Slated for November Techís Files, but Axed...

Continuing Edís

Audio Education and Then Some

ã 2002 by Eddie Ciletti

The purpose of an education is three-fold: to acquire knowledge of a particular skill, learn to recognize (and circumvent) the sand traps of life and then to advance to the desired goal with a minimum of lollygaging. Thatís the theory at least. Knowledge is not wisdom. That comes with time. Getting there should be part of the fun. 

Since technology is the ultimate moving target, advances made every 18 months create a need for education that is not exclusively the domain of those beginning a career. Users, facility owners and educational institutions are constantly being challenged by new technology; keeping pace translates into time and money. 

To get more from any educational program it is necessary to experience as much as possible, hands-on or "ears-on" in this case. It is only through experience that you can know what questions to ask. If the learning process is accomplished by making plenty of mistakes, then Iím a genius. Keep that in mind while reading this column. The topics are inspired by close encounters of the "duh-uh" kind óa few course suggestions from the "skule of hard knox."


Throughout the course of a career, the typical audio enthusiast encounters a wide range of overlapping disciplines including Acoustics, Coffee Brewing 101, HVAC, Maintenance, Management, Music, Production, Psychology and Technology (to name a few). I canít tell you what school to go to or what classes to take. I can tell you that the fundamentals of Audio Production havenít changed. There must be talent at the mic and a basic knowledge of electro-acoustic issues, although these days "talent" seems to be equated with barely-legal females exposing the maximum allowable space below the navel.


The importance of understanding and speaking the language of music is a prerequisite for those who want to record it. I am not saying that one canít be accomplished without the other, but it sure helps. Recording Classical and Jazz will be a humbling experience because, in general, the musicians mix themselves. Young musicians taking a stab at popular music need plenty of practice, patience, pre-production and more often than not, arrangement re-duction. 

Overly generalized, perhaps, but for an engineer starting out it may be hard to know where the problems are and way too easy to blame the gear. To paraphrase, "Tis a poor crafts person who blames their tools." Music and Audio Production are linked, whichever course is the major, be sure to minor in the other to round out your education.


So often overlooked and worse, untreated ó Acoustics are the foundation of an audio environment. Same with microphone "dynamics." Understanding how microphones and loudspeakers interact with their surroundings is the key to getting the most from a control room, studio and performance space. Each is its own animal; the taming techniques are application-specific requiring a sixth sense that can only come from studying with a master. If an acoustics course is offered, take it. If treatment has been ignored, then address it. 

From an acoustician Iíve learned to avoid the overkill approach. Think of acoustic treatment as a five-frequency-band "see-saw." Each band has an unknown weight at one end called RT60 (the reverberation time). Treat each band until all of the "saws" are balanced. Too much treatment of the high frequency band, for example, will make the other bands all but impossible to balance. 


Hereís one course option I bet you never expected. How do you interface with people? How do you get people to do what they donít want to do and make them think itís their idea? How much patience do you have?

Although it may not seem immediately obvious to the novice, the infrastructure of the traditional recording environment serves a purpose: to minimize confusion and stress by creating various job responsibilities. There is an Engineer and a Producer for a reason even if it may seem that one person can do the job. Each additional job niche further reduces the amount of distraction and stress during the creative process. When addressing delicate personalities, a calm, structured environment is fertile ground for Patience. (This from an Italian, mind you!) A minimum of one class in "Human Interface Dynamics" is highly recommended.


If patience with humans isnít your bag but geek science is, then perhaps a position in the Maintenance and Technology Department will be more suitable. For those with A Beautiful Mind, your direct and logical approach is well suited to the Technical profession and there are many avenues of study including computers, analog and digital electronics, wiring and installation, power and grounding. 

My daily flow of e-mail includes occasional requests for apprenticeships. I can only accommodate geek-grasshoppers at the virtual level by providing simple schematics with the instructions "build this." No one has followed through yet, although some visitors have built the tube mic preamp available at and then e-mailed questions or details of their progress. Patience for hardware is a challenge in this age of PDAs and wireless networking.