Being raised on and involved in music/arts throughout my entire childhood, there was never really any question on the path I’d take in life. And so it was that when a random stranger mentioned Trebas to me in a coffee shop I was working at in 2001, my goal was clear.
I will admit that I really didn’t look too hard into any of the other options available to me. Part of it was my own stubborn tunnel vision, but it was mainly due to the lack of online info or testimonials on any of the other schools out there. Coming from small town BC, touring any respective facilities or speaking with past grads was not an option for me. When I was contacted to submit an article for this site, I jumped at the opportunity, remembering the scant, obscure forum posts I found when trying to research the school for myself.
I’m very fortunate to be one of the few from our grad class that is actively employed full time in the industry.
I feel I should disclaimer a few of my own potential biases, should it influence the tone of this review. First off, I was quite experienced in a few areas of music production before I attended, and as such found a fair bit of the material as review. Fortunately, I knew it was the nitty gritty sound theory that I was after, and they provided no short supply of it. Secondly, I’m very fortunate to be one of the few from our grad class that is actively employed full time in the industry. This may paint my glasses a bit rosier than others.
The Audio Engineering & Production program is broken down into 3 terms, each containing 11-13 individual modules. Programs begin in Fall, Winter and Spring and last about 11 months. I opted for the Fall start, which began at the beginning of October. Apparently this was a popular choice, as we had enough for two separate, large groups. I can’t really comment on whether or not this impacted the quality of our time there, but I’m sure it couldn’t have helped.
As it’s been 3 years since I attended, my memory is a bit hazy, but I believe it worked out to about 20-25 hours a week of class and lab time, plus a substantial amount of homework. The classes were all over the place schedule-wise. Mornings, afternoons and evenings were all fair game. In the 2nd and 3rd terms, the midi labs and Pro Tools labs were open to booking during school hours.
Midway through the first term, our class size had reduced to about half, and by graduation I would say there were about 1/3 of the students left from the start. They really don’t pull any punches, and I think a lot of people found themselves overwhelmed. Personally, I think this is a good thing.
The Meat & Potatoes
The first semester was primarily classroom based, with a little bit of Pro Tools and MIDI lab work. They cover topics such as intro to digital audio, midi theory, audio for film, sound and recording basics and a class on the business side of things (among others). All of the courses provide a solid foundation on which to build upon in the following terms. Naturally, there’s a great deal of textbook definitions that will be immediately forgotten after you write the exams. Describing sound as “a vibrational periodic disturbance of atmospheric pressure consisting of the compression and rarefaction of air molecules” is a REALLY good way to impress ladies at a party. Trust me. Try it. But, with a bit of luck, the underlying principles behind each definition will stick with you.
The audio for film course had us creating sound effects from scratch which was a lot of fun and the studio applications course provided a basic understanding of the analog side of audio and electricity. If you’re like me, the day you learn the concept behind something as simple as a balanced cable, you’ll realize there’s some pretty brilliant people out there. The music theory course was a nice touch. Although I already had a background in it, the importance of it at an audio school can’t be denied. Even if your only desire is to engineer, being able to speak to musicians in their language is very important.
The second term built on many of the first terms courses, with the addition of a few new subjects and some studio time. We went between two external studios during our time there, both of which were within walking distance of the campus. However, I know Trebas Institute Toronto has since relocated so I’m not sure what they’re doing these days for the studio side of things. Of the two studios we worked in, one was a Trebas studio, and the other was a fully operational studio, where the head of the audio program worked. The Trebas studio (Sonic I) was nice enough, had a decent console and a bit of tasty outboard gear. It also had some gorgeous soffit mounted monitors that of course didn’t work. Terrific. Hopefully they’ve fixed them by now. For you acoustics nerds, it was designed by Martin Pilchner, with a very impressive rearwall diffuser. We went through microphone technique, and how to navigate our way around a console and studio, which all came in handy when we returned in 3rd term for recording projects.
Although overall my time at Trebas was very positive, there was one section that stunk like yesterdays diapers.
Although overall my time at Trebas was very positive, there was one section that stunk like yesterdays diapers. They advertise the program as “Audio Engineering & Production/DJ Arts”. The “DJ Arts” portion was one class in 2nd semester. I was quite excited about this course, as I’d always been a bit of a DJ, and it was being taught by a high profile DJ from the area. After about 3 or 4 classes, it became apparent that the instructor had absolutely no interest in being there, and provided us little to no useful knowledge. At the time there were a lot of really exciting technologies surfacing (Serato, Live, etc), and many of us were excited to learn some new tricks. Brand new decks, a new mixer and new monitors were provided for the course. These were utilized once when the instructor had each of us come up and move the crossfader. Beyond that, he just said “feel free to come in on your own time and try them out” and had us watch documentaries. It was a new program at the time, so I’m sure by now they’ve ironed out the kinks, but I felt compelled to mention it, as every one of us felt pretty ripped off by it.
The third semester was by far the busiest, but also a lot of fun. Advanced courses of earlier topics, some new ones (ear training, critical listening, soldering) and more time in the first studio, in which you are required to find a local band and record them. We also worked in another external studio, which had a lovely Studer A820 24 track tape machine. In today’s world of digital audio, it was a real treat to be mixing off of 2″ tape. They also threw in a “careers” course, with the intent of teaching you how to shape yourself into a better business person and network. Although the importance of this is undeniable, the course itself felt a little out of place, delving into obscure sociological models and theories.
This is the point where I will say this. In your first few weeks, you will hear talk of the 3rd term acoustics project. You will hear people telling you to start thinking about it immediately, and to keep it in mind for the first 2 terms. You will probably ignore that like the rest of us schlubs. Do yourself a favour and start thinking about it early on. Once you really dive into it, you will realize the immense depth of it, and be kicking yourself for leaving it so long. In a nutshell, you have to design, construct and market a fully operational studio on paper. Aside from the obvious audio and acoustic elements, you’ll also have to account for construction, electrical, HVAC, etc. It’s a massive undertaking, and not best left to the many sleepless nights many of us did it during.
I’ve only touched on a handful of the experiences from the time there. Don’t want to ruin the magic and excitement that comes with discovering all this cool new stuff. I can say unequivocally that there was no lack of information, and I honestly can’t think of any important topics that weren’t covered and discussed in depth. To refresh myself for this review, I pulled out my old notes, which comprise a stack of paper about 5 inches high.
Pros and Cons
- Provided insight to many different career options in the audio industry.
- Gear was rarely top of the line stuff. This probably sounds weird, and has you thinking it should be in the con column. I disagree. I know many schools (Metalworks?) advertise amazing gear and such. Sure, everyone wants to play around on an SSL or Neve console, but the reality is that once your school time is up, you’re very unlikely to be touching such things again anytime soon. Working on mid level gear, and learning how to solve problems is a much better asset to your career out of the gate in my opinion.
- Save for a few exceptions, the majority of the instructors were really fantastic. All were very knowledgeable and actively employed in the industry. Many of them made you feel like they had a vested interest in your success. Without naming names, I will say one instructor in particular is a terrific asset to Trebas, and really took it a step further. He did a great job of peeling away the hype surrounding the audio world and highlighting the drive and passion that is really required to have any chance at a sustainable career in the industry.
- As mentioned above, the DJ arts course was a joke, and should not have been advertised in the name. Again, this was a few years ago, so it’s probably changed since.
- As the instructors are in the industry, there were times when some of them just didn’t show up in favour of their other gigs. Understandable I guess, but really made it seem like our time wasn’t worth it to them. Many of these classes were never made up.
- There was a fair bit of filler in most courses. This may be a con for some. However, approaching it with the mindset that you won’t always be doing super exciting things in the industry would level it out.
In the end, I would definitely recommend Trebas to prospective students. I had a wonderful time there, learned a great deal, met some amazing like-minded individuals and made some valuable contacts with whom I still work with today. However, I don’t know that I would recommend it above some of the other options out there. Sound is sound, recording is recording. There’s only going to be so much difference in course content between institutes. At the end of the day, it really comes down to what you do with it. I saw a number of students with aspirations to be the next big producer with little to no experience before attending. As such, many of them ate up all the MIDI and production material, and left the theory and “boring stuff” fall to the wayside. As much fun as it is making beats and mucking about in Pro Tools, I’m of the opinion that the boring stuff is what will take you further, and make you more skilled and versatile as an engineer. In the end, I suppose I’m saying just make very sure your heart is there, and ready to take a thumping or two.
There’s a great deal of romance attached to the industry, and many schools utilize this to sell their pipe dreams.
From the outside, there’s a great deal of romance attached to the industry, and many schools utilize this to sell their pipe dreams. The reality is that about 1% “make it”, and about 20% have the determination to pave their own paths. Rather than immediately buying into the hype, I’d recommend buying yourself some time and making damn sure you’re ready to give it your all. $17,000 can buy you a very respectable home studio, with which to produce some dope tracks. But if your heart’s there, it can also buy you a great education at Trebas and provide you the tools to embark on an exciting and sweat-soaked career in audio. Personally, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
I’ve always been too busy on other work to get around to getting a proper website up, but there are links to some of my works at http://www.kitchentablemedia.com. Please feel free to drop me a line if you have any further questions, or just wanna nerd out on sound.