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A Case for Attending College to Study Audio

I am very lucky. This article is written primarily based on my own experiences, and I accept the fact that a lot of people aren’t given some of the same opportunities, but know that it’s a personal goal of mine to attempt to give back good fortune.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with two supportive parents who instilled in me the desire to always appreciate and seek out education. I disliked and was never good at math, and cared more about playing guitar in my band than I did my high school studies.

My problem (according to my mom, who was correct) was that I never really applied myself to things that I viewed as uninteresting. They bought me a Yamaha MT-400 cassette recorder junior year and I would stay up until 3AM recording my little songs, waking up exhausted and unprepared for classes the next day. I remember a car ride to school one day my father reluctantly asking me if I wanted to drop out and pursue a career in music. He’s probably thankful I didn’t and ultimately finished high school with a GPA far beneath what I was capable of.

Had I known that attending college to study audio was an option when I was a sophomore, I probably would’ve had set goal for myself, and been a lot happier.

I didn’t know until my dad decided to take a job at The Savannah College of Art and Design as a Professor of Illustration and mentioned that they had a program called “Sound Design,” that my options upon graduation weren’t so limited. Because my father was an employee of the school, I didn’t have to face the financial burden that other college students and graduates have. (Please refer to the first sentence of this article.)

I could write a book on how monumentally life-changing my college experience in Savannah, Georgia was, but I’ll try to keep it short and relevant to people who are interested in studying audio.

The concept of pursuing audio and music production/sound design etc. is a relatively new one. Delivering a college-level education about a practice that has only been around for a little over 125 years presents its own set of challenges, especially considering the rapid rate at which technology over the past 20 years has influenced the field.

Regardless, there are still several reasons why I believe that if you can accept the financial and personal challenges of studying audio, you should. Again, these are based on my own experiences:

1. The connections you make in college will potentially make you money.

My first job after graduation was based on a connection I made in college. So was my second. My third, it definitely helped that several graduates from the school I attended also worked for the company. Countless gigs and freelance work, all from people I met in college. The mix I’m working on right now is through a high school friend, but he also attended a popular audio school in Florida. Statistics state that people who have Bachelor’s degrees make $2,000,000 more in a lifetime than high school graduates.

2. Most modern colleges that teach audio have great facilities.

Truthfully, it’s only getting better. Companies like Avid, SSL, and countless others embrace the concept of education and have established relationships with schools. College is a great way to get hours on gear if you pick the right school.

My senior year, I remember constantly reserving the studio and having almost complete freedom to do whatever I wanted. Granted, I passed numerous classes that assured that I was competent and responsible, but I can’t see any other means of having such great gear at my fingertips at such a young age.

3. The best way to learn is by being in the presence of more experienced engineers.

If you do research and pick the right school, the faculty will surely have years of professional and educational experience. Undoubtedly, my skills became more refined than ever during my time as a runner/assistant, but if it weren’t for the social/technical skills I gained in college, I doubt I’d have been able to land those first few jobs.

I currently am the Director of an Audio Production Program at a popular school in California, and I can honestly say the large group of teachers that I work alongside are the most talented, intelligent, caring, experienced group of professionals I’ve ever known.

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4. If fully embraced, College is fun and will help you grow as a person.

Especially considering that most colleges that offer audio also happen to be art schools, they are full of interesting, talented, passionate people.

My favorite part of college was being exposed to different types of culture and divergent points of view. Studying art history and philosophy may not make you faster at Pro Tools, but it will surely make you a more well-rounded, interesting person.

I remember in a drawing class, the instructor went around the room trying to prove that drawing skills were essential no matter what field the individual students were studying. When he got to me and I said “Sound” it got awkward, and he said “Sorry, yeah I don’t see how this will help you.” Regardless, I enjoyed the class.

Music is a form of human expression just like drawing or cooking, and if you get better at one, chances are you’ll at least gain perspective on the others.

5. BONUS: I met my wife at college

That probably won’t happen to you, meaning you won’t meet my wife if you decide to go to college, but the social element of college is certainly one of the reasons to consider going. Party on.

Conclusion

In closing, most of these points are reflections of my own experiences in education. Plenty of talented audio engineers do not have college degrees.

If you can’t see yourself fully committing to something for 2-4 years, I strongly recommend not “trying college out” due to the financial implications. Chances are though; employers are going to be looking for individuals who are motivated, committed, with an open mind, and an already refined skill-set.

In my opinion, college offers the best means of refining your skill-set, while exposing you other like-minded individuals, and additionally, is a great way to prove to employers that you are in fact capable of committing to something wholeheartedly.

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Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch on his website or learn more from him in his new Mastering in the Box course.

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