Is Formal Education Worth It For Music Production?

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So as a few of you will already know, I’m an avid user of Quora and I was recently asked if I thought it was worthwhile in doing university/educational music courses.

I thought it was a good question with no definitive answer, but I do get asked it a fair bit, so here’s my response:

Thanks for the A2A.

It’s an interesting question, without a definite answer really, but here are my views… Personally, I had a relatively poor upbringing, so naturally couldn’t afford to go to university after I’d finished school. However, I also hated the education system as a teenager (anti authority and all that), and as I had a fairly musical family, I’d wanted to be a DJ and Producer since I was about 5 or 6, so never felt like university would have been any use anyway.  Especially as music production courses didn’t really exist then.

Skip forward ten years or so, and I’d made it as a touring DJ, and had some relatively successful releases as a producer from just constantly trying my hands at anything I could, and found myself getting more and more interested in the studio and sound-design type of work.  This is when I decided to go to university and fund it myself, studying Analogue & Digital Audio Engineering (BSc).  I’d decided that I already had the creative side of things covered, and was already established in the industry, but wanted to learn the science behind the knobs I was twiddling at random.

My degree was pretty much hardcore maths, physics, and electronics: We weren’t taught how to use a compressor, we learnt how to design and build one from scratch.  It was hard, very hard.  But it was totally worth it.  I loved every minute, even the stressing out over exams, and the complete confusion over conceptual mathematics (Root Locus, LaPlace Transforms, etc) and found beauty in things like the square root of minus one (which doesn’t really exist but actually comes in handy when dealing with multiple dimensions).  The course had around 70+ people at the start of 1st year, but only 8 of us finished (I think 2 of those failed)… But there’s a reason for that…

I should also point out that there were mostly young lads of about 18 years old (normal for university) on the course, almost all of whom thought they would graduate to become some sort of world famous studio engineer or producer.  That’s because the university system (at least in the UK) seems to offer all sorts of crazy courses these days, particularly in the Arts, that seem to suggest that a formal qualification will lead to successful employment in that field.  This just isn’t the case.  I’ve always been a firm believer that you can’t just *teach* creativity, and certainly not to most 18 year olds who’ve only just left general education.  Creativity is something you develop yourself, and your drive and determination in any field comes from nobody but yourself.  A university degree (or any educational course for that matter) can only give you the basic tools for gaining knowledge and thinking critically about certain subjects, whether thats artistic or scientific.

So… Was my degree worth the time and money?  Absolutely!  But that’s also down to a lot of luck: I’d already established myself in the music industry, and I was 25 years old and knew where I was heading and what tools I needed to get there, and my creative outputs were already being seen to.

First of all you need to ask yourself what it is exactly that you want to do for a living.  If it’s a purely creative vocation, then perhaps schooling isn’t the way forward for you.  Even if you wanted to do something like Studio Engineering, those jobs generally take on interns at a good studio which would be far more beneficial than any school.

Hope this helps, and best of luck with whatever you choose to do!

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