The Institute of Communications Arts
A took at one of Canada's foremost educational studios
With the plans for cable and possibly satellite TV well under way in this country, much attention is being focused on the USA and Canada where a typical viewer has the choice of over forty different stations. The resulting demand for personnel in all branches of the broadcasting industry has inspired many schools and colleges to start courses for young people seeking a career in the booming entertainment business, be it music, TV or video.
Such a programme is run by the Institute of Communications Arts in Canada, which operates a one year course entitled 'Modern Communications Media'. Situated next door to a garage selling English sports cars in downtown Vancouver, thirty-two aspiring young Canadians take classes in a variety of subjects from video and audio engineering to photography and synthesiser techniques. The emphasis has always been on hands-on experience rather than formal teaching as Neils Hartvig-Nielsen, a director of the institute, explained: "The whole thing started a few years ago when a group of us owning an 8-track recording studio came to the conclusion that we knew very little about the finer points of engineering and production. So we hired one of Canada's best sound engineers, Keith Stein, booked a band in for a session and simply sat back and watched. The idea worked very well and generated a great deal of interest so we formed the Buttertree School of Sound to run similar teach-ins for other local musicians."
And how was the ICA formed?
"Well, after a while it became difficult to enlist the help of various companies and expand the school unless we became a non-profit making educational establishment, so we sold the studio and became the ICA. Our training facilities are now, for the most part, actual operating commercial establishments, which means students practice on relevant up-to-date equipment and are often walking in as a major act walks out. Local session musicians are used for the classes as they help keep things running smoothly and are always glad of a bit of free studio time."
What are the courses available?
"Every student must complete classes in Music Business, Audio Engineering, Sound Reinforcement, Video and Record Production. The music business course deals extensively with everything from basic book-keeping to graphics, promotions and contract law through a series of lectures from guest speakers in the industry. In addition to these courses, two options must be chosen from Photography, Synthesiser Techniques, Marketing, Journalism and general Communications."
Anyone is eligible for the programme although Neilsen is quick to point out that initiative and an outgoing attitude are more important than any technical or musical background.
"In a field which in the past has always been rather closed-shop, presentability and flexibility are valuable attributes. We are looking for the artist/producer type who is aiming to freelance in TV, radio or music and will therefore benefit from having as diverse a background as possible. That's the aim of the courses."
How do you see the future of video developing?
"Well the quality of most of our TV stations leaves a lot to be desired. As the number of channels increases with satellite TV then stations are going to aim at highly select audiences — for instance one channel may show only heavy rock videos, another electronic music. This will create a market for both low budget recordings and very high quality productions using all the latest techniques. You must remember that the combination of 'Sound and Vision' in modern music is still in its infancy, and although the home video market hasn't taken off as wildly as expected, the course puts a lot of emphasis on this area. In the next few months we hope to start work on a microprocessor system linking a video recorder and a synthesiser in real time to enable soundtracks to be dubbed more easily."
So you think synthesisers are going to play a major role in the entertainment industry?
"Absolutely. One only has to consider the increasing number of film soundtracks (the success of Vangelis springs to mind), TV ads and of course recording artists that are using them. I try to acquaint students with polyphonic instruments as soon as possible because once the development costs have been paid then they should drop in price in the same way that small synthesisers did. Fortunately a number of synthesiser manufacturers are very interested in sponsoring educational schemes — even at High School level — so we have access to some pretty expensive instruments."
And do you feel that you can teach someone to be a useful keyboardist in under a year?
"Yes, because modern music is depending more and more on skills in production and sound engineering than on instrumental techniques. It's quite likely that the virtuoso of the future may have spent three years studying electronics rather than practising chromatic scales, and his/her instrument may be a microprocessor."
But is this real art or just computer programming?
"Well, some might say that if engineering doesn't become an art in itself then society's got problems! More to the point, almost everyone in entertainment has to make a distinction between art and business at some point — it's a very personal decision and I certainly wouldn't prod anyone in either direction."
Subject to passing the odd exam and attending all their chosen options, students are awarded a diploma at the end of the year and then have to look for their first job. Neils and his fellow directors have been responsible for compiling and publishing a 'Who's Who in Music' in Western Canada, presumably gaining them a vast number of contacts in the business and thus helping their young proteges off to a good start. Opportunities in independent sound recording are much the same in Vancouver as in any English city; it is in TV and associated video industries where the vacancies exist, and in this area we can expect rapid developments on our side of the Atlantic.
Unfortunately the timing of our visit did not enable us to watch any classes in action, but Neils showed us round the local studio complex, conveniently only a block away, where the sound recording course is run. "All the best desks come from England", he said playing with the Trident mixer, so I assured him that all the best videos would too. Certainly whatever the Government's final decisions, the advent of cable TV in this country should open up many interesting possibilities for anyone considering electronic music and video as a profession. Roll on Channel 40...