About the Author
My name is Tom Watson. I have been the owner and operator of the recording studio Current Sound since 2003 which originally started in Australia, now based in Los Angeles. This is my advice about for those thinking of going to a Los Angeles Sound Recording School.
Those that Have Recording School Degrees
As a recording studio owner, not a week goes by where I don’t get an email or phone call from someone who has just finished their course at a large Los Angeles recording school asking for a job. My answer is the same as almost every other studio owner/operator, “Sorry, I don’t have any positions available.” The truth is though, almost none of the studios in LA have any jobs available. So why are there all these courses and recording schools in Los Angeles?
Teaching Recording is Big Business
Just because it’s a school and offers a degree, does not mean the degree will help you get a job. Just like design, arts degrees, acting degrees, doing one of these does not mean you will get a job at the end of it. Unfortunately, that is the first thing they should teach you before starting any of these sort of degrees. However, they don’t. Why? Because they want your money.
But Many of the Teachers Are Engineers?
Many of the people at these schools are actual sound engineers and producers. This is a good thing right? Well, sort of, think about it, why are they teaching full time? It would make sense if they were only teaching part time but most of these teachers teach full time 9-5, Monday to Friday. If they were so good, why aren’t they working in a studio?
The truth is that they might actually be quite good but the jobs aren’t there. Not in the way that you think, in the employer/employee relationship. Does that mean you can’t make money as a recording engineer. No, you can but… you must be extremely talented. This means working on your skills and being business savvy and being and the top of your field. This comes to my next point…
Are Recording Schools the Best Way to Learn?
If you pick up the phone and call a recording studio and ask to speak to one of the engineers (often the engineers answer their own phones though), ask them how they got into recording. I can guarantee they will answer the following way…
- “I worked as an intern at a recording studio.”
- “I learn’t of a friend of mine who is an engineer.”
- I booked studio time and recording studios and became friends with one of the engineers who taught me.”
- “I paid a recording engineer to teach me.”
- “I started a home studio, taught myself and slowly got better and opened my own studio.”
- “I recorded so and so from home and they got signed to blah blah label and I made a lots of money in royalties and started my studio.”
- “My parents (or investor) helped me start a recording studio.”
- “I own another business which I used to fund my own recording studio.”
It is Super Rare to Hear a Recording Studio Employee say, “I Did a Recording Studio Degree”
As a studio owner, I get to meet lots of other engineers and recording studio owners. I have only met one or two professionals out of hundreds that actually did a recording degree.
The Truth is, Studio Owners Don’t Care if You Have a Degree, They Care if You’re Amazing or Not
If you’re amazing and you have a strong portfolio or recordings, you might be able to land a job working in a recording studio. In London, it only took me one week to find a job in 3 different recording studios but I don’t have a degree. None of them asked or cared. They just cared about my experience and my portfolio. Yet most people who finish an Sound Engineering Degree can’t find work.
How Can You Get a Job In Recording?
Be Business Savvy
You’d be better off doing a business degree than a recording degree in my opinion as you need to be very business savvy to get a job in a recording studio these days and consider starting your own studio or working as a freelance engineer or producer.
Studios are getting smaller and smaller and recording budgets are getting smaller and smaller. Gone are the glory days of the 80s and 90s where labels had big artist development deals and label own studios. These days, almost every musician has a home studio for demos and only go to recording studio for ‘the real deal’ radio ready release. If you get to the stage where you can do that, then you have a real chance of making money as a recording and mixing engineer but you have to be business savvy.
But You Still Need Studio Skills
You need to get the skills first or just know lots of musicians that need a place to record but ideally both. If you have the skills, you’re going to need to network with local musicians and advertise. If you have the connections with lots of musicians, you’re going to need to record as many as you can for cheap or ideally while you are learning, free, to build up your skills. This requires a lot of marketing so you better learn about marketing. Luckily there are lots of resources online these days for marketing.
The Home/Semi Professional Studios
Due to the greed of the people running the Los Angeles recording schools, taking in way more students then there are jobs available, the business savvy ones have gone out on there own. After finishing a recording degree, with no where to go for a job, many of them start up a semi professional studio from home. The only problem is, is cost. Starting a studio from home isn’t cheap but it isn’t as expensive as it used to be and you can start small and build your way up.
The World of Post-Production, Adverts, Messages on Hold, ADR
If you really want to make good money in recording, look beyond the fun jobs at first and stick with the corporate recordings. Especially in LA, you can make decent money but these people expect you to have a high skill level so you need to learn first.
How To Learn Then?
Whether you do a degree or not, you need to learn the skills. A degree can help you get SOME skills but it won’t help you get all of them. You need to put in the work yourself, practice at home and in other studios.
1. Start Recording at Home
Grab a cheap mic and some cheap software like Reaper or Logic and start recording at home. Click around, read online tutorials and video tutorials on Youtube. Record and mix people you know or find people in your area. Just be straight up with them, tell them you are learning to record but are willing to record them for free to learn. That way, they won’t be mad when you suck because you will at first but if they’re not paying, they got what they paid for. It works best if they are your friends because they won’t bad mouth you to anyone while you are learning.
If you’re very lucky, you can land an unpaid internship at a recording studio but this is super hard if you have no skills at all as the engineers will have to train you. It’s hard to get internships these days with no skills at all as there are so many graduated from recording schools with some basic low level skills so you might not be able to do this right away but it’s an option for the future once you’re getting better at recording and mixing at home.
3. Pay to Go Into Other Recording Studios as a Client and Learn of the Engineer
If you’re recording at home, you can learn so much by taking your recording into a proper recording studio with a talented and friendly engineer. Ask him questions. As long as your paying per hour he/she will most likely be happy to answer them.
4. Find a Recording and Mix Engineer Who is Willing to Teach You
It’s unlikely, unless your best friend is a sound engineer or producer or both, to be able to learn of a recording engineer for free. However, finding a recording engineer who is willing to teach you is as simple as calling up a recording studio and offering to pay for lessons. There are some sound engineers at studios that do this on a regular basis and will probably make better teachers since they are more used to teaching (I do this myself at Current Sound on a regular basis). There are other engineers that are just friendly and willing to help as long as they are still getting paid for their time.
5. Combine Learning from a Sound Engineer with Practicing and Learning at Home
Just like learning an instrument, it’s important to practice and train your ears. You can literally just go to a recording studio to have a one on one lesson with a sound engineer or producer or both a hour or half hour lesson each week to learn a little about recording. Practice during the week just like you would if you were learning.
You’ll find this is a much cheaper and more effective way to learn than a music course and faster too. You have more free time to practice than you would if you were doing a course and you get more hands on experience. You’ll even have time to work a side job on the side to help save up for some gear for your home studio.
6. Learn An Instrument
If you’re going to recording music, you better know how to speak the language so you can direct the musicians and help them play better. If you’re working with live bands, the guitar or piano is a good choice. If you are working with singers and rappers, learning the piano is a better choice.
Learning to Make Beats and Music Production
If you want to ‘Make Beats’ and get into music production, learn to play the piano. There are teachers out there that teach modern piano and beat-making that is more relevant to music production than classical or jazz. Find one of these in your area. I teach this out of my Hollywood recording and production studio if you are in the Los Angeles area.
Maschine, MPC and Sampling
If you’re making beats, sampling is fine if you are creative and using royalty free loops, otherwise you’ll run into sample clearance issues and never make good money of your beats. There are too many beat makers these days with piano and keyboard skills. They will have better beats than you if you don’t up your skills. Learn the piano/keyboard in addition to learning the Maschine and MPC and sampling. I also teach both the piano/keyboard and Maschine and MPC at Current Sound but if you’re not in our area you might want to find a separate teacher for the Maschine and MPC if his/her keyboard skills aren’t the best.
Then Get Business Savvy
There is no point in making beats if you have no one to sell them to. You can sell them online on websites such as beatstars.com or start your own beat selling website and market them to people you know. Or even better, work with artists and make beats for them from your own home studio.
Rent Studio Time Without an Engineer
The other way to make it in Los Angeles once you have your skills up is to find musicians either in person or via the internet, point them to your portfolio and then offer them a package to record them. Rent a local studio in LA without an engineer. Pay the studio and then get the payment from the band for your services + studio hire.
Just make sure to get a deposit upfront if you’re doing this so no matter what, you can still pay the studio. Clients will pay if they are happy because they want their music. You need to be pretty good before attempting this though if not amazing because you don’t want to get a bad reputation, you want happy clients.
There are Recording Schools Everywhere
There were lots of recording schools back in Australia and there were no jobs their either. It’s not just an LA problem, it’s world wide problem.
I know the guy who used to teach the SAE course in Adelaide, Australia. The course used to be 4 years, it’s even shorter now. He told me that 30 people sign up for his class at the end of the 4 years, only 3 or so graduate and out of those 3, only one of them thinks of starting a recording studio but never does. They usually just end up doing live sound on the weekends. He then decided to warn people on the first day at the start of the course that just if you do the degree, doesn’t mean you will get a job in sound engineering. About half the class got up and left lol. Now he doesn’t work for the SAE anymore but he does teach at another recording school in Adelaide which he says is a little better but people still think they will get a job after and he’s not allowed to tell them otherwise. So I am telling you for him.
Recording studio degrees don’t mean a lot. It’s just one way to learn but there are much cheaper and more effective ways to learn recording. It might make your parents happy but as with anything in the arts, entertainment and music industry, connections and your skills are the most important factor if you’re going to make it. Surround yourself with people who can teach you and help your learn and give you advice.
If You Want to Take Recording Lessons and/or Music Production Lessons or Piano/Keyboard Lessons at Current Sound
Yes, there is a little intensive for me writing this article. If you’re in LA and want music production, piano or recording, mixing and sound engineering lesson, I offer one on one lessons in between my recording sessions so you can learn off a real engineer and producer. People have to learn somehow and I think this is much better option than the recording schools out there since I work in the industry and just teach a tiny bit on the side.
Still Interesting in Going to a Big Los Angeles Recording School?
I’m not completely against the large Los Angeles recording schools. It’s still a way to learn recording. Just make sure to combine it with learning at home and using the facilities inside the school to record local musicians to get your skills up. Just remember that you’re not there for the piece of paper/degree. You’re there to learn so that might even mean failing in order to use their studio for free and build your portfolio up more as your portfolio is more likely to get your work than the degree.
Here is a list of a few of the large Los Angeles recording schools that I’ve heard of:
- The Recording Connection
- The Musicians Institute
- The Los Angeles Film School/Los Angeles Recording School
Before going to any of these schools, I’d suggest to checkout their Yelp reviews first. You might not like what they have to say but it’s nothing much different to what I’ve told you. It’s just most people weren’t happy because they thought they were going to get a job at the end of it:
- The Recording Connection – Yelp
- The Musicians Institute – Yelp
- The Los Angeles Flim School/Los Angeles Recording School – Yelp
About Myself and How Did I Start My Studio?
There are a lot of bias blogs and suggestions online so I will be transparent about who I am. I started my own recording studio at a very young age. You don’t need to know any of this but I put it here anyway in case you wanted to know.
I was born in Australia. When I was 13yrs old I started learning piano/keyboard and I used to record at home to tape. I played piano/keyboard every day on a cheap crappy keyboard my dad bought for me (after lots of convincing).
I didn’t have much equipment or money at all. I begged my dad for a computer and finally at around 15yrs old he bought me a computer. I found one of the ‘unpopular’ kid’s at school and asked him to teach me how to use it. I researched about recording on forums and in chat rooms and I got one of the first ever visa debit cards, saved up my pocket money from doing chores and working a casual job while in school and bought some recording software and equipment on eBay for cheap (back when not many people knew about eBay) as well as from yard sales which I would go to all the time just in case they had an old microphone or something I could use.
I used to call the radio stations every day asking them to play my song. This didn’t work so well. I entered some songwriting competitions and won two of them. Being persistent paid off, now with some good news to tell them one of the stations (SA-FM now Hit 107) listened to my song and for once and decided to put it on the air. This would never happen in 2019 by the way and it was even rare back in the 90s but eventually they put my song on the radio. They only played it once but it was a big accomplishment at the time.
Then I went to one of the smaller radio stations and told them the larger station was playing my song. So the smaller station (Fresh 927) put it onto actual rotation. People started calling up the station asking what was this new song, who was it by? Eventually one of the announcers contacted me and we started talking on the phone each week and became friends.
I won the Young Composers Award at the age of 17 as well as the Pacific Songwriting Competition for songs I had recorded and written which all received airplay at Fresh 927.
Eventually I got me a job working at the radio station as an announcer hosting the local music show Fresh Air on Fresh 927 at the age of 18.
Assistant Music Director and Program Producer
Eventually I got to be the program producer and assistant music director and was in charge of the local music content that was played during the show Fresh Air and which was scheduled for rotation during the week.
As an announcer, I would interview lots of local and national bands, producers and DJs. Off the air, I would tell them I was a producer and ask if they wanted to work with me. Almost every single person said yes! Of course they would, they knew I would put their song on the air. This put me in the studio with big name producers such as Mobin Master, DJ Josh and various studios in Adelaide and around Melbourne where I learnt of engineers who were more experienced than myself at the time.
Production at Fresh 927
I then got a job working in production at Fresh 927 recording and producing radio advertising, sweepers (station IDs), vox pops (sound bytes) and pre-recording interviews of announcers with artists.
Current Sound began…
After only one year working at the radio station, I started my own home studio at the end of 2003. At first I was recording mainly radio advertising for a bunch of clients that refused to use anyone else at the radio station to produce their commercials as well as teaching piano and working with a few local singers and rappers.
Eventually the studio got so popular that I had to move out of home and I renovated an entire old house into a recording studio and I have been doing this ever since then. I worked in London for a little while in different recording studios on a Youth Mobility Visa then I came back to work at Current Sound with even more skills. After marring my wife Salima, we moved the studio Current Sound to Hollywood in Los Angeles.