5 Things to Know: Music Technology Careers

bookBy Susannah Felts for UAB Magazine

Technological advances in the last 10 to 15 years have given everyone greater power to manipulate music, from professionals in state-of-the-art studios to kids with laptops. But when those kids come to campus with visions of music industry glitz in their eyes, they often need help figuring out how to turn their hobby into a career.

Now they can turn to Beyond Sound: The College and Career Guide in Music Technology, written by Scott L. Phillips, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UAB Department of Music. (The book, published by Oxford University Press, is available at the UAB BookstoreAmazon.com, and many other outlets.)

Written for students and teachers of music technology, Beyond Sound offers a comprehensive list of academic programs in the field. There are also chapters devoted to potential job paths for music technology graduates, and interviews with leading professionals working in recording studios, live sound engineering, film and TV, video gaming, and computer programming. 

Phillips shared with UAB Magazine five key things students need to know and do to make their music technology expertise pay off. He points out that UAB’s unique music technology degree program, which he co-directs, is designed to reinforce each of these important ideas.

students in studio 21. Make some music. To be successful in music technology, Phillips says students need to be active musicians. UAB’s music technology program is housed within the Department of Music, where students study music history, theory, and performance. Not all schools with music technology programs offer opportunities for performance, Phillips points out. “Here, students can take lessons in whatever instrument they choose and participate in band, choir, or other ensembles,” he says. “There’s even a computer music ensemble, which allows students to perform their own original music.”

2. Know the latest programs. Using computer software is an increasingly important part of making music. UAB recently partnered with Avid, the industry-leading company that makes recording studio software, to offer training and certification in ProTools. Starting in fall 2013, Avid’s video editing software will be taught as well. Only a handful of other universities currently offer such training, Phillips says.

3. Get firsthand experience.Mastering the best equipment requires access to the technology, of course. The UAB Department of Music recently completed a half-million dollar upgrade of its recording studio and teaching lab, complete with an Avid System 5 Fusion console, the best mixing board available (see the studio at left and below). The teaching lab boasts 15 student stations that can produce “serious studio-quality recordings,” Phillips says. In addition to music editing programs, these computers are loaded with lots of extras—plug-ins for audio effects, video editing software, and more—that students can dabble in as they wish.

4. Know the job market. In his book, Phillips carefully explains many of the career paths available to someone with a degree in music technology and spotlights professionals working in the field. UAB’s program emphasizes the many applications of music technology by encouraging students to take electives that support their career interests. For example, students might take computer programming courses if they want to make music for the video game industry.

5. Network, network, network.As with any career field, connections count in music technology. InBeyond Sound, Phillips lists professional organizations for the career paths he profiles, and he encourages UAB students to join these organizations or attend meetings while they are still enrolled in school. “Most college kids don’t think of that,” he says. 

Phillips encourages students to take internships with local recording studios, theAlys Stephens Center, the local PBS affiliate, and local churches that need assistance with running sound at services. “Our students spend upwards of 20 hours a week in these internships in their final semester, making connections,” Phillips says. He also brings top-tier industry talent to his classes for Q&A sessions. Ben Burtt, who worked as sound designer for the Star Wars film series (and gave voice to R2D2), and Ken Scott, a recording engineer for the Beatles, have talked and worked with UAB students. 

“At the end of the day, building any career requires a lot of hard work, focus, dedication and thousands of hours of preparation,” Phillips says. “Just like our UAB music technology program, Beyond Sound is there to help students know how to spend those hours on the kinds of things that will give them the greatest advantage.”