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What it’s like to study an online MA at dBs Institute featured image
Sam WillisMay 14, 2024 12:38:00 PM16 min read

What it’s like to study an online MA at dBs Institute

At dBs Institute, we’ve taken our incredible, industry-focused master’s degrees from the UK to the world with our online offering. Find out from our students what it’s like to study online at dBs.

Online master’s degrees at dBs Institute allow students from the UK and across the world to study our industry-focused degrees from wherever they are and on a schedule that suits them. Our online master’s students include people who have been out of higher education for years - sometimes decades - and need a course to fit around their busy schedules, people who live outside of the UK but still want to get the same level of education as our on-campus students and people who value flexibility and the option of studying when it’s right for them.

Now in its second year, our online programme has been a great success and many of our students have gained excellent skills and developed their careers in the music industry. We caught up with a few of our current online students and recent graduates to learn more about their experiences.

Please introduce yourself and what you’re studying at dBs!

Russ Manton: Hi, I’m Russ Manton and I’m on the Online MA Music Production & Sound Engineering degree, studying part-time.

Tom Watkins: My name is Tom Watkins, and I am studying the Online Master’s Music Production & Sound Engineering degree part-time.

Jennifer Daly: My name is Jennifer and I am studying Music Production & Sound Engineering at Master's Level part-time.

James Hudson: Hi everyone! I’m James and I am currently in my second year of the Online MA Music Production & Sound Engineering degree at dBs Institute.

Christophe Pereuil: Hi, I’m Christophe Pereuil and I recently graduated from the dBs Online MA Electronic Music Production degree course.

Alison Gardner: I’m Alison and I’m studying the part-time Online MA in Music Production & Sound Engineering. I have a BA (Hons) in Music from the Open University and am interested in composition and songwriting.

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What has your experience been like on your online degree so far?

RM: The experience so far has been brilliant. I’m really enjoying it. The flexibility really suits my personal situation and the deadlines are reasonable for submitting work.

TW: It’s been great. I've learnt a lot and the course has been very well organised. 

JD: Self-motivation has been difficult at times but now that I understand how to use Moodle comfortably, the course feels more achievable. I value being in control of my study times and working study around a full-time job with no set hours.

JH: My journey with the degree has been incredibly rewarding. I've delved into various facets of the music industry, discovering unexpected passions along the way. From mastering to DAW usage and career development, each subject has provided invaluable insights into the intricate workings of music production.

CP: This MA has been a good experience for me. When I started, I really lacked the experience and confidence to find my place in the industry. Now, I feel confident saying that I belong to this industry, because of everything we have learnt during this course. 

AG: The course is enjoyable and challenging. It is hard work, but I have learnt so much in the last seven months. It has been great to put what I’m learning straight into practice for the assessments, gaining practical experience and receiving useful feedback. A major advantage of the online course is that I can progress in my studies without the added financial cost of having to give up my job or move house.

What are some of the key skills, techniques and disciplines you have learnt?

RM: It’s been great to learn lots of tricks and shortcuts when using DAWs as well as up-to-date industry techniques and best practices. I’ve also been spending more time using hybrid analogue and digital systems and learning to mix in Dolby Atmos.

TW: I’ve learnt an advanced knowledge of mixing and mastering, as well as the commercial and business side of things. I feel much more confident working in the industry now. 

JH: During my time at dBs, I’ve discovered that I have a love for audio mastering. I feel that this is a ‘Dark Art’ of audio, where there has been a lot of misinformation spread around online. However, through the course, I've gained clarity and confidence in navigating this specialised field.

CP: The mixing part of the course was very important for me because it was something I had never explored before. As well as that, creating virtual instruments with Max for Live was something I had never tried before. Both of those things have opened really huge opportunities for me. I have friends who work with modular synth companies and now we're trying to launch our own company building hardware and virtual instruments together. Learning mixing and mastering was also important. If you're a musician and you have a bit of a budget, you can spend money on mastering. If you’re composing for movies or video games, you often can't do that. If you’re doing the mastering on your own, you can do it very quickly and it allows you to be fully independent throughout the chain. 

AG: I have found it really exciting to listen to the difference mastering makes to a track and to learn how to achieve that myself. I have also learnt how to focus more effectively and stick to a practical workflow without getting distracted. Sometimes you just have to get on with the task – the work can always be improved later if necessary.

Alison GardnerWhat do you think about the teaching on the course?

RM: It’s been really effective. Even though I am a part-time online student, I have had weekly sessions with the tutors and I have always had a quick response and support whenever I have contacted the lecturers. 

JH: I started this course with a lot of anxiety after a few years out of education. I didn’t know what to expect from the online course, but the tutors and support network have been fantastic, with special shoutouts to my tutors and course leader, who have been brilliant and incredibly understanding. The style and layout of the course really fits well with my current work schedule, so despite not being able to attend seminars during the day, I can catch up at a point that’s convenient for me.

CP: All of the modules and teaching have been useful because we've learnt creativity; how to stimulate your creativity and how to generate ideas quickly. When you work for a movie or a video game, you have deadlines. You have to work fast. Now, I'm able to create tracks and ideas on the fly and I can do a track in a day for a video game or a movie.

AG: The teaching is very good. New study materials are released each week and you can go through them at your own pace and go back over any bits you’re not sure about. The weekly webinar is very helpful as it allows you to ask any questions about that week’s work or the upcoming assessment. Questions can also be sent by email and the tutors respond very promptly, often within minutes, with a detailed answer to the question. The staff are extremely knowledgeable on technical, creative and business aspects.

Do you interact with the other students on the course? If so, what’s that been like?

RM: As it is part-time and online there are obviously some restrictions but we have still had regular online meetings.

JH: The flexibility of the course structure has been excellent, seamlessly integrating with my work schedule. While I haven't interacted extensively with fellow students due to my commitments, the supportive environment, whenever I have engaged with it, has been fantastic, with people offering up lots of alternative ideas I had not thought about.

CP: At first, it was a bit difficult. We knew each other, obviously, but we hadn’t met each other. When you go to a campus, it's easy to meet people and talk with them over coffee and these informal moments you have with people. The first two or three months weren’t the best for that but after that, we organised weekly meetings. We didn't talk about the MA, we talked about life and it was great because we've been able to create strong relationships and friendships. I talk with another student from my class almost every day, we have so much in common, we really appreciate each other and we talk about projects we can work on together. We also help each other when we’re facing issues in the industry and give each other advice. 

AG: The webinars provide an opportunity to interact with other students on the course and feel part of a group all working towards the same goal. It is interesting to hear what other people are working on outside the course, too. The other students come from very different backgrounds which adds a variety of perspectives to any discussion. We also have Google Spaces where we can ask questions or post interesting links.

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What are you currently doing outside of dBs in the music industry and how has this online degree helped you with that work?

RM: I have been composing and producing music for television documentaries, as well as some other small projects with other musicians and the online degree has really helped with it. The main reason is that it has given me much more confidence in delivering work to a professional standard. 

TW: I have set up my own studio and website - the website is thanks to the Career Development module - and I am regularly taking on recording artists as clients for mixing and mastering. The online degree has really helped because of the depth and breadth of knowledge you gain. Because we've had to do things we wouldn't necessarily have done on our own, it means that I am confident in areas I wouldn't be confident in without this course. I feel a lot more experienced due to the amount of work we've done for each module, and I can talk a lot more confidently with clients.

JD: I am a full-time staff Audio Supervisor and Studio Manager for BBC Radio. Spending most of my time on daily news programmes, live music sessions and podcasts. Since taking up this course, I have been successful in gaining full-time employment with the BBC after 5 years as a freelancer giving me more access to music sessions where I can take what I’ve learned from the course and put it directly into action.  

JH: Outside of dBs, I've been focused on establishing myself as a mastering engineer, taking on projects for artists across the country to build a small portfolio. Concurrently, I've spent five years at The School of Rock and Media (SORM) in Bradford as a studio technician and production tutor. SORM caters to vulnerable young people with special educational needs, using music as a platform to help them gain life skills and qualifications in music production. This work has deeply influenced my studies, particularly my final project, which explores new coping strategies for individuals with extra needs in the music industry and education, assessing the effectiveness of current approaches.

CP: It's crazy, the degree finished in September and just a few weeks after that, I found some work in the industry. It's not a huge position but I've been able to find some work to fill my portfolio; working for movies, for video games, creating synths and stuff like that. Something that I would never have thought of before the MA was just contacting someone to say, “I can compose the music for your video game,” or this or that. It's not so much about competencies, it's more about the confidence of having a degree. It gives you a stamp that says you belong to this industry. That was really important for me.

AG: I am studying this course to become proficient in techniques I can use in my own creative work. I was using DAWs to make music before but never felt happy with the results. Being more fluent in the practicalities of using music technology and having a more comprehensive understanding of the science behind it allows me to concentrate on the artistic aspects of composition without getting bogged down in the process.

Christophe Pereuil image 4Generally, how does the online degree at dBs integrate the industry into the course content?

RM: I think it integrates an industry focus into each module without being too overpowering. 

TW: Massively. It focuses on the key areas that are important to the industry and also focuses specifically on areas such as enterprise, PR and management.

JD: From my practical subjects so far, the course fits into the industry significantly. I also think I benefit from my colleagues further encouraging discussion and experimentation.

JH: The online course at dBs has been instrumental in clarifying my career path, particularly in mastering. The comprehensive content and practical assessments accelerated my learning, revealing my strengths in mastering. The course seamlessly integrates industry-relevant information, making complex concepts easily understandable. This approach significantly reduced my feeling of being overwhelmed, allowing me to focus on honing my skills.

CP: Before the MA, I had never contacted people in the video game industry or in the movie industry. Today, I finally dare to do it. This MA has helped me find my legitimacy. I can now approach people and say, “I'm a recently graduated student, I've learnt this and this and this, and so I can work on the project and bring you this.” That’s been really important. It’s not any specific skill. Chris [Page] explained the concept of a portfolio career during the MA. You can’t just say, “I'm an artist, and I'm going to DJ.” It doesn't work like that anymore. You have to be everywhere and this approach was really important… It gets you prepared for the real world. In the real world, you have a project and you have to drive it from beginning to end. The MA was great for that because the brief is, “Okay, create some tracks, you have to compose them, you have to arrange them, you have to mix them and you have to master them.” That's something I'd never done before. It really prepares you for what you will do in the music industry. I have found that a really interesting approach.

AG: The course is very industry-focused and always geared towards the application of our skills in a commercial setting. My original intention was purely to build my technical ability in order to work on my own personal compositions, but I also need to earn money and if I can do that using the skills I am learning, that would be a really exciting development.

What would you like to achieve after completing the course and how do you hope your new qualification will help you get there?

RM: I’d like to carry on getting professional audio work on a freelance basis. The degree has definitely opened up the different types of work available in the professional audio industry. 

TW: There isn't anything specific I want to achieve aside from the qualification itself. I took on this course because I wanted to learn a lot and be more confident in the industry, and I definitely have that now. I can now take on a lot more work - like mastering - that I wouldn't have been able to engage with before.

JD: While this course has already helped me gain confidence in preparation for my staff interview, I’m hoping it will also help me more in the longer term. While my work provides me with a great amount of opportunity to develop, I’m excited to see what more I can learn and take into my position next year.

JH: Post-MA, I aim to further develop the foundations laid during the course with the guidance of my tutors, pursuing a career as a mastering engineer for diverse clients. The course content provided clarity on my professional direction, helping me envision my trajectory within the industry. Additionally, I'm committed to advocating for changes within the music industry and education to create a more inclusive environment for individuals with extra needs. I believe that by harnessing the talents and creativity of all individuals, we can enrich and diversify the industry.

CP: When I finished the MA, my priority was to fill my portfolio and have a bit more work that I could show to people. In the six months since graduating, I have worked on something like eight or 10 movies, two video games and I've got a hardware project in the pipeline. So yeah, it has definitely helped a lot for that.

AG: I would like to compose a body of work using original sounds and experimenting with different techniques and just see where that takes me. I already feel much more confident using different mixing and mastering techniques, and I look forward to adding to these on the Production Platforms module.

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Would you recommend a dBs Online degree to someone hoping to improve their skills in the music industry?

RM: Yes, definitely.

TW: Yes, absolutely. 

JD: Definitely, especially for those already in the industry looking to develop and gain confidence while having the opportunity to put their new skills into action.

JH: If you are someone interested in music production and want to further your understanding and knowledge, dBs' online degrees offers a dynamic and immersive learning experience tailored to the needs of aspiring music professionals, with great flexibility and industry-relevant content.

CP: Yes, I would, but I would say that you need to be prepared to dedicate a lot of work. It's not the same as going to a standard uni where you sit at a desk, listen to the teacher, take some notes and after that, you take an exam. We have all of the videos online, but if you don't watch them, no one's going to watch them for you. They won't play by themselves. You have to be prepared to dedicate a lot of time and energy to achieving what you want. At the end of the day, it's your work and it's going to be like that when you graduate and begin work in the industry.

AG: I would definitely recommend the course. The balance of taught material and personal research can be a challenge. Particularly if, like me, you don’t have a vast amount of experience with music tech. But the rewards are huge as I now feel I am making real progress in terms of practical skills, and will be able to make the music I have wanted to for so long.

Christophe Pereuil image 3Anything else you’d like to add?

RM: I am really fortunate to be based in Manchester and to have use of the studio facilities in the dBs Manchester campus. The staff there have been brilliant and the studios are superb. 

TW: The tutors and course leader have been very helpful and supportive, which has made all the difference. 

JD: This year I am being sent to Glastonbury, Transmt and Belladrum so thoroughly looking forward to working stage and in the broadcasting trucks mixing the live bands!

Want to study a degree from wherever you are in the world, on a schedule that suits you? Apply to an online master’s with dBs Institute.