Opinion

Is a Degree in Audio Production or Music Business Worth It?

I often hear a question along the lines of, "Is it worth going to college to land a career in the music industry?" The question is complicated to answer, but I have plenty of advice to offer to those of you who are considering a career in music.

There’s a lot to consider if you want to chase down a degree to kickstart a music career. Truthfully, I can definitely give good advice that’ll help you gather the means to decide for yourself.

No matter which direction you’re planning on going, it’s really important to understand how difficult it is to land and maintain a sustainable career in the music industry.

First, take some time to ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What area of the music industry am I interested in?
  2. Why do I want a career in the music industry?
  3. How bad do I want it, and what lengths am willing I take to get it?

If you can’t answer the 3rd question in full, it’s not worth it.

Audio Production

If you imagine yourself pushing faders behind a large mixing console, you’re probably thinking along the lines of an audio engineer/producer. Audio production is a wide area that pertains to the professionals who record, mix, and master music or sound for film.

This branch demands technical and creative discipline. Audio engineers and producers have a strong sense of music composition. They have the ability to forge the science of sound with music composition to satisfy the needs of the project. The dual-headed knowledge-base needs to be present at all times to ensure an accurate translation of an artist’s vision.

They carry strong technical skills, as well as a thorough understanding of the subjectivity of music. Because of this, most audio professionals have a working knowledge of multiple genres beyond the norm. Remaining flexible and patient helps accommodate for a wider client pool. Professional audio industry veterans receive a steady flow of work because they operate in a constant state of learning while keeping their vocabulary of modern production processes sharp.

Music Business

The music business is made up of artist managers, promoters, publicists, booking agents, talent agencies, music labels, performance rights organizations…There are a ton of different hats to wear, but don’t let the variety fool you. Getting a job with a record label presents its own challenges.

The music business is constructed by a complex network of professionals.

The people who work on the business side of the industry keep the gears turning. To put it simply, they pull the strings and coordinate things behind the curtain. Somewhere down the road, they’re the ones making sure artists get paid royalties, among many other tasks. There wouldn’t be a music industry without the hardworking people behind the scenes.

To prosper in music business, it takes a dense understanding of common business fundamentals (ie marketing, PR, accounting, etc.) and how they serve a purpose in the music industry. “Business savvy” is an understatement.

What You’ll Learn

You’ll learn different perspectives of the music industry and how the all work..

If you plan to study audio, here are some general focus areas you might come across, in no particular order:

  • Audio fundamentals – essentially, the basics of audio technology and terminology
  • Recording techniques – microphone placement, common recording practices, etc.
  • Studio technology – the tools of the trade; compressors, patch bays, synthesizers, & tons more.
  • Session planning and management
  • Signal flow – the basics of how audio travels from point A to Z in a studio environment.
  • Multi-track recording – how to record bands of all types and sizes on large format mixing consoles
  • DAW workflow (Pro Tools or Ableton Live for example)
  • MIDI – how digital instruments are utilized in music production
  • Physics of sound

For a music business focus:

  • Artist management / development
  • A&R
  • Record label operations
  • Marketing
  • PR
  • Copyright / legal issues
  • Mass media
  • Booking / promotion
  • Music publishing

Will you learn everything you need to know to launch and maintain a career in music?

Not entirely.

What You Won’t Learn

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a recording industry management program, and although I value it deeply, there is a chunk of career insight I never received. In some way, I feel like I’ve been done a disservice. On the other hand, I completely understand why.

Truth be told, they don’t really tell you how hard it is to secure a job in the music industry. Sure, I received a fantastic education and learned a lot about studio production and music business, but it isn’t enough to land a gig.

I can navigate large mixing consoles, manage studio sessions, get great performances from artists, create great mixes, and hold myself to a high standard of professionalism behind the board.

I hustled at 8:00 pm in the studio, not leaving until 6:00 am the following morning.

I worked on voice over projects, mixed sound for picture, stared at mind-numbing mixing console diagrams, memorized Pro Tools key commands…

The one thing I desperately wanted was an honest conversation with someone about how to wedge my foot in the big studio doors, and I never got it.

Then, I realized I should’ve never expected one to begin with.

I missed out on a conversation I should’ve had with myself a long time ago.

Here’s the fourth question you need to ask yourself:

What can I do for myself to get my foot in the door?

Is It Worth It?

In many ways, taking this route is definitely worth it. You’ll gain really valuable hands-on experience and learn from real professionals who’ve worked in the industry. Many of my professors worked with big names, and many of our alumni are Grammy-nominated. It isn’t an eBook, nor is it a corny YouTube video about how to mix a song. It’s the real deal. Assuming you choose a good program, you’ll love it.

I can’t really tell you if a music production program is worth it or not. It depends on your end-goal and what you can do for yourself. The credentials aren’t going to do it for you.

General Advice

  • Learn as much as you can about every aspect of the music industry
  • Don’t wait and don’t ask. Just start doing it now. The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be later on.
  • It’s not what you know. It’s who you know and what you can do for yourself; not what your connections can do for you.

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