Audio engineering school is the fastest route to becoming an audio engineer. If you wish to become a formally trained audio professional you should definitely go to audio engineering school. This will give you access to world class gear, sound theory and studio hours in a short amount of time, therefore accelerating your curriculum and experience at a fast pace.
The second route to become an audio engineer is working at recording studios and moving up the ladder. However, this might take longer to get access to the gear itself and start learning. The starting point is usually a runner position or unpaid internships.
MY BACKGROUND FOR WRITING THIS ARTICLE
I attended and graduated from The Los Angeles Recording School in Hollywood, California and decided to create this article because I get this question a lot.
I started my audio career recording mixtapes for local artists and demos for bands in my home studio two years prior to recording school.
At this point I was already making money recording. I was self taught at the time and ignored a fair amount of basic audio principles but understood some due to previous recording experiences as a musician.
WHAT DO SOUND ENGINEERS DO?
Sound engineers are responsible for a wide variety of technical audio related tasks such as:
- Sound Design
- Live Sound
- Live Recording
- Field Recording
- Boom Operator
You need to be clear on what type of career you want to pursue in the music industry and think of going to audio engineering school as an entrepreneurial action. To learn and strengthen a new skill set. This applies to any career path you may choose. Whether you wish to become a studio engineer, live engineer, mix rock records or be hip hop producer.
Many recording schools offer career development and job placement advisors, some even offer lifetime support. But the reality is that there are not many high paying dream fulfilling jobs in the industry available. Not in exchange for completing a formal audio education anyway. Most of the jobs audio schools will link you with are usually entry level positions, including retail.
High paying jobs are definitely achievable and audio school will give all the knowledge you need. The academic level of some audio schools is impressive and the facilities are, in most cases, world class recording studios built specifically to teach the craft. But the other thing you will need, to get where you want to be, is real life experience in the form of a demo reel, portfolio or credits.
PAYING FOR AUDIO ENGINEERING SCHOOL
Audio engineering schools are known for being expensive and this makes perfect sense. The investment they have to make in gear amounts to several million. So this is no surprise. In average audio engineering schools costs $30,000 per year, some even higher. So this leaves you two options, student loans or being rich.
Unfortunately the average family does not have that kind of money sitting around. If you happen to be blessed in this way then by all means, if audio engineering and music production is your passion, pursue an education and a career in this field.
Before getting student loans you should consider how are you planning to pay them back. This may sound like an obvious statement but fast forward to graduation day. What will you be doing the next day? If your plan is to wait until graduation and start applying for jobs then it’s needless to say that you need a real plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
AUDIO ENGINEERING SCHOOL v.s BUYING A TON OF GEAR
Imagine the studio you could build with $60,000 (two years tuition). In my personal experience when I enrolled for audio engineering school I already had a fair amount of audio equipment. Nothing fancy, just a small eight channel mixer, audio interface with preamps, condenser microphone, drum mic kit, apple computer and a pair of studio monitors.
It all amounted probably to $5,000 but what I soon learned was that the return on investment (ROI) was amazing. It only took two or three clients for the gear to pay for itself.
The downside being that there was no steady flow of clients. At the time I was 20 years old and I was able to survive recording demos and mixtapes for and managed to stay away from working a 9 to 5 at a call center like I was in the previous couple of years.
DO YOU NEED A DEGREE TO BE AN AUDIO ENGINEER?
No degree is needed to work as an audio engineer. It’s an operational position and recording studios don’t really care if you hold a professional degree or certification as an audio engineer. In most cases you will start from the bottom anyway, unless you have prior credits or know someone in the industry, and you will still have to prove yourself to maintain a job or a high profile gig.
ARE AUDIO ENGINEERS REAL ENGINEERS?
Audio engineers are not engineers in the same way Civil Engineers or Electrical Engineers are. Most audio schools will not certify you as an Audio Engineer, but instead they will train you in Recording Arts or Music Production in the form of a Diploma, Associate Degree, Bachelor of Arts (BA) and in some cases even a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Audio Production but none in Audio Engineering, these schools will not teach you the Fundamentals of Engineering.
After conducting some online research and I was unable to find a single Audio Engineering School in the United States that is accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology. In recent years many audio related schools apparently renamed their audio engineering programs to audio production, music production or recording arts.
Audio engineers are engineers in the same way locomotive engineers are. This means that it’s an operational position rather that a certification, qualification or grade. And opposed to audio engineers, locomotive engineers need a federal licence to operate a train.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN AUDIO ENGINEER AND A MUSIC PRODUCER?
A music producer is a creative individual who writes music or oversee different aspects of a music composition. An audio engineer is the individual who operates a recording studio, live sound equipment, broadcast rig, etc. This means that it’s a technical position rather than a creative position.
If money is not an issue then I’d say go audio engineering school. But on the other hand if going to audio school means burying yourself in debt in the form of student loans then it’s definitely not worth it.
You’d be much better off buying a bunch of gear and learning to use it from experience. Picking up pieces of knowledge along the way. Trial and error.
Nowadays there are many resources to learn the basics of audio and how to operate sound equipment. This may come in the form of articles, youtube tutorials and online courses.
Back when I attended The Los Angeles Recording School this resources were not available. For me audio engineering school was definitely worth it. I was able to put the pieces together and learn many recording techniques. To this day, attending audio school can definitely help you polish your talent and master the craft.
There are many ways to generate wealth as a sound engineer. You should always be open to multiple and diverse revenue streams and not just focus on one area of sound. Never be discouraged. All it takes is determination and consistency.