Anyone who listened to the podcast from BVE North (episode 90) and also the Pro Tools Expert NAMM 2014 special podcast will have noticed that two topics dominated questions from the floor: Routes into the industry and the role of training. In my day job I advise young, aspiring audio engineers and follow the progress of students of all abilities. Something which I have noticed about this subject is how strongly people feel about Music Technology courses, not about specific courses but the very existence and purpose of these courses. I thought I might present some questions and comments for discussion by the community. Some of this is UK specific but the broader points would apply anywhere.
- Why do you want to do a course?
If you want to sit in a studio all day making records, its not impossible but its really unlikely to happen. What is your plan B? You need one. There is a lot more to the world of audio than making records. Are you prepared to look at other roles in the industry?
- A course isn’t enough on its own
I’d be astonished to find anyone today promoting a music tech course as a ticket to an easy job. Doors will not open because of a qualification (other than the doors of other educational institutions). However a course can be very worthwhile as just one of the many things you should be doing while you are training if you are serious. Like so many things you’ll get out of it what you put into it…
- Work hard
If you do a course and you get anything other than top grades you are just documenting the fact that you are not very good or don’t work very hard. There are many excellent courses but not all courses are excellent. If a course has low entry requirements that might be telling you something.
- What are you doing next?
If you are using a course to postpone deciding what you are going to do next or are trying to hand over responsibility for your career onto someone else, you probably should be doing something else instead. If you are going to work in this industry you are almost definitely going to have to run a business. That means finding and keeping clients, schmoozing, keeping your accounts, doing your tax returns. There are easier ways to earn a living.
- Courses Cost Money
Is an expensive course an investment or an unjustifiable expense? Well that depends on the candidate and the course. At present in the UK, Level 3 Courses (A level equivalent) are free to under 19s and are considerably cheaper than HE courses to over 19-23 year olds in most cases. University Courses involve substantial fees but loans are available on very favourable terms. If you qualify and are under 24, a good L3 course represents real value. If you are motivated and resourceful you might be better off buying some equipment and getting some experience instead. Only you can decide what is best for you. In other countries it may be different but in reality most higher education courses are going to cost money.
- Peer Group
The qualification is only one of the things you will get from a course. Access to professional equipment is useful, access to experienced tutors is more useful still but the most useful thing you will get is access to a peer group of like-minded individuals. If you get a place on one of the very best courses you will work with the people who are most likely to be the top engineers of the next generation.
- Streaming Ahead
The music industry has suffered in the last fifteen years but don’t let the prophets of doom tell you its hopeless. The good old days of mega-budgets are not coming back but while its too early to say for sure how it is going to develop, there are plenty of signs that the music industry is reasserting itself. Piracy is down, streaming is up and clever people all over the world are finding new ways of monetizing this new business model, employment in music, film, television and games is up 8.6% and it is now the fastest growing sector of the UK economy. Its a new world and people who adapt quickly could do very well out of it. What kind of training would help you be one of the people who adapt to today’s industry?
You may also want to take a listen to our industry panel from NAMM 2014 where the question of college v experience was raised.