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The Critical Flaw with Recording Schools

It would seem that for aspiring recording engineers, recording artists and music producers, the most likely place to get an education would be one of the many recording schools available. Given the common mentality that the best way to learn a skill is to go to school for it, this is understandable. However, there is a critical flaw with the way most traditional recording schools educate their students, one that could deeply affect your future career if you decide to attend. At the very least, you should go into your education with your eyes open in order to make sure all your bases are covered.

What is this critical flaw? It has to do with the whole method of traditional instruction. Essentially, traditional schools educate their students in isolated environments, away from the real-life work environments in which students will spend most of their working years. In the case of recording schools, these isolated environments usually involve a combination of classrooms and simulated studios. While this approach to teaching works fine for many professions (law and medicine, for example), it creates a major gap for aspiring recording engineers and producers, for two very important reasons:

  1. The recording industry is all about connections, and without them it is nearly impossible to find work. An isolated learning environment stops you from forming those connections.
  2. An isolated environment cannot truly prepare students for the unexpected issues that frequently arise in real recording sessions.

Many music industry professionals believe there is a better way to learn audio engineering and music production that to enroll in traditional recording schools; they believe the best place to learn is in the recording studios themselves, under the tutelage of a working professional. In fact, this is precisely where many of the best producers and engineers learned the recording arts—and it is where all the instruction happened before recording schools even existed. This way of educating is based on the ancient practice of externship, where tradesmen have passed their knowledge down one-on-one for centuries.

The problem, of course, is that not everyone can just walk into a recording studio and get an externship simply by asking for one. This is where a fresh educational approach called the mentor-extern approach can help.

The recording school that uses the mentor-approach will forego the classroom environment completely by arranging for the student to extern in an actual recording studio near where the student lives. The school provides a curriculum, and the student attends “class” in the studio, where a real producer or engineer conducts the training one-on-one. This approach compensates for the gaps left in the traditional educational approach by combining real-life experience with industry connections—all for much less than most schools charge in tuition.

It’s important to understand that attending school for audio engineering doesn’t guarantee you a place in the music industry. The mentor-extern approach can cover the gaps left by most recording schools.

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