Music degrees change to reflect rise of live music

Of all the pleasures in life, music must be one of the cheapest. You can turn on the radio, download a track for less than a pound or buy a CD. Even live gigs often cost less than a restaurant meal or trip to the theatre.

Maybe that's why the industry has weathered the recession better than most and why universities are launching extra courses to meet this demand.

Though CD sales are down, paid-for album downloads were up by 65 per cent in the last quarter of 2008 and UK royalties for song writers rose by 8 per cent. The explosion of video gaming and the internet has increased the market for soundtracks, while live music is growing as bands come out of recording studios and return to the stage.

Few people go through a day without listening to music of some sort, but it remains a small industry. It is still possible to start at the bottom as a "runner" and work your way up, but the fast-moving technology behind sound design and production means employers usually expect to see relevant qualifications, especially those from universities and colleges that liaise closely with the industry.

A talent for music is essential, but that doesn't necessarily mean a musical background, according to Dr Michael Searby, a principal music lecturer at Kingston University London, which offers a range of postgraduate courses, including composing for film and television, music performance and the production of popular music.

"It is interesting how many applications we get from people who have not done a music degree but have always made music. You have to have a first degree in something but it doesn't need to be in music. Sometimes it's better if it is not when you are looking for something different," he said.

Tutors look for potential and natural spark in portfolios. "It's not much use having the qualification if you haven't got much to say creatively," he says. Some of the best applications have come from graphic designers in the Far East.

To meet student demand, Kingston is this month launching a new Masters degree in electroacoustic composition for electronic music.

The oldest sound recording degree in the country began at the University of Surrey in 1970, taking its name, Tonmeister, from the German degree in classical music production. The four-year Tonmeister Bachelors degree, which includes a year's industry placement, takes an approach unique in the UK by combining music, audio engineering and sound recording, says Dr Russell Mason, the admissions tutor. It equips students for a range of jobs as audio engineers or sound recorders, composing for television and film, research and development for companies that make sound systems and even audio forensics, as used by the police.

Demand for professional courses from people either entering the industry or wanting to update their skills has led the University of Salford to introduce two new titles to its postgraduate music courses this month. Both the Masters degree in professional sound and video technology and the Masters degree in audio production will move with the department to Manchester's new Media City at Salford Quays in 2011.

The School of Sound Recording in Manchester, founded 25 years ago, offers its own "industry" diplomas and Bachelors degrees validated by a range of universities. Diploma students can study flexibly over 18 months or two years and do not need formal qualifications. "They just need a passion for sound," says Wendy Breakell, director of education at the college. A new diploma in live sound has been added, which students can take on its own or as an extension to the most popular course – the diploma in audio engineering techniques and technology.

Live sound now accounts for 46 per cent of full-time jobs in the music industry, says Breakell. Audio engineers and recordists in live sound are more likely to be employed, because of the long hours and unpredictable travel, while the rest of the industry is heavily reliant on freelancers.

"Live sound is huge at the moment. Around 90 per cent of our students progress to work in it. Bands don't make much from CDs because of the download culture, so they are out on the road. If you want to learn studio techniques then fine, but there are not nearly as many jobs out there as there used to be," she says.

Sonic sound production for video games is another expanding area. The University of Abertay in Dundee offers a two year top-up Bachelors degree in creative sound production to those who have completed a HND or its equivalent. Skillset, the sector skills council for the audio visual industries, says there is no set route to becoming an audio engineer in the games industry, but a musical background is essential, along with experience of sound recording, editing and mixing.

The council has formed a network of Skillset Academies; colleges and universities across the UK deemed centres of excellence in training for television, the interactive media and film.

Music graduates hunt out a wide range of different jobs: former chorister William Morris, who graduated with distinction from Kingston University's Masters course in composition for film and television, has just become director of music for the British Humanist Association, writing music for non-religious occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Recent graduate Ben Hobbs is working as a technician in the new performing arts suite at Esher Church of England High School in Surrey while composing music and playing in a band in his spare time.

Singer and guitarist Joe Donaldson, 19, in the second year of a Bachelors degree in popular music at Goldsmiths, University of London, dreams of fame and fortune with his band, The Achilles, but this year he will take a module in sound production to give him a back-up plan. "Taking a degree in popular music rather than something like history is a risk, but when you really love the subject, it's hard to do anything else," he says.

'You don't see what the industry is like until you look for work'

Life could have gone in one of two directions for Emma Connelly when she left the University of Huddersfield with an honours degree in music.

Having made the decision to embark on further study she then had to choose which course she should take – a Masters degree in composing music at the Royal Northern Music College or a diploma that would prepare her for a career in sound production and recording.

Composing was her true love, but she decided it would be better to forge a career in the audio industry. That way she could enjoy writing music without the pressure of making a living out of it.

Three years after completing an advanced industry diploma in audio engineering at the School of Sound Recording in Manchester she has helped record live gigs by big names such as Girls Aloud and is now a senior manager with Wigwam Acoustics, the sound system provider.

Looking back she admits she was surprised by how difficult it was to get a job in sound recording. "When you are in education you are in a bubble and don't really get to see what the industry is like until you try and get work," she says.

To begin with she worked for Digidesign, the music software company, demonstrating their recording packages in music shops.

Through getting to know people in the industry she realised there were more opportunities in live sound than studio recording and contacted Wigwam. After eight months of unpaid work experience one day a week, she was offered a job.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living