|A Global Look At Audio Education by Roy Pritts|
Roy Pritts, Past Chairman of the Audio Engineering Society Education Committee
The purpose of this article is to make some observations about the past, present, and future of audio education. Since audio practitioners are involved in both research and applications, observations about educational preparation are presented. The historical perspective of educational opportunities for careers in audio and the Audio Engineering Society's role in the process are identified.
Since 1948 professionals in the audio industry have seen the need for the dissemination of information about product developments and applications. The industry that embraces audio is diverse and has gone through many changes in the past fifty years. The process of music has always been to take an artist's product through a complex technical chain of distribution to a larger audience with the least amount of distortion and degradation and at a profit. The complexity and cost of high-quality audio caused the centralization of product development and services in the early years. There are still cities (identifiable hubs) that specialize in predictable areas of audio activity, servicing the film, broadcast, entertainment, manufacture, and scientific industries. However with recent advances in low-cost, high-quality technology, these centers are becoming unnecessary to produce a professional product. The technology of music production is increasingly in the hands of the artist who creates it. It is no longer mandatory to contract all levels of record production from the proprietary chain of a major label and its producers, engineers, and studios. It is no longer necessary to send audio forensic materials to a central national laboratory for processing or to contract real-time audio analysis from a select number of providers who can afford the equipment and are trained to operate it. These are, therefore, no longer the only sources of predictable employment for aspiring audio engineers. Continual change is the only predictable element in the audio industry, and those who fail to prepare and adapt to change will be left behind.
When the audio industry was young, so was the educational industry. There was a time when on-the-job training was the best way to advance in an audio services career. This apprenticeship system provided an employment pool for certain segments of the audio industry where clients' specialized needs and limited educational opportunities existed. This system provided a work force for a local studio, manufacturer or performance venue, but it lacked breadth and objectivity. Many manufacturers began offering tutorials on their products. There were few programs of formal study in audio available. It is becoming increasingly difficult to progress to a rewarding career in audio with only an informal education. The growing complexity and globalization of the industry require employees who are educable, disciplined, and capable of dealing with a system of delayed rewards.
Research and scientific careers in audio have always required a formal education, yet most aspirants had to put together a self-structured study program of such multiple disciplines as engineering, computer science, physics, medicine, and arts. Formal programs that combined studies in engineering and music began in Europe in the 1960s, and consequently became the models for many of today's interdisciplinary programs offered worldwide. One such program is the tonmeister program which combines studies in engineering and music. There is now a natural division between programs that are designed for the engineering major with a music/communications minor and those designed for the music/communications major with an engineering/ science minor. Programs can now be found in private schools, colleges and universities, and the length of study varies depending on the courses and the specialties of the faculties offering the programs. There is a common body of knowledge and vocabulary present in all of these programs, but each institution has its special niche and emphasis. At this time there is no global accrediting or certifying agency in audio, only individual or national accrediting agencies.
Cooperative programs utilizing the strengths of separate institutions are now crossing international borders with student and faculty exchange programs. The AES has been a major supporter of formalizing such programs. Advanced placements and the transferability of course credits among cooperating institutions are becoming more common. Such practices have now begun among the United Kingdom, Sweden and Russia, and it is growing elsewhere. Participation in these exchange programs is limited to those students and faculties who are part of the formal educational process. As the audio industry expands in the international marketplace, the need for qualified employees becomes more important. Companies with international ties require a work force that has a global awareness and is diverse in gender and ethnicity.
AES activities have contributed to the continuing education of audio professionals and students through local AES section meetings and workshops, tutorials, and publications presented at regional conferences and international conventions. The AES represents over 12,000 members. Many of these members are associated with the over 100 AES sections located worldwide. Over 35 of these AES sections are student sections, which are situated on campuses offering studies in audio and sponsored by faculty members who are professional members of the AES. These student sections provide meeting places for common study and accelerated education, helping to prepare our young members for audio careers. The AES Education Committee guides these students and oversees the Student Delegate Assembly with its elected international student officers.
THE AUDIO ENGINEERING SOCIETY
The Audio Engineering Society, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998, is the only scientific Society dedicated to audio. Through its continuing efforts to provide an international forum for issues in audio, the AES is dedicated to expanding its involvement in communications and standardization of the industry. With the various standing committees of the AES dealing with such issues as technical, standards, membership, awards, education, publications, conferences and conventions, it is anticipated that active participation of our members will ensure a leadership position for the AES in the audio community.
The first edition of the Directory (1979), which was compiled by the Education Committee of the AES, listed schools offering studies in audio. The updated Directory now has over 200 listings, worldwide, ranging from short courses to graduate degrees. The Directory and selected educational articles can be found at the AES Web site http://www.aes.org/education.
It is easy to predict that future directions of education in audio will be guided by the combined efforts of the international forum of educators and professionals who meet under the banner of the Audio Engineering Society at its local, regional, and international meetings. As new technologies and applications immerge in this dynamic industry, active members of the AES will know about them first and will most likely be responsible for the breakthroughs.