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The Critical Flaw of Audio Engineering Schools: A History

05/14/2012

Before there were any audio engineering schools, people learned the skills of recording and audio production by much more practical methods. In those days, if you wanted to learn to be an audio engineer or a music producer, if you wanted to learn the skills of recording, mixing, editing and mastering, you got yourself into a recording studio and found someone who was doing it to show you the ropes. Believe it or not, there are many successful producers and engineers today who learned their skills in essentially the same manner. They didn’t receive formal training; they simply got connected to a recording studio and worked their way up.


Why is this simple method of learning so effective? First of all, it echoes the ancient and time-tested tradition of apprenticeship (externship), in which master tradesmen would pass down their knowledge and skills to others through one-on-one mentoring. Secondly, the music business itself is a very practical, relationship-based industry, one in which most of the hiring is done through connections. Not only does in-studio learning provide an excellent working knowledge of audio engineering, but it also helps you connect to the industry itself, so it’s easier to land jobs.


Over time, the idea emerged to formalize the training for audio engineering, so people began to develop trade schools to teach it. Eventually, colleges and universities caught on, as well, and began to offer degree programs in audio production. In the eyes of many people, this sort of “legitimized” the trade and made people feel that earning a degree or diploma would improve their credibility in the music industry.


However, there was (and still is) a critical flaw in how these audio engineering schools are structured, and over time it has become apparent that these schools do not do a good job of helping students break into professional audio careers. Essentially, formal education has done away with the two ingredients that made early training so effective: one-on-one mentoring, and the ability to make connections. As a result, many students from these schools end up graduating with few or no job prospects, and must take dead-end jobs just to pay their debts.


Thankfully, some schools (like Recording Connection) are now taking a more back-to-basics approach, and returning their audio students to the recording studios for training. Through the mentor-apprentice (extern) approach, students are now placed under working audio engineers and music producers in real recording studios, where they receive one-on-one training while working on actual recording projects. This approach has restored the connection element to the students’ education, helping to bridge the gap left by traditional audio production programs.


There are now many schools that teach audio engineering, but few that actually connect their students to the recording industry. Hopefully, more audio engineering schools will find fresh ways to make these connections again.