Do you need to go to Audio School?
I get this question from time to time and it always makes me chuckle a bit. My question in reply is — “Do you WANT to go to Audio School?” I was fortunate enough to attend The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS) in Gilbert, Arizona. I graduated at the top of my class, with basically every kind of certification they offered, on top of the normal curriculum. While attending CRAS, I noticed there were a few different types of students there. A smaller percentage of them were young kids, right out of high school, who weren’t entirely sure what Audio Engineering was all about. They just thought it sounded like a better alternative to the traditional College setting. That or they didn’t have the grades to get into a four year institution. These people rarely ended up succeeding in the courses and a few ended up dropping out before graduation day. Another small percentage of people were adult men (and a few women) who never married, and had no children (and a lot of times no job) which allowed them the freedom to move across country and uproot their entire lives. But, the majority of people were very much like myself. Audio lovers who decided their love for the craft and their desire to learn was worth quitting their jobs, leaving girlfriends or boyfriends and moving away from friends and family all in the pursuit of audio knowledge and a shot at a career in an industry. Hoping this would open doors that would allow them to do what they love — and lets not forget, getting to put our hands on some pretty bitchin audio gear.
I remember touring the school a few months before deciding to attend. Campus tours are given during normal school hours, which gives you a really good idea of what a day is like. As I was walking the halls and peaking into class rooms I remember feeling a bit nervous. That day students were being tested on how to route signal through a huge mixing console, which I later found out was an SSL E4000, all while being timed with a teacher staring at their every move. The building was filled with music and sounds and energy. The walls are covered with Gold and Platinum albums that past CRAS students had worked on. I was extremely intimidated but deep down I knew that I belonged there.
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect and there was nothing that could have prepared me for the amount of information and the pace the curriculum moved at. The first day they set you up with your own Macbook Pro, an audio interface, Pro Tools, Logic X and a WAVES bundle of plugins just to name a few things. Me, being the audio nerd that I am, remember I couldn’t wait to start using all of it but they had very strict rules on what we could open and what had to wait. They told us that we couldn’t even launch Pro Tools until we were half way through the program. They wanted to ensure that they taught us everything and that meant starting with the most basic of basics.
One of the things they taught us and tested us on constantly were signal flow diagrams. I literally drew hundreds of these during my time at the Conservatory. Ask me today and I could still probably draw you one. We became experts on large format consoles and knew their exact inner workings, all the way from the mic pre to the tape machine. And it wasn’t just the console channels but the patch bay, the master section, the outboard gear the Studer A800 tape machine OR Pro Tools HD running with CLASP and back. I’m talking SSLs, APIs, Neves, and Neoteks to name just a few — We learned to work on the best of the best. (Fun little Side note: When I got out of school and went to work in some major studios in Los Angeles, they didn’t even have as nice of control rooms as CRAS did.) Now, when I say we worked on these consoles I mean just that — We got to put our hands on and operate the world’s most expensive and intensive desks. I remember hating to have to draw those signal flow diagrams and at times it seemed annoying and pointless but that knowledge that was beaten into us is what now allows me to be able to walk into any studio with any console and any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) or Tape Machine and I can make it work. Not just work, but I can record and/or mix a project that sounds top level and radio ready. (Assuming the band is any good) They taught us everything we needed to know about all sorts of outboard gear — Vintage compressors, Reverbs, Delays, you name it we learned it inside and out.
Then, they unleashed the beast — Pro Tools. They offered, as an extra curricular activity, the ability to become AVID certified in Pro Tools. It was broken up into 6 tiers. In the history of the school just two people have passed the Tier 6 test and only a handful of others passed level 5. I am happy to report that I am a tier 5 certified Pro Tools user and that may have been the best thing printed on my resume’ when looking for work out of school. Whether you like it or not or choose to believe it or not you can take it from someone who has been there when I tell you that Pro Tools IS the industry standard. Hands down, no argument, it is what it is. If you want to work in the music industry as an audio professional you better be a Pro Tools “Ninja” and the professors at CRAS understand this. Which is why they dedicate a ridiculous amount of time teaching you the ins and outs of that wonderful and sometimes frustrating piece of software.
So why am I telling you all of this? One reason is, I want to give you an idea of what it’s like and how much fun it is, but also give you an understanding of how much hard work is involved. It truly is one of those situations in life where you get out of it what you put in. My suggestion — Work your ass off! But the main reason I’m telling you this is to point out one very important detail. What they do NOT teach you at audio school is — TALENT. Talent cannot be taught. I don’t mean this to be offensive to anyone out there and I certainly am not trying to dissuade anyone — BUT — Almost anyone can be taught to press the correct buttons. To some it may come more naturally than others, but eventually everyone can an will be on the same level playing field with regard to making the equipment function. So what sets you apart from the rest of the Audio Engineers graduating with you? TALENT. You either have it or you don’t. Hard work ethic will get you very far and if you apply yourself 110% you just might land a job coming out of school. But remember, the cream of the crop always has a way of rising to the top.
I will leave you with this… If you want to go to audio school and your current life circumstances will allow you the time, then GO FOR IT. It will be one of the greatest experiences of your life. As for being concerned about your own abilities and talent level are concerned, well… You’ll never really know if you never try.
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