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How to Choose an Audio Education Program

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCHOOL Welcome back, prospective students. It's been a year since Mix last published a directory of audio education programs. This

Welcome back, prospective students. It’s been a year since Mix last published a directory of audio education programs. This year’s guide includes more schools and programs than we’ve ever offered before, and we hope you find it useful in your school search.

Every month, the editors receive dozens of phone calls from prospective students (and their parents) asking how to find a suitable program. As we’ve told many of you on the telephone, Mix can not recommend specific education programs. This is partly because in order to choose a school, the applicant must research the programs in-depth. That means visiting schools, checking out their facilities and finding out all you can about what the program offers. And the main reason we can’t tell you where to apply is simply that we’re not you. The school that’s right for you will be the one that fulfills your needs, teaches what you want to learn, costs what you can pay, etc.

What we’ve tried to do by offering this audio education directory is to provide a starting point for doing that research, so that you can find the school that suits you. In addition, our Insider Audio columnist, Paul D. Lehrman, offers his informed advice on choosing a school in his column this month, so check that out on page 24.

After you review the directory, we strongly suggest that you then request brochures and course catalogs from the schools that interest you, and visit the ones you’re seriously considering. Schools may also be able to get you in touch with former students who can give you a first-hand account of their experience.

As you wade through all of this material, keep in mind the following 15 points; these have appeared in Mix before, but we find that, like our directory, they warrant repeating.

1. Length and purpose of program. Will you be in school for seven weeks, three months or four years? Are you committed to earning a degree, or will a certificate do?

2. Accreditation. You most likely can trust a school that’s accredited by a reputable body – a state or federal Department of Education, the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), the National Association of Trade & Technical Schools (NATTS) or the National Trade School Congress (NATC). But just because a school isn’t accredited doesn’t mean it’s a “fly-by-night” operation.

3. Prerequisites. Entry to in-depth electronics courses often requires a solid, formal background in math and physics. A short program may require some recording experience.

4. Program philosophy. Does the educator first teach the academic, theoretical side of recording, or head right for the faders? Does the school offer a balance of book/lecture teaching and hands-on training? What’s the ratio of studio time to class time, and how often does the school let you use the equipment? Does the school expose students to audio’s past, present and future? Does the school teach equipment maintenance and troubleshooting techniques?

5. Interdisciplinary opportunities. Does the school delve more into music composition and production, or music recording? Audio for video? Radio production? Soundtracks for film? Multimedia? Live sound and location recording? Corporate and industrial uses of audio? How much time is devoted to each area? The more facets of audio covered, the better your chance of finding a job in this age of studio diversification.

6. Job placement opportunities. Does the school assist the student in the agonizing weeks following graduation – offering help with resume writing or providing real job leads or the names of facilities that have hired other graduates?

7. Track record. What percentage of graduates have found work in recording, production or a related field? Will the school provide names so you can call them to discuss the program?

8. Real-world exposure. Does the school provide students with the chance to record live sessions, for instance, where you meet with local musicians, set up in the studio, record basics, do overdubs, mix and premaster?

9. Teaching devices. Do educators use “the real thing,” textbooks, technical audio journals and/or audio-visual aids? Do they teach theory using a book or using a book and equipment? Does the school have its own multitrack studio, or do students travel to professional facilities where the school buys session time?

10. Internship program. Does the school require students to work in a studio as an intern (great experience, no pay)? Few studio managers will hire graduates who haven’t enjoyed the real-life experiences offered by an internship. If the school requires an internship, must you find your own internship – which gives you job-hunting chops – or does the school set it up?

11. Financial considerations. Will paying for your education leave you bankrupt? Does the school grant scholarships, offer loans or otherwise help students secure financial aid?

12. Business and management courses. Does the school expose students to the business of recording or economics of studio management?

13. Private or public institution? State-owned schools are sometimes better funded than private ones, but it takes longer for them to acquire new equipment: Red tape and magnetic tape don’t always mix very well.

14. Location. If the school or program is close to a thriving audio/music or video/film production marketplace, the employment potential will be relatively high if you choose to stay in the area.

15. Reputation. A well-known, well-connected school tends to attract the attention of equipment manufacturers who are willing to set up mutually beneficial relationships with the school, thereby allowing students to learn the ropes on specific (and usually popular) types of systems and gear.