Sound Engineering Degrees: Bachelor's, Master's & Training Info

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

Sound engineering studies, sometimes referred to as audio engineering, combine music performance training with technical instruction on how to use recording equipment. Although master's programs directly in sound engineering are not currently available, alternative programs covering sound and audio engineering do exist.

Sound engineering technicians typically only need an associate's degree, but competition for jobs is expected to be keen, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS noted that sound engineering technicians are expected to see only one percent job growth from 2010-2020, which is slower than the average of all occupations. The best job opportunities should be in smaller markets by workers who have the most experience.

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Students seeking a multidisciplinary degree program related to music Students looking for advanced training in designing, developing and using music recording technologies
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Sound engineering technician ($47,000)*
- Audio visual technician ($44,000 - with 2-4 years of experience)**
- Electronics engineer ($92,000)*
- Instrument and music technology developer (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion Four years, full-time 1-2 years, full-time
Common Requirements - About 2-3 music courses
- Anywhere from 2-8 courses in math and science
- Roughly 5-10 courses in audio/sound engineering
- Audio project/internship/seminar
- Approximately 5-7 core graduate courses in music technology and related areas
- Roughly 4-6 specialization or elective courses
- Thesis or research project
Prerequisites - High school diploma or equivalent - Bachelor's degree
-Background in music
- Basic skills in math and engineering
Online Availability No No

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


Bachelor's in Sound Engineering

Sound engineering studies at the bachelor's level can be found as a standalone program in sound or audio engineering or as a concentration within a music-oriented or business degree program. Some schools may want incoming students to audition or have a background in music before entering the program, but not every program has these requirements.

You can expect to learn about music theory fundamentals, basic business aspects of the music industry and music recording equipment. Students should also be prepared to take a number of math and science courses. Hands-on learning is usually a staple of sound and audio engineering programs, and students may have the opportunity to work with a variety of recording programs like Pro Tools and Adobe Premiere Pro.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The multidisciplinary program structure can give you skills that are useful in a variety of careers
  • May give you an advantage over associate's degree holders in a competitive job market
  • Can reduce the amount of experience needed to become a Certified Audio Engineer

Cons

  • Sound engineering technician positions usually only require an associate's degree
  • Sluggish job growth expected for sound engineering technicians (One percent increase projected during the 2010-2020 decade)*
  • Broad course requirements will make it difficult to focus on a particular area of study

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Most programs include some basic music courses, such as music theory, music history and musicianship. The amount of math and science courses required varies between programs; some may only include a couple basic courses, while other programs might have students taking multiple calculus and science courses. Some of the audio and sound engineering courses you can expect include:

  • Music acoustics
  • Sound recording and production
  • Audio principles
  • Studio techniques
  • Electronics and circuits
  • Digital signal processing

Students generally complete an audio project or hands-on learning experience towards the end of the program; some programs may require an internship in addition to the project.

Online Options

Audio engineering programs are not currently available online. The hands-on training and the cross-disciplinary nature of the program may not transfer easily to online learning. Even if you do find a school claiming to offer this program over the Internet, you'd likely miss out on key learning experiences by opting for an online program. Online programs in related areas like music production and sound design are available, and these programs can cover similar topics.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Sound engineers can get a head start over their competition by joining the Audio Engineering Society (AES). All AES members receive the Journal of the AES, get discounts on publications and conferences and have access to employment job boards for audio engineers. Some schools may have AES chapters, which can give you discounted membership prices and provide you with mentoring and networking opportunities.

You may also want to look into obtaining a professional designation, such as the Certified Audio Engineer (CAE) credential or the Pro Tools Expert Music Certification. Obtaining the CAE designation requires passing the required exam and having five years of industry experience; however, bachelor's degree holders only need to have a year of experience. The Pro Tools Expert Music Certification can be earned by first obtaining Pro Tools Operator Certification, taking the necessary training courses from an approved training location and passing the exam.


Master's Programs with Sound Engineering Instruction

Master's degree programs titled sound engineering are not offered, but you can find sound and audio engineering studies through master's degree programs in music technology and sometimes as concentrations within electrical engineering programs. These programs are also structured to cover multiple disciplines, but music theory and instrument training is not usually a focus area. Some programs may give you concentration options, while others may allow you to select all of the courses you take with the help of a counseling committee. Although you can typically expect to spend two years in school, some programs can be completed in just a year.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can give students advanced training in a specific area of sound engineering that's not available at the bachelor's level
  • You'll be one of the few people who have advanced training in sound engineering
  • May give you an edge over bachelor's and associate's degree holders

Cons

  • Programs may have a competitive admissions process
  • Most audio engineering and recording careers don't require a master's degree
  • Some schools are looking for candidates who have a specific background, so you may need to start preparing to get into a master's program before you even begin your postsecondary education

Common Courses and Requirements

Students in this master's program typically have freedom to specialize their courses once they've been admitted. Core courses in the master's program might include music technology history, digital audio processing and copyright law. Specialized and elective course options might consist of musical media production, acoustics, audio engineering and critical listening. Some schools even allow you to choose from thesis and non-thesis options. Students usually have a variety of research topics to choose from and may even be able to craft their own topic.

Online Degree Options

Master's degree programs in sound engineering are not currently offered in an online format. Even if you were to find a school that claims to have an audio engineering or music technology program available online, you wouldn't get the hands-on learning and research opportunities that are important to this area of study. You may consider related online programs in areas such as music production; however, these programs may only be offered by private, for-profit academic institutions.

Stand Out with This Degree

Gaining in-depth knowledge of the software programs you plan on using could give you a step on the competition. Programs don't usually cover every piece of editing software that's using in audio and sound engineering, so trying out the different programs and learning the ones commonly used in your desired career field is something you can do while in school. Students interested in using Pro Tools can find live public courses held all over the nation, which can even lead to particular certifications.

Schools and organizations may also offer courses that can teach you how to use specific software like Ableton Live. Students interested in learning a particular audio program may want to check out all of the available options before committing to a course or training opportunity.

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