Technology & Education
Qualifying for the Music Industry
Planning a career in the music industry? Then you may like to know more about the Music Information Technology course at City University, London. Mike Barnes reports.
The music industry and educational establishments in Britain have never really enjoyed the sort of mutual cooperation that could create real standards within the industry and provide a pool of skilled, qualified individuals. The preservation of traditional routes to the top continues to be encouraged by those who have already travelled these routes, ie. those who have 'done it the hard way' via a series of successive climbs from the backrooms of the industry. In studios, in-house training via the well trod 'tea-boy, tape-op, engineer' path remains the de facto 'educational' standard despite the proliferation of established courses. Whilst one cannot deny that these traditional routes have produced many successful home-grown producers, engineers, programmers and technology specialists, it can neither be denied that the whole process lacks the professionalism of a bona fide industry.
Music - and its associated technology - is now a global phenomenon that permeates all sections of society, so much so that it is more than ever big business and where there's business there are (or should be) professional standards. America has, for some time, recognised the need for standards in this industry as in any other. Browse through a copy of the American Keyboard or Guitar magazines or the more esoteric Computer Music Journal and you can see that music technology is treated very seriously with professional qualifications available in a great many diverse areas. Information is available for those who want to learn and learning is positively encouraged. In Britain, we have only a minimal exchange of information. The whole industry here seems to want to create and perpetuate a type of 'closed shop' approach, with only the chosen few having access to that specialised knowledge.
The area of music technology - which embodies all forms of synthesis, sampling, computer music and contemporary recording techniques - has, until recently, been an area of study limited to the clique of studio associated personnel who have been able to gain the necessary hands-on experience to become conversant with the new technological innovations. However, this type of approach is no longer sufficiently adequate to keep pace with the current exponential expansion of the music technology industry: a fact which has given birth to a number of successful private educational institutions (for those with the necessary financial resources) like the Gateway School of Recording & Music Technology.
The university/polytechnic educational sector has, on the whole, made no provision for the type of educational background required to join this industry. Music departments have been reluctant to move away from 'conventional' areas of study and uproot established course traditions. There are now, however, a handful of pioneering music departments attempting to provide a career in 'music technology'. Although being some way behind the efforts of the Americans, it is time to give these British efforts some of the publicity they undoubtedly deserve.
City University (London) has endeavoured to remove the 'artistic' stigma that has restrained many British university music departments from coming to terms with contemporary technology and pursuing the development of Electronic Music studios and integrating aspects of music technology within their course structures.
In 1975, the Centre for the Arts and Related Studies at City University underwent a substantial transformation which led to the unprecedented provision of a BSc Honours degree in Music, encompassing scientific and technical aspects of Music and Acoustics. In 1985, City once again become first in its field by devoting a course entirely to the specialised area of music technology. The Postgraduate Diploma in Music Information Technology (MIT) is one of only a handful of initiatives in this area of education. City has additionally announced an MSc course in MIT as a further initiative this year.
Music Information Technology, or MIT, is really a type of conglomerate term unifying the complete spectrum of music technology fields. Computing, recording, synthesis and data storage/manipulation are all an integral part of today's studio environment and are covered within the MIT concept. The nature of the course will perhaps become clearer by outlining the five main course sections:
- The Principles of Digital Sound Production and Control - this deals with analogue and digital recording techniques and the principles behind analogue and digital synthesis.
- The New Technology for Digital Sound Production and Control - deals with compact disc formats, digital synthesis architecture, and sampling/synthesis systems.
- Programming for Music Information Technology - BASIC programming and beyond, MIDI data formats, new language and system developments.
- Introduction to Acoustics, Psychology and Utility Applications of MIT - explores harmonic motion, fourier analysis, psychoacoustics, artificial intelligence, automated composition, audio and video synchronisation.
- The Project - a piece of individual work; either hardware, software or a written mini-thesis on a specialised MIT topic.
Jim Grant spearheads the small group of lecturing staff and carries with him a wealth of experience - he previously lectured in Musical Instrument music information technology at the London College Of Furniture and is an expert Fairlight engineer. Jim deals with the majority of the lecture load in the areas of synthesis and digital audio, as well as the computer programming aspects of the course.
The Diploma course runs in two forms offering either a one-year full-time study or a two-year part-time study. Lecture periods are scheduled conveniently for those part-timers who continue their full-time employment.
Lecturing is generally easily paced but thorough in order to cater for the wide range of backgrounds that materialise within the MIT students. In fact, part of the strength of the course lies in the wide range of people who attend. These include professional musicians, music teachers, computer programmers, electronics graduates and people from a whole variety of non-music related backgrounds who all come together to discuss, generate ideas, and learn about the technology of music. Under special circumstances, even non-graduates with the appropriate qualifying skills can gain acceptance onto the course.
A recent co-operation with Yamaha has resulted in the provision of a number of their TX sound modules, DX keyboards and a DMP7 digital mixing console. These augment the existing facilities which include a Fairlight CMI IIx and Akai S900 samplers. Furthermore, the computing facilities within the music department are currently being upgraded from the ubiquitous but antiquated BBC micro workstations to alluring, new 16-bit, one megabyte Atari 1040ST workstations. These will compliment the existing Apple Macintosh/Performer software and Atari/Pro-24 composition systems which are used mainly for Music Research and Electro-acoustic Music applications.
There is also an 8-track studio housed within the department with MIDI/SMPTE synchronisation and PCM mastering facilities, which is used mainly for undergraduate course work.
The MIT course at City University does not (neither was it designed to) present the student with any highly specific qualification. You do not graduate as a crack DX7 programmer or otherwise. But if that is your main interest, then the opportunity and facilities are there and the rest is up to you. The course is primarily designed as a general up-to-date coverage of contemporary music technology and the principles behind it. The onus is on the student to specialise in particular areas of interest which can be proven within the confines of the personal project.
Despite its generality, MIT is a welcome oasis in what has been, until very recently, an educational desert. It remains to be seen if employers will begin to respect such qualifications and thereby encourage other educational establishments to support this area of study. As a graduate of the MIT course, I for one hope to see a turnaround in traditional recruiting policies so that a great many more students can take advantage of new educational opportunities and join the industry from a route unavailable to previous generations of hopefuls.
Contact The Administrator, (Dip MIT), Department of Music, The City University, (Contact Details).
Feature by Mike Barnes
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