Is Recording Engineering?
Jez Wells, University of York, UK.
(supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering)
September 2011 to July 2012

This web resource contains all of the publicly available outputs from Is Recording Engineering? This was an eleven month Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious public engagement fellowship. It was undertaken by Jez Wells, of the Department of Electronics, in collaboration with David Beer, of the Department of Sociology, both of the University of York, UK.

During the course of the fellowship, regular updates were posted on this blog. Although the fellowship has now ended, there will be some updates to the blog as and when subsequent publications and/or events relating to this project are announced.

Articles and papers
Links to articles and journal/conference papers that have been published to date can be found here:

Together as one? A response to Eric Schmidt

Interview with Neil Hillman (managing director, The Audio Suite)

When is an engineer not an engineer?

Engineering in the digital recording studio

Recording in Engineering (PowerPoint presentation)

Interview with Dave Fisher (Emeritus Professor of Sound Recording University of Surrey) 

The precarious double life of the recording engineer: An artist, an engineer or both? - David Beer, forthcoming (submitted to Popular Music)

Engineering and Sound Recording in Higher Education in the United Kingdom - forthcoming (for submission to IEEE Transactions on Education)

How microphones work - forthcoming (submitted to Physics Review)

A podcast on panning (192 kbps mp3, c. 15 minutes)

FranPan VST plugin (for 32 bit Windows) - Documentation

FlexDelay VST plugin (for 32 bit Windows) - Documentation

Focus group transcriptions
A big part of this engagement project was to speak to professional recording engineers, those studying recording/audio/music technology in higher education in the UK, and those in years 12 and 13 who are aspiring to do so. All of these sessions were recorded and transcriptions are available below. The interviews listed above also provided primary data for the project.

University of York - 7th December 2011
Glyndŵr University -  9th January 2012 - Session 1        Session 2
Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts - 27th April 2012 - Session 1       
University of Surrey - 15th May 2012 - Session 1     Session 2
Audio professionals, held at The Royal Academy of Engineering - 6th July 2012

Education and careers guidance
One of the things that emerged from my discussions with professionals during this project was the fact that many consider that there is definitely a market in sound recording for those who are properly qualified and experienced. Whilst medium and large music recording studios maybe in decline, there are a vast number of radio and television channels, as well as internet-based media providers, who require people who can make, mix, edit and master good quality sound recordings. However the industry, like nearly every other, is constantly changing and the people who work within it must constantly adapt and make different contributions. The physics of sound and the human perception of it do not change and a thorough grounding in these (rather than a superficial training in whichever piece of equipment or technology is predominant at a particular point in time) is much more likely to support the adaptation and inventiveness required to carve out a career in the industry.

I consider myself lucky to have been able to study music, sound recording and music technology at two excellent UK institutions: The University of York and The University of Surrey. At Surrey I studied Music and Sound Recording (BMus - Tonmeister) in their Music Department; At York I studied Music Technology (MSc) as a joint program between the Music Department and the Electronics Department and then I undertook a PhD in Music Technology solely in the Electronics Department. I now teach at in the Electronics Department at York but I am moving to take up a post in the Music Department in October 2012. From this I feel I have a good understanding of how these subjects can be approached by both arts and engineering departments. In the 1990s I taught Music Technology at Newham College of Further Education (a stone's throw away from where the Olympic Park now is). During all of that time I've remained active as a recording engineer and audio designer as well as keeping in contact with a variety of people who work full-time in the industry.

I'm often asked which is the best kind of department to study music technology or sound recording in. To answer this you need to think about what you are most interested in: the music which is recorded in studios, or the equipment used to record it. This may seem like an obvious statement but people have arrived at the role of 'recording engineer' via both routes. Of course, it's likely that recording engineers need, and have, an interest in both but ask which focus you want during three (or four) years of a degree. What are the auxiliary skills that you think will be best able to help you get your foot in the door of the industry? What other uses will you have to a studio? Do you want to be able to fix technology in studios, or offer your services as a session musician. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that musicians are creative and engineers aren't: so much of the sound of modern music (particularly pop music) is shaped by the ingenuity and innovation of the engineers who design and use audio equipment. Playing electric guitar is far from being the only way to express your artistic talents in a recording studio.

When it comes to choosing between different specific courses or individual institutions there are a number of things to consider: Firstly ask for a detailed breakdown of the course content: look at the list of modules (and the way in which they are assessed) and ask yourself if you'd be happy to take these modules and do the exams or coursework associated with them. Will they provide you with the kind of skills and knowledge that you and prospective employers will be interested in? Remember that some subjects will provide you with the skills you need to do advanced study of audio and music technology later on: whilst you may not be interested in becoming a mathematician, you will need to excellent skills in this area if you are going to get the very best out of audio processing and recording technology without simply relying on presets. Next look at the prospects for people from the course: what areas of employment do they go into? What are the graduate employment statistics for the course (or Department)? Don't get too hung up on employability statistics though - routes to work in recording studios are many and varied and it is rarely the case that graduates 'arrive' in such a job in time for the census cut-off for these kinds of statistics. Finally, look at the facilities on offer: these are important but don't get hung up on a course solely because it has a shiny new pro Tools rig - ask about access to the facilities and remember that the best place to learn about and understand audio in all its forms (including acoustics and psychoacoustics) isn't necessarily the control room of a studio.

Of course, you don't necessarily have to have a degree to get a job in a recording studio (and a degree certificate certainly isn't a ticket to a guaranteed job in this industry as it is in others). However a degree is something which is becoming more and more desirable amongst employers, no doubt due to the efforts of accreditation schemes such as JAMES, amongst other things. When looking for work in studios think about what else you have to offer in addition to be able to run recording sessions. During times when the studio isn't busy with clients, how would you earn your keep? Fixing and maintaining equipment? Helping with marketing and online resources?

Although I don't agree with or endorse all of it, and it is a little dated now, this series of articles is a good source of information and ideas about a career in recording engineering:

How to Become a Recording Engineer - David Mellor (Sound on Sound, 1999)

When I interviewed him for this project Dave Fisher had some excellent advice and ideas about what he thinks makes a good recording engineer and the kind of the thing he looked for when he was interviewing UCAS candidates for the Tonmeister course. This interview is currently being reviewed for publication, but as soon as it is available more information will be posted here.

Other documents
A collection of definitions of engineering