Sound Engineering Courses: Are They Worth It?

At Toolroom Academy, we deal with artists from all across the spectrum. From the most world’s most decorated producers to newer producers on their production journey, we’ve encountered the whole lot. One of the most common questions we receive is whether or not a new artist should take music production courses or sound engineering courses? Though it may seem like audio engineering is a vital component of being a successful producer, the answer to this question may surprise you.

What Are Sound Engineering Courses?

First off, let’s discuss the role of an audio engineer.

An audio engineer is someone whose job it is to add the final touches on a production session or live recording using audio effects such as EQ, compression, etc.

They are the person you call when you can’t figure out why two frequencies don’t fit right with each other, the best microphone to use for a certain vocal, or just to nerd out over vintage compressors.
Sound engineers are an integral, often overlooked piece of the music production puzzle. Producers rely on them every day to make sure everything sounds as fat, crispy, and clean as possible.

If you can’t already tell, this is a very different role than that of a music producer.

As such, sound engineering courses are totally different than courses that are designed to teach you how to make music. While you may learn a few vital engineering techniques in classes such as those we offer here at Toolroom Academy, dedicated audio engineering courses take a deep dive into the topic.
In fact, a close friend of the label enrolled in one of the most prestigious engineering programs in the United States. We got to see just how these programs work, first hand.

His experience can teach you a lot about how exactly these programs work, and what they have to offer.

Is It Worth It To Take Audio Engineering Courses? We Asked An Audio Engineer!

Danny is an American friend of ours. We first got in touch when he sent the perfect demo email, and later became a client for our mastering service. We love meeting up and coming producers such as him. Whenever he was in the UK a few years back, he stopped by our office to tell us about his plans.
He was jet-set on attending a sound engineering school in the United States.

We were a little skeptical at first, especially when we saw the price tag! But, nothing could stop him, and we wished him well.

It was great to see him so excited, and predictably, he excelled to the head of his class. It was great to watch his progress on social media. It seemed like he was doing everything right, or so he thought.

After he finished school, he even got a job in one of the best mastering studios in the country! He felt insanely lucky, as most of the people he graduated with never found employment in the field. We were (and still are) so excited about his success.

But, as it turns out, there’s another side of taking sound engineering courses that it turns out he wished he knew before going in.

Relevant Information vs. Filler Content: What To Keep In Mind About Sound Engineering Courses

Let me ask you a question: how much do you remember from what they taught you in school?

What about university?

Think hard about it.

Our guess: not that much.

Now, that’s not to say you’re a bad learner. It has more to do with the fact that you were probably taught lots of extra, unnecessary information that had little to do with your real-world success.

Sadly, as our friend’s experience revealed to us, many sound engineering courses are unfortunately similar. When Danny came out to our most recent party at Studio 338, he told us all about his experience. One particular line stuck out to us, though…

“I spent eight weeks learning about electricity.”

Wait. What? Like…electricity?

Danny’s sound engineering course started with an 8-week course on electricity and signal flow. As all audio engineers know, electricity and signal flow are essential to understanding music…to a small degree.

You could probably learn everything you need to know in a week or so. But, the module went on for eight weeks. Danny didn’t care. He remained convinced sound engineering courses were what he needed to succeed as an artist!

“Cool,” he thought to himself.

“This stuff will come in handy later whenever we’re looking at an Ableton session later.”

His expectations didn’t match reality. That day never came.

After learning about electricity, they then spent a few weeks practicing setting up and breaking down live bands. This was another module he didn’t quite expect. Danny never saw himself in a situation where he would be doing this type of work. He wanted to be the person on the stage, not the one setting it up!

Before he knew it, the whole thing started to feel a lot like being back in primary school. The courses would dive incredibly deep on a few incredibly specific topics, but gloss over whole areas he wanted to learn about!

Of course, it was while learning all about concepts such as rarefaction, clock sync methods, compression algorithms that reality finally hit him.

Virtually none of this information will make him a better producer.

Ouch. That one must have stung. As Danny would soon find out, audio engineering and music production are two very different concepts!

Audio Engineering vs. Music Production: Apples & Oranges.

The course Danny took was very time-intensive and took him away from producing his own music for a while.

What’s worse of all is that Danny found that some of the techniques he picked up in a hyper-specific audio engineering program were just plain incorrect!

“I picked up a few bad habits. The way you mix bands is totally different than how you make House music. I kept thinking that the drums should be quiet, the vocals way upfront. I thought my mix downs had gotten better, but I started mixing everything like it was a Pop track.”

Unbelievable! Anybody who knows anything about making House knows that the kick drum is the centerpiece of the track. Not only did taking a sound engineering course load him up with unnecessary information that was irrelevant to making Electronic music, but it actually harmed his process too.

It is for this reason that comparing sound engineering to music production is like putting apples to oranges.

It seemed that he was taught everything from how to wrap a cable, to how to master a movie score. But, very little of what he learned had any practical application to his artist career. He realized most of it would only be useful if he wanted to mix an orchestra, work in a movie studio, or be the “sound guy” at a club.

And, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing none of those are your ideal career choices. If they are, that’s totally cool, and perhaps sound engineering school is for you!

But, as our friend Danny was sure to find out, being a producer and being a sound engineer are two very different things.

The Movie Director Analogy

Let’s take a step back and assume you’re just getting into all of this.

One idea that is critical to understand here is that sound engineering is just one skillset that a music producer calls upon.

On top of understanding a few bits on sound engineering, most producers have to know a something about songwriting, composition, arrangement, and of course, sound choice.

Sound engineering is about 20% of what goes into writing a hit song. Trust us, we’ve released plenty of them.

Spending years learning about sound engineering puts your skills totally out of balance as a producer. Not only does a modern producer have to be able to do basic sound engineering, but you also need other skills that you’re not going to pick up when taking sound engineering courses.

If you can’t wrap your head around all of this, here’s an easy analogy for you: a music producer is a film director, and an audio engineer is the film’s editor.

A director is something of a jack of all trades. They know a little bit about screenwriting, acting, and even set design. Their creative fire is what is driving the film, and their editor strategically helps them.

An editor is a person whose job it is to go through hours of footage and make everything “fit together.” They take what the director has come up with, and ensure every little bit works together in harmony. This is just like how an audio engineer helps a skillful producer finish a track.

The director finds it helpful to get an additional set of hands in his work, just as a music producer can when looking for help getting that final 15% out of their tracks.

In the end, everyone’s role works in harmony to create one great final film. Or in our case, a hit song.

The question you must ask yourself is this: do you want to be the editor, or do you want to be the director?

And most importantly, who is going to help you get there?

Who’s Teaching You?

In Danny’s sound engineering program, he was working alongside world class engineers.

But, we have to keep in mind that audio engineering pop music and producing cutting edge Electronic music are two different things.

Some his tutors had worked on some seriously huge records in the past. But, most of them weren’t working on the kind of files that HE wanted to make! That’s not to knock anybody, either. Just as you wouldn’t hire a Tech House producer to work on an EDM record, the same goes for making our genre of music. In the end, it’s all about working with real artists, and getting a real education.

At Toolroom Academy students are taught by artists who have experience producing, touring, and DJ’ing Electronic music. In a world where genres, and even subgenres matter more than ever, you must be very selective with the techniques you choose to learn!

As it turns out, learning a whole trove of information that might not be super relevant to your genre can have some serious consequences.

The worst of them all is that it can lead to what’s known as analysis paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis: The Curse of Audio Engineering!

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a project because you were unable to make up your mind about something in a track? Maybe it’s a kick drum, a particular sound, or even a mix decision, it can be easy to get bogged down with the infinite number of choices available to you today.

Before you know it, hours have passed. You’ve made no progress, and the day has been wasted.

Sigh…

This is what is known as analysis paralysis.

The last thing you want to be doing is obsessing over every little detail in a mix whenever you’re trying to write Electronic music. The more you know, however, the harder it can be!

As it turns out, it doesn’t always pay to know more in life. And, sound engineering is one of those topics.

When you know everything there is to know about the most advanced mixing techniques, and even electrical engineering, it can seriously hamper your creativity. In our experience, students who are obsessed with the scientific aspects of music are stunted when it comes time to bust out an idea.

And while they’re busy looking at diagrams, charts and discussing physics, some novice producer is out there writing a hit song in their bedroom.

Let’s be honest: it does not take a super genius to mix a kick drum, a bass, percussion, and a few synth elements. These are skills that can be learned in a relatively short period, and refined over a longer timeline.

This is why if you’re planning to take a music production course, you must be sure that it is teaching you what you’re trying to learn…and nothing else.

The Courses You Should Be Taking

It’s stories like Danny’s that made us want to develop our courses. And, that’s precisely what we’ve done with Toolroom Academy.

Offered both online and in-person, Toolroom Academy courses range between 12 to 16 weeks, teaching you the exact skills that are needed to break through as a music producer today.

While courses that Toolroom Academy offers do include elements of sound engineering, it is more on a “need to know basis.” There’s no need to deep dive into this topic for most producers. It can be a great skill to have. But, it can also be a big waste of your time.

Toolroom Academy goes beyond audio engineering alone. We offer a holistic approach to education where no stone is left unturned. Every aspect of making House, Tech House, and Techno is covered in a concise fashion.

Our 12 Week Production Certificate Program takes you through the process of building a credible, professional-level track with the help of Toolroom’s senior music team.

Our 16 Week Creativity: Unlocked Program is designed for producers looking to give their tracks that extra, creative edge. Forget your typical sound design courses, Creativity: Unlocked can help take your music to the next level.

For those who are truly dedicated to their music careers, our Production Masterclass offers a bespoke 1-1 program where each of a new artist’s needs is addressed individually.

With a wide range of courses available to you, Toolroom Academy truly has something to offer every producer.

Do You Want To Be An Engineer Or An Artist?

When deciding on whether or not you want to take audio engineering courses, you really just ask yourself one simple question…

Do I want to be a sound engineer, or do I want to be an artist?

The choice is yours. Make it happen.

Make it happen

Learn how to make cutting-edge House and Tech House with our 3 month online Production Certificate taught by Ben Remember & Jon Kong.

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