Education is always an important thing. Especially when it comes to a career. In a work situation where complex technical knowledge is required, being able to study those techniques closely will be vital.
Music production is something that has grown out of all recognition in the last twenty years. Once the domain of the privileged few, opportunities now exist to go part of the way in developing the extensive knowledge required.
If you are planning to study music production in America, then you will need to know what are the best music production schools in the US. But is that all you need to do to get a music producer job? Just go to a college and get a qualification?
A Personal Experience
Many years ago, more than I wish to remember, I went off to University to achieve my qualification for a job for life, I thought. The University had a faculty that specialized in my discipline, and I, therefore, expected to learn all I needed to know.
Once I had got my degree, I ventured out into the workplace, and it wasn’t long before I realized that learning the theory was never going to be enough. The only real education you get is when you are actually doing the job.
The theories and techniques are important, of course. But, unless you know how to use them and when to use them, they are not much good to you.
Don’t think for one minute that if you get qualified, then you know it all. You won’t. There will be people you come in contact with in music production who have never been anywhere near a college. But their knowledge will be far superior to yours.
It is called experience, and there is no substitute for it.
Good, that means you are keen to learn about the best music production schools in the US. And, you are willing to go through the endless cycle of learning and applying music production techniques, and then, learning again.
What Are We Going To Look At Here?
The simple answer is, we are going to look at some schools in America that offer music production courses. This will help you to decide which will be best suited to your requirements and circumstances.
It can be a great industry to be involved with. I say “can” because it is not always as glamorous as it seems. But the positives far outweigh the negatives.
We will look at:
- What sort of courses are available?
- Why you should consider it and why you shouldn’t consider it?
- What are the career prospects?
- The costs and time involved?
- The type of study programs, full-time and other courses?
- Do you need some prior qualifications?
First Things First
It can look like a great job from the outside, but it’s a Heavy Load. You may be using some ideas gained by working in your home studio as the basis of your decision to learn and study music production.
But, the realities of working at home for fun and working in a professional studio are light years apart. As the British classic rock band Free sang, “By a bright stream, came an old dream – Things are never what they always seem.” And they often aren’t.
Why Should You Consider It?
There is only one reasonable answer. You love to make and be involved with music. But, more importantly, you want to help others make theirs. You want to take their music and turn it into something special. If that is you, then read on.
When You Shouldn’t Consider It?
If you think it is all going to be glamorous with endless parties with famous people, then forget it. The money is likely to be poor (or very poor/non-existent) to start with. The hours are often very long and unsociable. Some of the characters involved will give you a hard time.
And then, there are the egos and the fault finding. It will never be their fault if it doesn’t work, it will be yours. If you can put up with all that, let’s carry on.
Well, that’s a start. Music needs to have dedicated and talented people working within the industry. But what should you be thinking about to make your start? If you are thinking about going to school for music production, then there are some things to think about.
- Why do you think a music school is going to help you?
- What are you hoping to get out of a course?
- What are you going to look for in a course?
- Which school to choose?
- What are the career prospects when the course is completed?
- Is there an alternative to a music production course?
Before you decide if you will enjoy studying audio engineering or music production, there is some homework to do. And that’s before you even get there. You will need to do some research and find out what each of the best music production schools in the US is offering.
And look beneath the surface a little bit…
Don’t just accept what any establishment says. Just because they put “university” behind their name doesn’t mean they are one. Take a close look at the curriculum and results. More on that later.
In days gone by, there were no such things as courses to teach you. You learned in one of two ways. Either by getting lucky and finding an internship. Or by knowing someone willing to let you sit in to learn.
In both cases, there will be little, if any, financial reward. But that’s how people did it. It sorted out those who truly wanted to learn.
Can You Learn To Be A Music Producer at College?
Should I stay or should I go? You can get a good grounding if you choose the right music production school. So, how has the demand for courses in music production taken off in the last ten or so years?
Many of the applicants have had some experience using DAWs at home. They created music themselves, and it has given them a taste for it. Maybe you’re one of them. Indeed, it is an introduction to the job at the most basic level.
A Growing market
Schools and Colleges are not stupid, and they recognize there is a potential market here. And, because the majority of music production courses cost a significant amount of money, dollar signs are flashing.
Having said that, and without wishing to give the wrong impression, the majority of schools and colleges do a good job. And the best music production schools in the US will provide what they say they will.
If you decide an educational music production course is for you, then you need to find where they are located. If you are going to do an internet search, try headings like:
- Audio engineering.
- Music Technology.
- Music Recording and Production.
- Sound Recording.
Not all music producers or audio engineers go to college to learn the job, as I have already mentioned. But, these days, with the availability of courses, there is an ever-increasing number that does. Going to college will essentially give you two things.
- Learning the basic technical requirements, equipment, and what it can do.
- Making connections with others that could prove useful in the future.
It may also give you a way into an internship. Having a basic understanding of what does what and why could be important. It would probably give you a head start over someone that knows nothing at all.
Are Some Schools Better Than Others?
As with everything in life, some things are better than others. That also applies to colleges and schools. Some schools put a lot of effort into their programs and are successful. We shall see those when we itemize a few of the more successful and highly respected US music production schools later.
What Qualifications Do You Need?
Schools and colleges will differ in their entry requirements. Some may require nothing other than a decent educational background. Others may require you to have already completed a computer science undergraduate degree. Some may require competence in an instrument.
It will depend largely on the course and the school’s requirements for that course. Courses might include the following:
- The history of music.
- The theoretical aspects of music.
The History of Music
It doesn’t start with The Beatles or Elvis Presley. You may need to demonstrate an understanding of the eras of classical music. Who composed in what era, and what were some of their major works?
You may also need to be able to relate to the development of music and evolving instruments over a few hundred years.
Have you got a basic understanding of the theoretical side of music? You may need it. Some courses may require you to look at some sheet music and understand what is going on.
Have you composed any of your own work? That could be an asset.
Being able to arrange a piece of music is a skill that needs to be learned. But, the basic musical forms and how they work are important to be aware of.
Not something that many people will have experience with. There are, of course, ways of orchestrating music for maximum effect. That is what they should teach you if this is part of the course.
However, if you use Garageband or similar software at home, they will have strings and other orchestral instruments for you to “play” with.
Do you play an instrument at a reasonable skill level? Not all music production programs require you to have those skills, but most will. You will see from that very brief list above some abilities will be required.
Something to be aware of when you are looking for a suitable college or school.
Depending on the course, the school, and what your requirements are, there could be some more opportunities. Some schools offer courses with more specific music production content:
- Music with video.
- Electronic music.
If you have a particular leaning toward a certain area of music production, then take a close look at the syllabus options at the school.
It might not be a jet plane, it might be a train ride or a journey in the car, but how do you feel about being away from home? It won’t suit everyone.
Many of the best music production schools in the US are based somewhere near a major, recognized center with some musical importance. It won’t surprise you to discover that some of them are located in New York City, Nashville, Miami, and Los Angeles.
Being away from home is an issue for some, but also the extra cost must be considered. Some of these courses are quite expensive, to begin with. Having to rent accommodation, no matter how small, will add to the financial costs.
I am not saying that if you have to live away from home, don’t bother. But, what I am saying is don’t forget to include enough money for accommodation, food, and a little bit of entertainment in your budget.
If you are considering taking on a course, then we can assume you are a music nut. If you aren’t, then you are probably looking at the wrong career. So, assuming you are, you’ll be in a city where the live music options are bound to be endless.
Yes, it gives you a great opportunity to take in plenty of different styles and artists. But, it will also be a place where networking with people could bring dividends. You never know who you are going to come across in these places or where it will take you. I can vouch for that.
Your decision is made; you are going to get a degree in music production. You are about to embark on your magical mystery tour. What next? This could be the tricky part. You will need to make specific decisions that are relevant to you.
These might be:
- Where do you want to study?
- Are there specific musical requirements that you need to see in the syllabus?
- Do you fulfill the entry requirements?
- Consider when you want to go, timeframes, and how long the course will be.
- Would you consider a part-time course?
- Will you be able to afford it?
There will be a certain amount of legwork involved. By that, I mean researching multiple schools; the more, the better, until you find your match. But, there is one important issue to consider very early in your search. How much will it cost you?
In America, education does not come cheap, and full-time university programs are notorious for their costs. Including living costs, they can be anything between 50-90,000 dollars each year. How many years is the course? You do the maths.
Before we start looking at what some individual colleges offer, let’s look at some help and any alternatives.
Some state schools offer financial aid. This is especially true if you happen to be a resident of that area. How much they offer varies, but it is always worth asking.
Some community colleges run courses that might be what you are looking for. They will take less time and will cost much less. You might not get the status of college graduation, but it depends on how much importance you place on that.
In some cases, a certificate might be enough to open the door. We will look at a very good community college later.
Sometimes a little knowledge is better than a qualification. When I hired people, I wanted to know, “Can they do the job?” Not do they have a piece of paper that says they can.
Other Certificated Courses
There are other courses offered that might be conducted online. Again, these might be far less expensive, and you have the advantage of working from home.
Of course, these online courses can not offer you the hands-on experience and in-depth technical knowledge that a bigger school can.
Once you have decided to go to a music school, then the decision starts to get tricky. It will not be a quick and easy decision. There are a lot of schools, colleges, and universities that offer some very good courses.
Indeed, within the confines of this article, it would not be remotely possible to include even a fraction of them. What I have done so far is try to make you think. Tried to consider the good and the bad and help you move towards a decision.
Help you to see that there are other alternatives open to you as you try to achieve that career in music. But, having gotten to this stage, we are going to try to narrow down your search. It’s important to concentrate on the areas that the majority will be seeking.
That is what you will want to achieve. That could be a Degree, Master’s Degree, Bachelor of Science Degree, Certificate, or Diploma.
When you are preparing your budget for a Degree, or a Master’s, you should plan for four years of costs. For a Certificate or Diploma, it’s usually about two years. You will need to differentiate between purely technical courses and others that are more focused on the musical aspects.
So, let’s take a look at some of the best music production schools in the US and what they offer.
Location: Greenwich Village, New York City
A well-known music school in the US that offers more than 40 courses across a wide range of music-based subjects.
They have courses that will lead you to a Bachelor’s or Master of Music. And, for those who can go further, a Ph.D. in Music Technology.
Some courses include the production of multimedia, audio engineering, and even the development of software for sound engineering.
The Business Side
If you are also interested in the business side of music, courses are available in marketing and the structure of the music business. Some of those courses are held at the Clive Davis Institute, which offers courses for those who wish to become music executives.
They have excellent facilities that include thirteen smaller studios and the 7,500 sq ft James Dolan studio. It is in a prime location for music lovers being close to some major recording studios, and also plenty of Jazz and Rock venues.
The annual costs for tuition are up to $80,000, inclusive of basic living costs.
Location: Lowell, Massachusetts
Staying on the east coast, there is UMass Lowell, situated just north of Boston. If you are interested in Sound Recording Technology, this highly-rated establishment offers courses in its Music Department.
You can work towards a Bachelor’s degree. They would normally offer a Master’s degree as well, but that course is currently suspended while the curriculum is revised.
One of the entry requirements is that the student will have to complete a successful audition. This can either be by voice or on a musical instrument.
There are three levels of annual costs for tuition, including all fees and living costs. They are $32,000 for in-state students, $42,000 for New England regional students, and $50,000 for out-of-state.
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Courses at Drexel are held at Westphal College, which specializes in media arts and design. They offer a Bachelor of Science course in what they call Music Industry Studies. As a student, you can specialize in music technology and its relevance to music production.
Students at Drexel benefit from getting hands-on experience at Mad Dragon records, the school’s independent record label.
The university is known to work hard at getting all graduates some form of employment as soon after graduation as possible. This could either be at an internship or in a job in the industry.
It is not always necessary that you play an instrument for some courses. The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $72,000.
Frost School of Music
Location: Coral Gables, Miami, Florida
The Frost School of Music is based at the University of Miami. They offer courses that encompass a range of topics. The Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Science courses have a four-year duration. There is also a Master of Science course.
In these, you will study performance, music theory, and the history of music. You will need to have a decent standard of performance level on your chosen instrument.
The university works with instruments that are predominantly orchestral but also include guitars, keyboards, and percussion. The voice is counted as an instrument, and studies will include both choral and operatic work.
Additionally, you will find courses on the science and the art of recording, mixing, and signal processing. Furthermore, students will get specialized technical skills in computer science and also electrical engineering.
The Master of Science course will only accept those students who completed an undergraduate degree. This must be in either electrical engineering or computer science.
In addition, there are music management, media, artists management, and live performance management courses. The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $74,000.
Full Sail University
Location: Winter Park, Florida
Staying in Florida, we have Full Sail University, which is quite near Orlando. This is an establishment that has seen plenty of growth since it was established in 1979. In its infancy, it was a recording school that offered courses in Audio Engineering.
It has grown to offer Bachelor of Science courses in Audio Production, Recording Arts, and Show Production.
Some of the courses are either on-site or online programs. Others are a combination of both. There is plenty of opportunity to get hands-on experience with both recording and live performance environments.
Other than their degree course, they also have a five-month course which will gain you a Certificate in Audio Production. The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $42,000.
Berklee College of Music
Location: New York City, Boston, and Valencia, Spain
Berklee is a well-known music production college that, along with its courses in New York and Boston, has options in Valencia, Spain. So, if you fancy a bit of sun, sangria, and some culture, that will be of interest.
They offer both major and minor courses in writing scores for films, sound design, video games, and electronic music production. The Bachelor of Music course will last for four years. There is a Master of Music Production, Technology, and Innovation course run in New York and Valencia.
Hands-on experience is gained at Berklee’s recording studio, the legendary Powerstation Studios, in New York. Students are very involved in running the studio and get to participate in all activities as part of their education.
Besides the degree courses…
Berklee also offers Diploma courses, online courses, and online degrees in audio engineering and music production.
Admission to a major course requires a strong background in Physics and Mathematics. The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $74,000 for the degree courses and $68,000 for the Diploma.
Middle Tennessee State University
Location: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Do you want to study and be at the center of Country music? If so, then Middle Tennessee State University is worth considering.
Situated within easy reach of Nashville, it is often referred to as one of the best schools for audio engineering. Middle Tennessee State offers Bachelor of Science courses in Audio Production. Also, courses in Recording Arts and Technology.
Students who take audio engineering as a major also pursue a minor in computer science, video and film production, or entrepreneurship.
As for the price…
The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $24,250 for those residents in Tennessee and $45,000 for out-of-state students.
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Staying in Nashville and its local area is the Belmont University’s Entertainment and Music Department. At Belmont, they offer both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in Audio Engineering Technology. Courses have the option to cover music production.
The courses offered are very much science-based. And audio engineering includes work in electronic circuitry and physics. Students are required to take a minor course in a related subject.
Belmont advertises that it is a learning service for the “Christian Community.” The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $52,000
USC Thornton School of Music
Location: Los Angeles, California
This is a music program that is based at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. The programs are designed for musicians who would prefer a Conservatory-style course.
The courses will concentrate on performance and composition…
Courses will cover the integration of digital music production with performing, composition, and arrangements. As well as recording acoustic instruments.
Since it’s located in Los Angeles with its local film industry, there are elements of the course that apply to music production relative to visual art, media, and film. Students who are interested in those particular disciplines will find the USC Thornton School of Music valuable.
The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $80,000
Location: Los Angeles, California
The M.I., or to give it the full name, the Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music, runs both in-house and online courses. Amongst the variety of available courses are Associate, Bachelor, and Master’s degrees in Music, Arts, and Science.
They also offer a Certificate in Production as a part of their Audio Engineering program. Students can study songwriting with music production, and sound engineering and can include the music business.
Online programs include disciplines such as Electronic Music, Studio Recording, and Artist Producer Entrepreneur. The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $48,000.
Location: Various in America and Overseas
SAE started offering courses in audio engineering in 1976. Now, they have six study center campuses in America and fifty locations throughout the world. Their programs lead to either an Audio Diploma or a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree.
Additional courses available include audio for gaming and film production. Online courses are available for accreditation for audio engineers and music producers. The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $48,000.
Carnegie Mellon University
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Bachelor of Science in Music and Technology degree at Carnegie Mellon is a joint project. This is between the School of Music, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as the School of Computer Science.
Students will have courses in audio engineering, recording technology, as well as music composition, and performance. There will also be studies that include music theory as well as working with Pro Tools.
The Master of Science course looks at performance and composition assisted by technology and computer music systems. Included in this are classes looking at robotics in music. The annual costs for tuition, living costs, and all fees are up to $75,000.
US Music Production Schools – Alternatives
If the above schools are beyond your ability, budget, or ideas for the future, there are other options.
Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C)
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
This is a community college that offers a range of courses that lead to recognized qualifications. There is a link between Tri-C and Berklee. If a student completes their Associate Qualification, then a full degree course is reduced to two years at Berklee.
It is a large facility that has on-site a concert hall and recording studios. It also accommodates theater and dance studios, plus music editing suites and plenty more.
The real asset of a great facility like this is the way the finances are structured. The fees are set concerning the family’s income, and credits are accepted whether in or out of the state.
Here’s how it works…
Tuition-only fees are approximately $4,000-8,000 for in-state applicants or $8,000-17,000 for those applying from out of Ohio. Bear in mind those fees do not include any living expenses, especially if you are from out of state.
If you are looking for a good value for money music production course, then this is worth looking at. Let’s just briefly mention some other options for those wishing to study.
Offering short courses in music production in Los Angeles. There are various options at different prices:
- 12-week introductory course online – $3,000.
- 18-month music production course online – $15,000.
- 12-month music production program on campus – $26,000.
- 18-month advanced music production program – $39,000.
The purpose of all courses is to teach basic technical skills.
Based in San Francisco, or if you prefer, online. It is an Avid and Ableton-certified center for training. Students have access to studio rooms with up-to-date equipment and software. They also have their own record label, which is a release platform for past and present students and staff.
An on-campus one-year course is approximately $21,000. That price does not include living expenses.
This is an interesting option. Soundfly offers online courses in music theory, songwriting, performance, and composition under the guidance of a mentor. There is also coursework in the music business, electronic music, and music marketing. Online courses start at a very competitive $649.
Just The Beginning
Those were just a few options from many schools and colleges that offer the kind of courses you are looking for. But there is another question.
How Do You Choose?
Location and funding will probably be top of the list, after which courses the establishment can offer. You need to be sure it fits what you want. As you can see, there are differences in what they offer.
But there are some other things you could consider:
- What are the facilities like? Do they offer what you want?
- How many students do they currently have enrolled?
- What is the size of the classes?
- What is the tutor-to-student ratio?
- Who are the faculty members?
- Have they had any successful graduates you might know?
- What is the length of the program?
- What is the exact cost of the course and any peripherals costs associated with books, materials, etc.?
- Do they offer any help in securing accommodation if necessary?
- Do they offer financial aid programs?
Those are just some of the questions you may need to answer. You may have others that are relevant to you personally. But before you start the process of looking, make sure you have an idea of what your aims are.
Where do you want to end up?
There is nothing wrong with not having a clear picture of where that might be. But, you do need a basic direction as there are plenty of crossroads to pass through.
Some other things you might consider:
- The climate of where you will be.
- Local crime rates in the area of the college.
- If you like a bit of culture, is there some nearby that you can enjoy?
- Do you want to be in a music center such as the colleges in Nashville or Los Angeles?
If you go through the selection process and the schools you have chosen are not listed in the Top 10, don’t worry. If the college you have chosen fits what you want to do, then this is most important.
Check out the requirements to apply and the time frames. Make sure you are familiar with everything you need to do to make your application efficient and on time.
Hopefully, you come out of your school brandishing your piece of paper. But don’t think you’ve got it made. You haven’t. It is the first step on a very tall ladder.
It will take you 2-4 years of study on average, a lot of money, and a few tears to get yourself that piece of paper. You will truly start to learn when you start putting what you have learned into practice.
In the case of a music production course…
You will know your way around the studio and what it all means. It will have taken you up to four years to find the door to get in. Then you will start to learn.
Here are some publications that might help:
- Music Production 2023+ Edition – Everything You Need To Know About Producing Music.
- Music Production, Songwriting & Audio Engineering: 2023+ Edition.
- The Art of Producing: How to Create Great Audio Projects.
- The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing – The Soul and Science of Mastering Music and Work.
Is Music a Part of Your Future Career Plans?
If so, take a look at our detailed articles on Steps to Start Your Music Career, What Is A Sound Engineer And How Do I Become One, Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Singer, 6 Definite Signs That You Were Born to Sing, and What Is A and R In The Music Industry for more information.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best Multitrack Recorder, the Best Audio Mixers, the Best Audio Interface, the Best USB Audio Interfaces, and the Best iPad Audio Interfaces you can buy in 2023.
Best Music Production Schools in the US – Final Thoughts
That first job is another situation altogether. Your establishment, if it’s worth its salt, will help you and give you advice. Maybe even make an introduction. But it is going to be a slog with a lot of heartbreak and disappointment along the way.
Developing a network of your peer group at the college and anyone else you can make contact with will be important. Make friends and acquaintances and keep them.
And, even when you have found that first job, don’t expect to receive a big salary. I knew people who worked for nothing for months on end just to get their foot in the door, and to learn. If you work at it, things can change financially.
Your biggest asset?
You, your enthusiasm, and your desire to succeed in what will be a very competitive environment. They can teach you most of what you need to know at a college, but they can’t give you that. That must come from you.
Until next time, good luck, and let your music play.