• Joe Sage

2 - Should You Study Music At University?

In the UK, it’s currently exam season so it seems like a good topic to tackle at the moment. I’ve been asked this question by a whole range of people; whether they’re finishing their exams at 18, right up to artists considering studying as a mature student.


As a disclaimer, I can only talk about mine and my friends' experience of going to university in England but I’m sure the majority of it applies to further education around the world.


Would I Go Now?

So this is my initial stance on it… do I regret going to University? Absolutely not!

Would I recommend it to others? Well, that kind of depends. Confusing I know but let me explain.


Pros

My firm belief is that university/further education is more than about the academic knowledge gained in lectures. In terms of personal growth, it was incredibly beneficial for me; living independently, managing budgets and generally being responsible for everything in my life for the very first time. Beyond that, I also gained my strongest social group and formed friendships I know I’ll have for life.


At the university I went to, Huddersfield (up the terriers!), there were a good mixture of compulsory and optional modules. As much as I hated some of those compulsory modules, I can’t help but reflect on how useful they have been in my career as audio professional. They forced me out of my comfort zone and really pushed me in areas I would of previously opted to avoid. When not being forced to learn things you don’t want to, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of just reinforcing knowledge that you already know.


A great example is the amount of classical music arranging skills I begrudgingly (at the time) learnt. Since turning freelance, there has been countless times where this knowledge of theory and arranging has really become helpful, in many musical genres, in the studio. If those modules weren’t compulsory, I don’t think I would be in the position I am now.


The biggest aspect for me was that Huddersfield provided me the largest and first step on my career ladder. Before applying, I was aware that Huddersfield offered a year in industry, one such placement being at the incredible Chapel Studios. I worked my backside off to get that placement and it was 100% worth it. Whilst those that decided to avoid the placement scheme were sitting in a lecture hall, I was working alongside Grammy Award winning engineers and learning my trade. If you are considering university, placements and practical experience opportunities should be your priority.


Cons

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way; cost. Letters from student finance are far from fun and tuition fees look like they’re only going to rise.


Secondly, university is only as good as you make it. It’s perfectly plausible to cruise, see it as a way of passing time or pleasing grandparents and come out at the end with a passable grade. The issue you’ll run into though is this; no-one gives a flying sh*t about your degree in music. When was the last time you heard an artist or band attributing their music degree to their success. Try applying to a promoter and instead of showing them your band’s music, let them know you’ve got a degree in music… you probably won’t get very far.


Go Above and Beyond

You have to grasp the opportunities beyond the academic compulsory deadlines. Ask your lecturers about the best way to set yourself up for post-uni life and say yes to pretty much every creative opportunity offered. Play on every studio session, do every acoustic night gig and collaborate with every student possible as you never know when those connections will pay off.


The jump of post-uni life is very steep and not many people make the transition. As well as having good grades, come out of university with a huge portfolio, as much practical experience possible and a contact list as long as the Magna Carta. My first few jobs when I finished uni were all from friends who went on to be session players. Why did I get these jobs? Because I’d recorded with them so many times during university, I was the first person they thought of when it came to recording or mixing.


If, like my old uni friends, you’d like to hear how your music would sound with a professional mix, send me your song and I’ll mix a free sample.


There wasn't a module on how to catch graduation caps...


Is It For You?

The ultimate takeaway from this is that university is what you make of it. For some, it’ll be 3/4 years of coasting and certificate with canapés at the end. For others, it will be an incredible opportunity to open as many doors as possible, make memories and potentially meet life long career collaborators.


As always, if you have any questions or feedback about any of the above, I’d love to hear from you.


Your friendly neighborhood mix engineer,

Joe


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