Tom Watkins is a dBs Online student who lives on the other side of the world in Kuala Lumpur. Find out how he manages to stay on top of his studies from another time zone and how dBs Online has helped. Launched in 2022, dBs Online gives students the opportunity to study music production degrees from wherever they are in the world on a schedule that suits them. Many of our first cohort of online students are based overseas or need to work on an irregular schedule because of other work or family commitments.
Tom Watkins, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, is probably the most far-flung student on one of our online music production postgraduate degrees, so we caught up with him to find out how he manages to work in a completely different time zone and how dBs Online has allowed him to study his dream course from the other side of the world.
Hey Tom! So you live in Kuala Lumpur. What’s life like for you there?
I love Kuala Lumpur. I only intended to move here temporarily and then potentially move on to another country or continent, just for the life experience. However, I've loved it here so much that we're staying at least a few more years! The people are amazing, I've met some of the best friends I've ever had here, the music scene is amazing and supportive, and there's something for everyone.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background as a musician and producer?
I've always been interested in music as a side hobby. When I was at school, I did Music Tech A-level (on Cubase 3.1!) because I was so interested in it and from then on, I did some small amateur side projects whenever I could, as well as weaving music into my school teaching wherever I could. I'm a performer, really, so this was always a background hobby to support my obsession with music. I then had the opportunity to teach Music Tech A-level when I became Director of Music for a big Nottingham school, and I loved doing that. I started doing more producing at home and recently, after moving to KL, I became really close with a guy who owned his own studio, so I decided to take a couple of ad hoc advanced lessons from him and this really got me inspired to take it seriously. I invested in some good gear and worked hard at raising my game, I did a lot more projects and then I felt confident enough to apply for an MA in it to push me to the next level and beyond.
Why did you decide you wanted to do a Master's in Music Production?
I realised it was something I really cared about and really wanted to be better at. I couldn't realistically rely on 1-2-1 lessons to get the breadth and depth of exposure that I needed, so I decided to take it seriously and make a good go of training properly. For me, an MA was the only way to go. Formal education in this sense really suits me and I work best under those circumstances.
Why did you decide against doing a course in KL?
The prestige and the credibility of the institutions. There are MA's out here and I could have gone in person, but even despite that, I wanted something that was going to be internationally recognised and respected, so it was a no-brainer for me. My only concern was finding an English institution that would allow me to learn completely remotely, living so far away.
What has your experience been like studying with dBs Online so far?
I have loved it. It suits me perfectly. The content itself is perfectly pitched to my understanding. I'm having to work hard and I'm learning completely new things in new ways, but if I do work hard, it is achievable. The content is released weekly and there is a weekly seminar, and the submissions are large-scale projects with one big deadline. This method suits my workflow perfectly, I couldn't have designed the course outline to better suit me, to be honest. The tutors are really hands-on and helpful too, so I have the peace of mind that I'm always supported despite being so far away.
What challenges are there in terms of studying with an 8-hour time difference?
Timing is an issue, but luckily, dBs do their seminar sessions in the morning, so I can attend after work! I've been so lucky with that because attending the seminars is really important for me to feel a part of the course and feel involved in it.
Does studying online help resolve that challenge?
Even if I wasn't able to attend - for example, if the time difference didn't line up - the seminars are not compulsory and they post the videos online so you can watch them at any time to suit you. The weekly content itself is delivered through Moodle and online, so it doesn't matter about any time differences at all in that respect.
Would you say that studying online with dBs gives you the best of both worlds - flexibility and quality?
For me, yes. I don't need to be there physically, because everything is available online. I can get all of the content and support in my own time and I have my own workflow which works around my lifestyle. So it's actually important for me to have this flexibility, more so than if I had to attend in person. I can work a lot better this way and it's getting the best out of me.
Being 8 hours away in KL, do you still feel like a part of the dBs community?
I do feel part of the dBs community, because of the weekly seminars, the content delivered weekly by the tutors, and because the staff are very good at communication. I am also a student rep and have become familiar with a couple of other students that are in the same course as me.
How challenging is it to complete the coursework alongside employment?
It is difficult, to be honest. I am the Head of the Performing Arts Faculty at one of the top 5 schools in the whole of Malaysia and we are going through a period of transition. This job alone can swallow you up. I am Head of Faculty and we have a huge output of shows, concerts, trips, performances, competitions and productions which require a lot of time. On top of this, I am a performer, a member of 2 function bands, I am a concert pianist, I teach privately and I have a busy social life... So, on paper, I shouldn't be doing this course at all! However, it is something I am very passionate about and I want to make the effort to do it. I love the work, and so far, my grades are high so it's working. I think the reason I can balance it all is down to the support of the tutors, how organised all of the content is, how responsive staff are at emails and how well thought out the content is. I wouldn't be able to do it if it wasn't all so well organised.
Would you recommend dBs Online to others in a similar situation to you?
Yes, because it's run really well and the course leaders are very proactive and supportive. The content is perfect and you learn a lot about the industry, while constantly improving your own mixes. I couldn't have picked a better course or a better institution. I feel very lucky.