Why Specialist Institutes are the Sweet Spot for Specialist Careers

We examine why bigger doesn't always mean better. In fact, for those looking for a specialist music production degree, or any other specialist degree in the world of sound, music, gaming and digital technology, specialist institutes often provide the best outcomes for students.

There’s a misconception that bigger is always better when choosing where to study. Applicants can be easily impressed by the sheer number of benefits they think will be offered by large universities. Big budgets, tons of funding opportunities, a plethora of tutors and a sizeable, exciting campus are just some of those anticipated benefits.  

Do these selling points equate to students having a better experience? Or will they give students a higher chance of landing a job within three to six months of graduation? Not necessarily. Contrary to what most think, bigger doesn’t mean better. More often than not, it just means broader and more generic.  

For students looking to pursue more niche careers as electronic music producers, audio sound technicians or game designers, broader is the opposite of what they need. Instead, they need an institution that specialises in the niche field they’re hoping to work in, while also providing a personalised teaching experience and as much hands-on training as possible on the kinds of equipment, software and facilities they’d use in their day-to-day work lives post-graduation.  

Balancing the perception against reality 

This mismatch between perception and reality is something Joshua Harris felt when he first joined a larger university in Bristol. It ultimately led to him transferring out of that traditional university to dBs Institute Bristol, where he could get the specialist training, attention and access to equipment and industry insiders he so craved.  

As Joshua explains, “There was an assumption that a larger university has a larger variety of courses. But that wasn’t actually a good thing. The great thing about dBs is that it has more specialised courses for what I want to do [electronic music]. And so, all the funding goes into the speciality courses, whereas funding goes into so many different non-course related things at larger universities.” 

Student in lecture theatre

Top industry experience, side gigs and industry connections make our tutors a big draw  

Our tutors are brimming with industry knowledge and experiences gathered from their time working in the creative sector. In addition to our roster of full-time tutors, many teach on a part-time basis so they can continue learning and working on projects within their specialisms. We wholeheartedly encourage and support this. It’s that mentality of continuous learning that has proven invaluable for our students. The more they can learn from our tutors’ first-hand industry experience, the better equipped they’ll be when they join the industry themselves. It also means they’ll know what pitfalls to avoid, what challenges they might face along the way and what questions to ask in their roles.   

“A lot of dBs tutors have a lot of experience in the industry for years and years,” says Joshua, “One of my tutors, who only started teaching me a few weeks ago, has about 30K monthly listeners on Spotify every month and some of his tracks have millions of plays. That’s quite a niche genre. The tutors are well known in their own fields, are very knowledgeable and are so grounded and down to earth. They’re inspiring and they’re sharing that knowledge with us. “ 

Our tutors also regularly make introductions to their network of contacts at recording studios, app development companies and event venues to get students into work placements and employment. They genuinely thrive on giving a leg up to the next generation of sound and gaming talent – getting you settled into the industry and feeling confident. We hear regularly from both current and former students that the calibre of our tutors is one of the main reasons they choose dBs in the first place. This is certainly something transfer student Joshua felt adamantly about. 

On the flip side, lecturers at larger universities may not have had as much industry exposure due to being unable to work side jobs while teaching. University lecturers are also usually required to teach on multiple modules and sometimes across a variety of courses. This can lead to them having a broader understanding of topics, rather than a singular specialist focus.  

So, when students are looking to study niche programmes, it can be a huge consideration as to whether they want that broader, high-level overview of topics or something that drills down into the area they see themselves working within post-graduation.

Studio 3 at dBs

The quality of specialist kits matters just as much as getting hands-on access and training 

Students at some larger universities often struggle with getting access to specialist kit needed to work on projects and assignments – and even just to experiment with. When they do get hands-on access, they have very short windows of time to use the equipment as there are so many other students vying for those elusive time slots.  

This is far from the case at dBs Institute – we pride ourselves on our world-class equipment and make sure it’s regularly updated to be in line with what’s being used in the industry. We want our graduates to start their careers confident and capable of operating the software and equipment used by recording studios, app development companies and performing venues.  

Another assumption is that the quality of the equipment and software will somehow be better at a traditional university – mostly because of their larger budgets. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A bigger university comes with significantly more administrative costs, wages, courses to develop and facilities to maintain. And so, their budgets and funding often need to stretch farther.  

We prioritise our students at every turn and make sure we reinvest as much of our income back into whatever will enhance the student experience. In this case, that’s bringing on the newest versions of software and having plenty of equipment for students to play on, experiment with and learn from. When we chatted with transfer student Josh about his experience, he explained: “Their equipment wasn’t bad, but the equipment at dBs is far better. Every time we have a lecture, we’re either in a proper industry-standard production studio or we’re sat in a room with 20 MacBooks and music equipment in front of us. You can just spin your chair around and get on with the production.” 

Practical dbs lesson

Intimate class settings and 1:1 tutor guidance make specialist institutes a must-have 

One of the biggest benefits of studying at a specialist institute is the amount of one-to-one time you get with tutors. And this has a lot to do with the more intimate class sizes and settings we offer. In fact, our classes hold a maximum of around 15 people, allowing students the opportunity to get up close and personal with their tutors, get their hands on equipment inside the classroom and, most importantly, ask questions.  

This is in stark contrast to bigger universities, where you’re just one in a big sea of many students (as many as 70) and will more than likely struggle to follow the pace of the lecture, let alone ask questions or get hands-on training on equipment. To fully be able to benefit from your tutor’s knowledge, it’s important to build a strong rapport and get guidance that helps you overcome the challenges you’re facing and reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. 

Think about it this way. If you were studying an undergraduate music degree, you might have people on your course interested in becoming classical opera singers, as well as those wanting to work in backstage roles keeping an eye on the acoustic levels or producing their own electronic tracks. So, in most cases, the style of teaching ends up being quite broad because it must accommodate people with such a huge variety of interests. At a specialist institute, however, you can zoom in on what it is you love and are surrounded by people, both students and staff, who are as interested in your field of study as you are. For example, dBs are a specialist electronic music institution, so, for students like Josh, he’s confident in the knowledge that he will be learning amongst like-minded people, on software and kit exclusive to his niche interest area. 

Josh went on to explain, “You get to talk to your lecturers a lot more than at other universities. They know you personally, which is nice. At the larger uni, where you’re one of 70 people in a course, the lecturers didn’t really know you. I’m also a lot closer with my dBs course mates because the course groups are much smaller at dBs than they were on my other course. Currently, it’s about 14 of us in a group.” 

Student watching dbs lecture

Community support means a lot and sparks greater creativity at specialist institutes  

We understand this could sound like a meaningless sales pitch, but this really does exist inside specialist institutes, dBs included. We have a common passion that unifies us and you can really feel that – all the way from your fellow students to the teaching team to the administrative staff. We celebrate everyone’s achievements and challenge each other to be better creative professionals. We’re of the mind that it’s our personal relationships that allow this. Specialist institutes may be small, but they sure are mighty. 

It can be more difficult to achieve this ‘community’ feeling in larger institutions purely down to the number of people and lack of face-to-face time you get with other students and tutors. It can feel a little haphazard – you’re trying to just pass your exams and complete your assignments. Meanwhile, you’re trying to pursue passion projects outside of your classroom sessions. At a specialised institute, you’re encouraged to combine your passion projects with your curriculum – it's not a matter of choosing one or the other. Both are very possible.  

Also, don't be afraid to ask for mentorship, guidance and advice from your tutors. Don’t just take our word for it, or that of transfer student Josh for that matter. Check out this interview with dBs graduate Rob Kivits. He speaks highly of the unique environment cultivated at our specialist institute and how he believes it helped him kickstart his career. 

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If your plan is to embark on a career in a niche field/area of focus, such as sound production and gaming development, a specialist institution is the best way forward. If you’re keen to learn about our courses in more detail, feel free to get in touch.A photo collage including a eurorack synth, a female student wearing a Playstation virtual reality headset, two students using a Ableton Push 2 controller, a tutor and students using a mixing console and a student behind a Korg MS-20 synth