Back to School

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.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

5 thoughts on “Back to School

  • August 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    I am a student where Mark works, and his way of teaching really gets deep into signal flow terms and understanding and not just doing. Yes its difficult and at times very long but overall I believe we get our moneys worth with the big guy! Off the bat you can tell he knows what hes talking about and I dont think there ever was a question he was not able to answer. Thank you Mark for everything I hope your school year goes well with the new set of juniors.

    • August 28, 2013 at 12:49 am

      I was one of the many students last year waiting for you to show up. We all knew you had probably forgotten that school started back. I used to think that your classes were extremely hard. When Mark says you have to put double the hours in to get a passing grade he means just that. Its all worth it in the end. You come out of his class actually understanding things. Mark has actually helped me every semester I’ve known him. He’s a good teacher. This is our senior year and thankfully we come out of this program into the workforce understanding the knowledge and theory behind audio. How things actually work, understanding and knowing signal flow is a factor in audio. Incoming juniors please make sure you all study and take lots of notes. We’re all here to help you if you need help! Don’t waste time! Mark has a lot of experience that you don’t want to miss out on!

  • August 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Mark, have you sent these guys their cheques yet? ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ heh heh heh

  • August 29, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    You know Grant, I gave an assignment in my first class meeting with these students. The assignment was to read one of my posts and then write a brief paragraph about it TO BE SUBMITTED to me as a pdf file. It just shows you how closely they pay attention to my instructions!

  • August 30, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    One can’t just assume to attend the classroom and learn the basics overnight. It takes time, experience, hands-on, and knowing the principles of recording. Mark has so much background in the audio world , he demonstrates his knowledge thru his lectures. The only way to know you understood what was taught in class, is if you are able to explain it to someone else, and for them to comprehend your explanation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 − one =