REVIEW: Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam (my personal experience)
Both during and after my one year at Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam studying the Advanced Diploma Music Production & Sound Engineering, I have been asked several times by friends and strangers alike about my experience at the course. So, I have decided to create a comprehensive overview of my experience, so that other prospective students can get to know a bit more about the course first-hand from a graduated student. It seems that I am somehow an ambassador and credible source for the school, which is confirmed by my friends’ messages below:
Here are a list of the most frequently asked questions, with their answers below. I will update this page if I get additional questions!
DISCLAIMER: I only have insight into the Amsterdam school and each campus is different with what they offer. Also, these are the insights into the full time course September 2017-2018, and courses before and after this may not be entirely the same.
Are you happy with Abbey Road Institute / the course?
YES, absolutely. The first time I had contact with the school was with Milou by chat and she followed up by email and invited me to visit the school and participate as a student for a day. After visiting the school and sitting in, I knew immediately it was the right place for me. It felt very casual, warm, inclusive and everything was of a very high quality. And when I attended the course, my views did not change. Everyone was supportive and passionate, teachers and students alike. We were a class of 20, from ages 16-40, gender split of 17 boys and 3 girls, and people from all over the world including Australia, Bangladesh, USA, Curaçao and other parts of Europe. Felt like a family and even after I’ve left, I feel that I have made a network for life.
I wanted to know if you thought your course was a worthwhile investment?
For me the education was 100% worth it, as I could change my career from Social Media Manager for Adidas to Music Producer in one year which is very fast. I’m far from a pro but without the education it was almost impossible to do such a switch and be confident that quickly.
Good to note for mature-age students: since I had a full-time salary that same year, I was able to claim back a significant proportion of the course fee from the tax office as a tax deduction. It is possible to claim up to 52% of the course fee depending on which income bracket you are in.
How would you describe the application process?
For Amsterdam, application process is easy: just submit a few songs that you have made or have been involved in and a small interview. They were not strict on your background in music theory or playing an instrument but the students who lacked in these areas struggled a lot in music production topics.
How would you describe the education as a whole?
The Amsterdam campus is heavily focused on audio engineering. My teachers were mainly a group who studied and taught at SAE so in first term we focused on mixing, second term recording (microphone techniques and using analogue console), and third term music business, film. We also did other topics like synths, mastering, programming, live sound, and a bunch of others but I wouldn’t say it was the focus.
We learnt DAWs Pro Tools, Logic and Ableton in that order and also order of importance. They set you up to work in a professional recording studio.
The equipment we could use was amazing. The studios, analogue consoles (Neve VR console & SSL 8000 G+/B console), speakers (PMC, Dynaudio) iMac computer, UAD Apollo Twin audio interface per working station, software (including UAD plugins, Fabfilter, Softube, iZotope, Celemony), outboard gear (Universal Audio 1176, Pultec, Tube-Tech, Lexicon reverb, Manley Massive Passive EQ, Crane Song compressor, Dimension D chorus, Eventide Harmonizer, Binson Echorec), 100 m² live room with guitars (electric and acoustic), basses, amps, Rhodes, Steinway grand piano, Hammond organ, a couple synths, and top microphone selection including many vintage Neumann U87, U89, U47 and top studio mics such as Schoeps CMC6, Sennheiser MD421 & SM7B, AKG C414, Neumann KM84 and more.
We had a lot of guest speakers, who were really good at what they do, and known in the industry. Al Schmitt came to our school! So in terms of getting face to face contact with these people was so precious. It’s not like paying for a ticket to a conference and hassling the speaker afterwards to get them to notice you. Everyone who came to talk or give a masterclass or workshop are friends with our teachers so we were also treated as family, or friends of friends. Always felt welcome to ask anything and keep in touch afterwards. Very good way to get connected and enter the network.
We had the chance to apply for an internship at Red Bull Studios which I got so I’ve been working as assistant recording engineer for some really cool sessions. I love it! (Unpaid but worth it)
We also went to visit a lot of great studios including Rockfield in Wales and other studios in Belgium and The Netherlands. And graduating at Abbey Road Studios was definitely a highlight!
We also had free tickets to conferences such as Dancefair and some stuff at Amsterdam Dance Event.
It is a very expensive course.. if you do the full time course (one year) it’s impossible to work on the side. So you need a lot of savings to finance the course and your living. I can recommend the part-time course if you have a source of income on the side or you can afford two years. You then have more time to soak in what you learn and book the studio for 2 years! By the 6th month, I still was not really ready to record bands, so I wasted a lot of precious studio time because of this.
The full time class (in Amsterdam) is with 20 people. In my opinion it’s too many. Of course there were drop outs and people who did not turn up to class, but a class of 15 would be better. I say this because from a class of 20, we only had 15 graduating students, which is only 75%. One student from the part-time class said with only 10 people he feels more pressure, because he doesn’t want to be the only one in the class to fail an exam. So the bar is higher. And with 20 full-time students, and almost 20 part-time students combined, it gets hard to book studio time, since there are only 3 studios.
There was not a huge focus on how to become a music producer, like the type that works with singers and creates the music and beats in the box. Most people aspire to be a music producer, not a recording engineer, which is the sign of the times. It would have been great to dissect some productions of famous producers like Max Martin and understand the arrangement, electronic sounds like this analysis by Rick Beato on Max Martin’s production techniques on Ariana Grande’s song Into You. In that sense, the schooling was very traditional and no one was being groomed to be the next Martin Garrix by attending the school.
Do you think there are possibilities of further networking through the course?
We had a lot of masterclasses and excursions with big names in the industry, something you cannot get if you visit a conference or as as individual. So networking is a big plus.
Do you already have a plan for what comes after you have graduated? My parents are worried that I might not get a job and can’t pay my own rent after doing this. What is your opinion?
With every study there's always doubt whether you'll get a job or not. I know the course fee is super expensive so the investment is very high..
We will all get a good base to go into any direction we want. The teachers are all very young, inspiring and experienced, not all are good "teachers", but it is compensated by their industry experience. They've been there, done that, or currently doing it.
The facilities here are just excellent. It's totally new, and we study in a professional studios. The equipment is top class.
I don't know exactly which direction I'll go when I'm done, but since I came from a marketing/advertising background I'll probably go into producing music for commercials. I have some contacts in this fields.
The other thing is that you can only learn so much in 1 year, so it's up to you to work on your own music and collaborate as much as possible outside of class hours. This is how you can build up your portfolio and get a job after graduation.
It's not going to guarantee a job just by attending the school. If you're dedicated and you make the most of the facilities and work hard on your portfolio, and build up a good circle of contacts in your network, you can surely have a better chance to get paid work or an internship after graduation.
Who is this course for / not for?
This course is for people with a lot of passion and self-discipline. They teach you the basics and it’s up to you to motivate yourself to practice the things you learn in class, read up more, watch more YouTube etc. So the material you learn is like a small springboard and you have to do the deep diving yourself. In the first term we had mixing assignments to complete every week, but in second and third term we could use the time after class how we wanted.
This course is not for people who do not know any music theory AND cannot play an instrument at all. Of course it is not impossible to attend the course if the above is you, but if you don’t play an instrument, at least try to know the basics of music theory before attending, which will help. A person with an untrained musical ear has a huge disadvantage, because learning to hear compression, different frequencies, different nuances of microphones and phase issues can be very demanding.
What are the exams / assessments like?
There are a mix of assessments and exams per term. The first term there was a Pro Tools production and Logic assignment, along with multiple choice sound theory test, in-class Pro Tools and in-class Logic exams. There are also weekly mixing assignments, which are not officially graded, but feedback is given.
The second term there is an Advanced production assignment using Ableton, along with multiple choice test, in-class Pro Tools and in-class Logic exams.
The third term was the most demanding, and consisted of an Advanced recording assignment, along with short-answer test, business plan, and studio exam.
The assessments are demanding and the grading is very strict. Don’t expect to pass every exam! That’s what they told us in the beginning :-D
What job can I get after the course?
This course will prepare you very well for the following jobs:
music producer (recording studio)
(eventually mastering engineer but do not come to this school to learn in-depth mastering),
Jobs that the course can lead to, but does not specialise:
film / game / advertising composer,
live sound engineer,
record label /publisher / booking agency owner
HIGHLIGHTS IN PHOTOS
So, if you have made it down this far, now for the summary… this course gives you a bit of this and a bit of that, but overall it is quite a generalist course with a focus on audio engineering. See it as a springboard to get started or if you come from another angle of the industry, you can hone your engineering skills. In the end, it is up to you to decide what you want to do afterwards. There is no hand-holding in this regard and it’s your own determination that will get you to the next step.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop a note below.
Robin Reumers (director of education)
Jasper Derksen (managing director)
Milou Derksen (studio manager and go-to-woman for everything)
Emiliano Caballero (mixing, production)
Anthony Maes (recording techniques, analogue consoles, Pro Tools)
Nick Ribbens (Logic Pro X)
Marco Spaventi (Ableton Live 10, synthesis, sampling, remix)
Robin Reumers (sound theory, acoustics)
Erwin Palper (electronics)
Rob Mostert (aural training)
Robin Freeman (music history)
Tobias Hess (arrangement, music theory)
Guest speakers (select):
Al Schmitt (recording engineer)
Luca Pretolesi (producer)
Jef Martens / Basto (producer)
Idan Altman (indie music producer)
Huub Reijnders (producer)
David Miles Huber (producer)
Wessel Oltheten (producer, author mixen met impact)
Darcy Proper (mastering engineer)
David Pattillo / Strange Majik (producer)
Eddy Koopman (percussionist/producer, Metropole Orkest)
Jimmy van den Nieuwenhuizen (session drummer)
Bas Nuiver (bassist)
Gabi Martinez (session guitarist)
Tijs van Liemt (A&R Manager, Universal Music NL)
Joris van Welsen (founder Radar agency, booking and management)
Minke McKenna (founder Mink Records)
Natalia Ramírez (vocal tuning, audio engineer)
Bindu De Knock (lawyer creative industries)
Mark Derksen (founder Markant Studios)
Jeroen Dreessen (director operations, Leapwing)
Studios we visited:
Abbey Road Studios (most famous recording studio in history, London, UK)
Rockfield Studios (most rock’n’roll studio in history, Wales, UK)
Wisseloord Studios (Hilversum, NL)
Galaxy Studios (film post-production, Belgium)
Studio 150 Bethlehemkerk (Amsterdam, NL)
Power Sound Studio (Amsterdam. NL)
Markant Studios (Heeze, NL)
WarnierPosta (audio post-production, Amsterdam, NL)
Events we had guest-list access to:
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