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Want to Be a Producer? Check Out These Audio Engineering Programs

today10/11/2023

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Whether you’re a math-and-science whiz or an intuitive creative, there’s a prestigious audio engineering program that can prepare you for a career as a producer — or for whatever studio path you might follow — while emphasizing a well-rounded education in the process.

Here’s a selection of some of the best academic programs, along with sage professional advice from those who lead them.

Belmont University
Audio Engineering Technology

The program: Heavy on math and science, the curriculum teaches students to design systems, components and processes and prepare for careers as recording-studio and live-sound engineers and audio-software designers. “If it makes a noise or records a sound, somebody has to think about it, create it, program it, build it, use it, apply it,” program chair Michael Janas says.

The skills producers need most now: “Motivation. If they’re trying to force themselves as a square peg into a round hole, they’re going to struggle.”

Berklee College Of Music
Music Production and Engineering

The program: Working with artists, writers and other engineers, students learn technical skills (microphone placement, signal flow) and personal skills (critical listening, communication). “Reading the room, leveraging the strengths of artists, how you speak to people, deliver bad news — these are incredibly sensitive, difficult things,” program chair Rob Jaczko says. (Alums include Charlie Puth and Abe Laboriel Jr., Paul McCartney’s longtime drummer.)

The skills producers need most now: “Understanding the business landscape. We all need to have a better understanding of how we monetize our work.”

Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, New York University

The program: With six available studios, students here learn everything they need to know about becoming a producer or engineer — except for heavy-duty technical instruction. “We want to get them up and running and confident,” says Nick Sansano, program chair. “We’re not necessarily teaching them all the mathematics and circuitry.”

The top issues facing producers now: “Lack of access to money. You need some support to get things off the ground.”

Drexel University
Recording Arts and Music Production

The program: Students learn the basics of recording, production, arranging, composition, postproduction, mixing and mastering. In one sound-recording course, experienced artists (recently, members of John Legend’s band) work with students directly. After their sophomore year, students spend the summer working in live-sound engineering or another music-business sector. “They can go out and explore an area,” says Ryan Moys, who oversees the RAMP curriculum. “Sometimes you figure out what you don’t like.”

The skills producers need most now: “Knowing different software platforms: We teach Pro Tools, Ableton and Logic. And great communication skills. It all comes back to you’ve got to be a cool person to hang out with.”

Fredonia, State University of New York (SUNY)
Sound Recording Technology

The program: Drawing from European “tonmeister” curricula of the 1940s, which combine technical and musical instruction, the 35-year-old SRT program offers training in studio hardware, live sound, recording, editing, signal processing and sound reinforcement. “[Bachelor’s of science students] have a fairly good handle on the science side of the recording business,” says Bernd Gottinger, the professor who oversees the degree.

The top issues facing producers now: “Responsibility and trust. Gaining that trust is probably the most difficult achievement you can look at as a producer. Usually, it gets established by long years of working in a different world, until the band says, ‘Listen, you’ve been doing these recordings for us for 20 years, why don’t you actually produce them for us?’”

Frost School Of Music, University Of Miami
Music Engineering

The program: Developed in 1977, Frost centers on a recording studio with three full-size consoles. “Half our students end up at a company, like Dolby or Bose or Amazon Lab126 or Shure,” department chair Christopher Bennett says. “They work on the innards of devices that end up in the studios.”

The skills producers need most now: “The more you can learn under the hood, the better engineer or producer you’ll be. If they understand things like room acoustics and theory, it empowers them to make more creative choices.”

Jacobs School Of Music, Indiana University Bloomington
Audio Engineering and Sound Production

The program: Among IU’s 1,600 music students, prospective engineers and producers get hands-on experience in pursuit of their 80-recording-hours-per-semester standard as part of this 41-year-old program. “That level of responsibility makes a big difference,” department chair Michael Stucker says.

The skills producers need most now: “Signal flow is a concept that’s really important to us. Physics and acoustics as well.”

Middle Tennessee State University
Audio Production

The program: With five recording studios, plus a postproduction studio and separate labs for mixing, mastering and electronic music, students learn mixing and sound reinforcement and put on end-of-semester shows for live audiences. “We don’t really think of ourselves as training people for a job as a music producer,” says Bill Crabtree, director of the master of fine arts program in recording arts and technologies. “That’s not the kind of entry-level job you’re going to get right after college. It takes a while.” (Alums include Luke Laird, who has written No. 1 hits for Carrie Underwood and Eric Church, among others.)

The top issue facing producers now: “Artificial intelligence has the potential to disrupt a lot of things. However, it will be a tool. Having those skills — we think that’s important.”

Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology (OIART)

The program: OIART emphasizes highly technical skills for careers in music production and audio engineering and recording. “We’re not selling dreams of gold records. We’re very realistic with our employment goals and the types of careers students can expect,” says Lee While, OIART’s chief operating officer.

The skills producers need most now: “The student group has aspirations to work in a major studio and be a producer. But somebody who aspires to be a hip-hop producer suddenly discovers they have a real talent for sound design for video games.”

Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins
Music Engineering and Technology

The program: Bachelor’s degree programs range from highly technical, five-year studies emphasizing electrical engineering, math, science and computer science to a two-year graduate program working with classical ensembles and rock bands. “Some find, ‘I’m interested in how loudspeakers are designed or getting into programming with signal processing,’ ” program chair Scott Metcalfe says. “Others embrace their composition side.”

The skills producers need most now: “Musicianship. Understanding the goal of the artist and what the market is.”

Purchase College, State University Of New York
Studio Production

The program: With nine studios at their disposal, students get hands-on experience, from arranging their own pieces to engineering sound in the Dolby Atmos format, in genres from classical to hip-hop. “We want them to be able to do everything. We don’t want people to be button-pushers,” says Peter Denenberg, coordinator of the music and technology program. (Alums include Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Samara Joy.)

The top issue facing producers now: “Being forced to deliver projects in spatial audio is an incredibly difficult ask. It just adds a level of complexity and difficulty.”

Steinhardt School Of Culture, Education And Human Development, New York University
Music Technology

The program: Director Paul Geluso says graduates of the program are “skilled professionals” who know hardware and software product design, audio engineering, and performance and composition: “The students do a little bit of everything their first two years and [then] they gravitate to one area.”

The skills producers need most now: “Our students take theory and history. We’re definitely music-first in our approach to our engineering side.”

Thornton School Of Music, University Of Southern California
Music Technology

The program: Offering a bachelor’s degree in music production and minors in production and recording, Thornton emphasizes songwriting. “We build this program around our students being strong musicians with a technical inclination,” program chair Rick Schmunk says. “They can write the song, arrange it, produce it, record, edit, mix, master.”

The skills producers need most now: “Arranging and songwriting. We don’t have much trouble finding students with enough technical skills to be effective.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2023, issue of Billboard.

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