At one time, there wasn’t a course that would teach you anything about becoming an audio engineer or a music producer. Not the case these days, with plenty of courses and learning programs available for those that want a music career, but on the desk.
The increase in the number of Audio Engineering Degree courses indicates two things. Firstly, there are more studios now but at different levels. We still have the biggest of all the ‘bells and whistles’ studios, of course, But now there are smaller and even home studios where a knowledge of audio engineering is going to pay dividends.
Secondly, the increase in computing power and the advent of DAWs and other such software and equipment have opened up a whole new market. This has led to more involvement, and that, in turn, leads to the possibilities of recognizing a career path.
Is Education A Requirement?
I don’t necessarily go along with the idea that a degree in audio engineering is a requirement these days. I will look at what it actually gives you later. But there is no piece of paper that can be a substitute for experience.
A Good Ear
And there is more to the job than getting a piece of paper that says you can when you actually can’t. To take one rather obvious example, you need a ‘good ear.’ And that doesn’t just mean you can hear clearly.
If you can’t hear the subtle nuances that exist in sound, and not all of us can, then you are always going to struggle. That is a vital part of creating great music. And to create good music takes some special attributes.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the skills you need to become a good audio engineer.
- Understanding the equipment you are using.
- Understanding the software and its capabilities.
- What can EQ do for you?
- The Mix.
- Is knowing some music theory important?
- What are Acoustics?
Let’s just take a quick look at each of those individually.
Understand The Equipment
It goes without saying really that an understanding of how the equipment you are using works. An engineer may be required to install, troubleshoot problems, and manage and perform a variety of tasks.
They will ensure they are set up properly and understand the effect they can have on a recording or the mix. There are a great number of equipment options available.
A College cannot teach you the ins and outs of them all, which is where the experience of what you are using becomes important.
Audio Engineers will work with a range of software. Possibly the most important is the Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. These enable recording, editing, and mixing the sound at various levels of professionalism.
It might be helpful to do some research to ascertain which DAW will work best in the environment you choose to work. There might not be a preferred choice, but if there is, know about it. Then you can specialize in that software and understand its role and exactly what it can do. Research the education establishments and find out if they work with a particular DAW in the confines of the course.
A piece of specialized knowledge in one particular area could work in your favor when job hunting. This book might help you get a broad understanding, the Digital Audio Workstation.
Understanding and Using The Equalizer
You can strengthen or reduce any sound frequency in the recording using the Equalizer (EQ). This obviously will depend on the requirements of the track and the sound you need to achieve. This is one activity in the creation of the finished product where you need the ‘good ear’ I discussed.
The EQ is used on both vocals and instruments. Understanding how it works and what it does is vital to achieving a professional recording. This book outlines the basics, The EQ and Compression Formula: Learn the step-by-step way to use EQ and Compression together (The Audio Engineer’s Framework Book 1)
Or, put another way taking multiple tracks and integrating them into a cohesive sound. This will require both technical as well as creative skills. The technical abilities you can teach. Creative skills need to be encouraged.
You will need to understand where and when to use Panning, Distortion, and Compression; the Mixing Engineer’s Handbook 4th Edition will provide you with a solid grounding in these fascinating concepts.
If you are going to work in the music industry in a production or audio engineering capacity, then understanding some music theory will help. This might especially be concerned with the tempo and the meter of a song.
An Appreciation of Acoustics
Understanding what sound waves are and how they interact with different surfaces is critical. Sound bouncing off a surface develops a specific character and quality. This ‘reverberation’ can be used to the advantage of the sound if it is understood and controlled.
As the engineer, you will be expected to know which materials, room sizes, and room shapes will give specific acoustic possibilities. This knowledge is also important for the establishment of a new studio.
Check out The Technology of Binaural Understanding (Modern Acoustics and Signal Processing) for lots of great information on the subject.
Considering A Qualification?
There is nothing wrong with any attempt to acquire knowledge of any kind. And this is very relevant to those who want to work in recording studios. A short course at a local college or a four-year program at college will teach you many skills you will find important.
As I have already said, if you are walking out the door of a college with a bit of paper and consider yourself an audio engineer, you are mistaken.
It is when you walk out the door that you start to really learn. And that part of the education requirement comes from ‘hands-on’ experience when you start doing the job.
If you are considering a qualification, then there are a number of establishments you can try. But first, you need to do a little research to make sure they are offering what you want. You also need to find out if they have a success rate for students.
What are the Best Schools or Colleges for an Audio Engineering Degree?
Don’t just assume they are the same; they won’t be. Do some research on their prospectus and try to find out how many graduated last time out. Did they get jobs in Audio Engineering?
So don’t look at one establishment; look at a few.
If you can, visit the school to see the facilities. Can you see yourself being happy there? See what is available within a traveling distance. If you have to live away, what are the costs?
Will Studying Prepare You For The Job?
If it doesn’t, then there is no point going. Don’t assume that the bigger colleges will provide a better education. It is sometimes not the case. There may be a local school or college that offers a better course.
It is therefore always best to do your homework. Find out who is doing what locally first. But also cover colleges that are further afield. So, let’s take a quick look at some of the colleges that are offering courses in Audio Engineering and Music Production.
If country music is your thing and you see yourself working in that or a closely associated genre, then this might be interesting. It is situated just a few miles from the center of Nashville, right at the heart of it all.
The courses include a BA or BSc and include study in Audio Engineering, Electronics and circuitry, Physics, and other associated disciplines. To graduate, you also need to undertake a ‘minor’ in an associated field.
Belmont advertises itself as a ‘Christian Community’ college.
Middle Tennessee State University
Let’s stay in Tennessee at a university situated in Murfreesboro. This is also fairly close to Nashville, so is in close proximity to many recording facilities. This is an educational establishment that is often mentioned in periodicals as being one of the top ten centers in America.
You will be offered an undergraduate B.Sc course in Audio Production. To complete this course, you will need to complete a minor subject which could be Computer Science or the production of video and film.
They also run a course in recording arts and technology entitled MFA. (A Master of Fine Arts).
The Frost School of Music
Down at the University of Miami, Florida, now. They will offer four-year study Audio Engineering Degree courses for a Bachelor of Music (BM) or a B.Sc, Bachelor of Science.
Undergraduates pursue studies in performance, music theory, and music history. These subjects are taken alongside the more traditional subjects of the art of recording, signal processing, and mixing.
In addition to this, the curriculum ensures you get extra associated skills in computer science and electrical engineering.
An MSc Degree
A Master Of Science degree is offered, but this course is limited to those students who have successfully completed an electrical engineering or computer science undergraduate degree.
Berklee College of Music
A well-known college in Boston, Massachusetts, this has a large Music Production and Engineering program (MP and E). They offer Major and Minor degree courses in Sound Design, Film Scores, Video gaming music, and Electronic production.
It is a four years course that results in a Bachelor of Music qualification. Admissions will assess suitability, and that will include assessing grades in Physics and Maths.
The Power Station in New York
This university owns and runs the Power Station recording studios in New York City. Students gain experience there as part of their qualifications.
Study in Spain?
Berklee has a campus in Valencia, Spain, for those students wishing to pursue a Master’s degree in Music production and technology.
This university extends its areas of study to include online learning. For those that may not be able to relocate, there are online degrees and certificated courses in audio engineering and music production.
Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C)
The college is centered in Cleveland, Ohio, at the ‘Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts.’ This is a facility covering 75,000 square feet and is a joint project between the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum and the college.
The center boasts a modern recording studio and a large concert and performance venue. There are a wide variety of arts and entertainment courses available. Outside of the courses in recording and arts technology, it has programs for media, animation, and dance. Also, theater studios and misc editing suites and facilities.
They have a link with Berklee College in Boston, where students can transfer after completing their associate degree at Tri-C to complete their studies.
Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California
Based at USC in Los Angeles, the Thornton school of music is a conservatory-style school of music. They offer a Bachelor of Music Production course for musicians who want to study the integration of music with composition and arranging. This will include instruction on associating music with art and visual media.
The facilities are very good and being close to film and well-known recording studios there can be access to professional engineers and musicians.
The SAE Institute
Formerly known as the School of Audio Engineering, it was founded by Tom Misner in Sydney, Australia, in 1976. They have been running audio engineering B.Sc degree programs since then. That makes them one of the most experienced Sound Engineering colleges in the world.
These days they have expanded to where they have six campus sites in America and over fifty in other parts of the world. Their accredited education programs lead to a B.Sc qualification in Audio Engineering.
In America, the sites are located in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and Nashville.
The Musicians Institute
The ‘Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music, or M.I. for short, is based in Los Angeles. This is a lower key, more specialized type of college but one that produces excellent results.
The Program offers a certificate in Music Production. It allows the student to focus their studies on songwriting and the music business, as well as audio and sound engineering. A number of graduates from this Institute are working in the music industry.
Drexel is based in Philadelphia and a part of the Westphal College of Media arts. Students can specialize in music technology and production as they work towards a BSc, Bachelor of Science in Music Industry studies.
The successful applicant will have experience working at their independent record label run by Drexel, Mad Dragon Records.
One of the positive things about this university is that they have a department that is constantly trying to place new graduates in work. This could be a full-time job or as an Intern for a studio.
Finally, this college is situated in Northern Massachusetts. Located in their music department is a sound recording technology program. There is also an MM (Masters of Music) degree course which is a five-year course.
Entry to this college will include having to pass an audition on a musical instrument. For the purposes of this entrance examination, the voice is considered an instrument.
Gaining an audio engineering qualification or an associated discipline must be viewed for what it is. An education. It is certainly not the end of the learning curve. In fact, in many ways, it is the beginning – a preparation for the future.
As I said earlier, it will teach you about some very important issues which you will need to be aware of to fulfill the role. But you must then take that knowledge and build on it with the experience gained.
Here are some publications that are going to give you further insight,
For a basic insight into music production, Audio Engineering 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Music Production
The mysteries of the mix are explained, The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook 4th Edition
Producing a quality sound in a live environment, Great Live Sound: A practical guide for every sound tech
And the modern techniques and tricks used today, Modern Recording Techniques (Audio Engineering Society Presents)
Interested in Other Roles in the Music Industry?
Well, you might want to take a look at our handy guides on What Is A Sound Engineer And How Do I Become One, Steps to Start Your Music Career, How to Write a Song, and the Easy Steps to Learning Basic Songwriting for more useful information.
You might also be interested in knowing the Ways To Find Open Mic Nights Near You, How To Find New Music, Best Online Jamming Websites, and What Instrument Should I Learn for lots more hints, tips, and advice.
And don’t forget to check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Audio Interface, the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best Hardware Sequencers, the Best Multitrack Recorder, the Best USB Audio Interfaces, or the Best Keyboard Synthesizer on the market in 2023.
Audio Engineering Degree – And The Future?
As I have said, the purpose of these courses is to prepare you for the future. But what will that future initially hold?
You will need to be very lucky or already know someone to walk straight into a job in a recording studio. The other route is as a trainee or intern. In that situation, it is quite possible you won’t be paid initially while you are learning.
It is all a measure, of course, of how badly you want to work as a studio engineer or music producer. If you can jump through all the educational and other hoops and you love music, there will be nothing better.
A qualification in audio engineering is the very first step on many people’s ladder.