Live sound is an industry being pursued by many. There is a lot of technical knowledge needed to be successful in this field, but how do you get it? Where do you get it? When searching for this knowledge many people automatically migrate their thoughts towards attending a college or university.
Do you need a degree to be a sound engineer? No, you do not need a degree or any other formal education to be a sound engineer.
This is a question I get a lot from aspiring engineers. Personally, I decided to get an education in this industry. But that doesn’t mean it’s the “right” thing to do. Many people believe you should get a degree. Then there are those on the other side of the spectrum who think formal education in this industry is a waste of time. However, these are subjective opinions and will really depend on your situation. Keep reading to find out more!
Why You Don’t Need a Degree
Technically, you do not need a degree to be a sound engineer. While many people in the industry do, there are plenty that don’t. And there is no correlation with those who do being in superior positions to those who don’t.
Live sound is very much an industry of proving yourself, not your credentials. When applying for a position as a sound engineer, most will want to know what kind of work you’ve done in the past and what kind of reputation you have. These are much more important than the formal training you may or may not have had.
And that begs the question – then why would anyone get a degree at all if it’s not required?
Great question! Let’s look at some pros and cons of getting a degree in sound engineering.
Pros and Cons of Getting a Live Sound Degree
There are several pros and cons to getting a degree in sound engineering. The weight these things hold will be determined by your situation and will help you decide what is right for you.
It Can Look Good on a Resume
Despite not needing a degree, it can be a good thing to put on your resume. Depending on the specific job you’re applying for and how new you are in the industry, it can help give the employer some amount of confidence that you have a good amount of knowledge in the industry. However, this cannot replace real world experience.
You Will Be Guided on What to Learn and When
I get asked “What should I be learning?” more often than you’d think. This is because without some kind of formal training it’s very difficult to know what you should be learning.
Attending college and/or a university can help tremendously with this. This is because your entire degree is already planned out from start to finish. You don’t need to know what to learn. You just need to learn what’s given to you.
This is a huge benefit of getting a degree.
Less Trial and Error
In the real world, we learn a lot from trial and error – and some of those errors can get expensive.
You won’t (or shouldn’t) ever stop learning, even in the real world. However, getting trained by professionals in a classroom setting can help you avoid making so many mistakes. Essentially, you can learn from the wisdom of those who have already made those mistakes so you don’t have to.
You will always make mistakes, but getting a degree will help you avoid learning many of them the hard way.
Gives You a Good Foundation to Build Upon
Much of the required knowledge in this industry is compounding. What I mean by that is this – You need to know Z, but you can’t know Z until you know Y. And you can’t know Y until you know X. And so on…
You will learn a lot of fundamentals in a school and how those things eventually all tie together. This gives you the ability to think critically, rather than guessing for solutions to problems.
This can be gained through real world experience, but can be more quickly gained through a formal education.
It Will Cost You
As you know, education isn’t free (at least not here in the United States). It’s not uncommon for someone to acquire tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debts.
For this reason, you will need to decide whether getting an education will be worth it for you in the long run within this industry.
Less “On the Job” Experience
The longer you are in school, the longer you will go without real world experience. Sure, you can get a job on the side, but ultimately you will be spending more time in school and less time at an actual job.
Again, you will have to decide for yourself whether this is the best use of your time. And this answer will be different for everyone.
Some Schools Have Bad Reputations
Unfortunately, not all schools have the same good reputations. In fact, I’ve seen some job listings online that specifically said they wouldn’t accept applications from graduates of a specific institution.
This is sad, considering graduates of this institution likely spent thousands of dollars on their degrees.
So, if you are considering attending a school for sound engineering, do your due diligence in researching credible institutions with good reputations as well as finding the bad ones you should stay away from.
Can Make Some People Arrogant
This is also an unfortunate circumstance, but very present in the industry.
There are some who graduate their schooling and enter the industry with an Ego that’s a little too big.
You will quickly find out in the world of live sound that humility goes a long way. And that oftentimes people aren’t hired solely based on their arrogant attitude.
If you do decide to pursue an education, make sure you don’t let it affect you in this way.
What You Will Learn In School
Now that you know some pros and cons of getting a degree, you might be wondering what you will actually learn if you do pursue one.
This will be different for every school, but most of the basics will probably be the same – having to do with a lot of basics and fundamentals.
You will learn all about sound theory. This is how sound works in general and how sound can affect sound… yes, I said that right.
Things like the frequency spectrum, human hearing range, frequency responses, frequency identification, phase, phase responses, phase cancellation and addition, phase vs polarity, impulse responses, history of sound technology, etc…
These things, and much more, will play a vital role in the rest of your learning.
Equipment Used in the Industry
Another thing you will learn a lot about is what equipment is used in the industry and how to use it.
Some of those things will be about microphones, mixers, loudspeakers, crossovers, DSPs (digital signal processers), power amps, different types of cables, wireless equipment, etc…
These are the primary groups of equipment you will learn about.
You can’t (or shouldn’t) talk about all this equipment without also talking about how it all connects together. This is a term we call “signal flow” in the live sound industry.
This will teach you how to connect your microphone to the mixer, and the mixer to the crossover, and the crossover to the power amps, and the power amps to the speakers, etc…
Signal flow is one of the most important things you will ever learn about in the world of live sound.
Basics of Mixing FOH and Monitors
Becoming a good mix engineer comes with time… and lots of it.
Getting good at this probably won’t come within your time at school, but you will certainly be taught the basics and hopefully be given opportunities to practice.
Learning industry standard mixing techniques will be very important to you. There are no “rules” in mixing… but also, there are. It’s commonly said about mixing that you should learn the rules before you break them.
And it’s those “rules” that you will learn in your time at school.
There are many other things you will potentially learn about in a formal education setting.
Some of those things may include; troubleshooting, audio electronics, acoustics, system tuning and optimization, etc…
Be sure to check out the entire degree plan when comparing schools.
As I’ve said multiple times in this article, you do not need a degree to become a sound engineer. But there’s nothing saying that you can’t either. It will all depend on your situation and what you think will benefit you the most in the long run. Make sure to weigh out all the pros and cons listed in this article when making your final decision. I hope it was helpful to you!