BLACK HOLE SYNDROME – the unspoken agenda

the unspoken agenda in post-secondary, media arts education

Hi there Jim,  I graduated a few years back in Music Industry Arts at Fanshawe College then Audio Post Production the year after that. Music and audio have been the passion of my life. I do sound design, voice acting, foley, composition, and video editing to name a few. I currently work in London as a courier driver and dream every day of landing any job even closely related to audio in any form.  While I mainly focused on the SFX side of things, I recently tried my hand at composing as well to strengthen my skills. Between work and my daughter, I aim for getting 1 song finished every week or two.  I’m sending you links to my work and welcome any suggestions on how I can connect with the industry.

Keith Turton – London Ontario, June 25, 2015

Hi Keith, The one given is that you need to move to Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver (New York or LA).  If there’s any chance of connecting your audio/music skills with the labour market, this is a MUST!   That being said, I am somewhat perplexed that you went to college for 4 years (assuming you did the required General Arts and Sciences prerequisite at Fanshawe first before MIA) and (so it would appear) – you still don’t know that (not your fault).  Welcome to the ‘black hole’ in media arts education.   In the $25,000 that you (or your parents) spent on schooling, and in the thousands of hours of instruction you’ve received, there is one crucial detail they left out.   You’re in London and there’s really nothing going on there – so ‘connecting with the industry’, is highly unlikely.

Jim Lamarche – June 28, 2015




Reflecting on a few recent messages received here and in my quest for ongoing clarity, I return to my reason to write again.  I think it’s important to mention that I’m not on some sort of ‘mission’ here.  I’m simply here to help clarify.  It is simply my desire to help young people get to where they want to go by giving them useful information that they can use to their/your benefit, to assist in navigation – for those curious to know more and who come here to get insight or ask me what my opinion is – that’s all.

That being said … I received an email recently (posted in the forum) that is inspiring this most recent observation.

First, I need to reiterate.  There are many excellent post-secondary schools in Canada (some documented in my report) and what I am writing about here applies to many but not all schools.  One shopping for a quality education must look carefully at all the options and opportunities, learn to read between the lines and most importantly trust their gut instincts when finally deciding.  That being said, I think it’s important to take a really good look at what’s going on – under the surface …

There is a phenomenon in most post-secondary education institutions, but especially prevalent in Media Arts Education that continues to go unnoticed.  I call it the “Black Hole Syndrome” or BHS.  Ok, you could remove the ‘H’ and still get a fairly accurate translation.  It’s a quiet agenda – created and maintained by most (private and public) colleges and yes even universities;  where important (even crucial/critical) details are left out in order to maintain the ‘status quo’.   The fall-out (ramifications) from this complex, is that in with-holding certain truths, students (all too often) are left with little or nothing to grab onto later on (and in huge debt).   Despite what appears to be a benevolent cause on the surface, registration targets must be met and routine cash-flow must be maintained in order to keep the system running smoothly.  Problem being, if students knew what they were really in for; they probably wouldn’t register and that would undermine the school’s priority mandate – to make money.  It’s just a lot easier to keep a lid on certain things rather than upset the cart.  It’s also an agenda where withdrawls (drop-outs) are minimized by carefully exercising a calculated set of damage control mechanisms set up and ready to implement at a moments notice.  I have since come to terms with the reality that similar agendas exist in most organized (commerce driven) platforms including government and corporations, fueling their need for higher profit (power/control) and therefore, an ongoing need for discretion.

Students don’t see it because they’re not supposed to see it.  It’s very much like that microscopic disclaimer – “ride at your own risk” that’s been set up in a ‘what you don’t know won’t hurt you’ kind of campaign strategy all designed to keep everyone compliantly in their place and exists almost invisibly on the periphery of an education system wishing to expand.  I’ll give you an example …

This goes back a few years, but still captures the phenomenon succinctly and continues to this day even more-so.

I clearly remember finishing my 2nd year at Fanshawe College in the MIA/Music Industry Arts program there (a 3 year program then) in 1976 in London Ontario.  This had been a phenomenal experience for me in a radical/ground-breaking liberal arts program started just a few years earlier by U.K. Radio Caroline DJ/founder Tom Lodge, who migrated to Canada and to London and somehow managed to convince the powers that be at Fanshawe to launch the program.  Classes were small and enrollment was limited to those who had made an extra effort after being put on the waiting list (that everyone was put on).  I had come from a small town (conservative community) nearby and this was an exploration into the unknown, where every day was a new experience filled with everything possible.  It was amazing!  until … the unspeakable happened.



Tom gave a lecture once a week in the D1060 lecture hall at Fanshawe – almost philosophical in nature, to all of us curious wide eyed community college participants.  I remember it being my favourite class because he was an astounding speaker who came across as someone who genuinely cared, having created this totally unique forum of expression which manifested itself in electronic music creation in a real 8 track recording studio set up at the college with state of the art hardware, enlisting those who would carry his vision forward and into a fruitful movement that would flourish in years to come – echoing what he had experienced in Britain just a few years earlier. I distinctly remember a class/lecture where, in the early stages one of the students asked the all foreboding question … “so Tom, we’re finishing our second year here and I’m wondering where you see us going, what does our future look like?  Where do you think we can find a job in London after we graduate next year” ? 

I remember an anechoic silence in the hall and Tom feeling unusually uncomfortable with that question – almost nervous but still answering in his one of a kind english accent … “Well honestly (long pause), I think that if you seriously want to pursue a career in sound and music, you’ll need to move to a bigger city like Toronto if you want to make it work”.    I’ll never forget that moment.  It was like a vacuum in the room – a hollow emptiness that ripped us all to pieces, from the inside out.  We stumbled around aimlessly for days/weeks after thinking – what?  after investing two years of our lives here in London, we’re going to have to move away to make this work??  WTF!  I later found out that there were a handful of ‘mature’ students who already knew that (having figured it out on their own) and were already planning to move to Toronto.  Some just left not returning to third year but the bulk of us remaining – had no idea what was on the horizon.  For me, it was already a stretch – driving to London (from Woodstock) every day.  Moving to Toronto?  Unthinkable and I was under the clear impression (up until then) that I (we) didn’t have to.

What no one had told us up until then is that this was something that could only happen IF we embraced a bigger picture, (willingness to think ‘out of the box’).  Fanshawe College had recently realized that they had stumbled on a gold mine with MIA and with 800+ applications received every year (and only being able to accommodate 60).  9/10 applications were from graduating high-school students in London or the surrounding area.   There was talk of the college building a second studio and that the numbers would be increasing.  What became soon obvious was that there was BIG money to be made with this Music Industry Arts program and that it was necessary to maintain the illusion that a future (in music) could in fact happen locally.  It was then that I realized that this was the beginning of the end of Tom Lodge;  a landslide approached and a slow political dismemberment ensued.  Under pressure from the college to maintain a sense of controlled composure, Tom felt cornered and started talking more.  This was a game he couldn’t play.  I remember being in a daze all that summer – coming to terms with the reality that I would in fact have to move to Toronto, if I was going to make my career work over the longer term and it scared the living shit right out of me, now thinking that we would have to leave our families, the comfort of our homes/parents and our precious small-town peace of mind – if we wanted to make money IN the music business.

At the beginning of our third and final year, I remember the alarming absence of many faces as 1/2 were gone (dropped) and there was unrest in the general student population in MIA with a small group of students talking and organizing (out of fear).  It was almost creepy.  They were really pissed because they felt that they had been lied to and that group expanded exponentially over the first few weeks, eventually festering into a mass rebellion.  You see, that’s just it – nobody had been ‘lied to’.  It was just never discussed – even though it was obvious that 4/5 of us in the program, never had any intention of moving away – it became increasingly clear that if we stayed – there would be no jobs to go to and that the college was holding vital information that we needed to hear in order to properly plan.   I couldn’t get into the impending brawl that was coming to a boiling point and the college sensed a storm on the horizon and a whole new set of defense mechanisms were employed to contain the unrest.

I remained an observer more than a participant in the revolt.  I knew that challenging the system on that level would be futile and would just lead to nothing.  I mean, what’s going to happen?  We’re all going to get a refund?  That the MIA program would be shut down?   Never going to happen.  It was time to move on.



Tom Lodge was fired that year and what went on internally was something we were never privy to.  Tom disappeared into thin air and the situation was eventually contained.  Most of my school-mates stayed in London, getting jobs in music stores selling/renting instruments – some at Sam the Record Man – some playing in ‘lounge bands’ doing Beatles and Elton John covers – others in construction or driving truck.  Needless to say … no-one got a ‘job’ in the music industry in London (because there was no music industry there).  I, and a few others moved to Toronto – squirming my way into the music scene first as an engineer – first at Kensington Sound, then Captain Audio and Eastern Sound (Yorkville), recording my music in various studios during ‘down-time’ and getting signed to a major label (A&M/Universal Music) in ’82, doing advertising jingles/television music/sound and still struggling to keep afloat.  My income was sporadic;  some months making $10,000, and other months nothing.  I spent most of the proceeds from label advances and money made from media work on gear for my computer based home studio, eventually gravitating to education as a teacher (Trebas Institute/Ryerson University),  all because of that one answer Tom gave us in that lecture hall in London in March 1976, probably the most useful information I received in the 3 years that I attended Fanshawe.  If he had chosen to play it safe and given us the ‘textbook’ answer (would have been easy to do), I wouldn’t be here writing this.  No, I would probably be living in London (with a different family), working in a totally unrelated field (and watching TV right now).  There would be no future in sound/music, no record deal, no studios, no MAE report – no story.  I met my wife in Toronto in ’84 and had a daughter (who is 28 now) and a student at University of Toronto,  and well – long story short … it all worked out regardless.

In closing,  I was lucky where many aren’t.  I got what I needed when I needed it.  I am so thankful for that (in retrospect).  The deceptions/delusions continue in education and where we think, we’re getting what we need to make it all work, there are an equal amount of hidden obstacles/smoke screens that are designed to throw us off course just long enough to maintain the comfort and security of those who would like us to think that we’re making the right choices – for them.  Today, the phenomenon continues in all sectors of post-secondary education.  What we’re told and what’s real are often two very different things.  Important information remains hidden and facts are fudged to spin a favourable outcome for new students who are unsure coming in.  When it comes to a prognosis in modern education – the future always looks good regardless.

One final observation/conclusion.  Public colleges and universities will likely never change.  Those (private) educational institutions (in Media Arts or otherwise) who survive over the long term, will embrace the opportunities in being honest/telling the truth – plain and simple.  Schools/programs that continue to deceive/control will fall away and those who are up front with their intentions will thrive/prosper, only because they are following a path that truly educates their students, (taking the road less traveled), embracing risk – knowing that we’re only here for a short time and that creating/earning trust can (in fact) evolve into win-win.  Ok wishful thinking …

Short term pain – long term gain can be a whole new way of moving forward – that benefits everyone
and … that saying it like it is – is ultimately what good education is all about.

dedicated to Tom Lodge  (1936 – 2012)