The School of Audio Engineering
An inside look at one of the most popular recording courses both in this country and abroad.
This international organisation offers courses in professional sound recording practice but are shortly due to introduce a series of short courses aimed at the home studio user. Paul White talks to Tom Misner, the school's founder
I started out around ten years ago as a head studio engineer with only five hundred pounds in my pocket and really built my first training studio as a way to pay for the studio itself. The response to the idea was so great that things grew very rapidly and now we have over twenty studios across the world, with another due to open in England as soon as all the paper work is sorted out. The head office is in Sydney, Australia and it's gratifying to see graduates of our courses in the majority of commercial studios there.
We are now very firmly established worldwide and have acquired a good reputation but we are not likely to be so well known in the UK until our courses have run long enough to put engineers into studios here.
The professional course lasts for one year and the student attends twice each week either during the day or during the evening. We teach the theory of recording of course but we strongly emphasise the practical side of the business; it's no good teaching a guy all about outside broadcast work if the first time he goes out in the field, he doesn't know how to switch on his Nagra.
The studios themselves are usually 8-, 16- or 24-track and we are currently using several Fostex B16s in addition to Ampex 24-track machines. We chose TAC desks because they offer the kind of facilities found on larger studio desks and they have proved to be reliable in use. Each studio also has the usual complement of effects including gates, compressors and digital delays. We're using Lexicon digital reverb units because I think that it's vital to teach the importance of using reverb properly and cheap units just don't allow you to get a good sound. We've also got a Yamaha REV1 and an AMS in our main studio but I am also impressed by the new REV7, and the Roland SRV2000 looks interesting.
Classes may contain up to 30 people for lectures though these are often split into two groups of fifteen, and when we are doing practical work, we only have two students working in the control room at any one time. In a real studio you don't have five engineers all working at once so we don't do that either; we try to get a more advanced student working as the main engineer with perhaps a less experienced student assisting. This helps both parties as the less experienced guy will ask a lot of questions and so the acting engineer will discover any gaps in his own knowledge as he tries to answer them.
As well as our own teaching staff, we have experienced guest lecturers from the industry who talk about their particular areas of expertise and at the end of the course, there are both written and practical examinations.
Each student works on a recording project in which he records an original piece of music that must include at least three different distinct parts. This may be performed by himself or by other musicians but the point of the exercise is to see how smoothly the different parts blend together and how the budding engineer fares when playing the producer's role.
We attach particular importance to training a person's ears and we have developed several techniques to achieve this end. One is to present the student with a 4-track tape to balance on which the levels have been contrived to vary during the course of the piece. What the student has to do is to ride the faders in an attempt to maintain a constant balance, and this particular exercise has been found be particularly effective in developing a sense of sound balance and hand co-ordination.
There is a four hour written exam but there are also practical tests which simulate the environment found in a commercial studio. For example, one test is to ask a student to patch in a particular piece of auxiliary gear in a certain way and if it isn't done by the time that I've finished giving the instructions, it's not fast enough!
On successful completion of the course, the student gets a diploma which like any other qualification is just a piece of paper and not in itself a guarantee of a job. To be honest, I'd say that about 50 per cent of our students will not settle in recording jobs either due to them being unsuited to the job because of their temperament or because they want to make too much money too quickly and are not prepared to compromise. Of the others, some will not want to find work because they only took the course for something to do, but the ones with the right attitude who are keen usually find worthwhile jobs in the industry. Surprisingly, after a few years in the industry, a significant number of our ex-students come back to us as instructors and I think that most of our present instructors have been through the course.
In addition to the professional engineering course, we are now offering a home recording course which will run for one week and the object is to teach students how to get the best out of limited equipment and the course includes drum machines and the application of MIDI. This will benefit the people who have 4- or 8-track set-ups at home and we are also planning further courses for musicians interested in programming. Also included in this course will be aspects such as programming the DX range of synths and MIDI drum machines.
Further details on any of these courses maybe obtained from: School of Audio Engineering 1st floor, (Contact Details).
Feature by Paul White
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