I am looking at profiles of other designers, and they all seemed to get their start from a super-specialized, super-expensive audio school. Is it actually a disadvantage to go to a traditional liberal arts school?
I would say it's not a disadvantage, the issue is how you apply yourself. It's easy to learn the technical nuts and bolts of our craft, what isn't is how to apply techniques and ideas from other disciplines. In order to do that, you need to have some appreciation for those disciplines.
The people who are successful in this business are constantly working to improve and challenge themselves, and they're constantly working (even if they're not on an actual project). And by successful, I don't mean the few people who win oscars or are constantly working on Michael Bay films. Anyone who has gotten to a point where they can support themselves (and possibly others) financially while doing this work is a success in my book. It's not easy to find work in this field, there's no doubt about it. Be ready to commit for the long haul; it's the only way you'll have any chance...regardless of which school you go to.
50 years ago, the job of an sound editor was given mostly to people who worked their way up from the deep recesses of either a studio or an independent sound company; folks who started in the mail room or the transfer department, or started as drivers and worked their way up to apprentice or librarian classification. In fact, sound design/sound engineering as a curriculum to be majored in didn't even exist until the last 25 years or so. So to say that you have to graduate from an expensive 4-year speciality school to do this job is simply false.
Does it hurt to have this education? Of course not. There are some wildly talented people teaching in some really great schools, and there's much to be learned and experienced there before plunging into the world of real jobs and real risks.
Does having this education under your belt give you all the tools needed to be a great sound designer? The answer is a big fat NO. I've known folks that shelled out the cash, did the time, graduated and then went on to be…accountants, nurses, computer programmers, etc. Why? Didn't they learn everything necessary to be the best? I don't think it's that simple. I equate it with music or art - you have to have an aptitude for it, you need to have it in your nature. It should come naturally, formal education or not. Born with it. The tech can be taught and learned, but the desire and drive has to already be there.
So, no advice being given here, just words of encouragement for those who really want to do this but don't have the funds. And words of warning for those who think money can buy you talent.
Where you went to school is 100% irrelevant in this field. What you're capable of is all that matters. When people with real money go looking for someone to do their creative audio work they never ever ever look for a degree. What they're looking for (if they don't already have a personal relationship) is a reel and or a recognizable credit list.
With that said, there is a fair amount of good that can come from school, but it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.
I went to a 2 year school in West Texas and got my AAS in sound technology on a free scholarship ride, but if I had paid for it out of my own pocket it would have been chump change compared to what places like the Art Institute charges. Literally a few hundred bucks a semester - and we had our own building filled with all kinds of great rooms, mics and boards to work with. It was a little old-school (we were cutting to 2 inch tape and learning calibration), but the formal teaching of fundamentals and troubleshooting were essential to my career.
My advice is to find a place (be it school or otherwise) that will teach you the following:
- electronics theory
- signal flow
- acoustics theory
- writing and communication
- microphone and compressor theory
- file management
- business fundamentals like accounting and bill collection
Once you've found your spot the next step is to put it out of your head that you'll learn what you need to know in school. Theory is an important part of the equation, but it only sets up the most important step - practice.
Start finding projects as early and as often as you can. Work for free if you have to, but get paid when you can. Work on your own stuff and work on other people's stuff. Find a mentor if you can, otherwise engage online.
By taking on projects early and often you'll develop your skill set at a rate of speed that will allow you to keep up with the thousands of other kids sitting in their rooms dreaming up cooler sounding stuff than you are. You'll also start building a reel that you can use to either drum up work as a freelancer or look for a staff position somewhere.
Most importantly though, you'll be building relationships with other people that need audio services. To them, it doesn't matter that there's some kid downtown that can make cooler sounds than you because they don't know that kid downtown. Therefore they can't like that kid. But they like you because you do good work and you get it to them on time.
If it were architecture or medicine I'd say get the best degree you can. But its not. Its audio, so instead you'll need to get the best skillset you can and do it as fast as you can.
Go to the school that works for you - there will always be a reason to have gone somewhere else no matter where you go. The largest benefit from education is the education, assuming you have the will to use what you learn.
If you share an alma mater with someone it's a great connection, but good networking skills have far, far more value in the long run.
compared to having the monster enthusiasm, necessary knowledge, and creative spirit required, i'd say where you studied it matters far less.. you could say that for any profession, but for some out there, i believe like this one, a wider coverage and more of everything is required (and not necessarily available). also the number of self-taught people nowadays is only increasing.
Just my advice, which is biased.......you either know what you're doing, or you don't. Whether you went to a 4-year school or a "specialty" school, you're going to work on projects, and when you're done, you're going to put out applications, work on small indie films, hone your skills..........."you paint a thousand pictures, after that, you'll know whether you're good or not." - Eddie Vedder
Teach yourself Pro Tools, recording/editing/mixing technique, sound and film theory. Figure out who is doing what you want to do, find them and ask them how they got there. Figure out where you want to go and go there and ask what they are looking for. Seek out any and all projects that you can learn from. Take full responsibility for your own success, and devote yourself to it. School is unnecessary for all of these steps. I did a bit of film school, but that's certainly not what landed me my job at a post production house. School won't in and of itself deliver you to success, you have to build it for yourself. And I found that that was a lot easier without a gigantic pile of student debt.
I have a degree in Sound design and Sound engineering. And the sound engineering diploma helped me a lot to understand the technical sides of audio. Especially how you connect all the devices in a logical way, which can be really complex sometimes. The Sound design diploma on the other hand did not teach anything other that Sound design is unteachable, its just a training of which possibilities there are. Sound design, effects, foley, recording, filtering, reverb... you know what i mean. If I were you, I would go for a diploma in a more technical area like sound engineering. Then I would learn the sound design aspects myself with pure experimentation.
Then you will have some good demo really with good knowledge over your tools.
One thing so -> really buy a good monitoring system and really invest something in room acoustics to get rid of early reflections and some of the room modes. A good Monitoring system allows you to really hear whats going on in sound and so it will teach you 1000000000x more than a sound design teacher.