10 years ago I made the most important choice put before High School seniors, a choice that many people say can affect the outcome of the rest of your life — college. More importantly, I decided I was going to college for music production.
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Like most overachieving high school students, I had some collegiate options, unlike most of my college-bound peers, I made the deliberate choice of pursuing a career in the commercial side of the arts, which dramatically lowered the number of schools I could choose from.
Finding Full Sail: The Journey to My Audio Engineering Degree
From a very young age, I knew exactly what the rest of my life was supposed to be focused on, and that thing was music. To make this a reality I had spent years huddled around instruments, reading liner notes, figuring out what it all meant, and then subsequently huddling around computers, producing and learning everything I could, until I could learn no more.
I wanted to be a music producer, but how does one “become a music producer” other than just doing it? I needed an answer, and my guidance counselor had no map to traverse this “road less traveled”. After doing some homework of my own making I found the key to realizing my dreams! The stepping stone to becoming a music producer was to become an audio engineer, and like all of the other types of engineers, I assumed I needed a degree in audio engineering.
Finding the Right Audio Engineering School
There are only a handful of reputable audio engineering schools (let alone music production schools) in the United States. If we’re being honest, there are really only a few schools in the world that really focus on the art form of making a record the “right” way and fewer that give out anything more than a certificate of completion. Finding an audio engineering school in 2007 was like finding wheat in a haystack.
Though Google wasn’t what it is today, one name had a digital presence that was ever-present throughout my search, yet I had never heard of it. Full Sail: Real World Education.
It sounded like a hybrid of some sort of church (read cult) and a trade school, but I was intrigued. So intrigued I got my family to take a vacation to Orlando, Florida (that was a mistake) to visit Full Sail’s Winter Park campus.
First Impressions of the Full Sail Campus
When I got to Full Sail (which is nowhere near Orlando proper), I felt like I was in the future. Most doors had no keyholes, they were all glass, and people were using cards to enter buildings. It had been no more than 5 minutes and I was already enamored without meeting a soul or seeing anything other than the keyless glass doors of hope that would one day be my foil and the future bane of my collegiate existence.
At the time, Full Sail’s “campus” was a vast modular community (not to be confused with Full Sail’s original “modular learning center” trailers) that spread for about a mile in both directions of the school.
The sprawling campus was noticeably, if not laughably, ahead of its time. Have you ever seen someone seriously ride a Segway in person? Was it within the years of 2007 to 2010 in a place that wasn’t Silicon Valley? No? I saw several, though they may not have been students, it still happened and that was enough to get make me question my new found technology paradise.
Though Full Sail is all about adapting to the future, its biggest strength was also its biggest physical blight. At the time, most of Full Sail’s campus was stretched across what must have been the world’s saddest strip mall. Regardless of how great all of the Full Sail properties looked, there was no escaping “what was,” which was a bad design from the 80s that had been clearly retrofitted for the ever expanding creative oasis. These design flaws meant that there was also no escaping tediously long walks that would tire the most enthusiastic of joggers but these design flaws also meant that the school had an array of options that they truly used to their fullest, possibly farthest, potential.
For the price of an occasionally begrudging walk, the perks of buying the entirety of a strip mall included multiple full-sized theatres, sound-stages, auditoriums, conference rooms, a mixing palace, an array of studios, a library, a student distro center that all books and software were housed, and full backlot for students to use 24 hours a day.
An added perk that I will never forget about the style of Full Sail is the Fish Bowl.
The Fish Bowl will act as your second home once you’ve made it past all of your novice classes it’s the place you want to be. Want a cookie? The Fish Bowl! Want to take a nap on some comfy cushions? The Fish Bowl. Want to take a phone call? Do it outside, that’s highly annoying.
One thing that is noticeably absent from Full Sail, housing.
Life at Full Sail
Every month at Full Sail you will be required to learn essential skills to help different aspects of the music industry. Recording Arts, Full Sail’s audio engineering degree, my first, is an intensive course that I have watched break people. Nearly every month your course structure will build on the previous with the goal perfecting your capstone projects culminating project. At the end of your course, there is one final project that will see you tracking an original project.
Apple’s partnership with Full Started in 07, and I was one of the first people to get their late 07 Macbook Pros (the ones that were bullet proof) on the day of my orientation, and I’ve been Justin Long ever since.
The launch box puts everyone in your class at the same place, there’s a scholarship if you can’t pay the hefty $3000 price tag that basically everyone qualifies for. You can even put it towards a Mac of your choice because you are going to need an Apple computer. If you still find this unnecessary, I’ll say this getting the Launchbox changed my life!
The Launchbox was the first set of Apple products I ever owned, and the night that I got home with my copy of Logic Pro 8 and Final Cut Pro (and yes it was super hard biking with those to giant boxes in the rain, get a car) I spent the next few hours installing what would become my best friend. Ten years later Project Launchbox comes with a lot more (yes, I’m jealous). You still get the latest versions of Logic & Final Cut, but you also get an audio interface, Pro Tools, Waves Plugins, and more. That alone is worth 3 grand.
Full Sail has a heavy emphasis on the entrepreneurial spirit of its students, so while every class is grounded in the course work that is needed to push you to the next level, it is also prepping you for whatever the industry may throw at you, which is why Show Production, Music Production and Recording Arts are all together for the first 3 months of their individual and why you end up working with other programs along the way.
You’ll hate some of them, you’ll love some of them, either way, I learned something from every one of them. From Grammy-winning mixing engineers to world-class guest lecturers really diving into their mixes, thought processes and otherwise, you couldn’t have a better-mixed bag. The great thing about Full Sail is that because of the creative aspects of the school itself there is less of a wall between students and teachers, which definitely created a more cohesive environment that you wouldn’t really feel the need for embarrassment.
There is no other place in the world where you will always have the newest gear, I worked on mixing boards that I’ve just recently seen music studios get (the AWSs in the mixing palace) and then I’ve been ready to go on the SSL and Neves of the world because Full Sail literally has everything. So much so that you can rent any of it for personal projects. That’s amazing.
This is hit or miss, people are people, so you get what you get and though the musical landscape is changing, the best beats will always rise to the top, just like a well mixed vocal. The people that are there to learn and improve are always the ones you want on your side or just the most talented one.
I personally have been a night owl my entire life, I also only sleep about 4 hours, Full Sail was perfect for me. Be prepared for long nights, early mornings and sometimes both.
Endless, Full Sail will keep you on your toes. I remember it was my last day and Gary, Full Sails presidents, just turned to me and say “Hey Sean, have you met Stedman?” Yes, Gary Jones, just name dropped Oprah’s husband, while he was standing next to me, then shook my hand before I just walked away highly confused.
Life After Full Sail
Life after Full Sail has definitely had its ups and downs. Shortly after graduating and briefly returning home to VA I came back to Orlando to celebrate my 21st birthday and aimlessly drove around Florida writing songs with old classmates from Miami to West Palm Beach. 10 years later I still work with a handful of the same classmates on everything from commercial music to indie art projects.
Since graduating, 80% of what pays the bills has come directly from what I’ve learned while at school or within the downtime that I had making music with my classmates. One of the perks of going to a school like Full Sail is that even though they have networking events you can go to, the base that you might find within your class alone is huge. My personal group of friends alone included the guy who discovered the Shawn Mendes, someone working at the super-secret Magic Leap, and someone who has engineered for Pharrell, Usher, Jim Johnson and more.
Why did I go to Full Sail
You get what you put into it. I went to Full Sail because I felt like it was the best equipped for long-term betterment. I also went to Full Sail because you can come back at any time, which isn’t just an added bonus, it can be a necessity in the case you take some time off from your career as an audio engineer.
I went to Full Sail because I wanted to be surrounded by creatives that all had dreams they wanted to realize.
Should you go to school for audio engineering?
We’ve come to the last section of my Full Sail review and here’s where I’m split, I don’t know that it was necessary for me to go to school for audio engineering to be an audio engineer, but I absolutely think it was crucial for me to go to Full Sail simply because of the environment. Not having dorms allowed us to blast music all night long, and build studios into our houses or apartments if we so pleased.
Yes, you will absolutely get better naturally at mixing and mastering overtime as an audio engineer, but the level of discipline and amount of time it would take to instill what I learned in 2 years into someone else would be nearly impossible, especially when it isn’t already a part of someone’s routine. We were made better because we were all learning at different stages in our professional and personal lives which is the world’s greatest bell curve of learning.