Getting an Education

There are lots of people who are very happy to take your time and money for training in the music industry. These range from serious universities and colleges to one man band trainers working out of bedroom studios. I think it’s a positive sign of the enormous amount of interest in creating music, but has also created a market which is ripe for exploitation. And that exploitation does exist.

I was lucky enough to do the Tonmeister course at Surrey University (about a thousand years ago now) which had then, and I believe still has, a genuinely serious educational ethic. There are always issues surrounding courses with any vocation element in them, as to how much you’re training people to use today’s equipment, and how much you’re equipping them with flexible skills to sustain a lifetime career. But I think Surrey gets more right than it gets wrong.

If you don’t get into your first choice – what are your options, and how do you go about finding your path through not just the first few years, but the scary bit after that?

Well, I’ve always thought that if you can get things the right way around from the start, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance for chance to work. By which I mean that you’re already responsible for your education, right here, right now. You don’t deserve a great training in, let’s say, writing music for film, any more than you deserve a major film and a BAFTA just by existing. But once you’ve got that under your belt, you’re in really good shape to make that education for yourself.

I get a certain amount of mail from students wanting to know more about the industry, and always try and respond. Unless there are crazy threats, or too much weirdness on display! I figure that if someone wants to know something bad enough to hunt you down and mail, it’s karmically good at least to say hi. And the majority of the people I chat with have at least one thing in common. A gross underestimation of the time it’s going to take to make a living from writing music for picture. It’s reasonable enough, if you don’t know anyone who’s already doing it, but I see lots of students fresh out of college or Uni who are banking on making their full-time living within the first year. Ouch.

Massive thumbs up if you can do that. Amazing. And can I borrow a tenner. But for the vast majority, it’s just not gonna happen. If, however, you can make yourself a 10 year plan, to develop as an artist, engineer, diplomat and film-maker. You’re giving yourself the best chance to get lucky.

10 years or so. If that sounds like a stupidly long time, then go and hunt down a few film directors, the people who’ll hopefully be hiring you. If you count the ones who’ve got enough budget to actually pay you for writing, you won’t be tripping over too many under 25. And if you do, those will tend to have producers leaning over them, guiding them towards safe pairs of hands in all the other departments. Like a DOP with a long track record, an editor who’s been around the block, and a composer who can nail the brief without any fuss.

So, until your own generation, all those film makers you’ve been hanging out with and doing free shorts for, starts to get into positions of power, you’ll be competing against established composers and getting turned down by producers and directors who want someone with more experience. Unless you’re famous and in a band.

It’s kinda fine, though, because the wise young Jedi will accept all this and set about having a brilliant time in their 20s. If you can get the bug of looking for new things in everything you do, you’ll send out that message to everyone you come across and you’ll start to see synchronicity in lots of areas of your professional life. People are willing to help if you’re not obnoxious, and contribute, and you’ll start to see education not as something that happens on an over-priced course in a month or a year or 3 years. It’s an approach to your whole working life, and a really exciting one at that.

Best of luck!