Education of the Audio Engineering Society
Directory of Educational Programs of the AES

The Education Option by Theresa Leonard

Theresa Leonard, Chairman of the Audio Engineering Society Education Committee

As Education Chair for the Audio Engineering Society (AES), I am pleased to have the opportunity to write this article on audio education for Mix magazine. Despite the highly competitive job market, there are an increasingly large number of audio programs on the market that all promise success. How do you choose?

Although there have historically been two schools of thought about audio education--on the job versus academic training--the gap is narrowing between these two schools mostly because of successful programs that offer much more hands-on experience. Ours is still an industry that relies heavily on mentoring, a great deal of hands-on experience, and technical expertise.

We can divide the learning process into three stages: 1) choosing an education program that offers technical literacy, hands-on, and mentoring, 2) augmenting or following this education with an internship or work-study program, thus providing more hands-on and one-on-one mentoring, and 3) finally, finding an appropriate entry level position to suit your individual needs. Hopefully, professional contacts made and hard work will ensure that one step leads to the next.

There are one and two year audio programs offered at secondary institutions and private schools, undergraduate and graduate university programs in sound recording and music technology, as well as doctoral programs for those interested in scientific research and academia. There are also stand alone intensive seminars. All of these have a place in this industry but you really have to shop around, do your research and then decide how to proceed--depending on your background and strengths—keeping in mind that expensive programs don’t necessarily mean a better education.

How do you distinguish a good education or work-study/internship program from one that is not as good?
The best audio programs may in fact be those that are based within another discipline: i.e., within a music, science, or an electrical engineering degree or diploma. Great programs often have an appropriate combination of all three subject matters as they relate to audio. Such programs, in contrast with stand-alone audio programs, offer a wider education both technically and aesthetically.

Programs that offer more studio time to smaller numbers of students are obviously attractive. Quality of instruction is critically important; the curriculum, synergy of the program, and specifically the the faculty, staff, and adjunct faculty from the professional industry are more important than having extravagant facilities and expensive equipment. Beware of programs that don’t teach the fundamentals of audio, or of recording live musicians in acoustic spaces-- which should not be underestimated. Many programs offer computer/workstation and midi lab practice, but this is only part of the picture. Knowing how to operate your digital audio workstation does not make you an audio engineer. Choosing to take part in a course that offers instruction on a particular piece of gear is valuable to augment your learning, providing you have other experience.

Whether you are planning to be a recording engineer, a mastering engineer, a producer, an editor, a film score mixer or a sound designer, the bread and butter is learning listening skills through the practice of recording many instruments with many types of microphones in a concert hall or a studio (a skill set previously only found in a classical ‘tonmeister’ education). The practice of acoustic recording develops great technical and musical ear training, improves technical skills, as well as communication and people skills. This kind of experimentation and practice is something that is hard to get once you have a job and paying clients.

Of course, an audio education need not be solely in music recording or audio for picture; despite the problems in the recording industry, the job possibilities in audio are growing in unexpected areas such as game audio, car audio, and internet audio to name a few examples. A good program must look toward the future with respect to upgrading equipment and main control rooms for high resolution, new digital formats, and multichannel audio. Although it is important to know what is out there in terms of both high and low quality audio formats, there will always be an appetite for quality audio, which remains the driving force of our industry.

What are the benefits of an internship or work-study program?
Reading texts, journals and magazines and attending lectures are extremely important, but it is only through much practice and through mentoring that you can really refine your skills.

The glue between the theory and practice of recording is mentoring. The advantage of an internship or work-study program is one-on-one mentoring. Sharing experiences and working closely with colleagues or peers--in addition to mentors—can also be an excellent learning opportunity. Mentoring and working closely with peers and clients in internship programs will provide the opportunity to refine your people skills, which is so very important in the industry. An internship also offers the opportunity to really discover your strengths and refine your technical skills. Internship or work-study positions have led to great contacts in the industry for many students who have gone on to work in a variety of jobs in this industry.

How else can you augment your education and job opportunities?
The AES also provides a unique learning environment where students and professionals in all areas of audio can pursue personal and professional development, discuss applied research, share ideas and experiences. What is happening now in AES reflects the philosophy of this society where life-long learning is the basis for a career in this industry. Besides being the only professional society devoted exclusively to audio technology (with greatly reduced rates for students and on-line registration) the AES is a valuable institution for all students to find mentors by attending conventions and participating in international student recording competitions and education events. Students can also acquire new technical expertise by attending a growing number of tutorials and workshops in addition to papers, exhibitor’s seminars, as well as by attending smaller, more specific, conferences. Through AES participation, both online and through conventions, one can develop life-long contacts in the industry.

In conclusion, I believe that successful audio education continues to rely heavily on mentoring and hands-on skills; finding an appropriate school and gaining experience through an internship program and participation in professional organizations, can provide you with a much broader education and contacts that will lead to better job possibilities.

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