Choosing a college to earn your degree or diploma in Audio Engineering or Music Production is a weighty decision.
While a few decades ago there were only a handful of programs to choose from, now there are dozens of outstanding programs, and perhaps a hundred or more schools in the U.S. alone where you could study to be a Sound Engineer and Music Producer.
The fact that there are now so many places to choose from is a sign that careers in audio engineering have become more specialized and demanding. Getting comprehensive training is also seen as a requirement to entering the profession, and should at least provide a distinct advantage to those who want to succeed in what’s become a highly competitive sector of the global music and media entertainment industries.
If you are considering where to go for a degree, my advice would be to look at quite a number of schools first and do some serious research. This should include making a visit to the school to speak directly with current faculty and students. During your visit, try to imagine what daily life would be like if you were to attend that school.
Organize your educational and career priorities, desires, and needs. You might look first to see what programs, if any, exist close to home. You might consider choosing a school based on the notable successes of their alumni. Cost will also likely be a factor. Write everything down on paper so you can compare your notes easily in one place.
Your ultimate choice of college doesn’t need to be on any of the top 10 lists. There are many good programs at state schools and community colleges. The main point is that the training you receive should prepare you to enter the field. You will also have opportunities to network with other future industry professionals while attending school.
Most graduates pursue internships immediately after earning their degree, so a solid record of placement for internships might cause you to favor a certain program.
Our list of the 10 best audio engineering degree programs includes:
- Berklee College of Music
- Drexel University
- Middle Tennessee State University
- Belmont University
- SAE Institute
- Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C)
- Frost School at University of Miami
- Thornton at University of Southern California (USC)
- University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell
In this article, I give a brief overview of ten U.S. music schools with excellent audio engineering programs. All of the schools and colleges on the list are worthy of consideration if you want to earn your degree studying audio engineering. The schools listed are not in any particular order. At the end, I’ll also mention several others worthy of consideration.
Note that putting a “Top 10” list together for anything is an exercise wrought with complexity. It’s super difficult to decide which schools to include or leave out. For my list, I considered different factors, such as size of the program, location, facilities, faculty, costs, alumni success, length of operation, affiliations, degrees offered, and so on.
I wanted to provide a sampling of excellent programs as a starting point for students to help with their initial research. Over time, programs can change, so I tried to make the information as up to date as possible for our current academic year. At the end I have also included a few additional schools not included in the list, but also worthy of consideration. The link to each school is also provided. Schools aren’t listed in any particular order.
Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Berklee has one of the largest and most established programs in Music Production and Engineering (MP&E). They also have majors and minors in Sound Design, Electronic Production, Film Scoring, and Video Game Music. A four-year program leading to a Bachelor of Music (B.M.), students must apply separately for acceptance to the MP&E major. Good math and physics test scores and good grades in all subjects are required for admission to the major.
Berklee also offers a Master of Music (M.M.) in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation at their campus in Valencia, Spain. Berklee owns and operates the legendary Power Station Studios in New York City where many famous musicians have recorded. Students operate the studios there. Berklee also has online courses, certificates, and degrees focused on music production and audio engineering.
Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Drexel offers a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Music Industry Studies. Students can choose to focus on music technology and production within the Recording Arts and Music Production concentrate.
With tracks for musicians and for non-musicians, playing an instrument is not a requirement for all. Students get real-life experience working at Drexel’s independent record label, Mad Dragon Records. Drexel works very hard to place every graduate in a job or internship.
Just two miles from downtown Nashville, Tennessee, very close to the music industry, Belmont’s Entertainment and Music Business Department offers a B.S. and a B.A. in Audio Engineering Technology. Students take courses in audio engineering, physics, electronic circuitry, and other science-oriented subjects, and are also required to complete a minor in an industry-related discipline. Belmont University advertises that it is a “Christian Community” for learning and service.
Located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to the immediate southwest of Nashville, MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry benefits from proximity to the recorded music industry and state-of-the-art facilities. The program is frequently cited by Billboard Magazine as a top 10 school for Audio Engineering and Music Business in the U.S.
One of the largest audio engineering programs in the country, they offer a B.S. in Audio Production and a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Recording Arts and Technology. Undergraduates majoring in Audio Production also pursue a technical or industry minor, such as Computer Science, Entrepreneurship, or Video and Film Production.
With six campuses in the U.S. and fifty locations worldwide, SAE has offered Audio Engineering programs since 1976. The accredited programs in Audio and Audio Technology lead to the Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.S.) degree or the Audio Diploma. In the U.S., SAE has locations in New York City, Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, and Nashville.
Centrally located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, Tri-C’s Recording Arts and Technology program occupies the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts. This 75,000 square foot facility is a joint project between the College and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, and houses superb modern recording studios, a concert hall, and the archives of the Rock Hall. The Center also houses media and recording arts programs, an animation laboratory, keyboard classrooms, dance and theater studios, along with music technology and editing suites.
Tri-C’s programs lead to a Certificate or Associate Degree of Applied Science in Recording Arts and Technology. Tri-C is one of the largest and best-rated community colleges in the country, and has an articulation agreement (2 + 2) with Berklee College of Music in Boston where students can complete their Bachelors in just two years after transferring from Tri-C with an Associate’s.
Programs in Music Technology at NYU/Steinhardt in NYC lead to the Bachelor of Music (B.M.), Master of Music (M.M.) and Ph.D. in Music Technology. They also have a Tonmeister advanced certificate for graduate students. The facilities comprise thirteen studios, including the 7,500-square-foot James L. Dolan Music Recording Studio.
NYU/Steinhardt is recognized as an industry leader in technology, teaching and research. The school offers more than forty courses in music technology, including audio engineering, multimedia production, and software development for sound engineering. Located in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, students benefit from proximity to top recording studios, music publishing houses, symphonies, jazz clubs, and Broadway theaters.
Housed at the University of Miami, Frost offers a four-year Bachelor of Music (B.M.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.), plus a Master of Science (M.S.). Students in the undergraduate programs pursue traditional music studies in performance, history, and theory while learning the art and science of recording, mixing, and signal processing. In addition, students gain technical skills in areas such as electrical engineering and computer science.
The M.S. audio program only accepts students who completed an undergraduate degree in computer science or electrical engineering.
Part of the University of Southern California (USC), Thornton is a conservatory-style music school in Los Angeles offering a Bachelor of Music (B.M.) in Music Production. Their Music Technology programs are designed for musicians who want to integrate digital music production with other industry disciplines such as composition, performing, arranging, and live recording of acoustic instruments.
Their students benefit from stellar faculty who also work in the industry, proximity to film studios, and access to industry players. Thornton has an innovative approach to blending music technology with cross-disciplinary art forms such as visual media and art.
Situated in northeastern Massachusetts, the Sound Recording Technology program is housed in the Music Department. UMass Lowell also offers a Masters of Music (M.M.) degree. Audition on a musical instrument is required for admission (voice is also an instrument). Students can earn a Bachelors and Masters degree combined in five years.
The following schools are also notable and worth a look.
Located in the nation’s capital, AU offers undergraduate programs leading to the B.A. in Audio Production and the B.S. in Audio Technology, plus a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Audio Technology. Programs concentrate on sound synthesis and studio management, and students specialize in music, communication, computer science, or physics.
The Audio Technology Program blends the art and the science of audio with music technology. Core courses are in sound synthesis, audio production, electronics, physics, and using digital audio workstations. They have state of the art recording studios, live performance spaces that can be used for recording, and even a synthesizer collection. They offer a minor in Audio Technology for students not enrolled in the major.
Located in central Florida near Orlando, Full Sail started out in 1979 as a recording school offering courses in Audio Engineering. Their curriculum has expanded to include programs in many other technical and creative disciplines. Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees are available in Recording Arts, Audio Production, and Show Production. They also offer a Certificate in Audio Production which can be completed in as little as five months.
Some of their programs are online or campus only, while others are blended with both online and on-campus courses required. Their campus has numerous modern recording environments ranging from full recording studios to live venues.
Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon offers a Music and Technology B.S. as a joint project between the School of Music, the School of Computer Science, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Undergraduates take courses in Recording Technology, Audio Engineering, Computer Music, Music Composition, Music Performance, Music Theory, and Pro Tools.
There is also a Master of Science in Music and Technology, where students choose to focus on Technologically Assisted Composition or Performance, Computer Music Systems, or Instrument Design.
In Los Angeles, Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music (known as M.I.) has an Audio Engineering program offering a Certificate in Production. Students can focus on music business or songwriting along with Sound Engineering. Musicians Institute is an international music school with many alumni working in the music industry worldwide.
Remember that there are many outstanding schools that are not on this list. It’s worth consulting other resources such as the Audio Engineering Society (AES), or various blogs covering audio engineering and music (production) education. You can always call up any school and ask to speak with someone in the department, such as the Chair, Program Leader, or a member of the faculty.
Gather all the information you possibly can, and be sure to visit the school, unless you are planning to earn your credential online.
It’s also advisable to speak with professionals in the field to see what they advise. You might even ask to speak with a graduate of the program you are considering, to ask them how well they feel the training they received prepared them to enter the industry. Earning your degree or certificate in Audio Engineering should be an investment that will pay you back many times over, in terms of learning, and also with job satisfaction.