student/graduates speak up about their experience in Media Arts Schools in Canada
editors note: Welcome to the first installment in the “This Is My Story” segment here in MAE 2017 NEWS (originally posted in 2015). This first entry is by a former student of mine Jeremy Johnson. Jeremy was one of the most gifted/ambitious students who I had the pleasure of working with. Jeremy graduated (with honours) from Metalworks Institute (Mississauga Ontario) in 2008. Here is his story …
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A Heap of Money
by Jeremy Johnson
“There are no jobs out there in audio. By “job” I mean the kind where you work full-time year in and year out building your career and making a reasonable living”.
Just what is the purpose of post-secondary education and what do I expect from it? Well, for one, many would have us believe that it’s unreasonable to expect school to give us a ticket into paid employment. What? It’s unreasonable to expect anything to the contrary. So, the question is, why go to school? I believe there are three reasons:
1. for interest and self-improvement
2. because it’s tradition
3. to train or re-train towards a career.
Now, if you’re going to school for the simple fact of gaining more knowledge for interest sake, you’re probably not expecting to get a job in that field afterward. If you’re going to school because your parents think you should, or to fulfill some kind of status quo, then you probably have no idea what to take and why you’re taking it. However, if you’re going to school to train or re-train for a career or better career, you are most likely expecting to get a job in that field of study. You’re spending thousands of dollars and you are most likely looking at a return on investment which would be a paid job.
How does this relate to audio schools? Well, you can take your $17,000.00 to $50,000.00 and go to an audio/media arts school because:
1. you love music and audio and just want to get better at it
2. are seeking to fulfill some kind of status quo; although highly unlikely given the field of study
3. you want to enter into audio production as a career.
At this point, I’ll focus on point 3 because that’s why most people go to school. The question then becomes, “Are there any jobs in audio”? The following is my experience as an audio school grad …
I am someone who went to one of the schools that Jim mentions. I am also someone with a bachelor’s in music performance: I won awards, was frequently on the Dean’s list, and graduated with high honours. I also have experience performing on stage, in the studio and on TV as a session guitarist, and teaching guitar to a countless number of students. But I decided to go back to school to get into audio production to enhance my skill set and to get into music production full-time. Little did I know nor was I told that there are virtually no jobs. I wish that I had read Jim’s Report Card on Media Arts Education in Canada, but I don’t think it existed in 2007, and to be honest the reality it speaks about may not have sunk in. So I took my $20,000 and enrolled into the audio engineering program at the school. The school year stated off with about 65 students, and at graduation there were about six of us. I was one of the high honours students.
So, where is this Dean’s list, award winning, high honours guy with a B.A. in music, with performance and teaching experience, a diploma in audio production and 6 years after graduation?: I’m teaching guitar part-time, picking up the odd audio production gig and filling in the gaps with things like and grocery store clerk, restaurant management, and landscaping. “Livin’ the dream” as they say!
I thought school wasn’t a ticket to a paid job? It’s not like I haven’t hustled either. I’ve sent out many cover letters and resumes, I’ve phoned and networked with studios and professionals both in music and post, something I continue to do 6 years later. Nothing’s changed, there are no jobs out there in audio. By “job” I mean the kind where you work full-time year in and year out building your career and making a reasonable living. Though I’ve heard about this audio job, I have not been able to find one and no one has been able to point me to one either.
Right after graduating I took up a music director position part-time at a church in Toronto. With my previous education in performance and theology and my experience as a performer, the position fit like a glove. And it was a good stop-gap job while I focused on building my audio career. During that time I also interned at a small studio which turned into paid work, as an administrator not as an engineer and it was very part-time and on-demand only. Each year I do a bit of engineering work, all freelance from post-production voice-over recording to music producing. I’ve been able to work with some remarkable artists and performers while being my own boss and learn a lot, but when I do my taxes I’m hit with the sobering reminder that this may not be working out as I had hoped and worked so hard for. The audio work only counts for a very small percentage of my overall income. In case you may be thinking it might just be me– either very unlucky, not telling the whole truth, or maybe completely incompetent — Jim’s experience with grads speaks otherwise …
“I am speculating out of experience and close observation, that fewer than one in five graduates … actually find meaningful employment in this field and that most grads are forced to take non-related menial labour employment for years to survive and pay off hefty student loans for an education that they’ll never use. I am now communicating with some of my best students (graduates in media arts) over the years (facebook) and (with the exception of a rare few), they’re employed outside of the entertainment/music/audio business in totally unrelated vocations. Many were brilliantly talented and dedicated students when I taught them“.
From what I’ve experienced, heard from others and read, here’s the life of a typical audio student & grad: First you spend, on average, $20,000.00 to get your audio diploma. After graduation, you begin looking for work only to find that you have to intern for anywhere from 3 to 12 months at 8 to 40 hours per week for free. Then if you do get hired, which is unlikely, you work around 50 to 70 hours per week at $15,000.00 to $19,000.00 per year; that’s only $4 to 5 per hour. Not only do you spend a pile of money on getting an education, but you’re also asked to work for free and if you do happen to get a job, you make less than minimum wage. This is disrespectful and probably illegal. Thankfully people and government are wising up to this and are cracking down on media companies with their supposed “internships”. This happened recently to the publishers of The Walrus and Toronto Life where the Ontario Ministry of Labour declared that their internship programs were in violation of the province’s Employment Standards Act. As you can see it’s not sustainable.
While I am thankful for what I learned, I have not received a good enough return on my investment. In fact, the risk was so high that the return should have reflected that. It has not. Any good entrepreneur will tell you to reduce the risk as much as you can. Also, the return on investment should equal the risk. Going to an audio school to prepare you for a career as an audio professional is very high risk, perhaps even foolish, and unfortunately the job prospects don’t square with the high tuition. If you go into audio school with this in mind, you’ll fare much better; and, if you decide not to go because of this sobering account, then you’ve just saved yourself a heap of money and a mountain of heart ache.
Jeremy is currently a pilot/flight instructor in Toronto.