How To Obtain A Sound or Audio Degree

How to Obtain an Audio or Sound Engineering Degree

Obtaining and taking advantage of a degree in sound or audio engineering makes the recorded arts world go round.

Musicians and artists usually get all the fame when it comes to the music business, but it’s the audio engineers who are the unsung heroes of the industry. Your favorite songs wouldn’t sound nearly as good without capable engineers to help put them together. It could even be argued that the music business wouldn’t exist if there weren’t those with a degree in audio or sound engineering behind the scenes making it all work.

Taking courses in a formalized education atmosphere such as a trade school or college is more worthwhile now than it was in the early 2000’s. According to Chris Thoms, a production manager with extensive experience as a sound engineer, one should look for instructors with “current, real-world experience.” Although sound and audio engineering is more of a career than a degree program, this article will explore how to obtain a degree that would be useful in sound engineering by examining the programs at various music schools.

Starting an Audio Engineering Degree

The audio engineering degree program has the same prerequisites and levels of education as degree programs in other fields such as music production. One may choose to pursue an associates or bachelor’s degree initially and a master’s degree upon successful completion of a bachelor’s degree program. Both the Associates and Bachelors program require a high school diploma or equivalent.

Other requirements may vary by school, but a potential student may also be required to take and achieve a certain score on a college entrance exam. Due to importance of the hands-on learning in audio engineering programs, online degrees are typically not available until the master’s degree program, if at all.

Certificate Programs in Sound Engineering

The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) has a live sound engineering program that can have you career ready in only eleven months. Located in Tempe, AZ, a student at CRAS can expect training in film, television, video gaming and broadcast. F.I.R.S.T. Institute in Orlando, FL also has an eleven month program called Live Sound and Mixing.

The hands-on training you will receive at F.I.R.S.T. is extremely technical since the duties of a sound engineer can vary depending on the studio / venue.

A student is prepared to (to name a few):

  • Install, repair and maintain recording equipment
  • Prepare acoustical spaces
  • Advise the best equipment to use at a given venue
  • Implement a smooth transfer of live performance into flawless recording

Overall, the associate’s degree program in audio or sound engineering is designed to equip you with the foundational principles of what it will be like to work as an audio engineer. Upon successful completion of the program, one would receive and Associate of Applied Science degree or an Associate of Science degree.

The Recording Arts program at F.I.R.S.T. offers courses like Music Fundamentals and Studio Engineering to provide both book knowledge and experiential knowledge. This is the most common route to take and the route that is able to land a person an entry level job in the field.

The program should take about two years to complete. Lessons that are expected to be learned in the associate’s program are:

  • How to successfully collaborate with a team of other professionals
  • How to add music and sound effects into radio or television programs
  • How to navigate audio signal processing and digital sound design

Types of Audio and Sound Engineering Degrees

There are various types of degrees available to aspiring audio and sound engineers:

Associate of Applied Science in Audio Engineering

Whether its for television, film, or radio, an associate’s degree is the most common among audio engineers. An associate’s degree generally takes about two years to complete, where students learn the fundamentals of audio engineering. This can include a wide variety of disciplines, including studio recording, music production, sound engineering, and editing. Students are also often required to learn how to operate sound and recording equipment.

The prerequisites for an associate’s degree program in sound engineering are similar to admission into any associates degree program: High school diploma or equivalent and SAT or ACT scores. Additionally, should have a fundamental understanding of music and be able to work with computers and other technology. McNally School of Music offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Recording Technology. This may open up different career paths in sound such as Sound Designer and Acoustician.

Bachelors of Arts Degree for Sound Engineering

A sound engineer that works in studio will report to a music producer. A bachelor’s degree is not offered specifically in sound engineering because it is more of an entry-level position. For the person that loves sound and music and would like to pursue a bachelor’s degree program, there are options:

  1. Bachelor of Arts in Music – this program includes a minor in Live Sound at McNally Smith College of Music
  2. Bachelor of Music – this program’s major is Audio and Music production at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA
  3. Bachelor of Science – this is a MP & RA - Music Production and Recording Arts degree at Elon University in Elon, NC

From all of our research, if your goal is to be a true sound engineer without the mixed duties of recording engineer or music producer, one’s best option is to register for one of the certificate program, as they are geared specifically to sound engineering.

Bachelor of Science in Audio Engineering

A candidate who has obtained an associate’s degree may decide he may like to further his education in audio engineering by entering a bachelor’s program.

A bachelor’s program typically takes four years to complete, but credits from the course taken in the associate’s program are likely meet some of the requirements of the bachelor’s program. This is possible because the classes taken in the first 2-years of the bachelor’s program parallel those in the associate’s program.

One notable difference in the bachelor’s program is the requirement by most schools to complete some kind of an audio engineering project. In addition to learning about music, students will often be required to take general education courses in other areas that will better prepare them for management positions in the music industry.

Master’s Degree in Audio Engineering

A Master’s degree is the most advanced degree that an audio engineer can have. Master’s students are required to have a Bachelor’s degree, as well as demonstrate their aptitude for the major. A typical Master’s program can take anywhere from 2-3 years, and the curriculum will generally be more focused on the more advanced aspects of audio engineering, including acoustics engineering and music theory.

A decision to explore or obtain a master’s degree may have come through working in the industry, navigating through a bachelor’s program, or some other source of inspiration. A master’s degree program is designed to hone in on a very specific area of audio engineering, such as game design or acoustics.

First Steps To Enrolment

Oftentimes the most challenging part of obtaining a degree is just getting started. Although it can be very exciting to pursue additional training in an area of interest, the application process can be quite taxing. Following is a checklist that I hope you will find helpful to taking those first steps:

  1. Don’t procrastinate; get started now
  2. Look for a school with a strong recording arts program
  3. Decide on a school and request a school tour
  4. Submit an application and prepare for an interview

Getting started may be as simple as gather paperwork i.e. high school transcripts, birth certificate, health records, etc. or may involve scheduling, preparing for and taking a college entrance exam. Know the deadlines and plan ahead accordingly.

Many people make a financial sacrifice to further his education, so do not settle for less than the best. Have high expectations about what you should be learning and do not hesitate to unofficially interview the prospective school. Seeing the school and the facilities is also a benefit. The first visit to the school should not be to pick up your schedule.

Obtaining a degree in audio engineering, and most any field, requires hard work, perseverance and determination. Make sure that the school of your choice will work as diligently as you will.

Recommended Schools and Colleges

If you’re considering a career in the recording arts, here are a few best schools you can go to receive an audio engineering degree:

Berklee College of Music

Berklee is the probably one of the first choices of any prospective music student, and this is especially true for future audio engineers. Their audio engineering program is one of the most prestigious anywhere, mainly because of their on-campus studios and professional faculty. Berklee students are required to spend much of their time in the studio, which is an invaluable asset for anyone looking for a career in music.

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

CalArts is one of the most well-known music schools in the industry. Although they don’t offer conventional audio engineering degrees, their music technology program essentially covers the same curriculum. Due to its location, many CalArts students and graduates work closely with the media entertainment industry in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Film School

If your goal involves mixing music for film and television, Los Angeles Film School may be an ideal school for you. L.A. Film School offers a wide variety of courses that cater to prospective audio professionals, and graduates often move on to work within the Hollywood film industry.

Full Sail University

Full Sail University offers an online associate’s program for future audio engineers. Although enrolling in an online program may involve less time operating actual studio equipment, Full Sail’s audio engineering program is no less effective in preparing you for your career. Tuition may be pricey, but students have a relatively good chance at employment after completing the program.