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stochastic 17th April 2012 04:03 AM

Audio/acoustics career path question
Hey all, I'm interested in any advice, opinions, and experiences on this one, so please chime in with any insight you have.

I'm currently considering re-education to further my career path.

I have a bachelors degree in music (composition was the focus) where I learned quite a bit about digital signal processing, psychoacoustics, and basic musical acoustics.

I've been working (fairly happily) as a cook for the past 10 years or so (during my music degree too). But as time passes I keep coming to the realization that this field is not where my heart really lies. I'm a foodie nerd who loves creating crazy food (read through for a virtual taste) but it's just a pleasure for me, not my true passion.

Lately I've been re-engineering my car's audio and acoustics (the project is seriously too large for what it needs to be, but I'm having so much fun doing it). This has led me to remember the passion I have for acoustics and audio.

I'm considering enrolling in (well, I'm fairly sure I'm going to at this stage) a bachelors degree in engineering to get the technical understanding of this world more solidified. The school that I'm going to (for various reasons) is Simon Fraser University SFU Home Page - SFU - Simon Fraser University which specializes in electrical engineering.

My question(s) to this forum audience is/are: What realistic audio career options are available to someone with a music degree and an electrical engineering degree? and which of these SFU engineering paths would probably be best for this:
Electrical Engineering,
Systems Engineering,
Mechatronics/Business Dual Degree,
Physics Engineering
All of the advisors I talked to were unsure of which direction would be most suitable.

I am also keeping in mind the possibility of enrolling in a local masters degree in acoustics and noise research (this would be after my undergrad in engineering), but that's far enough down the road that it's just a back-burner thought.

The jobs I can think of that really interest me would be something like amp designer, musical instrument engineer, speaker designer, acoustical consultant for a construction project, etc....

Any thoughts or advice you can throw my way would be great. Thanks for reading.

Enzo 17th April 2012 04:31 AM

The reason, I think, that your advisors don;t have any certainty is that there is no list to look it up on. Just my opinion, but you might decide just what sort of work you want to do, then get the education for it. There is a lot of overlap in the programs you mention, so they are not mutually exclusive. My career in electronics has been in field service (where I shined, I thought) and in my waning years in maintenance and repair in pro audio. But just considering pro audio, there are guys like me at all levels. Basement shops, music store service departments, service departments at the manufacturers (Fender, Peavey, etc). Then there are the people in the design phases and the manufacturing phases. Engineering would be in the manufacturing areas, as well as the product support areas, and the product development areas. Still in pro audio, there are places for RF engineers (wireless microphones and such), audio engineers (amplifiers, mixers, speakers), digital engineers (DSP for various things, class D amplifiers), mechanical engineers (everything has to be contained in something, and things have to be portable, Quality control engineers, even safety engineers. And that is just pro audio.

COnsumer audio or consumer electronics in general has smilar breadth of opportunity, and a more specialized market exists for car audio and electronics.

But there is so much more. You might have a background in music and electronics, but as with so many such things, you may find that a degree in something might not be used directly, but will still be extremely valuable just as knowledge. TO make up an example, you might come up with a really interesting design for a powered speaker, but you would also be more aware than others of the needs for the amplifier circuits within to be able to cool themselves. Or the other way, designing circuits to amplify something, you may have more insight because of your familiarity with the instruments.

There is the whole live sound and recording industry. You may find a serious interest in the studio. Your electronics background may help innovate in the production of music rather than production of products.

There are so many aspect to the areas you have in your background, you apply some focus to where you want to go, it might help.

Then again there is the whole where are their jobs available thing. I read professional magazines, and in the backs of many of them are the classified ads. Looking over the years in magazines like Mix, EQ, Pro Sound News, even Music and SOund Retailer, I find it interesting to see who is hiring and for what. Even non music industry publications like the EETimes or EDN still have ads for engineers in my area. Big companies like Fender or Peavey might advertize for an RF engineer or a DSP guy and makes me wonder what projects they are launching.

Used to be all computers had floppy disc drives, and in my industry, many synthesizer keyboards had them. At the time, there might have been opportunities for engineers skilled in data storage. There were cassette and reel to reel tape decks, engineers designed them. But today, no one uses tape or floppies. My clumsy point being, ain;t no point in geting good at something no one needs. SO some knowledge of the sorts of jobs being filled might suggest a direction.

Just my opinion, others may disagree.

cyclecamper 17th April 2012 04:34 AM

At my college they had a master's and doctorate in acoustics in the Physics department. They start with designing and making mufflers and engine intakes. I wish I'd worked harder at my math and gone that route, my original direction in physics, before I fell into software. Then again, much of acoustics involves electronics, as does most of the measurement, so an EE is a good start. Here on the west coast there's government work in acoustics, mostly noise control, "stealth" everything...looks like sufficient work if you get the masters or doctorate. There's a specialty in architectural acoustics at some schools. And then there's a lot of little schools that teach studio work, which is no guarantee of a job but gets people some credentials doing what they enjoy.

cyclecamper 17th April 2012 04:47 AM

Of course in the new America you're never going to be very successful as an employee. You have to own your business so you answer to your customers and competition instead of being a replaceable employee.

abraxalito 17th April 2012 05:04 AM


Originally Posted by stochastic (
The jobs I can think of that really interest me would be something like amp designer, musical instrument engineer, speaker designer, acoustical consultant for a construction project, etc....

My advice, FWIW would be to focus less on the pieces of paper (degrees) and more on the skills. If I were you I'd be looking at finding a company that would be willing to hire me and train me up on the job. For someone who's obviously motivated by passion (I'm the same), learning by doing beats learning from sitting in lectures.

DF96 17th April 2012 10:48 AM

A problem you may find is that many EE programs teach very little about analogue circuit design. What they do teach is often sufficiently elementary that you could teach yourself, with a good book and a few test instruments.

One thing to think about is whether you are the sort of person who likes to get things done (even if you don't fully understand what you are doing) or the sort of person who needs to sit and ponder and fully understand something before you do anything. How hot is your maths (or how hot could it be with a bit of work)? This may help you decide between EE and physics.

stochastic 17th April 2012 11:46 AM

I've won a number of math contests over the years, and was a year ahead in math. But last math class I took was over a decade ago.

I'm the type who likes to design things intricately and as perfect as possible.

As for ideal job/company, I think JBL would have lots of career opportunities that I'd be happy with.

DF96 17th April 2012 01:10 PM

I would go for a course with a reasonably heavy physics content. You can pick up the engineering skills later. Much harder to do it the other way round!

PS I must admit a bias: my BSc was physics with a bias towards theoretical physics. Much later I did an MSc and PhD in EE. When I started my MSc I had not done any serious maths for over 20 years, so I needed some revision. Fortunately I found that modern courses (in the UK at least) are so watered down that I could still vaguely remember things which the other (younger) students had never even seen before.

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