Last year I missed the first day of class. Really. The department secretary called me early on Monday morning and asked where I was? She let me know that there was a class of 25 students sitting in the audio lab waiting for me to show up. Thankfully, the department chair was able to handle the initial session as I hurried off to meet my second class of the new semester. I DID actually go online and double check to confirm the date of the first classes of the fall semester but I guess messed up.
Well not this year. The new semester starts tomorrow and I’m ready for it. Well, at least I’ll be there at the appointed hour. Summer is over and it’s time to get a new crop of audio engineering students on their way. It’s been a summer full of traveling, writing and new projects.
I’ve been teaching audio recording and production for over 30 years now. Just last Thursday evening, I got together with 3 former students for a couple pitchers of margaritas and a #4 combination plate at El Cholo in Santa Monica (my favorite Mexican food restaurant). These three students have succeeded in audio and are now home owner, husbands, fathers and fifty something (How Phil manages to look exactly the same as he did 30 years ago, I’ll never know…but he does!).
This new semester will consist of 25 second year students (their final year of our program) and 40 first timers (with 14 additional students on a waiting list!). I teach both the introductory and advanced courses in audio engineering as well as an audio production class and digital media production course. The students come from all walks of life and from around the world. It’s not uncommon for 3-4 students to come from Japan, Korea and the UK.
Interest in audio recording as a career seems to be on the rise. The number of programs at the university level is growing. There are also more and more private programs, especially in the cities that are known for music like New York, Los Angeles and Nashville. Why are there so many students and so many schools?
Because everyone loves music, many have studied music as kids and more than a few have experience with computer applications and equipment that allows them to make their own music…so now they want to know how to record their songs. The amount of experience that they bring to the classroom varies tremendously. Some have complete ProTools rigs in their bedrooms and know more about the keyboard commands than I do, while others haven’t ever wound an audio cable.
The vast majority of incoming students are guys. But over the past 5-10 years, the number of young women enrolling in the program has grown significantly. The fall semester of my basic recording course has 7 female students…that’s a new high.
Some of the students are looking for the “inexpensive” equivalent of a private vocational program. That’s not what a university program should be. I believe that a university degree program should teach students the fundamentals of a particular topic with lots of background, theory and critical thinking instruction rather than teaching what specific audio applications can do. Learning the keyboard commands for PT is something that comes with using the program. It should not be part of a class in recording. Knowing how to route a signal (analog or digital) to a processor of some kind using an auxiliary bus happens across all platforms and can therefore be applied on a small live mixing console or a top of the line digital control surface. That’s a fundamental piece of knowledge that everyone show know.
It’s the core knowledge that is the most important thing. Once these students learn the all important world of signal flow, they will be well on their way to being able to function is the world of professional audio. I will tell them on Tuesday evening that audio engineering is basically comprised of just a few basic components. They are: routing signals, splitting signals, combining signals and processing signals. That’s it.
It takes years to be able to understand and gain efficiency with these simple things. It takes decades to do them with skill and creativity.