Recording Arts Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's & Course Info

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What will you learn in a recording arts degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Study Recording Arts: Degrees at a Glance

Recording arts studies at the undergraduate level can teach students how to produce and mix audio for music recordings and broadcast productions. Students who obtain an associate's degree can pursue work as audio technicians, and bachelor's degree holders are qualified to become audio producers for a variety of entertainment mediums.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that sound engineering technicians would only see a 1% increase in job opportunities from 2010-2020, which is defined as little to no change. The BLS mentioned that strong competition for these jobs was expected, and the best opportunities were likely to be found at small operations.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level work with audio and sound technologies Students seeking a recording program with a broad curriculum
Individuals hoping to become audio producers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Sound engineering technician ($47,000)*
- Audio visual technician ($44,000 - with 2-4 years of experience)**
All of the careers that associate's degree holders can pursue plus:
- Audio engineer ($41,000)***
- Producer ($50,000 - with 2-4 years of experience)**
Time to Completion About 2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Requirements - Roughly 10-15 courses covering recording concepts and related subjects
- Internship/project
- About 15-20 courses in music, recording and related areas
- Internship or audio project
Prerequisites - High school diploma or equivalent - High school diploma or equivalent
- Programs with a heavy emphasis on musical performance may require an audition
Online Availability No No

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (figures as of December 2012), ***Payscale.com (figures as of December 2012)


Associate's in Recording Arts

The associate's program can teach students how to operate recording equipment, mix and edit audio tracks and run a recording studio. Many of the courses give students a chance to get hands-on experience with audio equipment. As you learn how recording equipment and music software works, you'll begin to produce and mix your own tracks. You can also gain a basic understanding of music theory and electronics. The curriculum of an associate's degree program in recording arts is fairly broad, giving students a taste of each step in the sound recording process.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Postsecondary education is typically required to work in audio engineering and related positions
  • Programs typically cover many aspects of the recording industry (how to use equipment, how the industry operates, sound mixing, etc.)
  • May have the opportunity to gain additional skills in music theory and performance

Cons

  • May have difficulty landing a job due to a projected 1% increase for sound engineering technician positions from 2010-2020*
  • Skills gained in the program are not useful for many careers outside of the media and entertainment industries
  • Some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have a bachelor's degree

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

This degree program usually begins with a core set of audio recording courses, such as studio operations, music fundamentals and audio technology fundamentals. Some programs require students to complete a couple music theory/performance courses, while others may just offer these studies through elective courses. Common recording arts courses include:

  • Music business
  • Mixing
  • Multi-tracking techniques
  • Audio signal processing
  • Studio maintenance and management

You can expect to complete an internship towards the end of your program. Some programs may include an audio project as well.

Online Courses

Due to the hands-on learning in recording arts programs, students cannot currently pursue this degree over the Internet. Some colleges may offer general education courses online, but all of the music, recording and audio courses take place at the campus.

Stand Out with This Degree

You can get a jump on other job candidates by gaining expertise in a particular piece of recording software that's commonly used in your desired line of work. Each specialty within audio engineering may require proficiency in different software programs; popular ones include Pro Tools, Ableton Live and Sound Forge. Students interested in learning a particular program can typically get training from the software vendor. Some vendors may offer webinars and training videos for free, while others may have on-site and online training courses that cost to enroll in.

Participation in training courses could help you prepare for particular certification exams, such as the one that leads to the Avid Pro Tools Certified User designation. Each program may have different training and certification options, so students can start exploring their options while working towards their degree.


Bachelor's in Recording Arts

Recording arts studies at the bachelor's level are sometimes found as standalone programs or concentrations within music and music technology programs. Programs typically cover a broad range of topics, including music theory, basic music business concepts, music history and recording techniques. You can expect multiple hands-on learning experiences, as some schools may allow you to work on theater, opera and musical productions throughout the program.

Some schools give you a chance to get significant instruction on music performance and may even offer dual-degree programs, which can take 5 years to finish. However, some programs focus on audio engineering and recording, giving you few opportunities to play instruments and learn about music theory.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Employers may prefer bachelor's degree holders for audio engineering positions
  • Can prepare you for a variety of careers in the entertainment industry, such as broadcasting, recording and producing
  • Can reduce the amount of experience needed to become a Certified Audio Engineer

Cons

  • Only a few positions actually require a bachelor's degree
  • You'll likely face strong competition for jobs*
  • The curriculum is usually broad and doesn't typically allow you to specialize in a certain type of audio engineering

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's programs usually have a set of core major requirements that all students take. The number of elective courses depends on the program; some may offer significant flexibility in choosing what courses you take beyond the core recording courses, while others may have limited options for students. Common courses include:

  • Audio production
  • Mastering
  • Audio fundamentals
  • Multi-track recording
  • Digital sound editing
  • Music business

Programs that feature instrument and performance training usually have many courses or instrument specialties that you can choose from, such as jazz performance, guitar, choir and piano. Most programs include an internship or audio project, and some schools require both.

Online Options

A bachelor's program in recording arts is not available online as of December 2012. Students spend a significant amount of time working with recording programs, learning music technologies and working with school productions, so this program is not suited for studies over the Internet.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Graduates seeking audio broadcasting positions may want to consider the Certified Audio Engineer (CAE) designation offered by the Society of Broadcast Engineers. Professionals pursuing this designation should have 5 years of relevant experience, but a bachelor's degree can count as 4 years of experience. This designation is awarded once an individual passes the required exam.

Students who are interested in working for the recording industry can become members of the Recording Academy. The Recording Academy offers 3 levels of membership, and students who are currently enrolled in postsecondary courses and wish to eventually work in the music industry can join as student members. Members have access to special events and meetings that could lead to networking opportunities.

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