Less than 10 years ago, it was hard to find an engineer on tour—or in a corporate AV or house-ofworship setting, for that matter— who had gone to school for live sound. As one veteran engineer told Pro Sound News at the time, schooling couldn’t possibly prepare the next generation of audio pros because, “In a classroom, your system will never go down in front of 1,000 people.”
Today, those views are history. There’s a growing number of live-sound education programs offered around the country, and proving the aphorism “Knowledge is power” to be true, their graduates have made deep inroads into every corner of the pro audio world.
Systems sound better (but are far more complex) than ever before, so people entering the field need a deeper and broader understanding of the science and technologies at play. That’s where the educators come in.
“Our Show Production students are now graduating with a 21-month Bachelor of Science degree, which has been a two-year transition from our original Associates program,” said Dana Roun, director of Audio Programs at Winter, FL-based Full Sail University. New students may be gung-ho to dig into the school’s various DiGiCo and Avid consoles or Meyer Sound PAs, but that won’t be their main concentration at first.
“Now our students focus on more in-depth, fundamental building blocks in their first year,” said Roun. “Physics, Digital Audio and Theory, Audio File Management and Documentation, along with topics such as Critical Listening, Digital Recording Techniques and Digital Audio Workstations, are studied. These additions represent a carefully planned response to the trending convergence of what we consider vital skill-sets.”
At Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business in Nashville, TN, students use Avid Venue and Yamaha digital consoles, and delve deep into Metric Halo’s SpectraFoo software, but educators are focused on ensuring that knowledge imparted doesn’t have a short shelf-life.
“Gear will only get you so far, so I stress the ‘grounded in the basics’ mentality,” said Tony Cottrill, coordinator of Live Sound. “Students still need a strong understanding of basic signal flow, driver-operating principles, horn-dispersion, enclosures, crossovers, series/parallel driver hookups and driver impedance, amplifier bridge-ability, amplifier power, delay fills, temperature gradients and more, all the way down to basic stagehand lingo. Modern-day equipment skills are really a very small percentage of what students need to learn for landing their dream audio gig; interacting with others, leadership, designating tasks, social networking and organization are the key elements.”
The live-sound program in Cleveland, OH-based Cuyahoga Community College’s Recording Arts & Technology (RAT) department is considerable, as might be expected in a 75,000-square-foot facility that’s home to a soundstage, seven recording studios, multiple technology labs and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives. The facility is evidence of a wide-ranging audio program, but RAT program manager Tommy Wiggins explained that’s by design: “We reinforce the idea that each graduate is an independent contractor, and to make a living in audio, you need to be versatile. Today, you may be doing a location recording; tomorrow, a band in your studio, and this weekend, you may be running sound at a club.”
Underlining that perspective, the school offers niche-oriented Live Sound and Sound for Worship classes, and emphasis remains on the analog and digital gear that students are most likely to run into upon graduation. “Many of my Sound for Worship students are attending Tri-C because their church is considering purchasing, or has recently upgraded to, a digital console,” said Bill Horschke III, Sound for Worship instructor. “The majority of the students are arriving with some familiarity with DAWs and the digital boards come naturally. With ‘old school’ students, I make them use the digital desk, and they quickly gain confidence.”
Education is not something that comes before a career in pro audio, but rather is maintained and re-emphasized regularly throughout a lifetime in the occupation. As Full Sail’s Roun readily acknowledged, a thirst for learning is what drives the most successful pro audio careers: “Remember, gear is gear; [what matters is] the people and their commitment to continually learn and support the team.”