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Full Sail Real World Education

Twenty-eight years ago, when a recording education was primarily the province of conservatories and four-year degree programs and still viewed with skepticism

Twenty-eight years ago, when a recording education was primarily the province of conservatories and four-year degree programs — and still viewed with skepticism by the industry at large — a small team began teaching recording out of a mobile unit in Altamonte Springs, Fla., adopting the name Full Sail. It was a simpler time in audio, to be sure, with digital technology still on the horizon and a signal chain and workflow that was largely self-contained.

President Garry Jones and chief information officer Isis Jones enjoy time with Full Sail students.

Photo: Ed McDonald

During the intervening years, driven largely by feedback from graduates and employers, Full Sail has evolved, diversified and expanded to encompass 178 acres on the Winter Park, Fla., campus, with 13 degree programs (with plans to reach 18), including Recording Arts, Show Production and Touring, Film, Game Development, Web Development and Music Business. Over the past two years alone, three new degrees have been added, including master’s programs in a new online initiative that includes degrees in Entertainment Business and Education Media Design & Technology. And with the implementation of a new five-year plan, Full Sail has embarked on its most ambitious expansion of facilities and curricula in its history.

“It used to be that media, entertainment and communications were three discrete industries,” says Garry Jones, the first employee, now president. “Today, all three of those industries are being combined because of two powerful forces: popular culture and technology. Our mission is to make sure we are training our students to address that evolution.”

Convergence is a word that’s been around awhile, but it’s now more significant than ever,” adds Isis Jones, chief information officer. “The lines are blurring in the media arts, so we are training the whole-brain student — the left-brain techie and the right-brain creative. Students who come to us now have been on computers since three years old, and there needs to be a digital infusion of technology into the classroom to stay current. Students need to be engaged and entertained — a podcast, interactive snippets, an archive of guest lectures, animations — and be able to access the info via multiple formats so they can watch it on their iPod, their iPhone, or their laptop no matter where they are. It’s all meant to enhance, not to replace the teacher. We understand that technology should not take the place of an inspiring teacher.”

The Apple reference is not casual. As of March 1, each incoming student (including online students with the program launched last month) started receiving a MacBook Pro custom-loaded with software to suit their individual program. For Recording Arts students, that meant Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro and the iLife suite (GarageBand, iPhoto, iDVD and iMovie). These tools are used in conjunction with on-campus studio access to Digidesign, Amek, Neve, SSL and Sony consoles along with Pro Tools, Nuendo, Cubase, Sonar, Sound Forge and more.

The Harrison MPC3-D-equipped Dubbing Stage, pictured on this month’s cover, typifies the merging of media, while reinforcing that Recording Arts remains the bedrock of the school.

Bill Smith, one of the early Full Sail students, today heads the Recording Arts program. “We still have our console jockeys,” he says. “But they’re surrounded by this whole generation of digital natives, artists who use technology as a compositional tool. It’s no longer just the studio. They’re looking at videogames, post, the Internet.”

Smith’s counterpart in Show Production and Touring, Dana Roun, has also witnessed a recent boom; a new building for club sound was added this year and a 500-seat venue is under construction. “Today’s students already have an idea of what they want to do when they arrive,“ he says. “We designed the program to give them the building blocks, and we emphasize the reality of working as a crew.”

With 5,300 students and 1,100 employees in Florida, and with recent expanded relationships with the L.A. Film School and the L.A. Recording School, during the past five years Full Sail has averaged a 74-percent placement rate across all programs, and its graduates work on Grammy and Oscar-winning projects and invent new jobs on their own. “We’ve really seen a rise in the entrepreneur, both when entering school and embarking on their careers,” says Tammy Gilbert, VP of career development. “Each student will have their own definition of success when they leave here on their journey.”

“You hear that the music industry is on the wane, that it will never be the same,” concludes Jones. “Well, it’s not the same — it’s evolving into a new and exciting hybrid. Hit records are emerging from game soundtracks, retail chains unrelated to the traditional music business are bolstering songs on Billboard‘s Top 100, and ad agencies are now simultaneously launching new products and new recording artists. It’s exciting — I can feel it when I walk through the halls.”