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September is the time when people are signing up for college courses. I'm currently (at the time of writing) helping out interviewing prospective students for City of Westminster College in London, which has the best sound course anywhere (I know because I originally designed it!). What startles me however is how little idea so many people have of what the industry is like, and how they might fit in.
Most common is the 16 or 17-year old who sits opposite me and says, "I wanna be a produca". My spelling reflects the common pronunciation. "OK," I respond, "What have you done so far to help yourself with that ambition? " - a reasonable comment I believe. At this stage the prospective student acquires a puzzled expression and says, "Nothing - that's what I've come here to learn".
I used to be baffled by this. How can anyone who wants to become a producer not have done anything to help themself - not even read a book or magazine, or visited a website? Fact is, I'm still baffled, but I just don't let it bother me.
As you know - and I know that you know, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this - the entire sound engineering industry is populated by people who are self-motivated. They don't need encouragement to develop an interest, or find things out, or even get out there and blag some work experience (internship).
Anyone who comes to me and says they want to come on a course, but can't show a spark of positive interest, gets politely directed to something less demanding than audio (usually media studies!).
On the other hand, I do see some great people, and that makes up for the no-hopers. One young guy I saw yesterday - his mother is in the live sound industry and he has followed her up and down the country, watching and learning. He already has a job offer, and as soon as he has completed his course he will be flying.
Often we get people who are just at the very starting point of developing an interest in sound. One girl came extraordinarily well qualified from school, but could not tell me anything that would confirm for me her genuine interest. So I started a conversation - we went through principles of science, electricity, all the way to Ohm's law and transistors. At the end I asked her if she enjoyed the conversation. The look on her face said that she had found it maybe just a little taxing, but it also said that she had the potential I am looking for.
So what does this mean for you? The short answer is that the target is a job in the industry - if you can find a way in without attending a course, then grab that opportunity with both hands and don't look back. Otherwise, a good audio course is a great preparation, and a certificate can open the door to a job interview.
But be prepared for some tough interview questions. If the school or college you choose is any good, they won't just take anybody. They will only take people who they think will succeed on the course. And if they don't ask tough questions - well, is that the kind of place you want to spend a year or more of your life?