Is Going To School For Audio Engineering Worth It?

2013 Apr 26, 2013

Today I want to address a very common question I get in my inbox on an almost weekly basis: whether or not audio school is worth it. With so many young (and young at heart) readers of The Recording Revolution discovering their passion for music production, the natural progression for some is to want to produce music full time, for a living.

So, like many professions, one assumes a degree is needed not only for the experience and knowledge but for the pedigree, for the resume, etc. Plus let’s be honest: the idea of going to “school” to play around with mixing consoles and expensive microphones is pretty enticing. So if you’ve wrestled with this question, let me give you a few thoughts.


Via mark sebastian Flickr


You Don’t Need A Degree To Do This For A Living

I’ll get straight to the point. You do not need a degree to make a living recording, mixing, or producing music. You just don’t. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if we polled most top level engineers only to find out a majority of them didn’t go to school for audio. Some may have not gone to college at all.
This is a craft, an artform. Not merely a field of study. The usual pattern of training is an apprenticeship type relationship, where a young engineer wannabe works with and under a master audio craftsman, watches his or her every move and eventually starts out on his own. It’s been like this for a long time. What matters in this business is experience (and connections).

You can go to any studio in the world today, beg your way into being an unpaid intern, and begin the slow and painful process of getting your foot in the door. Sure you’ll pour a lot of coffee and sweep a lot of floors, but one day you might be able to assist on a session and even do some editing in Pro Tools before a mixing session. It’s how most of us had to start, and you don’t need any degree to begin the process.

If You Can Pay For School, Then Go

Now, before you think I’m against school you should know I went to college for audio engineering and I think it was an invaluable experience. But I was blessed to have parents and grandparents who helped me pay for it. No student loans. If you find yourself in a similar situation where you are accepted into an audio program and you can pay your way with cash, then go!

On the flip side though, it’s really hard to justify going into major debt for an audio degree. Because the hard truth is, even with a nice degree from a solid school, you’ll still have to “pay your dues” as a studio intern somewhere. Granted you might be a the most knowledgeable and experienced intern at the studio, but you’ll have years of time and money spent only to do what you could have done for free without a degree.

Start Your Own Studio

Now, whether you go to audio school or not, let’s not assume that you actually have to (or want to) work you way up through the ranks at an established studio. You can start your OWN studio, right now! In fact, that’s exactly what I did. After getting my degree, I went to work (for free) at a major multi-million dollar studio in Virginia. It was an incredible place to work, except that I hated it! Too much stress and too many angry people. It just wasn’t about the music anymore, at least not there.

So I quit, and started out on my own. I ran a simple studio out of my 1950s apartment located right next to a US highway. Yep, it was noisy, and small, but I tracked and mixed dozens of albums there for bands, songwriters, and choral groups of all types. I learned a lot, met some great people, and best of all actually made money!

And, oh yeah, I also had a full time day job!

You see, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, stopping you from starting your career in music recording or mixing right now. You’re a musician right? I’m sure you know a few musician friends who would like a solid recording and mix of their songs. Why not do some free work to build up your portfolio? Put your work on a website. Then start charging a little bit for your work. Get a bit better. Rinse and repeat. In fact, if you want more tips on this subject, listen my podcast here.

School Is Great. Just Not As A Crutch.

At the end of the day, education is great. Going to college is great. I am SO thankful for my school experience and all the professors who poured into me and opened my eyes to some amazing things. I honestly believe that school is a great thing. But one thing it shouldn’t be is a crutch.

Don’t lean on the excuse of “Oh, if only I had a chance to go to audio school, THEN I would be able to make a living in the music industry.” It’s just an excuse, a way out so you don’t have to try something scary like jumping careers. Trust me, I know how scary it is to leave a steady job and try to freelance for a living. I live it every day. But it’s way more fun than living in regret and trying to bury my passion for making music.

I’m sure in your unique situation, with your unique needs, you can start on a path to where you want to be. Whether it’s through school, interning, or freelancing, you just have to start.

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