After almost two and half years at SAE Institute in Melbourne, Australia, I've just gotten marks back for my major audio project/s after having passed my film elective and completing my internship hours. It feels good. It feels really good. But higher education in audio and the music industry in general is usually a somewhat contentious issue, and it’s something I feel I can speak about after completing a Bachelor of Audio as well as beginning work outside of study. SAE was a great place to learn the theory behind the rules that we’d be bending, stretching and breaking in our own work outside of university. It was not only a great place to network with peers, but to be introduced to a lot of audio professionals who lecture at SAE. I was also introduced to Jason at Goatsound, and leaving SAE with a professional studio to work from leaves me in a really good place with some huge opportunities that I’m taking on with both hands. Through the course, the classes began to split as students began to focus their energy on where they’re headed in audio - whether it be music, post-production, songwriting or performance and at a certain point, our lecturers began to treat us like equals and it became up to us to find our own way.
From the beginning of my Bachelor of Audio in 2015, class sizes dwindled. By the end of my last trimester in August of 2017, less than half of the major project class were the people I’d started with - and the remaining half was students returning from breaks, failed classes or deferred study. I think the direction of work is a shock to the system for many students, and something that not everyone takes in their stride. A lot of students had openly voiced their expectations that classes would be mixing masterclasses filled with magic auxiliary tricks or show stopping EQ moves. But in reality, the early classes focus on the technical, to give us a solid ground to stand on before moving into mostly project and group work in the later trimesters. This approach really prepares us for the music industry, where even when working alone, there’s a client, 99% of the time there’s some sort of collaboration and a label/submission at the end that has to adhere to specific standards, guidelines and deadlines. Further to this, I think students are expecting to walk into a job or income from freelance work at the conclusion of their time at SAE or any music school, which simply isn’t how it works according to anyone I’v witnessed. Admittedly some students took this on board better than others and this is no fault of SAE. I think its important for students to accept that while SAE or any education is a massive investment, it’s the most beneficial when your time there is a part of your overall education, rather than expecting it to be the be-all-and-end-all that will invariably lead to success.
In the final trimesters, students must complete 80 hours of an internship as an assessment, followed by a journal of their time and learnings. It’s through this that I was introduced to Jason Fuller at Goatsound in Reservoir, Victoria. I started there on February 4th of this year and finished my 80 hours sometime in May, but I still help out every week as I write this in October - I’ve lost count of how many hours I’ve done - a testament to how much I enjoy it. I think a lot of students treated their internships like an assessment that fell away once the journal was submitted, whereas I jumped at the opportunity and am now a part of a small family of engineers working out of Goatsound - as well as having been involved in some pretty big projects with Jason. No one in music owes me anything - so why wouldn't I make the most of something being handed to me? Taking an opportunity like this with both hands seemed obvious to me, but admittedly maybe I’m an exception. Having a studio space to work from has given me a massive head start against a lot of my classmates, as well as giving me the motivation to continue work in audio - something some peers have struggled with post-SAE. I feel for the clients working towards deadlines with my classmates who couldn’t even manage to get to class. My time at Goatsound has also helped me apply what I learn at SAE in a studio setting that is working, is not struggling, and is producing, recording, mixing and mastering great sounding records from clients from all over the world. The groundwork at SAE helped immensely, but a lot of what we learned in theory isn’t always practical.
I think that groundwork is incredibly important, because in my experience it’s best to learn the rules before you break them, and SAE provides that opportunity. It’s important to learn the theory behind microphones, phase, compression, patching, consoles and outboard, software versions, naming conventions, filing conventions, other convention - and I definitely benefit from that on the one hand, but I feel we’re also being taught all this so we have a massive pool of approaches to choose from so we can find a workflow that ultimately works for each of us. If the information taught at SAE is consumed like gospel, we’d all be clones and that’s not really what music is about. With a solid footing and understanding of signal routing and equipment, we can focus more on producing bands and coaching great performances from our clients - which ultimately make for better mixes and masters. I think a lot of the reason people object to recording schools is because students treat he job like it’s cut and dry, rathe than taking the information in class in their stride and making an effort to learn more on their own. There was never one formal class on coaching a great vocal, or keeping your drummer comfortable - but that doesn’t mean it’s not part of a the job. I’d contend it’s most of the job. Microphones, ProTools and signal flow should be muscle memory - our focus in an industry where the lines are blurred between engineer and producer is to capture great takes, and students coming out of school with only the knowledge they’ve gained in class will be left in the dust.
In conclusion, SAE was a great experience for me, but I also didn’t expect any of this to be handed to me, nor did I expect this was going to be two years of instruction in being a full-time engineer and producer. On top of turning up to class and handing in your assessments, you’ve got to be around full-time engineers, around studios, around bands and in my opinion the bare minimum is all your uni work + consistent freelance work throughout your time. Why spend all your time in class if you’re not applying what you’ve learned to a real-life project? If you fuck something up - great. Use that knowledge as well. You won’t make that same mistake again. Make the most of the people you’re introduced to, the lecturers are lecturers but they’re also engineers and producers and musicians. Ask questions, because the syllabus can be dry and it won’t get you far without further investigation. Take what you learn at SAE in your stride, and treat it like part of your overall education. Question what you’e learning too - will it work for you? I haven’t used everything I learned, but I had the ground level knowledge to filter out (would that be high-pass or low-pass? Hm.) what I did and didn’t need to incorporate into my workflow. I think recording schools are great if you know how to use the resources being thrust at you.