’ve also learnt a lot sitting under other more experienced engineers. Every time I watch somebody work, or even just hang with a buddy, I’ll try and see what they’re doing different to me and how can I incorporate that into how I work.
Presently, with Pensado’s Place, Bobby Owsinski ‘s books and blogs, not to mention Gearslutz and forums like this, it’s a completely different story! I think I’ve learnt more in the last 3 or 4 years than the ten that preceded!

Christopher Smith – Mar 9, 2013
Craig D. Williams, like you I wanted to learn how things worked and why. Like pan. I may not of known what pan is for example, I just know if I turn this knob to the left the music comes out the left speaker. I learned a lot turning knobs and pushing buttons to see what happens. Its funny learning techniques in school and I’m like oh I’ve been doing that for years. That’s What’s that called? Lol ?

David Delbridge – March 11, 2013
I recently attended Berklee Online’s Critical Listening course as a prerequisite to their mixing and mastering courses. As others have stated, it’s expensive but worth it.

I entered the course with thirty years of home recording experience and most every book on the subject, and wondered if they could really teach me anything I didn’t already know. In fact, it quickly became evident that my education was full of holes, especially in the fundamentals. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and only wish anyone had offered such valuable online courses thirty years ago.

I’ve also attended Berklee Online’s Music Industry Entrepreneurship course and would give it even higher marks. The instructor, Michael Harrington is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. A terrific experience!?

Last Thoughts on Music Production and Audio Engineering Courses:

There’s a million sources of information online that’re free including many music production forums, and websites like this one, but they aren’t going to compare to a formal education. I don’t feel this profession requires you to take college courses, although I think it would be very beneficial to anyone interested in going into these fields. From what everyone else has said on the topic, I haven’t seen a negative response to going to school for what they love. As far as I can tell people who have gone enjoyed the experience and learned a lot, and people who haven’t attended a school for music production or audio engineering seem to be against it. I will say that everyone I know that’s decided to go for it has had more luck in getting jobs in their fields and picking up clients than those that didn’t take any courses. Personally I feel the deciding factor is if the costs (both money and time) are worth less than the benefits (knowledge, experience, and a higher chance of landing a job) to you, and only you can decide that in the end.

Audio Engineering Salary and Music Production Salary:

Another important thing to consider before enrolling in a recording arts school is the fact that many entry level positions in these fields can start out at lower salaries than what you’ll be paying in tuition each year. While the top people in the field might be able to pay for you, them, and a friend to take classes at the same time and provide for their family, people at the bottom of the totem pole might as well be working at a fast food joint.

There’s no ideal way to calculate the starting salary of either an audio engineer or a music producer. Freelance music producer’s salaries can vary from as low as a minimum wage job up into the millions depending on the clients you work for and with. Some freelance audio engineers also earn salaries as low as $14,000 at an entry level job, and can move well above $80,000 a year higher up the ladder. Finding clients, building connections, and putting together an impressive portfolio can be much more important in your career than getting an education in recording arts. One of the first things clients are going to want to know about you (if you’re not already well known) is what you’ve worked on in the past, not which school you went to. Whether you’re working for a corporation like a record label, or you’re a freelance music producer or audio engineer, your income is going to be based on your ability, your past work, and how well your work has performed in the market. Don’t get hung up on the numbers, if this is what you love and want to do, work on perfecting your craft and establishing a name in your field.

More on Music Production Salaries | More On Audio Engineering Salaries

March 13, 2013 Music Production 3 Comments

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  1. Leon Portelance March 14, 2013 at 3:19 am

    I did a 12 week certificate program in Audio Engineering from the Columbia School of Broadcasting in Vacouver in 1978. The class was taught at a pro studio with an experienced producer/engineer. We took a project from tracking to final mix. I think there were 6 or 7 students in the class. We got to take turns at the console and tape deck. It was okay, kind of a good introduction.

    But then I got a job as assistant engineer at Mushroom Studios for $700/ month. I learned a lot there very quickly, besides how to make coffee, pickup lunch and vacuum the studio (all part of the assistant’s job description). I had to roll up mic cables absolutely perfectly or get my butt chewed. But one of the first projects I worked on was Suasan Jack’s “Ghosts” album with her ex-husband Terry Jacks producing. I got very good at punching in and out on the 16 track Ampex. Also committed the ultimate fax paus and mentioned that a violin note was flat. The chief engineer, Keith Stein took me aside and told me that assistant engineers didn’t say things like that in front of the producer. Funny thing is, I listened to “Ghosts” years later, I can’t remember which tune it was, but that flat violin note is still there. Made me cringe hearing it.

    I also have done a lot of recording of my own stuff and producing other artists. There is no better experience than actually doing it. I think these days, you can get a pretty good education in just about anything for the cost of a few books and by watching free YouTube videos. I swear there are videos on how to do pretty much anything. And if you sort through the crap, there are always some good ones.

    I am a little skeptical of online courses. They might be okay for an introduction, but a lot of them are way over priced. I was looking at one at Berklee the other day that looked interesting, but they want $1400. Are you kidding me? Better to take the $1400 and buy some equipment or software or upgrade your computer or home studio. Or take you band down to a recording studio and spend the day recording. I always found that most studios offer the graveyard shift pretty cheap. So what if it is midnight to 7 AM. And you won’t get one of their A engineers, but if you know a bit about what your doing or have someone in the band or you know that can do some producing, you could probably knock off a couple of tunes.

    So generally I agree with the train of thought that the best way to learn to to just jump in the pond and sinker swim.

  2. Ayron Thelen March 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

    That’s hilarious that you pointed out the flat note to the producer. I’d love to get a full time gig in a studio even if making coffee was in the job description. I don’t think there’s a better way to learn than observing someone that has experience, other than doing it yourself of course.

  3. Kamal July 11, 2014 at 6:36 am


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