Choosing a Recording School
|SUNY-Purchase recently converted several practice rooms into recording studios.
seen those amusing flow charts where you answer a series of
questions, and each one leads you a certain direction down a path, and
you find out, for example, which instrument you’re cut out to play? If you
don’t want to cut your hair and you don’t care about making money, play
cello. If you cut your hair and you want to meet women (or men): bass
guitar. . . . No one should actually choose their vocation based on a chart
(or a joke), but there are certain common questions to ask yourself before
traveling down a new career path. Consider this a sort of guide through
the maze of choosing a recording school.
Are you a musician dreaming of a big career shift to the other side of the
glass, as it were? Do you simply want to track better demos? Are you a composer
who needs to learn more about integrating sound and picture? A project
studio owner who wants to drill deeper into Logic? There are dozens of
audio education programs all around the U.S., and beyond, to help just about
any prospective student, but it’s important to define what you want before
you can narrow the field of seemingly endless
To start: Anyone who’s done a really difficult
maze knows it sometimes help to look at
the page upside down. Let’s start at the end.
Endgame Before you start applying to
schools, define for yourself, as best you can,
your goals for the outcome. Do you see recording
school as a path toward an engineering
career? If so, which field interests you most?
Music recording and mixing? Post-production
for film? Do you see yourself working in a
commercial recording studio, or as an owner/
operator? The school you choose obviously
needs to offer the information and experience
needed for your chosen career. Also find out
where the school’s graduates have found work,
and what kinds of career-placement services a
On the other hand, if you’re continuing
an already-decent audio education—always
a great idea—or want to learn one new
technique or piece of gear, you may simply
want to choose an online class (of which
there are many) or a hands-on seminar
close to home. Your ultimate career goal
is the biggest factor in determining which
school will serve best, but it’s certainly not
the only one.
Bricks and Mortar vs. the Virtual
School A class full of like-minded students,
a knowledgeable professor, well-maintained
equipment, hands-on learning . . . a brick-andmortar
audio engineering school can be an amazing
training ground, but not everyone is at liberty
to take a break from earning a living to dedicate
two years or more to recording school exclusively.
For those students, there are scores of online
audio education courses, many of which are less
expensive than in-person classes. A lot of longestablished
brick-and-mortar schools now offer
a virtual component, too, so real-life learning can
be combined with online classes.
|A studio/classroom at Miracosta Community College.
“I was skeptical about online courses in
music production until I started designing
and teaching online courses,” says Stephen
Webber, a professor at Berklee College of Music
). “Now I can say that the classes I
teach online are every bit as rigorous and applicable
as the classes I teach in person—probably
more rigorous. Berklee Music’s technology
delivery system has gotten seriously good,
and the content is top-notch as well. Don Was
recorded exclusive interviews just for the
course, and it turned out stunning. How often
does Don come to class? In the online version
of Music Production Analysis, he makes an appearance
and shares wisdom a few times every
Any audio engineering job will require at
least some personal interaction, however, and
an all-online education might not give you
needed people skills. It’s all about balance.
BA, BS, AA A traditional four-year university
degree can offer a well-rounded approach to
education. A targeted vocational school, on the
other hand, might not teach music history or
economics, but it’ll get you plugged in faster. Is
it meaningful to you to obtain a Bachelor’s degree?
Can you learn all you need to by taking a
Pro Tools certification program? Try to determine
what will matter to you in the long term.
$$$ The price of audio education may, but
does not necessarily, relate to the time spent. A
two-year course at a top-end, for-profit school
with high-class facilities may cost more than
four years at a good public college. However,
that shiny school may provide equally shiny,
new, mint equipment and big-name faculty
that others can’t afford. Do you get what you
pay for? The Federal government has actually
been taking a hard look at the relationship
between vocational school tuitions and graduates’
corresponding earning potential.
| Studio A at SUNY-Purchase
At southern California’s Miracosta Community
), where classes
cost about $30 per unit, students can earn an
Associates degree in Recording Arts, or certificates
in Recording Arts, Sound Reinforcement,
Digital Audio, Computerized Audio Production,
Business of Music, Songwriting and
Guitar, and Music Technology.
“The State of California funds community
college education for California residents, and
we recently received grants that allowed us
to expand and improve our music technology
facilities,” says faculty member Christy Coobatis.
“We don’t offer a Master’s degree, but
all of our instructors possess a minimum of a
Master’s degree in addition to a wide variety of
industry experience. For example, keyboardist
Dan Siegel is a full-time Music Technology
instructor at Miracosta. He has 19 albums out
on CBS Records, performing with the likes of
Herbie Hancock, Abe Laboriel, Nathan East,
Vinnie Coliuta, etc.”
Coobatis himself has been a composer and
songwriter for NBC Movies of the Week, ESPN,
Cinemax, HBO, and more.
So, consider all types of institutions, investigate
financial aid options, and make a careful
choice. Following your passion is important; so
are three squares a day, a roof, etc.
|Graduate Joe Caravalho
Major and Minor Markets If you’re
considering attending a brick-and-mortar
school (as opposed to enrolling in online
courses), location can be meaningful.
Schools in southern California may facilitate
internships in high-profile L.A. recording
studios or film sound companies. Nashville
is teeming with A-list musicians, studios and
live-performance venues, and Nashville-area schools may have close relationships with those businesses.
However, good internship opportunities aren’t exclusive to schools in music/audio hubs. The Conservatory of Arts and Sciences in Phoenix, AZ, places student interns in facilities from coast to coast. “We find that we have the highest percentage of internships in L.A. and Nashville, as well as many in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco,” says Greg Stefus, CRAS’ Internship Coordinator and Director of Student Services. “We’ve also had great amounts of success in mid-level market cities like New Orleans, Miami, and Atlanta. There’s the most economic infrastructure for our industry in those towns.”
Think about how your school is connected to the market you hope to enter. Also consider where you want to live and make lasting connections. Austin? Seattle? Where do you want to land?
Speaking of Internships Any audio engineering
program worth its salt will require
students to intern at a professional company or
facility. This usually means that each student
has to assemble a résumé, and apply for an internship
the same way an applicant interviews
for a job; schools may have relationships with
wonderful studios, equipment developers, etc.,
but internships aren’t necessarily just doled
out. Think of the intern-application process as
an essential part of your audio education, and
view the internship as one of the most important
chances you’ll have to learn, show what you
can do, and make connections with pros who
may help you on the way to a new career. Paid
or unpaid, your internship is your first job.
“We commit 20 hours of the program’s 30-
Graduate Joe Caravalho week class time focusing on the soft skills like
studio etiquette and communication in the facility,”
Stefus says. “We teach how to interview
correctly and how to create a résumé that’s
for internship purposes as opposed to a job.
All students who complete the Conservatory’s
program know how to get signal to tape, but
equally as important they also have to be able
to show that they can conduct themselves in a
manner that fits the particular facility.”
The Faculty Some of the high-profile private
institutions have very impressive engineers’
and producers’ names on their faculty rosters.
Learning from the best can be really helpful and
exciting, can open doors, and may look good on
your résumé. But, of course, there are plenty
of unfamous teachers with loads of information
and real-world experience to share as well.
Read faculty bios on schools’ websites, and try
to get the opportunity to view a few classes in
session. A great teacher can change everything.
The Studios Hands-on studio time is crucial
to any audio education. Class sizes make a
big difference. The relationship between the
number of working studios on campus and
the number of audio students may also be an
indicator of how much time you can expect
to get with the gear you’re learning. Schools
may relegate differing amounts or types of
hands-on studio time at different stages as
well; third-year students may be trusted with
a workstation that newbies don’t get to use.
|A student at work in one of Berklee’s studios.
Also, there are as many different types of
school studios as there are . . . studios. Do
you want to get your hands on analog tape,
or will Pro Tools do it for you? Are there
vintage ribbon mics in the cabinet? Do you
see yourself recording bands live in a large
tracking room, or building tracks piece by
piece in the control room? Consider the
gear, consider the space, consider this a
chance to experiment.
Also consider the fact that dedicated audio
schools aren’t the only institutions offering
engineering courses. Peter Denenberg, a
Grammy-nominated engineer/producer and
chair of studio production at State University
of New York at Purchase (purchase.edu)
helped spearhead the addition of recording
technology courses to the school’s music
program. The university recently converted
several musicians’ practice rooms into project
studios to facilitate the new emphasis
“We have many classical, composition,
voice, and jazz students requesting to take
studio courses at Purchase—more each semester,”
Denenberg says. “Whether they
want this experience for audition reels or
maintaining their own websites, or perhaps
recording themselves for web-based collaboration,
at this point some level of technical
proficiency is required for any modern
Multimedia That used to be a meaningful
word: multimedia. Now we take it for granted
that every piece of audio has a video component
and every image has a soundtrack, but
it’s still worth noting how much integrated
media is offered by a given school. Many are
the students who go off to audio school with
a dream of recording rock ‘n’ roll bands,
only to discover their inner post-production
editor, or game-score composer. Will your
school offer the opportunity to learn different
fields of audio work? Are the equipment
and the facilities and the classes all there to
Resources To help in your school search,
Electronic Musician’s sister magazine, Mix,
maintains a directory of U.S. audio engineering
schools, broken down by state (mixguides.com/education/directory). You should also
talk to students and graduates of programs you’re
considering, in addition to conducting your own
online search and talking with admissions personnel.
There are loads of questions to consider,
and many of the answers are quite personal,
but there are also lots of helpful people out
there to guide you through the maze.
Barbara Schultz is a frequent contributor to Mix and Electronic Musician, as well as a book editor and reviewer, among other things.