Do I need to go to school to learn Music Production?

So you are considering learning music production. But, how do you go about it? You may be wondering if you should find a music production course or a school? There are many ways to learn music production so it can be confusing where to start. This guide will help you.
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Where to start?

So you are considering learning music production. But, how do you go about it? You may be wondering if you should find a music production course or a school? There are many ways to learn music production so it can be confusing where to start. You can learn with online production schools or enrol in a formal degree program. So why should you consider a higher education production program?

Start with an audio job in mind and work backwards

Why is it you want to improve your music production skills? What is your aim for doing so? Do you hope to make a career as an audio engineer, musician, producer, manager? Do you want to improve your sound design? Get better at Pro tools or Ableton Live? Work in theatres with live sound? Pursue a career in music technology? If you look at the career path you are trying to get into, research what skills you need. Do any of them need a degree or formal education? Most music industry professionals to have experience and ability, not a qualification. Remember, a qualification means nothing if you haven’t learnt the skills. It makes sense to find out exactly what skills you need and work on improving those. Does the university course provide that? 
If not consider:

  • Youtube Tutorials Paid/free online courses
  • Finding work experience
  • Finding a mentor/ Instructor for one on one lessons
  • Volunteering in studios to improve your knowledge.

How do you learn music production?

Think about learning production techniques like learning any other discipline. At first it might make sense to go to school to learn the skills. But music production is different from other fields, it is not ALL theory. There are a great amount of practical and subjective skills to be learnt which can take a long time to master. Learning music production can be broken down into two types of knowledge; theoretical and experiential. Experiential knowledge means you learn from experience, you learn from observation and practice. Will the university help you gain experience and practice improving production techniques? Or are they providing foundational audio & music theory?

Make sure they are not teaching you what music production is but how to do it. Think of it like learning an instrument. You have to learn some theory, but you gain skill and technique from practice and exploration you do on your own. Having an expert teacher to guide your practice will improve your skill. The direct feedback you receive will guide your practice. Is this acheived in a large class size? Would prefer to go to University to learn an instrument or pay for one on one private tuition? Make sure any course you do provides immediate, detailed feedback on your progress. i.e not just on your assignments.

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Questions you should ask yourself

By looking at what a music production course contains we can see what to expect on a course. Music production courses generally have a module that covers Audio or Sound Engineering. Let’s use that Sound Engineering as an example. You should ask yourself how much contact time will you get for that module? Based on an average university undergraduate course let’s say it is 4 hours a week for 3-4 months (or 1 semester).

  • Within that 4 hours how much practical time will you get? 2 hours?
  • Will that time be on professional equipment?
  • Do the lecturers use the hardware and software they teach with?
  • What is the class size?
  • Will the class fit in a studio for you to see what is going on? (E.g. more than 4 people around a mixing desk gets crowded!)
  • Will you be working in a group? (E.g. with 24 people on your course is it 4 groups of 6?)
  • Will the group size have an impact on your ability to get involved?

Let’s say you get 2 hours practical per week x 14 weeks. In the semester, that’s about 28 hours practical time. Will you be able to train your ear for the following in that time?

  • Recording techniques
  • Different Microphones types & setups
  • EQ
  • Compression
  • Saturation
  • Mixing
  • Mastering

Take the instrument analogy again. Do you think in 28 hours, with one instrument shared amongst 5-30 people, you would get the experience to learn it? If you only have one lecturer for this module their time and feedback splits between 30 people. Work out how much you are paying for the module. For our example, based on 2019/2020 tuition fees are £9,250. That’s £1850 per module for one year. (on an assumption of 5 modules per year). Do do you think it is worth £1850 when you could learn online for the year at £59.99?

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Final Thoughts

Deciding whether to make a career in music production can be daunting task. It’s a large commitment of your time and money, especially when there are many other cheaper options available to start learning music production. I think you should really focus on your end goal, what it is you want to achieve? Ideally you would find employment in the music industry after completing a course. If you can answer why you think a degree will help you achieve that you will be on your way to deciding if you need to go to school.

Deciding whether to make a career in music production can be a daunting task. Consider how you will improve your craft, focus on your end goal and what it is you want to achieve. School is a considerable commitment of your time and money. Ensure it meets your expectations. A lot of courses teach an overview of what skills you need without teaching you how. This is an expensive way to learn. Especially when cheaper options are available to improve your production skills. If after completing a course you want employment in the music industry. Can you answer why you think a degree rather than experience or practice will help you achieve that? Once you do you will be on your way to deciding if you need to go to school.
Good luck 🙂

Matt Temperley studied both BA Hons Music production & Master in Audio Production.

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