Sound Design Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a sound design degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate and bachelor's degrees and potential careers.
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Studying Sound Design: Degrees at a Glance

Sound design study could develop your aural aesthetic sense while you learn modern techniques of sound and audio production meeting the technical and artistic demands of TV, video, film, radio, recording, interactive game design and live performance. The Audio Engineering Society (AES) maintains an online directory of educational programs.

Broadcast and sound engineering technician jobs may grow 10% from 2010-2020, against a 14% average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Meanwhile, required upgrading of school, corporate, hospital and hotel equipment and increased programming may lead to an increase of 13% for audio and visual equipment technicians.

You could consider becoming a freelancer. For example, Game Developer magazine's annual salary survey reported in 2010 that 26% of game audio developers were self-employed.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want an entry-level position in a sound design field Individuals interested in management positions or employment advancement
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Broadcast technician ($37,000)*
- Audiovisual technician ($44,000 - 2-4 years of experience)**
- Sound engineering technician ($47,000)*
- Sound designer (salary unavailable)
- Producer ($50,000 - 2-4 years of experience)**
- Game audio developer ($82,000)***
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 60-70 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements
- Internship
- Projects in labs and studios
Production of final project or demo reel
- Approximately 120 credits
- Internship
- Learn recorded and live music, theatrical, movie and TV sound
- Serve on sound crew for productions
- Final sound studio project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Online courses in non-lab subjects may be available Rare or non-existent (fully-online option)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures), **Salary.com (2012 figures), ***Game Developer Magazine (2010 figures)***

Associate Degree in Sound Design

Degree candidates with trained ears based on prior music study may have an edge at the beginning. Associate degree programs could teach you audio engineering, music production, sound design for visual and performing arts, sound for interactive media and mixing music and sound for video. You may learn how to use a wide range of pre- and post-production studio equipment and software programs, including Media Composer, ICON and Pro Tools, which are all related to sound design.

With good academic performance in a program that's structured to provide plenty of hands-on experience, you may be qualified for an entry-level job with this degree. Your professional résumé could consist of a demo reel and a portfolio of work that you can share with prospective employers.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some credits may be transferable to a 4-year program
  • Internship and co-op opportunities may be available
  • Programs permit access to expensive, sophisticated equipment and laboratories
  • Opportunities for collaboration with other students on projects
  • Learn business side of sound design

Cons

  • Talented high school grads with the right hardware and software may be strong competitors for new media jobs like audio development for games
  • Associate programs may not be available at a 4-year school and may be more common in community colleges or technical schools
  • Online opportunities may not be available
  • Less time to study aesthetic aspects of sound design

Courses and Requirements

In addition to 15-18 credits of general education requirements, programs may require approximately 30 units of core professional courses and permit approximately 15 elective credits. Typical core requirements might include music or aesthetics courses. You might want to consider a school that permits you to focus your electives on a particular area of interest and supports résumé-building hands-on learning either on-campus or in the community.

You might have course options like these:

  • Techniques in music production
  • Audio production
  • Sound for games
  • Music editing for visual media
  • Digital systems
  • Sound recording
  • Post-production sound

Online Course Options

You may be able to take a portion of your program online. This could be convenient if you're a part-time or working student. Online course materials and activities are available to you 24/7, but requirements are the same as those for on-campus courses. You may find that you need specific hardware or software to take them. Courses that require lab or studio time or specialized equipment will probably have to be taken onsite.

Standing Out with This Degree

AES and other professional associations may have student chapters on your campus. A quality demo reel can demonstrate competence, so you might want to spend the time it takes to make it exceptional and focused on your primary area of interest. Internships and hands-on projects could give you not only marketable experience but also provide valuable feedback from practitioners. Obtaining industry software certifications and professional certifications, like those offered by the Society of Broadcast Engineers, could be a worthwhile goal.

Bachelor's Degree in Sound Design

Students in a bachelor's degree program in sound design may have more time to develop a more refined artistic style. You may learn to design soundscapes and mix sound effects for film, theater and radio; manage live and studio recording, mixing and mastering for CD or broadcast; and mix recordings to produce CDs. You could use hardware and software like Pro Tools workstations, ICON recording boards, surround sound mix and mastering rooms, the MIDI lab, dialog recording and editing suites and studios for music, Foley and film scoring.

You may have an advantage over associate degree competitors in work that requires a deeper and wider breadth of understanding or managerial potential, though initial salaries may not be much different. Understanding of legal and marketing strategies as well as other business aspects of sound design could lead to entrepreneurial or management opportunities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You would be positioned for master's degree programs in sound design, entertainment business or technical areas
  • You can pursue your area of interest through elective courses and internships
  • Offers hands-on training through field experiences and internships
  • Could be competing with talented students with less education

Cons

  • Careful planning may be required if you're interested in a lower-growth specialty
  • You may have to begin your career as an intern or an assistant
  • Master's or MBA grads as well as more experienced professionals with enhanced skill sets may be preferred for higher paid positions in some markets or specialties

Courses and Requirements

Typically, after completing general education requirements in your freshman year, you might take foundational courses in theater, music theory, art history or literature concurrently with professional technical courses. You may have options for various internships involving film, video or stage projects. You'll likely complete a professional reel, portfolio or final project.

Courses in a sound design bachelor's program could include:

  • Introductory, intermediate and advanced sound design
  • MIDI technologies for sound design
  • Sound effects and Foley
  • Voice in cinema
  • Surround sound
  • Post-production sound
  • Main stage sound crew

Online Degree Options

Online degree programs in sound design are rare to non-existent. Your school may accept some credits completed online, but for your professional and technical courses, you'll probably want access to equipment and laboratories on campus. Though some of your work will be done independently, sound design is a creative collaborative process that may require working directly with future artists in other disciplines.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

While enrolled, students may have opportunities to edit the sound of student films or other artistic projects. You might compete for prize nominations, like those for Student Sound Editing from the Golden Reel Award program. You may be able to contribute to campus radio or TV station projects, or assist with film festivals. Employers may favorably view any progress you make toward equipment or software professional certifications while in school. A focused final project could attract the interest of your ideal employer.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Communications
      • A.S. General Studies - Communications
  • Yakima, WA

    Yakima Valley Community College

  • Silver City, NM

    Western New Mexico University

  • Sioux City, IA

    Western Iowa Tech Community College

  • Vincennes, IN

    Vincennes University

  • Cranford, NJ

    Union County College

  • Bloomington, IN

    Indiana University

  • Chicago, IL

    Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

  • Seattle, WA

    The Art Institute of Seattle

  • Atlanta, GA

    The Art Institute of Atlanta

Featured Schools

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. General Studies - Communications

What is your highest level of education?

Yakima Valley Community College

Western New Mexico University

Western Iowa Tech Community College

Vincennes University

Union County College

Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy