Music technology is a relatively new postgraduate option for Irish students, though it is steadily growing in significance. Some may feel that it is the most practical choice, employment-wise, for prospective musicians, as it broadens their subsequent possibilities to include backroom, studio-oriented work – like sound engineering and production – alongside more obvious musical career paths, like songwriting and live performance.
However, this is not to say that music technology postgraduate courses skimp on the more creative, artistic elements of music making. Indeed, Dr. Gordon Delap – coordinator of the Music Technology Laboratory’s postgraduate courses in NUI Maynooth – firmly disagrees with the contention that his programmes are more suited to ‘behind-the-scenes’ music makers than potential pop stars, as he does not see any real divide between the two careers.
‘I don't think that there is always such a clear distinction between these roles [artist and producer], as many artists play a fully active role in the processes of production and engineering,’ he states. ‘At any rate, the course isn't a “studio engineers” course; that's an aspect of the course, but it also looks at a range of other applications of music technology, like composition, programming, synthesis, sound design, and live electronics.’
In keeping with this philosophy, NUI Maynooth’s course coordinators take care to ensure that an equal portion of artistic content counterbalances these musical/technological applications.
‘That [artistic] element shouldn't be missing,’ states Dr. Delap. ‘Music technology is fundamentally a creative discipline, so there's not much point in being technically proficient, if you forget about the listener at the end of the process. Our course aims to be divided 50/ 50 between technical concerns, and more creative elements.’
NUI Maynooth offers a Master of Arts Degree in Computer Music, and also a Higher Diploma in Music Technology. The MA course is 11 months in length, running from October to August – though it can also be pursued as a part-time, 2-year option. The HDip course is based solely on a taught element, without the thesis/portfolio requirement included in its MA equivalent. Both programmes have the same selection of taught modules, including Sound Recording Techniques, Multimedia Programming and Software Sound Synthesis.
The University Of Limerick offers an MA and MSc in Music Technology, both of which are completed over the course of 12 months, in a full-time capacity. The two programmes include a 9-month taught section – which contains the same subject options for both the MA and MSc courses – followed by a 3-month research period. The degree designation depends on whether the research project is compositional (in which case an MA is awarded) or technological (which results in an MSc qualification).
The Music Technology Centre, at the Dundalk Institute of Technology, offers both MSc and MA options in Music Technology. In fact, there are three pathways available within this course: Education (MA), Arts (MA) and Science (MSc). The programme takes place over the course of fourteen months: the first semester consists of mandatory, core modules (which differ slightly for the Education pathway), while the second gives students the opportunity to specialise in areas of personal interest. Electroacoustic Music & Composition, Recording Techniques & Technologies, and Sound Synthesis & Manipulation are mandatory modules for all three pathways.
Trinity College Dublin offers a postgraduate programme in Music and Media Technologies, which can be taken as a Diploma option, over the course of one year. Furthermore, those who perform to a sufficient standard in their first year have the opportunity to pursue a Masters. They may remain for a second year, and attempt to secure the MPhil qualification, which entails a stronger research element than the Diploma.
But, what career options are available to students, upon completion of their postgraduate qualification in music technology? Dr. Gordon Delap has discovered, through the experiences of his own course attendees, that there are a whole range of realistic possibilities open to them.
‘We get students from a variety of backgrounds, and when they leave, they go on to do a variety of things,’ he explains. ‘From last year's graduates, we have one working in music
production, one in radio, and one in arts administration. Another is undertaking a PhD in computer science, while some are taking on careers that don't have such an obvious connection to music technology. But whatever they do, we aim to provide them with skills they can transfer into many career environments.’
Niall Walsh recently completed a postgraduate qualification in Music Technology, in NUI Maynooth. Even though he has only been pursuing work for a short period of time (as the course concluded just a few months ago) he has found that the skills gleaned during the programme have been very useful in his subsequent endeavours. Since finishing in Maynooth, he has been performing live sound work, as well as some of his own personal studio projects. In addition, he has taken an unpaid work experience placement, in a recording studio.
‘The study of acoustics has proven to be useful in the studio, as well as in the live arena,’ Walsh explains. ‘The recording techniques course has also proven helpful. My limited experience in the studio and at live venues would lead me to conclude that I am quite suited to these areas of work; the completion of the course has demystified them somewhat, removing the initial fear factor.’
So, there is a whole range of subsequent possibilities open to students who complete a music technology postgraduate course. In addition to the array of relatively low-profile (but highly-skilled) occupations a programme of this nature provides training for, there is also the tantalising possibility of pop/rock stardom, which can only be boosted by some well-informed, music-based instruction.