I’ve had many people ask me over the years how I’ve learned all that I have in regards to audio. Let’s keep in mind, I am no modern marvel by any means and I’m still learning new things every day!
Nevertheless, I do play several instruments, have written hundreds of songs (some better than others), and recorded endless hours of various bands. I’ve been knee deep in this world as far back as I can remember. Some of my first memories are of watching my grandpa blaze up the stage on his fiddle, or pedal steel, in random country bars across the midwest.
I suppose you could say music is in my blood, considering the vast majority of my family is involved in music in one capacity or another. Even my 3-year old daughter is picking up the guitar (open G tuning is a godsend).
It surprises many people that I speak to, to learn that I’ve never had a single second of formal training on any instruments, nor did I study audio engineering in college. I’ve amassed what is, I guess, a vast amount of knowledge in this arena from simply experiencing it.
I’ve been asked dozens of times, “Do I have to go to school to learn about audio engineering?” My answer every time is, “No!” Of course my opinion is just one in a sea of very vocal, very self-assured, engineer’s voices. Even the keeper of this fine website, Joe Gilder, studied music and audio production at MTSU, one of the more prominent schools in the country for that type of thing. While I do see a place for that type of education I don’t necessarily think that it’s mandatory to thrive in this industry.
I once read that the average tuition at a 4 year school is $9,000 per year. That’s not including books, meals, room and board, etc. Also that is an average school. If you look into some of the higher profile schools you’re looking at way more than that, and it’s not uncommon to leave college with a six figure debt riding on your back.
But let’s assume it’s only $9k per year. That’s $36,000 that you’re going to spend, and you’ll walk away with NO equipment of your own to actually use in the real world.
I’ve come up with MANY different wishlists of gear that total less than $36k, and I’d bet that any engineer would be happy to use the system.
- Digidesign 003 Rack – $1200
- Digidesign C24 – $10,000
- Focal CMS 65 (pair) – $1700
- LA610 – $1600
- ISA 428 – $2000
- Mojave MA200 – $1000
- SM81 (pair) – $700
- C414 – $1000
- TLM49 – $1500
- Nice iMac – $1500
- Daking Mic Pre IV – $2200
- Waves Gold Bundle – $1000
- U87 – $3500
- Rosetta 800 – $2700
- RE20 – $400
- MD421 (pair) – $700
- SM57’s (we’ll say 5 of them) – $500
All of that comes out to about $33,000, assuming that you pay full street price on all of it. You still have $3,000 left to spend on furniture, cabling, stands, and anything else you might want to add on.
While you may disagree with some of the choices of gear on the list, I’m sure you could come up with your own list for around the same price. Heck, knock that control surface off, get used to using your mouse, and you just opened up another $10k that you can use to beef up your mic locker. I think you get the point.
Now imagine that you get a decent day job that allows you plenty of time at night (most bands dig recording at night anyway) to use your gear and get familiar with it. Let’s say you spend 15 hours per week (the average amount of class time for a college student), over the next 4 years, using that rig. I have a sneaking suspicion that you will come out at the end of that 4 years with some SERIOUS mixing chops and a nice set of ears on your head. Oh, and did I mention that you get to keep all of the gear that you’ve been using for the last 4 years? It’s yours, not some school’s!
Okay, so we all no it’s not that easy and you obviously have to secure funding, but you also don’t have to start with a $36,000 system to learn this stuff. Get a good set of speakers, a decent interface, such as an Mbox2 Pro, and you’ll be well on your way. Most people can get together the money for that.
The key here is scheduling, which I believe is covered in another of Joe’s articles. Most people thrive in a structured environment, and if they don’t have a set schedule they get lazy. Many people who try to travel this road of learning it yourself in the real world get caught up with the REAL WORLD. Bills, friends, jobs, kids, dogs, etc all take up our time and tear us away from the gear we set out to learn. If you set a schedule similar to that of a class schedule and make sure that you stick to at least 15 hours per week in front of your rig, you will develop some serious skills when it comes to music.
This all begs the question, is that what I did? Not really. I got into everything musical out of necessity. All I wanted to do was play drums in a band. Well, we needed a PA for the other players so I bought one. $100 for my first mixer, not bad. Since I owned it, I learned how to run it.
Then as the band grew, my skills had to follow. That band broke up and I formed another band. That band got even bigger, so our live system got bigger.
Then guess what came next? We wanted to record an album. Studio rates were ridiculous so I decided to do it myself. I grabbed some mics and an old 4-track and started figuring things out. I started making more money, so I started buying more gear. Then that band broke up so I decided to buy a guitar and make my own albums. Then I needed keys. Next came vocals.
Before I knew it I had an entire studio in my house and was not only recording my own projects but those of several other bands and artists as well. It’s just never stopped progressing, and it probably never will. In the middle of all of that I was a restaurant manager, art student, a father, a drug dealer, a college dropout, a husband, and now I work a regular 9-5 office gig while making music every night in my studio. In case you missed it, there was no point in that brief outline where I went to school for audio.
Again, there is certainly some validity to studying audio production in schools, but my point would be that it’s not the only way. My secondary point would be for all of us out there who have long since passed college by. Dedicate some time, attention, and, of course, money to building and learning your recording rig.
With the current state of technology, there is no reason why you can’t get pro results in your “home” studio. Just because it’s only a 5 foot walk from your studio to your living room doesn’t mean you’re not capable of pro results. It simply means that you have to walk a shorter distance when it’s time pass out after 15 hours of mixing.