Sports Broadcast Audio Education, Part 1: Manufacturers, Organizations Create Mini Masters Degrees

Professional audio education has become a substantial vertical of its own. What once was built around extended apprenticeships has become a multimillion-dollar university-based industry, a mixture of academic, for-profit, and vocational institutions dedicated to teaching the theory and practice of sound.

Most of this has revolved around music, with live sound most recently becoming the new hip major. Broadcast is at best an elective, a minor one at that, and broadcast sports audio is simply a subset of that. However, a combination of market forces and technology shifts has created educational channels as specialized as broadcast sports audio itself, establishing a kind of postgraduate environment made up of specific tutorials.

Console Makers Step Up
Manufacturers have formed a front line in this phenomenon. As mixing consoles moved into the digital domain, and, more specifically, as demand for larger numbers of input channels grew and console work surfaces moved to a multilayer model, manufacturers saw that as a leveling of the competitive playing field. That’s got them on the road and online in various configurations, providing training on their particular platforms. For instance, Calrec launched a series of operational training sessions for its Bluefin2 range of consoles, including Apollo and Artemis. The first sessions took place in Glendale, AZ, Aug. 21-22, with additional sessions planned elsewhere in North America and Canada into 2014.

DiGiCo plans to unveil a series of training videos for its SD10B and SD9B broadcast consoles during the third quarter. They were created by Olympics audio mixer Dennis Baxter, a textbook author — he penned the Television Sound Engineering textbook — who teaches advanced classes at his TV Sound Workshops as well as a curriculum in broadcast audio that he designed for the Art Institute in Atlanta. The videos will be available for free through DiGiCo’s Website.

Lawo North America expects to have instructional videos about its consoles available online by the end of the year, focusing on specific tasks, such as creating a mix-minus and busing, according to VP of Sales Michael Mueller. The videos are in addition to periodically scheduled regional training sessions and one-on-one sessions under certain circumstances.

Studer has been offering hands-on training aboard its huge demo-truck-cum-classroom fitted with various versions of its Vista consoles. However, says Katy Templeman-Holmes, of Studer’s U.S. marketing arm, its reach was implicitly limited not only to one place at a time but only to places that could accommodate its 73-ft. length. To augment that, Studer is expanding its online training. In addition to new tutorial videos on its own Website, the company is launching an interactive online training and product-certification program, expected to go live in August, in a partnership with Phoenix-based Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences. The online Studer Broadcast Academy will be a lesson-based training initiative that uses Virtual Vista software to emulate the experience of working on an actual console. (The school also purchased two Vista desks for training. More on manufacturer/institutional relationships in the second part of this series.)

Others Join In
These efforts aren’t limited to the console manufacturers. Sennheiser continues to run its mentorship program that pairs promising undergraduates at media schools with veteran A1s as part of its larger Sound Academy program. Yamaha’s AudioVersity focuses on live sound, including inside sports venues. Shure holds seminars and workshops nationally, including Advanced Wireless Seminars and Axient Certification training sessions. The company also launched a bimonthly series of Webinars about new products, technology, and audio-related topics, all offered free of charge.

All of these various training propositions are aimed mainly at the freelance A1 community and assume more than a basic degree of knowledge on the part of the learner.

“We are aware that many engineers don’t have the opportunity to attend training courses, so we are making a concerted effort to invite anyone who is interested to come and learn at no expense,” says Calrec U.S. Regional Sales Manager Dave Lewty. “We also have an open-door policy at our training facility at our Los Angeles office, where we have trained over 20 engineers this year alone.”

Although free training also doubles as a marketing initiative, it does have the potential to increase interest in broadcast sports audio as a career.

“The fact is, there are more different types of consoles coming into the broadcast-audio market, and this is a way to familiarize people with ours and give them quick tutorials on how to set up a show on them,” says Chris Fichera, VP of audio at Group One, which distributes DiGiCo in the U.S. “But the videos are available to anyone, so it’s also a way to raise awareness about broadcast sports audio in general.”

Organized Solutions
Organized training is also coming about in response to significant changes in broadcast-audio infrastructure. The implementation of the CALM Act, legislation that codified the relative loudness of television commercials, prompted the DTV Audio Group’s online-training initiative, whose first module was focused on loudness training. The initiative, funded largely by sports divisions at TBS, NBC, and Fox and authored by online-education specialist Learning Sciences, will focus next on the fundamentals of 5.1 broadcast sports mixing, as part of a strategy of trying to standardize that process. The module is expected sometime this fall and will be followed next spring by an online tutorial on editing audio for video.

DTV Audio Group Executive Director Roger Charlesworth says online education tools work well for those who already have the basic knowledge needed to mix broadcast audio. “What these kinds of learning tools do, whether they’re from an organization like ours or from individual manufacturers, is let someone dive deeper into a particular subject or product platform,” he says. “The retention of information is particularly good with online learning, because you can go back over anything as much as you need to. And what ours is especially good at is that it has an assessment process built into it. Those who take the courses can validate that they know the material, and their employers can also see that they comprehend it.”

Beyond the basics — which are what the for-profit and state schools offering pro-audio curricula tend to focus on — organizations like the DTV Audio Group and AES and manufacturers’ training initiatives are combining to create an advanced educational ecosystem that seems well suited to the freelance-based labor pool that the networks draw from for broadcast sports audio. With new transitions ahead, including more MADI-based signal transport, networked audio, and the migration to streaming, they’ll need all the information they can get.