If you’ve been through higher education in the UK – or bankrolled your children through it – you might think reducing tuition fees would be a good thing (UK fees are among the highest in the world). But a report looking at the decline of music teaching published earlier this year shows that particularly in the case of vocational degrees – of which professional sound training often falls under – reducing fees will mean arts-based degrees will be hit the hardest. This is simply because the technology needed to train sound professionals doesn’t come cheap.
Luckily for audio students, key businesses in the professional sound industry are stepping in to help provide the studio-based education the next generation of technicians needs to succeed. Without this help, you can’t help but wonder if audio training providers would even be able to survive?
Steve Mayo, head of sound at the world-renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), tells PSNEurope these partnerships are “the lifeblood of training.”
He says: “Without them, top-class training is difficult in an industry that can move quickly. Professional audio is not cheap and given the vast range of equipment that students can be exposed to very early on in their career, it means that you need to implement a high standard in the training environment.”
Shure is one such company partnering up with the UK’s top sound training facilities. What Shure offers to its educational partners is threefold: loaning equipment, giving masterclasses, and providing links to the industry. In fact, you could technically extend it to four elements: Shure’s market development specialist Jack Drury tells PSNEurope that the manufacturer has also helped RADA students compile research for their thesis at the end of their degree…
Shure x RADA
Shure’s partnership with RADA began in 2011, offering the aforementioned industry-standard training across the academy’s many programmes. The drama school also receives help from Autograph Sound Recording, who, Mayo says, “we have a great relationship with. They help us out with equipment for productions and multiple students have been on secondment with them.”
Shure has also offered work experience and secondment opportunities to students at RADA. Mayo continues: “A RADA student who recently did a placement at Shure really came to fruition during a production of the musical Into the Woods in the school’s Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre this year. Shure loaned us 16 channels of Axient Digital ADX for the production along with Twin Plex lavaliers, and the student – Henry Parritt – was really comfortable with frequency management and the implementation of the wireless technology for the production.”
While being able to loan out Shure’s top equipment is crucial, given the rising cost of providing world-class education, relationship-building is also key. After all, these students will be the next roster of audio professionals. Shure’s Drury, who is vocal about his passion for education, will go in and meet the students in their first year, “creating a positive relationship from an early point.”
He tells PSNEurope: “[Meeting the students] is important because it teaches students how to communicate with manufacturers, as well as the type of vernacular we use and things that are important to us. It gives them an insight into the industry from a fairly early point. As the students go through second and third year, they’ll specialise in certain things. So, I will start to build a more in-depth relationship with students who want to specialise in sound design, for instance. You could say there’s elements of mentoring in that as well.”
Mayo says that, along with Drury, there have been “multiple visits” to RADA from Shure’s senior marketing specialist Marc Henshall and senior director and wireless specialist Tuomo George-Tolonen throughout the six years of the partnership to date.
This focus on building professional relationships means students can become more familiar with the equipment while not being afraid to make mistakes. The partnership also means there are indispensable networking opportunities for the students, which will provide that crucial foot in the door for the many graduates who will likely go on to freelance in the theatre industry.
Drury says: “RADA students are happy to call Shure if there is a problem or need anything for a production that isn’t covered by the loan equipment, and the people at Shure are open to helping where they can. We want to allow students to make mistakes in a controlled environment, so when they go out there they’re confident using it. That’s only going to reflect on the perception of the equipment in the marketplace, too.”
So what’s in it for Shure? Clearly, allowing students to train using its high-end equipment will do exactly as Drury says, reflect better on Shure in the industry as a whole: the kit will sound better if using it is second nature for the people working behind it. So, while the cost of loaning top-end equipment and subsidised rates might not make sense financially, it’s all about developing brand loyalty and product familiarity for professionals at the very beginning of their career.
“It’s a long-term thing,” says Drury. “We wouldn’t expect to see monetary value come back to us on any of our education partnerships in a measurable way, because realistically these students are going to go out to the world as freelancers. But then, in five to 10 years time, they might be in a position to buy or specify some of this equipment. So I think the most important thing for us as a brand is having users out in the marketplace actively using gear who are comfortable using our equipment.”
‘Second to none’ expertise
Being able to work with Shure’s equipment as a student is essential training for a young sound technician, but Shure’s offering goes further to help break down technically difficult elements of the job – one being wireless technology. At RADA, wireless masterclasses have been led by Shure’s senior director George-Tolenen, “whose knowledge of wireless frequency management is second to none,” according to Mayo. “The Wireless Workbench masterclasses have been hugely beneficial to students’ training, especially with the changes to the digital spectrum,” he adds.
Equipment loaned throughout the Shure-RADA sponsorship so far has facilitated training across all aspects of the academy’s programme, from theatre productions to voiceover training for acting students. Equipment such as the KSM141 instrument microphone and KSM44A condenser microphone are key components in RADA’s recording studio and the QLX-D digital wireless system and PSM300 IEM systems are “constantly being used”, Mayo notes. “As RADA puts on a total of 50 productions every year, the sound students have become very proficient at hiding IEMs in a variety of props, including in record players.”
As part of Shure’s equipment loan package, and in the case of RADA specifically, Shure loans kit of a higher tier than the academy would be able to purchase themselves. “Obviously education budgets are under quite a lot of pressure at the moment, so for the likes of RADA, students have the ability to train and gets hands-on with RF equipment, such as Axient Digital, and get used to it, which is important, because this high-budget stuff is common in the industry. For our students, being able to use and appreciate the consistent results of Shure equipment, especially their recent experience of using the Axient ADX range, gives them a solid foundation in professional level equipment that will be with them throughout their careers.”
Outside of London, Shure’s two other main sound education partners are Backstage Academy in Wakefield and West Herts College in Watford. Stephen Carter, music and curriculum developer at West Herts College, says: “Without Shure’s educational programme, doing things like giving cheaper microphones and long-term stock to places and coming in to do masterclasses on building microphone and wireless technology, we’re not able to prepare our students for what comes next.”
Miles Marsden, industry partnerships director at Backstage Academy, adds: “Our students are equipment-hungry, and the nature of our industry is very expensive. I think students are acutely aware of this so they’re more than appreciative of what our partners, such as Shure, do.”
Mayo adds: “RADA graduates are going to be key players in the industry within the next 10 years and it’s the support from companies like Shure they’ll remember.”
Drury concludes: “This isn’t something we just pay lip service to, it’s very important. While it’s difficult to measure the return on investment with these partnerships, we’ve proven that it’s worth our while.”