Sonic Academy was established in Belfast in 2003 by Kevin Traynor – a former member of one of Ireland’s most successful bands, The Divine Comedy and Phil Johnston, one of Northern Ireland’s leading producers of electronic music. The academy offers music production training courses to aspiring musicians, producers and DJs applying the founders’ real world knowledge of the music industry.
In 2006 Sonic Academy won a contract through the DETI Broadband Initiative to develop an online version of their Belfast based training centre. After securing £220k of funding to develop the website with supporting training material sonicacademy.com was launched in April 2008.
Graham Ginty, Head of Accredited Training for Sonic Academy spoke to It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It) about Sonic Academy, the dangers of auto tuning and what it takes for aspiring musicians to stand out from the crowd.
Could you tell me a little about the types of training you offer and what they entail?
Sonic Academy offers various different types of training. First up is weekend and evening courses for individuals that want to learn how to use different types of software and hardware, how to work in a professional recording studio, how to DJ with the latest gear plus much more. We also offer our state of the art studio as a hirable space for bands to record professional demos, DJ’s to put together a killer DJ Mix or producers to put the finishing touches to their tracks, all under the guidance of Sonic’s expert tutors who are all working producers and DJ’s themselves. Sonic Academy also do a lot of work for various Youth & Community groups running bespoke programmes in DJing, Music Production, Urban Dance, VJing, Aerosol Art and much more. Also a large part of what we do is delivering accredited courses for schools. Schools these days are looking to offer more and more vocational qualifications and Sonic Academy have the experience and the facility to run accredited education programmes through secondary education. We are now in our third year of delivering numerous CCEA and Edexcel programmes to both GSCE and A-Level levels.
How does Sonic Academy stand apart from other music production courses?
At Sonic Academy we pride ourselves in not just showing people how things work but how to be creative with the skills that we teach. We aren’t just a classroom version of a user manual we actually teach people how to make music no matter the genre. We also make sure we give people the tools to get ahead in the music business as a career whether they want to be DJs. Producers, Engineers or even run their own record label.
Also our tutors have over a 100 years combined experience in the music business themselves and they are all currently working DJs and producers having performed around the world to thousands of people, scored top ten hits and released Beatport chart bothering tracks for years.
What have been the biggest changes in music technology in recent years?
The biggest change in technology is the affordability of it all. For example a new producer could get a laptop, a MIDI keyboard and a set of speakers for around a £1000 that would allow them to make release quality tunes. Add a small sound card to that and someone could record their band using the same gear. This now means that lots of people out there who are creatively minded have the ability to get up and running without needing access to a full studio, producer and an engineer to make it happen for them. You could be sitting on the train with a set of headphones making the next big tune!
Do you think that there’s a down side to music production?
I think that has always been the case, especially in the age of Auto Tune, but in saying that a good producer brings out the best in an artist and the best artists in the world will always shine the most on stage. I think the best policy is to be honest with an artist and get them to play to their strengths.
What would it take to make an aspiring musician stand out from the crowd?
It has to be originality. It’s common practice for new artists, musicians or producers to want to emulate their heroes but we would always encourage everyone who comes to us to learn form their heroes but find their own voice and not try to follow fads. If there’s creativity in there just let it come out in whatever form feels natural.
How would you sell the idea to someone who believes that winning the X-Factor is all it takes to have a successful music career?
The X Factor and other shows like it, do serve a purpose by creating entertainment for television but could be regarded as being quite dangerous as it is breeding a generation of people that think you don’t need to work hard to achieve your goals in life. The music business is notoriously difficult to get into but a majority of new artists and bands that seem to appear overnight have been working hard out of the public eye to get where they want to be and that hard work combined with talent and creativity can easily pay off and start a career that has longevity, not just a flash in the pan pop career. Steve Brookstein anybody?
What’s the most important thing you learned through working in the music industry?
The importance of being yourself and being original is key for any new artist but also a bit of knowledge around the business itself is also essential to make sure you get paid for what you’re doing. In this day and age the music business is changing at a phenomenal rate and the real power is no longer held by the big record labels, people like The Arctic Monkeys built a massive fanbase through the use of the internet and social networking that allowed them to negotiate on their terms once the labels came knocking.
Sonic Academy will be running courses throughout the summer:
June 26th – June 27th 2010 – Recording for Singer/Songwriters
August 09th – August 21st 2010 – Sound Camp