Q&A with Mike Sinnott – Campus Manager, Abbey Road Institute London

Abbey Road Institute London is run by a small team, with a lot of heart. If you haven’t already, it’s time to meet our Campus Manager Mike Sinnott. He’s at every open day, knows all the students and has worked in audio engineering education for a long time, so he knows quite a bit about what it takes to go from student to success story…

meet mike

Can you describe your role as Campus Manager?
I’m responsible for the management and administration of the school. I’m working alongside Carlos to ensure that everything is correct and of high quality. I also oversee student recruitment, finance and UK-specific marketing. It’s a bit of everything, really. It’s very busy!

Are there any big developments you’re working on?
One of my projects is to drive forward programme validation. We will soon be getting our Tier 4 license, which will allow international students to study here next year. It also means our curriculum will be officially Quality Assured. I have no doubt it will be a success because the quality is already there.

Audio engineering schools

How long have you been involved with audio engineering education?
Since 2002, so 16 years. I used to work in the finance industry but retrained as a sound engineer in 2001. After a spell working in broadcast and live sound I ended up helping to run the school I studied at. Having worked in London’s audio education sector for so long, I’ve built up a really strong network in the industry. Not just manufacturers and producers, but tutors as well.

How has audio engineering training changed over the years?
There are two aspects: one is that it’s changed in line with technology. When I was learning, I was splicing tape and using 2” tape machines to record! (laughs).

Development in plug-ins and software has been a game changer. Today, you can make a hit record on your laptop. Part of what we do at Abbey Road Institute is focus on understanding how you can use software to get an analogue “big desk” sound. The tools have developed and matured enough to really get great results inside a computer.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Abbey Road Institute?
It’s the people. The level of expertise, professionalism, passion, commitment, and sense of pride of being in this environment is the key. As we are so connected to the industry both Carlos and I have the privilege to work with some really great tutors, many whom are famous producers. Carlos himself is one of the most inspirational teachers I have worked with. While we have different skill sets and experience, we very much share the same philosophy when it comes to what we think makes a great school. It’s a great programme and it has a great philosophy.

formal training vs self-study

No doubt you’re biased, but what do you think about investing in some gear and teaching yourself?
I don’t think I’m biased, I just think it’s very clear to me that to learn anything practical requires time to practice, but also practice the right way of doing things.

I think that if you’re the kind of person that can self-study – and has very few distractions – you can certainly learn a fair bit online. The reality is that most don’t have that luxury. I also know that in general, people struggle to teach themselves with such a large concept as audio engineering. In a controlled learning environment, there’s a set structure, set tasks, and experienced people around. They are there to support you, guide you, answer questions and let you make mistakes.

I suppose it also depends on your goals?
It has always been the case that you’ve needed some form of training or mentoring in audio engineering and music production, whether that’s been working your way up from making tea as a runner in a studio, or taking a course.

I think it is very challenging to train yourself at home and if you want an actual career in professional audio, it helps to have a structured curriculum to work to. More importantly,  real-world “hands-on” tasks to work to. How else would you know what you need to learn?

If you can find the time and discipline, home study can work if you want to start programming tracks in a DAW. If you want to build a career as a sound professional, gaining hands-on experience working in a “real-world” environment is essential.

getting the job

If there was one key to a successful career in the audio industry, what would you say it is?
Of course, you need to network and you need to hustle but practically, the more time you can spend getting yourself into a recording situation the more you will learn. That kind of experience is more than just learning where to position a microphone; it’s about working with different types of people, facing challenging situations and trying to understand how to get the best performance out of an artist.

When you see one of the “greats” like Haydn at work, it makes you realise that producing a session is partly an exercise in psychology. You need to understand people, and you need to understand the music as well. It’s a big part of what you need to do to be a successful producer.

Are you ready to pursue your goal of becoming an audio professional? Check out our one-year Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering, or contact us for more information.