Training Options: Three Paths to a Career in Audio
There is a real diversity of opinion when it comes to whether or not the aspiring live sound engineer gains any benefit from formal training, and if so, whether this must take the form of a traditional four-year B.S. or B.A. degree, a technical two-year degree, or a shorter program which may or may not offer some sort of certificate of completion (which may mean something positive to a potential employer if they know about and have a good impression of the school, but most likely will mean nothing at all to them, or in the worst case may be detrimental, if the person hiring has a bad impression of that specific program, or short-term training programs in general).
There are some who insist that you can’t make it to the top without a four-year degree, and many music departments now offer audio engineering degrees that cover everything from studio, live, and broadcasting audio, to audio science, music theory, and optional business courses. Others feel that some school is beneficial, but don’t feel training needs to amount to a four-year degree. These people argue that a two-year degree in electronics, and a one to two months training program in audio engineering is more than sufficient or even ideal. Still others will argue that you will start at the bottom regardless of a degree, and are better off learning on the job, since anything but on-the-job learning is theoretical anyway, and even the best schools can only offer limited amounts of real-world practice, if they offer any at all. Often, these views will match the view holder’s own experience or choices, but that makes the arguments for each position no less valid.
All three viewpoints have some evidence to support them and some evidence to contradict them. The truth is it is possible to find examples of successful audio engineers who have followed each route and the same goes for people who have failed to thrive in the field and who eventually chose to move on. In the directory for this chapter we include links to articles whose authors argue in defense of each of these views so you can see for yourself the arguments for each option. Before choosing any option, we encourage you to read these opinions as well as our own below, and to also seek out the opinions of local sound company professionals to consider, as you decide your own path. If you don’t know any, call around and tell them you want to prepare for a career in live sound and want to know which applicants they prefer to hire and what training they chose for themselves. You may need to follow up as most are busy folks, but if you are friendly and persistent, enough will get back to you with an answer to make the time you spent asking worthwhile. Be sure to ask the same of the sound engineers working at any local venues as well, especially if work of this type is especially interesting to you.
Then take all this information, plus what you know of the demands/benefits of the field, and combine it with what you know of your own options (a four-year degree is much more attractive to those with college accounts, or eligibility for scholarships or grants, than to those whose only option is to pay completely via loans), aptitudes (some very smart people are not good students which reflects their particular way of learning and not their aptitude or lack thereof), and circumstances (some people have familial obligations that make moving to pursue training currently impossible even if eventually they might be able to move to pursue more job opportunities), and make the best choice you can based on your circumstances. An informed choice won’t always turn out to be the right choice, but the odds of it are better than the 50 percent afforded to a random choice, and usually a lot better than an ill-informed choice which at best has no more than a random chance of getting it right, and usually is much less.
Excerpt from Basic Live Sound Reinforcement: A Practical Guide for Starting Live Audio by Raven Biederman and Penny Pattison © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.