by Anders Johanson June 02, 2020 9 min read
If you thought about pursuing a career as a music producer, then it might have crossed your mind to go to school to study music production. The short answer is: Yes, it is possible to go to college and get a bachelor's degree in this field. Whether it's the right path for you depends on many factors. The most obvious one is that it will be quite a commitment on your part both in terms of time and finances. If you are ready to dedicate four years of your life to studying and can afford a tuition that ranges from $10,000 to $50,000, then a music production degree might be a viable investment that could help you succeed in the music industry.
The reasons why a college education in music production can be beneficial are manifold. For starters, you'll be surrounded by 1000s of students who share the same passion as you do. Finding an artist willing to collaborate with you on a project will be as easy as pie. Whether you need a singer, a drummer, or a guitarist — you'll have access to so many talented and like-minded people that making music in this environment will be like breathing air.
You've probably experienced moments in your music production journey when you felt uninspired and didn't open your DAW for weeks. Well, guess what? You'll likely never feel this way while in college. When you surround yourself with creative people, their attitude will rub off on you. You'll be motivated to work on your production skills every day because not doing it will mean falling behind your peers. It's easy to convince yourself not to work too hard when you are producing at home in the comfort of your bedroom. However, it's a whole new ball game to stay unproductive when you see your fellow students making progress daily.
Going to school to study music production will also allow you to make connections in the music industry. We aren't necessarily talking about your classmates here, although one day, some of them might make it big as a producer or a mixing engineer. The key people will be your lecturers because they really hold the power to kick-start your producer career. Here's why: Those who want to teach music production at a college or a similar institution must have a track record in the industry. It's almost a given that your lectures will have connections to labels, recording studios, and well-known artists. The best part is that lecturers want to see their students succeed, so if you play your cards right, they will be willing to introduce you to some of their contacts and help you get a foot in the door. The "it's not what you know, but who you know" mentality is even more prevalent in the music industry than anywhere else. Getting that coveted internship at a well-known recording studio or connecting with a promising artist could make a major difference in your career trajectory and lead to even more exciting opportunities down the line.
Lastly, attending a music production school will allow you to have access to some fantastic gear and facilities. If you ever wanted to get your hands on analog equipment or work in a real studio control room, you'll get the chance to experience it all during your studies. Most schools will have a massive library of plugins, including some costly ones like the UAD-2 Platform (priced at 3.999,00 €), and introduce you to the workflow inside industry-standard mixing software like Pro Tools. Admittedly, since you'll be paying a considerable sum in tuition fees, having access to the best music gear and tools is expected. Still, it's unlikely that you'd be able to recreate the same production environment had you spent an equivalent amount of money on your home studio.
A four-year college degree is not the only way to study music production. There are many other accredited institutions like vocational schools, community colleges, universities, art academies, or music conservatories. All of these schools can help you acquire a wide range of credentials, and the length of your studies will vary quite a bit. Here’s a quick overview:
The hands-down best school for music production is Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. This school has some of the top teachers for subjects like mixing techniques, sound design, and audio engineering. The campus is quite impressive too, and is among the largest complexes in the U.S. for music production and recording. As of this writing, Berklee has 37 facilities that include recording studios with high-quality equipment, stages for visual media scoring, and classrooms that bristle with technology.
The most valuable asset of attending Berklee is its international alumni network. Berklee’s reputation stretches way beyond the U.S. and attracts students from all around the world. Getting a job in the music industry straight out of college is a reality for most Berklee students because the school produces some of the most employable graduates. Provided that you picked a practical major like Electronic Production and Design or Music Production and Engineering, you’ll be well prepared for the working pace in the professional environment. Also, the contacts that you’ll make at Berklee could be potentially life-changing. Among Berklee’s all-star alumni, you’ll find names such as Charlie Puth or PSY (Gangnam Style).
Berklee’s program is very competitive, and only 50% of all applicants get accepted. To increase your chances of getting in, you’ll need a GPA higher than 3.0 and a convincing written application stating your goals, motivation, and past experiences. The final hurdle of the application process will be an in-person interview. An important detail to keep in mind is the tuition. Berklee’s undergraduate program is undoubtedly among the more expensive ones, and a bachelor’s degree will cost around $47,000. The tuition fees tend to increase every year, but the institution does offer scholarships to roughly 40% of its student body. If you pass the in-person interview with flying colors, you’ll have a good chance of being selected for the merit-based scholarship. This scholarship requires no extra application because all entering students are considered for it automatically.
So far, you might have gotten the impression that going to college is the go-to way to become a music producer. Of course, that’s not the case. You can be a music producer without a degree, and for some, that could be the best option. There’s no definitive answer to whether a formal education in music production is necessary to succeed in the industry. There’re plenty of producers and touring DJs who never went to a music school and still achieved great success. Your decision should be mainly influenced by the answer to the following question: Do you excel in an academic environment, or do you learn best on your own?
At college, you will have professors hand-holding you throughout the coursework. They will tell you what music to mix, set deadlines for homework submissions, and advise you on contacts you should be making. If you don’t like this structured environment and prefer to explore subjects at your own pace, then going to college could do more harm than good and stifle your creativity. College is not for everyone, and you should do a bit of soul searching before making your choice. If you are the kind of person who learns more efficiently outside of class and knows how to take advantage of the many available resources online, you will likely make more progress by not going to a music production school.
Ultimately, whether you make it as a self-taught music producer will come down to your discipline, focus, and determination. Learning by doing is a well-trodden path to mastery, but the experience can be discouraging. Your first projects will suck, period. There will be no professors to provide feedback and steer you in the right direction. You will have to fail your way to success, and to some, this can be quite disheartening. It will take a while before your mixes and productions start to sound good. Developing a growth mindset and seeing every failure as a stepping stone towards better music is a must. If you persevere, in the end, the whole experience can be a lot more valuable than a degree.
It might seem like the safer route to get a degree in music production, and people who put in the work do get good jobs at renowned recording studios afterward. But the truth is, you can become an in-demand producer no matter which educational path you choose. Nowadays, there is no excuse not to learn something on your own. The amount of online classes, videos, books, and tutorials on music production is vast, and almost any topic can be researched and gained knowledge about as long as you can stay the course.
Online music production classes are a viable alternative to a full-blown college experience. They cost less, and you can narrow down your area of focus a lot more. Here’s a list of three reputable music schools, who offer online music production programs:
There are many other providers of online courses like ADSR Sounds, Groove3, MacProVideo, Sonic Academy, and more. These are established platforms that offer a wide selection of instructional videos on music production. Usually, you can get an all-access pass to their full catalog for a monthly fee that rarely surpasses $20. The videos' educational quality is better than what you'll find on YouTube, but there's no interaction with the instructor.
Keep in mind that online classes from music schools are so much more expensive for two reasons. First, you're getting a well-structured curriculum that gets into the most interesting bits straight away. And second, you will have access to teachers who will give you weekly assignments and critique your work. It's easy to fall into the trap of watching tutorials, feeling like you understand the concept, and then moving on to the next video. This passive way of learning won't get you far. You will progress a lot faster if you apply the techniques as soon as possible. Being enrolled in an online class with a dozen other students and a dedicated instructor will help you with that because the incentive to engage with the material will be a lot stronger.
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