Makin’ it in the music biz


The music business is notoriously competitive, and not just for aspiring musicians. The same is true for the people working behind the spotlight — the unsung stars who record, produce, mix and manage our favourite artists.

In fact, competition within the music biz is stronger than ever. Thanks to a variety of factors — such as user-friendly recording software and music download services — the cost of making and selling music has fallen dramatically.

“The music business is going through its biggest expansion in history,” says John Harris, director of the Harris Institute, a private Toronto college specializing in audio production and music management. “The big studios and the major record companies are being replaced by thousands, if not millions of artists and their representatives.”

With more people having the means to compete, the music business is, by definition, more competitive.

This new reality, Harris says, is all the more reason why specialized training from a reputable school is so essential.

“Somebody entering the music industry at this point without getting specialized training wouldn’t have a chance,” he says.

The Harris Institute offers one-year diploma programs in Audio Production/Engineering and Recording Arts Management. Both programs are taught by an esteemed group of working professionals, including Jack Richardson, an award-winning producer who has worked with artists such as The Guess Who, Alice Cooper and Bob Seger.

At Harris, the curriculum begins with four months of theory before moving onto the fun stuff, like training in the recording studios and labs.

Both programs emphasize a “real-world” education. One of the final projects in the Production/Engineering program, for example, has students scout out an artist, sign them, make a professional-quality record, and then go out and try to secure a record deal.

In the Recording Arts Management program, one of the major projects challenges students to put together a business plan for a new recording studio, and then pitch their concept to prospective investors.

“That’s an amazing project because the students have to analyse every aspect of the recording studio — not just what technology they’re going to buy, but also the number-crunching,” Harris says. “It thrusts them into the real world.”

Meanwhile, out in the real world, Harris graduates have gone on to work in a range of positions throughout the Canadian music industry, such as audio engineers, record producers, artist managers and live-sound mixers.

A case in point would be David Ramsahoye, who graduated from Harris’s Production/Engineering program in 1995. Ramsahoye enjoyed a seven-year gig as an audio operator for CityTV, MuchMusic and Bravo before landing his current position as a senior audio engineer for the IMAX Corporation.

Professional contacts

Ramsahoye says the hands-on training he received at Harris was invaluable for his career. “Everything was viable and directly related to the real world,” he says.

The other bonus for Ramsahoye was being able to make contacts with industry professionals. “If it wasn’t for Harris, I don’t think I would have the career that I have today.”

Another private career college that specializes in short-term programs in Audio Engineering/Production and Entertainment Management is the Trebas Institute.

Trebas faculty members are also drawn directly from the music world. “These are people who have full-time jobs in industry, so we make sure that whatever the industry needs gets updated in our curricula,” says Peter DiSanto, director of the Trebas Institute.

Students enrolled in the Audio Engineering and Production / DJ Arts program at Trebas have access to a full production studio located off-site, and a mix and mastering lab located onsite.

“We encourage students to bring a band into our studio,” DiSanto says. “Once they’ve cut the CD in the studio, they come back to the school where they can mix and master the rough cut, and then produce a final project that they can use in their portfolio.”

In the Entertainment Management program, students spend roughly 80% of their third term doing an internship, which plugs them directly into their chosen field.

DiSanto says specialized training gives students an edge in breaking into the increasingly competitive music industry; however, he warns that training alone is never quite enough.

“No matter which program a student graduates from, whether it’s at Trebas or anywhere else, they have to earn their stripes,” he says. “They have to show what they’re capable of doing and they have to prove themselves before anyone will give them additional responsibilities. They will only succeed in this industry if they have the motivation and the right attitude.”