Parents, Should Your Kids Attend Recording School?

Brandon Drury —  March 7, 2008

The recording school business seems to be booming. In fact, I think the recording school industry is booming a little too much! In my area alone, I know of five guys who have went off to recording school. I’m confident that this is more or less equal to the amount of cash spent on recording in the area in that same amount of time.

I don’t know what it means the amount of money to educate a person is equal to the amount of money being made in a field, but I’m sure there is some economic word for it. I’m sure this word is synonymous with DISASTER.

Parents, Where Are The Jobs?
Simply put, take a look around in your area and ask yourself “Who will hire my kid?” and “What kind of pay will it bring?”. Off hand, I do know of one guy who graduated recording school and got a job at a live sound installation place. I’m sure the pay isn’t great, but at least he is fairly close to what he wants to do and can feed a family. Beyond that, everyone I know who has graduated from recording school does NOTHING involving recording. Why? Because it is REALLY hard to make money at this recording business these days.

Of the recording school graduates I personally know, here is where they work:
Gas station
Serves coffee
Parents appliance business
Live sound installation company

Obviously, this is a very limited sample, but I would expect it to be this way about everywhere. Don’t take my word for it. Ask around. Talk to the locals. I’m positive you’ll find someone who attended recording school changing your oil.

Is Education Necessary For An Audio Industry Career?
Granted, there are quite a bit of different jobs in the audio industry, so let’s start by focusing on the silver tuna. Let’s talk about the producer who does multi-platinum records and makes millions of dollars. What are his/her qualifications? Well, he/she has to be able to crank out a hit caliber recordings. There is probably some luck involved. That’s it. There are zero rules in regard to college education, knowledge, IQ, common sense, or anything like that. It needs to be said that this isn’t much different than attempting to be a rock star. Actually, there are more rock stars than producers, so I’d argue that being a big producer is even harder than being a rock star. There are a lot of starving kids who crawl back home to mom and dad after they fail to reach the big time. Then again, there are a handful that do make it.

Let’s talk about engineers. Audio engineers typically don’t make that much money. I can hire a big boy engineer for $850 per day. That’s pretty damn good money! Unfortunately, these people don’t work everyday. It also needs to be said that these types of engineers are the BIG BOYS. They are extremely talented, extremely skilled, and have been lucky enough to make it to the ultra top of the industry. It’s much more common for excellent engineers to work for a small fraction of that. What is the education level of these engineers? How many attended recording school? In a huge majority of cases, the bigger engineers are older. Back in the older days, there were no audio recording schools to speak of. So a dominating amount of professional engineers who can actually feed their families did not attend recording school. It needs to be said that this generation of audio engineers got in the “ground floor”. We’ll talk about that later on.

There are local and home studio owners out there. This is where I sit. It’s a TOUGH place to be. You can read all about that here: The bottom line is so many people can easily record themselves, it’s getting harder and harder for people to dump money into an intangible service when instinct makes it easier to purchase tangible products regardless of the time and skill required to get any great results out of them.

There are tons of industry specific jobs out there. I’m sure that every guitar amp manufacturer employs everyone from marketing people to factory workers to techs to whatever. It may be possible to get a job for Groove Tubes or AKG. I have no idea what the job outlook for that is.

The Market Is Saturated
In every demographic of the recording industry, saturation is occurring. The big boy studios are closing. It appears that there will always be a few robo high end studios out there to serve the people who have the big bucks. However, the current quantity of big boy studios is nothing when compared to say 1995. There are less bands signed to major labels these days. The amount of work for studios and engineers is reduced. At best, we can only hope that the number of signed major label bands stays the same. I would expect it labels to continue to minimize their rosters.

There was a day when a recording engineer wore a lab coat. The process of making a recording was much closer to manufacturing diapers or fuel injection. Back then, people didn’t attend recording schools simply because no one really wanted to record bands. These were the days before the glorification of the music industry. The engineers that started in 1970 or so got in when there was relatively little competition. Now that has all changed. Now people are willing to be starving actors just for the shot to say “Up the road and to your left” in the next bad, Nicholas Cage movie.

In the home studio world, every person on the planet either has a standalone recorder box or an audio interface. These people used to pay local studios to record them. Now they do it themselves.

What Do Big Studios Need?
The modern big boy studio is incredibly complex with computers running consoles networked to London, etc. It’s crazy! I saw the machine room in Blackbird Studios (top studio in Nashville) and it was INCREDIBLE! The person who ran the network there surely had a phd in computer networking! It’s about what I would expect to see in a giant IBM factory.

Electrical engineers are always in demand (both in industry and in big boy recording studios) for a zillion reasons.

Big boy studios probably wouldn’t mind having Grammy caliber engineers around either. However, years and years of practice on top of a REAL education provided from an apprenticeship with a Grammy caliber engineer/producer would. This is something you simply aren’t going to get at a recording school. I’ve heard some recording school productions. It usually leaves much to be desired.

What Do Big Studios NOT Need?
Big studios do not have any reason to hire the #436 on the Top 500 Engineers in the city list. Most recording school graduates don’t have the type of engineering experience to allow them to take on the $850 / per day robo engineer with platinum records on his walls. (Note: You will NEVER make $850 per day from the studio. That comes from freelance work.) If they aren’t qualified to engineer recordings, what does a recording school graduate do? Make coffee? Wrap cables? Yes, if they are lucky (with no pay).

If My Kid Wanted To Attend Recording School….
If my kid wanted to attend recording school, I’d have to tell them that there is simply no way in the world I would pay for it. It’s not because I’m a pessimist. It’s because I’m convinced that recording school is a dead end. There are ways to get to the top, make huge connections, etc. However, I don’t think the recording school route is that way. Recording school is an entertaining experience with money to throw a way. It has little to no connection to actually making money for your kid.

If my kid really wanted to attend recording school, I’d insist that they either:
A) Get educated in a field that will not only put them in high demand in a recording studio, but also give them options for when they decide that actually need to feed a family. As noted before, computer networking and electrical engineering are both excellent fields to go into.

B) Go for a direct internship for a big producer. This would take some charisma and balls. It’s a risk proposition, but it’s one of the few ways to get “in the door”.

The recording school business is booming but the recording studio business is not. Use your head, parents and help your kids understand that they certainly can realize their dreams, but that things are a little more complicated and a little tougher than they appear in those shiny ads with the giant SSL consoles.

In conventional crafts, the system is setup that a person gets an education to get his/her foot in the door to really learn on the job. The recording industry is different. The people who get the education tend to be on the fast track back home, sleeping until 2pm, and trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

14 responses to Parents, Should Your Kids Attend Recording School?

  1. Gregory Moore March 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Right on the …No money…But still a kick. This seems to be a hobby industry now. Unfortunately, I am in the IT Netwoking end of it, installation and configuration, and even that is drying up in certain regions,(like where I am now).
    Keep pushing the truth …

  2. I definatly agree with this article!!! I am a freelance engineer in New York City and had regular work coming out of my ears until about 4 years ago. My first year out of recording school earned me NO money. I made more money recording before I went. I worked for free and was living with my grandmother on a $3 a day budget literally. As an assistant I made $5.00 an hour as an independant contractor. I didn’t get paid more often than I did. I started drumming up my own clients and eventually was super busy around New York, but then digidesign came out with the Digi 001 and that was the begining of the end. To keep up I have had to sell my services dirt cheap, and do way more things other than record. I still record and make a living at it, but I also have another job to carry me through the slow times. In my best year engineering I made about $50k. I litterally had to live at the studio to make that knd of living and be available for the worst kind of sessions at the drop of a hat. I only went home 3 time one month. I only went to take a shower and come right back. I would buy shirts and socks and cloths from street venders in times square and wash up in the sink at the studio. I used to go home with clients who lived near the studio that were working for days on end to use thier shower. It was fun, but sucked just as hard, and didn’t last. I couldnt afford to to continue to work as an engineer solely. I am still very active inthe music biz, but I exploit other areas of it and only produce projects that I believe in. I donb’t care how super talented that you think your kid is or how much drive they have to make it, Most don’t make it past the internship stage. I have fired interns for not going to pick up my lunch. I have fired them for being late to a session they weren’t getting paid to be at. I worked with an engineer who came to NYC from Boston. While in Boston he engineered and mixed at least 2 New Kids On THe Block albums that as we all know went multi platinum. The studio made him start as an intern just the same as everyone else no matter that he had mix credits on multiplatinum discs. That is how the biz goes. If people don’t like you as a person, you don’t get work either… This biz is such a crap shot, its almost unbelieveable anyone tries to make a go at it.

  3. The futility is disgusting…

  4. Interesting insight. I have been planning to go to Berklee. This will help me choose my area of specialisation better. I think its important to be able to differentiate between what might be good as a hobby and what might actually make a promising career.


  5. Ampere student April 13, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    It is all about connections and internships. Going to school in Nashville for audio engineering, I have seen many of my friends graduate. The only ones that have studio jobs or live jobs are the ones that know people. There is an 81% placement rate for those that have done an internship. There is no other way to get your name out there. A resume doesn’t matter, it might be good for formalities, but it is all about who knows you and who you know.

    Yes, the studio at Blackbird is CRAZY! George Massenburg’s studio is unlike any other in Nashville or otherwise. Also, Blackbird has an unusually large staff, something around 20 people. I don’t know if they are all paid, but the studio manager said something about how big their staff is.

  6. There is an 81% placement rate for those that have done an internship. There is no other way to get your name out there.

    That can be debated, but it requires some creativity.


  7. Actually I have to disagree. It depends what you want to do. There may not be many jobs in the recording field as in going into a big time studio. But The gaming industry is a billion dollar industry. and who makes the sound effects and music? Audio engineers. Who does all the audio for films? Audio Engineers. How many places out there have live music? Thousands upon Thousands. and who do they need???? anyone… Audio Engineers. So before you go raving about it. Understand there is a lot out there, you have to look. By the way, I’ve been an Engineer for about 8 years now and find plenty of work.

    And all those gas station workers probably are still young and didn’t try to look hard enough. They probably expected a job handed to them instead of busting their butt.

  8. Interesting…
    I’m 13, and I’ve always been fascinated by audio engineering. I live in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and there aren’t many people here interested in it.
    I’ve never actually wanted to make a living out of it, but it does make for an interesting hobby, wouldn’t you agree?
    I suppose I’ll pursue a career in IT. I’m obsessed with Linux and servers, and I’ve actually made an FTP server!
    But audio engineering is… cool. I really want to buy a mixer, what do you think? And I know this guy who regularly does live concerts at a cultural centre close to our house, he’s been teaching me a few ‘tricks’ lately…
    I would *REALLY* like to talk to real-life audio engineers, so please send me an email at: sof ian krt AT g ma il. com (omit spaces, replace AT with @)

  9. your kid probably hates you

  10. Some people do it simply because they love music, and aren’t driven purely by money.

  11. Some people do it simply because they love music, and aren’t driven purely by money.

    This article was about choosing a career. A career, as you know, is how you put food on the table and how you put clothes on your back.

    If you are going to recording school as entertainment, then obviously there isn’t much worry about income. If that is your situation, consider yourself extremely lucky.

    A lot of people like to talk the talk about living a lifestyle of the eccentric artist who doesn’t need money, but for most this is spawned from a life of excess with no real conception of what it is like to do without.

  12. Look ,
    It’s about becoming aware of your surroundings ; a creature is subject to it’s environment: period . The Captians of industry in the U.S. have not a shadow of the type of nationalism that made this country. Patriotic decisions to keep jobs in this country don’t occur. It’s a global situation and the mfg goes to china ( there are 5 of them to 1 of us ) and a twelve hour day in a factory yields a worker $4.50 USD.

    The remaining service sector that can be shipped to india (phone service ect.) is all but done (try calling with a question about a new dell-(i) computer! ).

    So what you have is allot of folks left in the lurch looking for jobs and trade schools poping up like vultures making promises like no tommorrow.
    This is still a very affluent country , despite all that has changed . The old buisness adage ” look for a need and fill it ” is still true . If you want to be in the entertainment buisness , then go for being talent , not an technician.
    There is plenty of room for oringal material , as long as you entertain the masses .

    In music ,the ordinary song demos and independent releases you see tend to be slickly produced. The songwriters and bands who made them were obviously spending copious amounts of time and energy (and money) on creating perfect recordings of ordinary songs, rather than the other way around.

    There will always be plenty of engineers , if you want to be in music , write good songs and screw the engineering part. Really , it’s a shame that big rooms are closing whilst ” prosumer ” home recording eats up peoples energies.

    Study the art ( not the latest fashions ) behind the music you love and then make your own . It is not a good thing to be in the company of the oversupplied , less in demand technicians ; Creativity is in demand and shorter in supply. So I agree , my kids not going to full sail !!!


  13. you’re right about everything you said, but your intentions are VERY misguided and I fear you may have been brainwashed by corporate america.

    the reason why you go to recording school is to GET BETTER AT RECORDING end of story. if you’re concerned about money get one of them 9-5 jobs as a new world order slave. I’m making just enough money to eat and pay rent and I get to sleep as late as I want while the rest of you sit in traffic and think about suicide. I’m 27 I sleep in the studio and my parents are still upset that i’m paying $30,000 in student loans and $15,000 in business debt while pulling in less than $1000 a month but we’re living in a cashless society where ‘money’ is just an illusion. did you know all the cash in circulation is only 3% of the ‘money’??? that’s right we can hand in all of our federal reserve notes and STILL be in debt. It’s just a massive fraud. get away from money. you’re a slave.

    btw if you know anyone in the south jersey area who needs guitar lessons or studio time I do $20/h check out the myspace listed above for more info.

  14. if you’re concerned about money get one of them 9-5 jobs as a new world order slave.

    I see you are up on your Alex Jones. I don’t hate Alex, I just wish he was a little less sensationalist. I think he loses credibility when he’s THAT over the top without emperical evidence. (The Bohemia Grove episode done me in.)

    Your views on cash are mostly right theoretically, but they lack real world grounding. Money is just an illusion, but at the moment it is the way we exchange goods. If you are ready to go moneyless, knock yourself out but I’m curious how you plan to obtain your next preamp.

    btw if you know anyone in the south jersey area who needs guitar lessons or studio time I do $20/h check out the myspace listed above for more info.

    HA HA HA HA H!!! I’m assuming this entire post was a joke. Not bad!