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School’s in: Pro-audio training in 2015 [feature]

Six months on from our last feature, Jon Chapple asks more training providers for their take on the state of the audio education market

While institutions like the School of Audio Engineering, Alchemea College and the Academy of Contemporary Music have long offered a solid education for the audio engineers of the future, the last few years have seen a rising number of pro-audio manufacturers, distributors, dealers, hire companies and industry associations make training a key component of their product offering. From SDUK’s Shure Academy initiative and wireless spectrum campaigns to Audinate’s Dante networking roadshows and Yamaha’s Live Sound Surgery workshops, an educational component is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous part of the average pro-audio company’s core business.

But, as we discovered when we last looked at the state of the training market late last year (‘Making the grade in studio/broadcast’, PSNEurope September 2014, and ‘Making the grade in live/installed sound’, PSNEurope October 2014), education and continuing professional development (CPD) is becoming more and more important for end users, too – as Prism Sound’s Elliot Whyte said in September, “There are [so many] people who want to work in pro audio […], so the key thing is to make sure you stand out – go above and beyond what is required for your training.”

“As current technology develops so quickly, training and education have arguably never been more important, both for hopeful and new entrants to the industry and for established professionals,” says Rodrigo Thomaz, Audio-Technica’s Brazilian-born new product training specialist. “Digital technology allows for an incredible pace of change, and simply keeping up with developments – even in areas of an individual’s particular expertise – often requires some form of training almost to stand still!”

“It goes without saying that no one has an exceptional experience with poor audio,” comments Melissa Taggart, senior vice-president of education, certification and standards at InfoComm International (pictured right). “[Proper] training and education are required [to be a successful sound engineer] in the wide variety of venues and applications this industry supports.”

Christophe Anet, education and training manager for Genelec, echoes Thomaz’s and Taggart’s comments but draws a distinction between the two parts of his job title. “Training [as opposed to education] implies a continuous process where one has to constantly be up to date with all the latest technological developments present in our industry,” he explains. “Production methods, signal transmission, control surfaces, transducer development, etc., change and evolve more quickly than ever. In order to select the appropriate solution for one’s need, there is no other way than to be able to compare different technologies, [and] this requires the user to have a deep understanding of each technological advantage and limitation.

“As environmentalist and Patagonia company founder Yvon Chouinard states, ‘The more you know, the less you need.’”

Anet believes that, “considering all the affordable quality equipment available”, it’s easier than ever to start out in the industry – but “the challenge to become a highly skilled engineer, producer, mixer, etc., is still as difficult – and possibly harder – as before.”

Thomaz concedes that professional audio is “clearly, a very competitive [industry]; lots of people want to work in it”, but also points to “arguably more opportunities for all kinds of roles in recording, post-production, live, broadcast, etc., situations than there have been in the past.” He continues: “Whether it’s harder to advance in the pro-audio industry these days is perhaps hard to quantify – but, in terms of advancing knowledge, with access to online resources, videos and manufacturer-organised training it’s probably never been easier.”

Said training from Audio-Technica for the year ahead includes a new dealer training programme, which will “assist dealers of [Audio-Technica and distributed brands] in being comfortable with our products [and] to understand the features and product configurations”, and a series of on-site training sessions featuring kit by Audio-Technica, Allen & Heath and Vicoustic. “We’re currently in the process of fitting out demo rooms with various types of Vicoustic acoustic treatment, which will allow us to give visitors a real understanding of how and where to treat a room to get the best from it,” explains Thomaz.

One company which has found great success with its in-house training programme is Costa Mesa, California-based QSC Audio Products, which offers online and classroom-style courses geared at pro-audio professionals and systems integrators. “Online training has really changed the game for us,” says Patrick Heyn, QSC’s senior manager for training and education (main picture, left, with Nathan Makaryk). “We can reach people so much more effectively and efficiently with these platforms, on a truly global scale.”

Heyn emphasises, however, that online training “doesn’t mean presenting insufferable PowerPoint slides, set to monotone narration. Training needs to be as engaging and accessible as the products they represent. That’s why all QSC training is engaging, concise and always lighthearted and entertaining, which is a direct reflection of our corporate culture.”

While the internet has indeed increased the educational choices available to aspiring audio engineers, Ros Wigmore, secretariat manager at historic learned society the Institute of Sound and Communications Engineers (ISCE), stresses the importance of choosing a trusted, credible training provider – something especially true in the information overload that is life in the 21st century. “The internet is a wonderful resource but is prone to having inaccurate technical information that should not be relied on – and it is surprising how often it is!” she says. (Pictured above right is basic sound engineering training at the ISCE.)

Like QSC, another manufacturer taking full advantage of the possibilities provided by new media is Italian loudspeaker company Eighteen Sound, which produces components including woofers, drivers and horns in the city of Reggio Emilia. Jeffrey Cox, Eighteen Sound’s business development, marketing and sales manager, emphasises that, in a world where most users buy loudspeakers as a complete box, it’s important for manufacturers companies like Eighteen Sound to educate the pro-audio industry and the wider public about the science behind loudspeaker design.

“Education in this industry should be the most sought-after thing – more than the dollar; more than the big gig, the big tour – because with the proper education and training the big gig, the big tour, the big dollar will all follow,” he comments.

Eighteen Sound’s educational offering is centred around Loudspeaker Lyceum, a continuously updated series of videos hosted by R&D manager Steve Hutt highlighting “a variety of topics relevant to transducer/loudspeaker design, manufacture, behaviour and terminology”. (Eagled eyed viewers may have spotted the Loudspeaker Lyceum videos The Spec Sheet, The Moving Parts and The Stationary Parts hosted on the PSNEurope website and featured in our fortnightly PSNTraining newsletter.) “Loudspeaker Lyceum is our portal to [our] education pieces,” explains Cox.

“There are no short-cuts for success in pro audio: it’s a case of working hard to acquire as much knowledge as possible, but equally getting out there and working with absolutely anything,” says Rodrigo Thomaz (pictured right). “One day you might be mixing a rock band and next recording a classical quartet.

“Sometimes the challenges to break into pro audio have little to do with audio itself. Just be persistent, humble and keep learning.”

“We should respect our industry as a science and an art form,” concludes Jeffrey Cox. “We can’t do that without being properly educated.”

Key points:
• Owing to the speed of the development of audio technology, “training and education have arguably never been more important, both for hopeful and new entrants to the industry and established professionals”
• An increasing number of manufacturers, distributors, hire companies and industry associations are making training a key component of their product offering
• Online training has “really changed the game” – but, more than ever, it needs to be accessible and engaging to its audience