Audio engineering schools come in all shapes and sizes. The most highly touted audio engineering schools will offer high quality degrees that can be earned within a 2 to 3-year period. While smaller schools tend to offer a more holistic, interpersonal approach to learning that’s limited to smaller groups.
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Pros and Cons of Attending College
- Graduate with degree (or certificate)
- Great foundation of audio knowledge
- Insight into the industry (possible connections)
- Hands on training with quality equipment
- You’re forced to learn the technical side of music production
- Cost of attending (student loans)
- Set schedule (online classes are a little more flexible)
- Not enough hands on training
- Limited job placement after
- Change of location (sometimes)
Deciding between attending college and teaching yourself can be a very difficult decision. To help make the right one, I’ll describe the typical college experience, and your reaction after reading should lead you in the right direction.
Read more in the book “Modern Recording Techniques (Audio Engineering Society Presents)”
Formal Education – In a Nutshell
Enrolling in formal education is great for anyone looking to establish a solid foundation of music and audio production knowledge. You’ll establish a strong technical base which will help you throughout your career. You’ll learn from people who have been there, and can give you insight into the industry.
You’ll get some hands on time. Not a lot, but the time you do get, will be spent on sophisticated and high quality equipment. An opportunity that’s difficult to come by on your own.
You’ll learn on a set schedule, making sure you cover the basics of everything. Your school likely won’t place you with a job after graduation, but can point you in the right direction.
Depending on which schools you like, you may have to relocate. Or, you can choose to compromise and find online training.
When you graduate, you’ll have a degree or certificate, an excellent foundation of knowledge to get you started, but limited job opportunities and some debt from student loans (maybe).
At this point, moving forward with your career is on your shoulders. Do whatever you can to get a job or internship.
Online vs On-Campus Training
When looking for schools, you will find both on-campus and online options. Both are viable solutions, but your current situation may limit your options.
Most of the time, I’ll recommend attending an “on-campus” college. It’s easier to ask questions, you get hands on training, and can work with others. However, this isn’t always an option.
If you can’t afford, or are unable to move near a college, taking classes online can work quite well.
If you’re thinking about online classes, there are two main things you need to ask yourself.
1. Will you force yourself to stay on track. It’s easy to slack off from home. Staying focused is essential for online learning.
2. Will you have some way to get hands-on training? Do you have your own studio? Does your friend? Learning straight from a textbook or videos can be brutally boring, and “stick rate” of the information is much higher when you can practice.
Long story short: Both options will teach you the basics of audio engineering, it just depends on your situation and how well you can focus that will determine what’s best for you.
Read more in the book “The Savvy Studio Owner: A Complete Guide to Setting Up and Running Your Own Recording Studio“
Highlighting Two Audio Engineering Schools
There are too many audio engineering schools for me to cover in just one article.
So, I’ll offer my thoughts on two audio engineering schools that cover the spectrum of audio programs available. One is massive and covers all aspects of media and production. While the other is small, and caters more towards specific groups of people.
In this article, I’ll cover the basic history of each school, what you can expect to learn, how much you can expect to pay, and whether I think it’d be worth it in the long run.
Full Sail University
When it was originally founded in Dayton Ohio in 1979, Full Sail started off as an audio engineering school that focused mainly on audio engineering and music production as the original curriculum. Which quickly expanded into other fields such as video and film production and other related fields in the media and entertainment business after it was relocated a year later to Florida in 1980.
It is a nationally accredited university under the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, and thus is fully capable of issuing associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in audio, film, computer animation, business, game design, and other various specialities via over 35 different degree programs.
More Than Just Music
Even though this started off as an audio engineering school, there’s no denying that attending this school could take you in any direction in the entertainment industry. Most other programs aren’t nearly as comprehensive as Full Sail.
Its accolades as one of the premiere and top-notch entertainment schools in the country are far-reaching and have come from a wide array of publications ranging from gaming magazines such as Tips & Tricks and Electronic Gaming Monthly to top pop culture and media publications such as Shift, UNleashed, and Rolling Stone.
Its student population consists of around 16,000 to 17,000 students at any one time, and tuition costs will vary between $30,000 to over $80,000 depending on the degree program you choose.
So, Is It Worth It?
You will find plenty of people who like and dislike Full Sail. Both sides have valid arguments. But it all comes down to this: Are you willing to fully invest yourself into this goal of becoming an audio engineer?
If you use Full Sail for what it is, you’ll have a great experience. If you expect them to teach you everything, then find you job, you will be disappointed.
My advice is to find someone who’s actually gone to school there (either online or in person) and ask them what it was like! If you decide to go for it, don’t expect to land yourself a job immediately following graduation unless you’re willing to network like a madman.
Dark Horse Institute
This audio engineering school offers a much different experience than Full Sail. It’s smaller, cheaper, more intimate, and on-campus only. Plus, it’s home to such legends as:
- Johnny Cash
- Lady Antebellum
- Kings of Leon
- Taylor Swift
Any serious aspiring audio engineer should take a moment to check out Dark Horse Institute. Since opening its doors in 1994, this low-key, yet amply outfitted recording facility has served the likes of Alison Krauss, Jewel, Keith Urban, Megadeath, Michael W. Smith, Tim McGraw, and Neil Diamond.
State of The Art Equipment
Its studios contain custom-modified, state-of-the-art recording configurations that make most other studios look like amateur setups at best, and are neatly situated in rooms that resemble first-class accommodations or suites at a 5-star country lodge, which make for an easygoing and stress-free recording experience that all artists and engineers would die to have.
Good Value for The Money
Dark Horse offers a whole lot of schooling for just $10,000.
I had to pay more than twice that at the school I went to, and I’ll be the first to say that we didn’t have access to equipment as nice as Dark Horse!
Furthermore, they understand the current debt crisis that most students and aspiring audio engineers are facing today and offer what I believe are arguably some of the most reasonable financing options that you’ll find.
Of course, you can probably find other studios that charge less, but given that you’ll be working with instructors who have proven experience and success in the music industry, you really can’t go wrong!
The Two Sides to Music Production Schools
Fundamentally, I believe that most or all audio engineering schools will fall somewhere between the spectrum between a large university like Full Sail and a smaller, more intimate and interpersonal facility such as Dark Horse Institute.
Even if you aren’t thinking about attending either school, you can use these schools as a sort of benchmark to qualify any other school or course that you’re considering.
Develop Yourself as More Than an Audio Engineer
As competitive as the industry has become, I highly recommend that you also develop other skills to augment or supplement your income.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of jobs that you can snatch up at broadcast studios or radio stations if you’re resourceful enough.
All you may be doing is editing audio snippets and whatnot, but everyone has to start somewhere.
Can You Teach Yourself?
I can’ talk about audio engineering schools without mentioning the alternative option. For those that don’t want to pay for classes, it is possible to learn audio production from home.
The internet allows us access to more information than any other time in history, and if you are willing to wade through all the different sources of audio information, you can find some great training material on your own.
Teaching yourself does, however, require a few things that formal colleges don’t.
1. You need access to equipment: Usually, this means building your own studio or sharing with friends. Either way, you NEED hands-on time.
2. You are responsible for staying focused: There is no one to force you to study, when you’re teaching yourself. But if you’re disciplined, you can learn most of this stuff on your own, through experience.
3. You won’t get a degree: Even if you learn all you need to know, you still won’t get a degree or cert saying so. This means the pressure is on you to network for job opportunities and show why you’re better than someone else who went to college. But it can be done.