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AUDIA PRODUCTION SERVICES: Music Technology Education

Sounding Off
Published May 2000

AUDIA PRODUCTION SERVICES: Music Technology Education

Audia Production Services work within the music industry and lecture on many different Music Technology courses. In this article they raise concerns about the current developments in Music Technology education.

Music Technology is inherently a complicated business — it is continually at the cutting edge of technical development and creative innovation. It isn't a surprise, therefore, that Music Technology has been a major growth area in further and higher education over the last 10 years or so.

Not long ago you had to be very lucky to get a place on a higher education course in Music Technology. It is rumoured that one university in West London had 500 applicants for just 20 places in 1993. Now, however, you can go down to your local higher education establishment, and you'll probably find a full‑time three‑year degree in Music Technology. This is all testimony to the strength of the subject — one that motivates and interests people and which, in our opinion, is becoming increasingly important in this media driven, 'e'‑based society.

Edexcel, the organisation which brings together many of the examining boards such as BTEC, is hopefully aware of this fact, given the number of colleges now running courses under its umbrella. But how can they ensure that all courses deliver the same quality and level of attainment, when so many institutions are running different syllabuses? The logical answer, and the one they have chosen, is to unify these courses into a nationally approved syllabus. The notion that the curriculum is to be centralised and built upon is welcome. However, it is imperative that the syllabus is bang up‑to‑date and able to stand the test of time in the coming years.

So how does this affect readers of SOS? Well, many people at this time will be considering going to college to study their chosen vocation, in this case Music Technology. Given the nature of the field, one would hope that a course in Music Technology will offer a thorough examination of the many complex skills and technologies of sound engineering, explored in both a practical and creative context. One would also hope that the teaching of these skills will be based around the reality of professional work — of what it means to be a practising sound engineer.

Unfortunately, the proposed BTEC syllabus seems far from the above. Developed from a largely 'performing arts'‑based course, it seems to place more emphasis on units such as 'Performing Arts in Context' and less on essential items such as 'Sound Recording Production' — which is, bizarrely, classed as an 'optional unit'. Who would have thought it — a Music Technology course where sound recording is optional? In the proposed syllabus, all of the important, relevant aspects, such as Hard Disk Recording, Sampling, and Synthesis, seem to be lumped together under ominous titles such as 'Sound Design Techniques', rather than meriting their own unique units.

We would be the first people to admit that the skills of an engineer or music technologist are indeed far‑reaching (and should include a degree of musicality) but that should not be achieved at the expense of key technological elements. In any case, many educational establishments offer other courses which could suitably equip engineers with these ancillary skills, such as evening classes in business studies, music theory and so on.

Equally worrying is the proposed syllabus's emphasis on very traditional musical skills. In this technically liberated world, surely somebody must have realised that musicality can be expressed, understood and developed in so many other ways than what is current perceived as 'music' theory and performance. Isn't learning about a hard disk recorder/editor as valid a musical skill as playing a traditional instrument? We would argue there are many notable, creative, music technologists working on new music with little or no 'traditional' training. Instead these new musicians have completely new technical 'musical' skills — knowing the difference between a 2‑ and 4‑pole filter is as, if not more, important than knowing the chord of C major!

It's not that BTEC's proposed syllabus ignores this: indeed, we are quite impressed by many of its more 'modern' aspects. What is evident, however, is that it will lead to a reduction of quality tuition in the areas that matter the most, and — even more worrying — the implied entry conditions and experience could exclude or put off many potential students who could be valuable to the media industries of the future.

There's nothing at all wrong with the principle of national unification — but what BTEC finally decides must be right. We can see many benefits in an agreed syllabus: shared resources, nationally recognised standards, opportunities for students to transfer to other courses with ease, and so on. BTEC must pay close attention to the needs of their potential students — among them many of the people who read this magazine — and carefully refine a course in close coordination with Music Technology centres and working professionals. Ultimately, Edexcel will lose a lot of credibility if they cannot supply an appropriate, relevant syllabus, centred in and thoroughly exploring key industry skills in Music Technology!