Should sound designers have a formal qualification in sound design?


As part of my work, I teach sound design, I am designing a new online masters degree (MSc) in the subject.

During the process of validating the degree I was asked "do sound designers need qualifications?" And my honest answer was no. I know it was a long time ago but when I left secondary school I became a sound engineer and eventually a sound designer through industrial experience. I do now have relevant qualifications, but they were not needed to break into the industry or to progress.

So my question is this, should sound designers have a formal qualification in sound design? And if so why?


Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887


2i guess that depends on how you define "qualifications" – Rene – 2013-02-26T17:49:56.077



The point of any academic course is not to provide training (that would be a training course), but to assess the academic level that the students can operate at, in the titles subject domain. In this case the level is Masters, although Iain does not say if it is MA or MSc, and the subject domain happens to be sound design. It is usual at a validation of any course that the course team are asked to demonstrate that there are input and output markets for the course - there is no point validating a course with no input or output. It is usual to look at "demand" for the input and "jobs" for the output, which is probably why this question was raised.

Do sound designers "need" a qualification to get a job? Clearly the answer would be no. There are many avenues that can lead to a career in sound design and as it is practice-based, experience and creativity are always needed. However, if you look at the masters level academic benchmarks: knowledge, understanding, analysis, critique, synthesis, evaluation, communication, etc. then I think you start to get a different answer. (I see all of these benchmarks exhibited every time I look on SSD.) Having a Masters in Sound Design just says "I am capable of operating at the appropriate academic level for this subject domain".

Clearly a freshly graduated student is not just going to walk straight into a sound design role on a feature movie. However, if they were to apply for a junior post the employer would be able to know "This person has some of the academic skills lets see what there practical and creative skills are like."

EDIT: I should also point out that I am not saying you cannot gain academic skills without doing a qualification. However, it may offer a speedier path to enlightenment. I often tell my students that having a masters will not mean that they will be able miss rungs on the career ladder, but it may offer a speedier accent once they are on the ladder and may open up other ladders that they had not thought about. However, as discussed by others here, they will require some talent as well if they are to work in sound design.

Bit Depth

Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 1 470

Knowledge, understanding, analysis, critique, synthesis, evaluation, communication. For all those "traits" there are also other academic disciplines that offer formal, largely agreed and tested knowledge, methods and formats, rather than something that a person makes up by himself/herself, which might well be just an uninformed opinion with a convincing presentation. So I don't see the value of an academic degree in itself, when it's from a field that doesn't have any knowledge that's factual, well-tested and/or is largely agreed on. Ironically, sound design is about convincing presentation. – Internet Human – 2013-03-03T13:08:26.530

Also, some academic courses with practical scope DO provide training to get stuff done. Look at any engineering discipline for example. So how come "the point of any academic course is not to provide training"? – Internet Human – 2013-03-03T16:05:19.920

I don't think I said that masters degrees don't provide training. The point is it is not there primary purpose. If you want training and no assessment then there are training courses available. This question was about academic courses and output. – Bit Depth – 2013-03-03T17:42:55.227

@Bit Depth You wrote: "the point of any academic course is not to provide training". It may not be the primary purpose for some degrees that you speak about, but didn't define. But you cannot generalize that statement to all master's or academic degrees as some are all about absorbing information and learning skills. Also training and assesment definitely don't exclude eachother. – Internet Human 0 secs ago – Internet Human – 2013-03-03T18:02:21.717


IMO, I think more than qualification, Sound Designers should have a proper training. It doesn't have to be from a state of the art university, or from a Film School where you gotta pay hundreds and thousands of dollars. It could be from learning from someone who's been doing it for a long time or by learning on the job. Qualifications might add to your portfolio, but it doesn't necessarily have to be there. Just my opinion.

Aditya J. Yadav

Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 581



You cannot quantify creativity or talent.

To the person wishing for a union we have one (thank god) and the answer about the M.P.S.E. was also correct. We have those sweet initials for our credits, "M.P.S.E.", I always use them when allowed.

Chris Assells

Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 604


This is very hard question to answer, because it touches a lot of subjects. First of all Rene put's things is perspective "how do you define (formal) qualifications". Qualifications differ throughout every industry or scene.

We could even start a big discussion about the fact that some people will say that "film is art, but television is industry work". Or that "nobody should be taught what art is, one has to discover that by themselves". Or how about this "Art is not science, but science is in art, so one should have qualifications regarding those skills." etc, etc.

The short answer to your question is: yes, for some possible forms of sound work qualifications are handy, for some they are necessary for others not. But in the end, people have a way of learning what they do best by practicing what they like and getting better. I know lot's of artist with and without 'formal qualifications' and the 'quality' of their work is never related to their formal background.

Arnoud Traa

Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 2 886


I see plenty of ads for games industry audio jobs requesting degree level education in a relevant field (or relevant experience). It's harder to gauge with post as jobs are more word of mouth.

For any position in anything your skills are going to be compared to all other applicants. Sound design is no different. Personally, I don't think that on my own I could have learnt everything that I did on the (sound design) degree which I took. The information is simply not all out there, and I wouldn't have had the time to learn it anyway (because I would have had another job.. with studying you also pay for time to think). So actually I would not have been as qualified as everyone else who has taken sound design degrees, and would not have got the jobs out there I have. That's just my personal experience.

So I think it's not strictly necessary, but I also think it's becoming increasingly difficult for newcomers without formal qualifications to compete as the quality and quantity of the sound design education out there rises.

Let's also remember with this discussion that this is potentially very location specific - what's true for one country may not be for another.

Mark Durham

Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 4 445

1The job perspective is a valid concern. But I think the companies who ask for degrees, when there's questionable basis on why it would make the applicant perform well or better (that's what the portfolio is for!), are not seeing the big picture, but rather only their own efficiency. It drives young people to get degrees that offer superficial qualifications and very little real information. The reason for asking for degrees could be very well just the flood of applicants and effective, but non-rational HR practices that use degrees for the first pass of filtering out applicants. – Internet Human – 2013-02-26T19:37:14.490

1For sure a good portfolio would bypass that for most sound jobs, and I agree with you that asking for a degree for many positions should be unnecessary. Getting the portfolio is the question though, and some people may be able to do that on their own, others may not. It depends on the individual, and everyone's different. – Mark Durham – 2013-02-26T19:51:20.130


From the perspective of someone who is doing a Sound Design and New Media Degree at the moment, I can honestly say I don't think it's absolutely necessary.

Although I can say that it is very rewarding being taught by people who have been in the industry and learning some of their techniques is inspiring, I wouldn't say what I've learnt has been... fulfilling in a sense. Most of it (for me) is common sense and could be taught in a evening class or something. That's not to say I haven't learnt a lot though.

I plan to do a Physics Degree after, mostly because of what I wish to move into after education, but also because I feel I haven't gotten the most out of the education which could be taught.

The things I have found most interesting and probably wouldn't have known without being taught it was more of the science aspect of things, such as analogue to digital conversion (and that being the reason for the 'loudness war'), acoustics calculations to create a successful reverb bearing in mind absorption, diffraction etc, psychoacoustics, HRTF's and more.

I think if it was more scientifically orientated, then perhaps it would be a viable degree. But for me, now that I'm doing such a course, the answer would be no. Although it can't hurt to have!


Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 167


There are times I wish for a Sound Designers union; like Cinema Audio Society, or the Directors Guild (maybe a Sound Designers/Editors Guild?)... to offer resources & help with independent health care, etc. & to address the specific needs that sound designers require. It would be based on peer referrals & vouching for each others work & experience. Obviously it would need to start on the tip top of the industry & trickle down... & we can get those sweet initials for our credits. Rawly Pickens, SDG or SEG. across multimedia, to games, to tv, to film, there's so many specific needs that can't be met by NARAS, AES, CAS, etc... just a thought.


Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 120

3There is a union for sound designers/editors who work in tv and film. Motion Picture Editors Guild, local 700. They cover picture and sound editorial, re-recording mixers, foley artists and engineers (I'm sure I'm missing some)

And CAS is a professional organization. The sound editorial equivilant is the M.P.S.E. (Motion Picture Sound Editors) – None – 2013-02-26T21:47:26.853

2yep, if you're looking for that exact thing the MPSE is pretty much what you just described. – Rene – 2013-02-26T22:23:10.433


To be really honest, I don't think students should be offered full-degree art courses at all. An ideal place for an art degree would be if it was integrated to some practical course (e.g. science/engineering/math), just to offer a more well-rounded education. For learning art, a mentoring approach (with a real professional and real, day-to-day functioning company) would be much more beneficial to the students and the society, I feel. And it would/could also minimize the intake of students in the art fields, so people aren't formally "trained" for nothing. At most the courses should be short (one year is totally fine IMO), there need not be bachelors/masters/PHD, unless for those that really, for some strange reason, want to spend the money and time on those. Although I think offering the courses is immoral. Costs of art courses should also be considerably less than other way more practical degrees. And here's a personal perspective: if I was teaching sound design or any form of art, I wouldn't accept any form of payment for the service, because I feel that art has a humanitarian meaning for students and people and it's not something that I would like to be making money from, even less, because I cannot guarantee any kind of success for the students, nor necessarily for the society. I also think art is what one personally chooses to do, some drop out or change from it, some just continue to do it, because it's all they want to do. It doesn't need a qualification as everything can be learned by doing and a qualification in arts doesn't really qualify for anything.

Internet Human

Posted 2013-02-26T17:18:17.887

Reputation: 3 091

2IMO that's too far out on the edge. All art exists in a medium, and the process of working that medium to create art requires technique and technical skills. schools are excellent places to learn the technical skills required to do any form of art. – Rene – 2013-02-26T22:21:39.900

@Rene Just don't make 4-year/4-year+ "academic" 100% art degrees, when the skills could be learned in one. Preferably also give every student a paper that says: "By doing this degree you will not be expanding your world view very much, learning new factual information and possibly not learning practical skills that are applicable outside your chosen art field , because we will not be covering any science and you will spend most of your time doing art. We might not be able to offer you a job as an artist either. This degree also shouldn't be taken or seen as a 'formal qualification' for jobs.". – Internet Human – 2013-02-27T08:56:16.170

1@ Internet Human: I really don't understand why you're so adamant to talk about art schools as redundant and not worth any money. Art schools are much more than a place to create a skillset to work in sound. Art school hopefully learns ambitious young adults to work on their design ideas, concepts and help them to distill a unique vision on (sound) art. I'll admit that not everyone needs that, but it can help bring out the best in people. Enrich young persons who would otherwise perhaps be too insecure or 'not fitting in the time and age to find their way in an ever evolving art scene/industry – Arnoud Traa – 2013-02-27T11:52:27.797

2I've obviously had formal training and am very happy I got that. I've experienced so many great projects had many artistic conflicts, this all prepared me for the real world. For example: I've learned to question the ideas and visions of directors and my own, simply because I had the time and space to safely do so. Maybe with the advent of internet learning (tutorials on youtube, khan university,etc) the idea of formal education in a classroom seems a bit backwards. However I still believe that an art training of 1 year does not compare to a 4 year one. – Arnoud Traa – 2013-02-27T11:59:41.493

@Arnoud I don't oppose liberal arts education, but I oppose the business that is education, false premises, pseudo science and ignorance/narrow-mindedness/lack of understanding and spreading of false knowledge that results when things aren't put into, seen or learned in a perspective. My view on why a long pure arts degree is not beneficial comes from the fact of how small its scope is and how relatively high-level activity art itself is and how art degrees (to my knowledge) don't offer any skills or knowledge relevant to the survival of our species for example. – Internet Human – 2013-02-27T12:37:35.443

In education I idealize a sort of "renaissance man" education, rather than focusing on narrow fields and linear views/thinking. Although, this is rather far from what this thread's question was about... – Internet Human – 2013-02-27T12:39:54.307

I agree with you that the renaissance man is a nice ideal. But i don't think it's impossible to have an art school education with a broad scope. I learned real science stuff (acoustics, programming!) during my years at art school. And I was allowed to test the waters, what more do you wish for? – Arnoud Traa – 2013-02-27T16:51:34.020

edit: what more CAN you wish for? – Arnoud Traa – 2013-02-27T16:51:57.803

@Arnoud Whatever we need to live as informed and universally aware citizens/human beings. Art is just a relatively small part of the puzzle. Jobs are just a part of the puzzle. Thus the renaissance man ideal and degrees that educate broadly and not only by focusing on a particular task, especially when its as narrow as something like sound design, and possibly putting out close-minded or uninformed (outside their own field) people with degrees. And well, I just think degrees should be lined based on their utility, not title/level, and students need to understand what they're studying for. – Internet Human – 2013-02-27T17:07:53.733

Whatever you think a school is or should be, most of what you seem to expect from it is what I think people should figure out for themselves anyway. The school is exactly that, just a tiny part. Blaming a school system that they produce close-minded individuals tells me more about those individuals than about the school. Everyone is responsible for their own development, to whatever level they can or want to grow. Schools can only help that development. – Arnoud Traa – 2013-02-27T17:45:19.853

@Arnoud This discussion is getting seriously deep soon :) But personally I don't trust that esp. young people are simply able to figure out stuff. But I trust the power of marketing, impression and false intuition or overreliance on intuition. This has nothing to do with just education, but general life. Although we could believe that education plays a big part in developing necessary skills to recognize our own actions, the actions of others and other phenomena that we encounter in life. This is an area where I cannot rely on anything though, I haven't studied education or psychology (yet). – Internet Human – 2013-02-27T18:09:16.827

Agreed, let's stop discussing this topic and study life! :) – Arnoud Traa – 2013-02-27T22:19:21.730

I'd still like those STEM-sound designers though:

– Internet Human – 2013-02-28T22:57:19.230

– None – 2013-03-19T09:17:49.803

@Iain What's the argument and how it relates to this discussion here? – Internet Human – 2013-03-19T19:40:47.183