Training Sound Engineers to read music
I have been campaigning (unsuccessfully) for many years about improving the training that sound engineers get. I have argued that to spend three years at University in a studio learning all about rock guitars and drums and so on is fine but why not learn a lot more about music? It seems a terrible disappointment to me that after three years the graduates seek work with no knowledge of music at all in some cases. As a bare minimum they should be able to play one instrument to a reasonably credible level.
I have good reasons for saying this…
1 Its not that hard to learn enough about music to be able to follow score and know what is going on. You don’t have to be a sight reader – you are not the artist – but if the player (who can read music) says lets go back to the – (what ever musical term you like here . the rit, the Bm chord, the piano entry and so on) the engineer with little understanding of music will be lost. Why would you not want to be able to speak that same language as the musicians? I have often given a single 90 page book to young people wanting to get a career in music and told then just to get familiar with its content and practice following score (a Beethoven sonata will do)
2 You need the work. You need to stand above the other applicant and a flexibly skilled person is far more likely to get the job. Studios are not full of rock bands day in day out – unless you are lucky enough to work at a major specialist studio (and most of those jobs are very over-filled with long term staff who will only move on by dying or going deaf – and some still hang on after that!) The real world of studio work is a mixture of rock, folk, pop, classical, jazz, schools music, Karaoke and so on.
3 You will never be a great engineer if you don’t understand the thing you are working with. How could you?
4 If you don’t play an instrument how will you know when somebody is playing well or not – or even – will you notice if it is in tune and in time? Some engineers, I grant, can do this without being able to play but they still lack any empathy with their guests.
Let me nail the point for you. When I interview staff to work in my studio it is a pre-requisite that they can read music and play – and that is just for the non-classical side. It was my frustration at finding too many people training on a production line basis with theory diagrams and no real listening experience, or with only one string to their bow (‘I do drum and bass’) that led me to wonder what on earth they were doing for three years. Really – the technical knowledge of how to the use the equipment can be taught in a single term. Reading music can also be taught in a single term. Love of music in general – a lifetime.
Other things that are not taught well everywhere:
Understanding and appreciation of all musics
Understanding an appreciation of all instruments
Listening truing on somewhere in the region of 1000 critical tracks across a wide spectrum
Attending a wide range of live concerts to see what the real thing is like
Learning to manage projects
Learning to get the best out of people and encourage musicians
There are some Universities that understand what it takes but too many institutions are keen to claim successful graduations rather than training them for the real world. I could go on….
I think a lot of the problem comes down to the fact that most sound engineers are not dealing with reading musicians. Most are dealing with msuicians and band who play completely by ear.
This of course does not include engineers who record jazz or classical…but those are few and far between in my experience.
I agree that many jobs are with musicians who don’t read – but what a missed opportunity to learn something that would make you so much more employable. Lets not forget that many of the top rock acts employ session guys who do need score to work with. My frustration was from interviewing dozens of people when I needing a new engineer for a project and finding they were very low on practical experience and musical understanding.