In that “once upon a time” three decades ago, when Mix began, someone who was a motivated self-starter could visit a local studio, sign on as a janitor/go-fer and learn the ropes from the inside, eventually becoming an assistant engineer and later a staff engineer/producer. As gear became too complex to simply learn on the fly, such apprenticeships faded and the number of audio education programs rose significantly.
Today, the world is an entirely different place. The recording studio industry is hardly what it was even 10 years ago, and the post-graduation activities of the class of 2007 is far more likely to involve new media than getting that entry-level gig at some big music studio. And many of these new grads were in their teens when the Internet first became a major force. This new generation of “digital natives” may have never experienced the dubious pleasures of analog recorder alignment. Nor should they be expected to.
For many, their concept of a studio centers on the computer — and with good reason. There are few tasks that the well-equipped laptop can't handle. In a world dominated by entertainment media in all its forms — interactive games, point-of-purchase audio, digital signage, new media, audio books, Web animation, podcasts, v-logs and, yes, even music downloads — the need for audio production is perhaps greater than ever. Even YouTube — everybody's favorite Web free-for-all for silly videos — has emerged as a major source of disseminating marketing messages of every sort: commercial, religious, political or otherwise.
However — aside from a few large game publishers — most growth is in these developing areas, where much of the available work comes from independent contractors and small companies. Sure, there are still jobs in traditional recording/brodcast/production, but these hardly represent the majority. Here is where that grad with some good business savvy and an entrepreneurial spirit can build a small company to feed these markets. Sometimes the best job you'll ever have is the one you create for yourself, and the successful candidate in these cases is the individual with just the right blend of creative and cognitive/technical energies.
Mindful of the situation, some schools have developed courses or entire programs in entertainment media. This month in his “AudioNext” column, our own Alexander Brandon discovered a rising trend in schools offering training in game production. Certainly in games, the audio doesn't live in a vacuum: Tracks are constantly changing in terms of amplitude, ambience and pitch to match the screen action, and learning this discipline, along with file management and understanding how the audio dovetails with each game's programming is essential — certainly far more complex than miking a kick drum on a rock session.
Audio education has evolved into a big business, and media education — in its many forms — is an increasingly important part of the curriculum. Students need to leave the school as a Jack or Jill of all trades and be prepared for the brave new production world of the present and the future.