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Are Production / Engineering Schools Worth It?

This post focuses on whether or not music production and audio engineering schools are worth it.

There seems to be a constant debate between those who eschew formal education for ‘real-life’ and those who pursue formal education. Those who put school down often tout the benefits of saving the money and claim that schools are always behind the times. Those who advocate schools often suggest that schools offer opportunities for networking, prepare you for the real world, and weed out those who aren’t really serious.

I myself lie somewhere between the two. I dropped out of formal college at the University of Minnesota and am happy to have done so. Despite being satisfied to truncate one aspect of my schooling, I dropped out to attend the Institute of Production and Recording as their first student to enroll.

I asked some folks online and in person about their experiences with audio/music schools and I was surprised to see a fairly consistent response. What I heard from most people was…

  • Schools have an agenda to sell you on the idea that there are plenty of jobs to be had in the industry. After all, if they didn’t, how would they be relevant? This largely isn’t so true. Actual jobs, particularly in the music industry, are scarce and being independent is difficult and time consuming.
  • Teach yourself what you want to know. Whether or not you choose to go to school, you should investigate what you want to know on your own time. Schools will teach you general concepts, especially in shorter programs. If there is something specific you would like to learn, dive into books, the internet, and experimentation.
  • If you do choose school, take advantage of the resources available including studio time, your classmates (and their talents), and your instructors. If you’re going to pay all that money, take advantage of it!
  • The value of internships cannot be replaced by education. If you can get an internship without first attending school, do it! But often you need to demonstrate some schoolwork to get the internship. Even if you went to school, find an internship with someone experienced.
  • Few people who graduate from schools end up using their education for its ‘intended’ purpose. Whether that’s ultimately a bad thing depends on your goals.
  • You will learn much more at an actual university program than at an ‘academy’ or technical school. These skills will make you more marketable for finding jobs, but not necessarily more marketable for doing business. Business is where you find it.
  • Schools are almost always behind the times. Don’t go to school expecting to learn the latest tricks but instead to learn where things have been. Graduates have to be innovative in their own right to succeed.

Me? As I said earlier, I did a lot of DIY learning before I attended IPR in 2003. I got a great deal on tuition (about 1/3 price) as I happened to be in their first class of 8 or so. As a result of the small class size, I also got a ton of studio time and very personal attention. I don’t really think it’s fair to compare that education with the state of the school now… but it was pretty helpful for me, in retrospect. I learned a lot about the general business of music than I knew before and it opened up some cool opportunities for me, at least for a little while. My internship at Mastermix Studios with Tom Tucker rounded out my education very well and landed me a job, for a little while, as one of their house engineers. That helped me gain a bit of a portfolio and earn some money early on.

I do feel that schools tend to play off the idea that there are a ton of jobs out there for us and that we all have the potential to be superstars. This just isn’t true. It’s a bit of a scam and a bit of a necessary evil.

My opinion: internships are much more valuable in the long run. but you often need some classwork to get them. School is a social catalyst and an opportunity for practice. And now for the response you all expected to hear: it’s worth what you make of it