Change in the music and audio production industry is putting new demands on graduates and the universities they attend. With many of our customers offering sound engineering and multimedia courses, this blog report explores the skills students need to demonstrate when pursuing careers in audio and where universities can help most.
How competitive is the audio production industry?
The audio production industry has changed a lot over the last few years, and with it the skills that are in demand. The advent of digital technology has had a massive impact on the traditional music industry, with musicians and other performers able to produce quality recordings at home for a fraction of what it would cost in a professional studio with top-of-the-range gear. As a result, the industry has become a whole lot more competitive.
Employment of broadcast and sound engineering technicians is set to grow by just seven percent between 2014 and 2024 - equaling the average growth for all occupations in the U.S. – and this isn’t something that is likely to change soon. It applies even in the sectors with the highest levels of employment for sound engineering technicians including motion picture and video and sound recording industries.
Salary levels remain unexciting – only 15% higher than the median annual wage for all U.S. workers. Needless to say, for students with an interest in entering this field, their enthusiasm has to to be a big motivating factor and one that universities do well to encourage and grow.
What's expected from students?
In this climate, qualifications and formal training are key. Students with vocational certificates, associate degrees in communications engineering and bachelor degrees in audio engineering are now seen as prerequisites, not least when aiming for more advanced positions. Meanwhile a high school diploma and a few months of work experience may be sufficient to be hired as a professional radio operator but most employers have much higher expectations.
What’s more, employers are looking for candidates to specialize in a particular form of audio production, such as mastering, voice overs or post-production - this is where there’s better money to be earned.
When it comes to personal skills, employers expect the capacity for critical thinking, as this is essential when it comes to audio monitoring, syncing sound with video and mixing to highest standard. Finally, employers are unlikely to consider hiring a graduate that does not have prior experience in the industry, so internships are very important. These enable students to gain experience of setting up, operating and servicing equipment, and monitoring and adjusting signals, that could prove crucial to gaining a foothold in the industry.
How can universities help students acquire internships?
So, work experience is crucial, and should be part of any worthwhile bachelor’s degree in audio engineering. Universities can aid students in forging a path in the industry by helping them identify internship opportunities, part-time jobs and entry-level positions by approaching employers and building relationships with them.
For example, the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS), a technical school that specializes in audio recording, engineering and production, based in Arizona, has been praised for its approach to intern recruiters by those working in the audio production industry.
“CRAS has always been one of the best schools to work with when recruiting interns,” said California-based Westlake Recording Studios’ Assistant Studio Manager Alex Burdick.
“Not only is their staff of counselors and advisers friendly, but they are always following up and on their game. Westlake appreciates how easy they make it to recruit interns, as much as we appreciate the quality of interns they refer.”
By engaging assertively with employers, universities can give audio production students a better chance of getting a head start in the industry. Internship listings platforms such as Looksharp can also help both students and their educators keep updated on what skills and qualities the likes of recording studios are looking for when recruiting interns.
Getting hands-on: equipment and training
In the eyes of employers, pursuing a degree in audio production demonstrates an individual’s desire to work in the industry, but that alone is not enough to get on the career ladder. Graduate employment opportunities increase dramatically with industry-related training.
Universities can help here by ensuring that the training they provide incorporates certification for the use of industry-standard software and hardware, and the use of IT in both analogue and digital production.
Modern, professional-grade equipment is a must, especially for universities offering bachelor’s degrees in audio engineering, as undergraduates will expect to be able to log studio time, as well as complete a senior project or thesis. Graduates taking a master’s degree in audio engineering will expect to be able to specialize in advanced recording systems.
Those looking to work in the audio production industry are advised to become a member of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), the professional association for those involved in the audio industry, in order to demonstrate how serious they are about it.
As such, universities can help students graduating from audio production courses by liaising with the AES in terms of adapting their courses to best meet the demands of employers. They can also encourage students to participate in AES section activities in order to make professional contacts. AES tutorials, workshops and master classes are also available if needed to extend their knowledge base.
At the end of the day, it’s quality that matters in the audio production industry - students that have practiced and mastered their art will always be the most attractive to employers. However, as we’ve seen, in terms of identifying and teaching the required skills using relevant equipment, making professional contacts and getting that crucial first work experience, there is a lot universities can do to help them on their way.