Friday, 3 June 2016

Visit to Leeds Beckett University

(For pictures, scroll to the end of this post)
Leeds Beckett University changed name in 2014 and was still Leeds Metropolitan University when I visited in 2012. With its Headingly Campus set in the charming old Beckett Park area, the name-change makes good sense in connecting with the local history.

Leeds Beckett is a large modern University with a wide range of courses on offer. The challenge for music students at a large university is often that music takes a minor role after business, law, medicine and other high-profile programmes. Leeds Beckett has no music stream as such and music production and technology is a part of the performing arts department. It also sports a number of other creative programmes, including dance, film, animation and various media technologies. This indicates what kind of collaborations you can make. For example, at a dedicated music college you will have plenty of musicians to collaborate with. But if you are more inclined to work with filmmakers, dancers, animators and media students, Leeds Beckett provides a community for you. And after having lived in Leeds for many years myself, one thing I can say that the city does not lack is musicians!

On my tour of the performing arts department, the staff was keen to promote the quality of the university library. The academic focus of the performing arts courses thus seems central (this will suit some performing arts-students well (such as myself) but others less well). At any rate, the library has staff who is prepared to assist students in their literature-searches, which is absolutely a good thing. Another thing they were keen to promote was the fact that two of the Kaiser Chiefs were alumni. Successful Alumni is always good, but perhaps there were a few other non-study-related criteria behind the Kaiser Chiefs’ success? Though hear-hear, every university should be proud of its alumni indeed!

Leeds Beckett University provides four undergrad degrees central to my blogging (and several related ones).
[BSc(Hons ) ‘Audio Engineering’ was added after my visit in 2012]
-plus four post-graduate courses along the same paths (I won’t cover these here as applicants will be more aware of what they are looking for). All courses are accredited by ‘JointAudio Media Education Services’ (JAMES). The performing arts sector has little tradition in industry-accreditation and some institutes rather have their own strong industry-links. Thus, performing arts accreditation won’t weigh in as heavy on your CV as industry-accreditation on an MBA. But the JAMES-accreditation is a confirmation to prospectus students that industry-relevant knowledge is being taught in audio-courses. It confirms that the university maintains a dialogue with a respected organisation about the industry’s development.

BA Music Production and Performance: There is no traditional main-study instrument-tutoring on this programme. This means the degree will fit best for performers who already have some ideas of where they are headed. The degree aims at establishing a wide production-toolbox (arranging, recording, industry knowledge, etc.), while letting you develop your current level of performance more independently. The degree is less flexible than the others with regards to optional modules, but the real flexibility is found in your personal choice of performance-style.

The Bachelor of Science in Music Technology will suit students wanting to work with music and sound in the media sector, or students who go on to study other branches of engineering and technical research. A Bachelor of Science (BSc) is preferable in some lines of work and for some types of post-graduate studies. If you think this might apply to your intended post-graduate studies or for your professional aims, you should investigate this further. With the introduction of the BSc in Audio Engineering there is now also the option of focusing solely on the engineering and science of sound, without studying music-topics. As a general rule of thumb, I would recommend the BA courses to students who actually want to create music, and the BSc courses to students who want to work with technology for manipulating or distributing sound and music. The exception to the rule is often production of music for computer games and new media. Music technology courses can here be a better choice since both sound, music and complete product is entirely technology based.

TheBachelor of Arts in Music Production explains itself best of the three, and I’ll leave it up to the university’s web-page to describe the current course content. If you enrol on this course and you’re not primarily a musician, your task number one should be to create connections with good performers around the city. As mentioned, Leeds is a great place to make such connections.

Here are my condensed impressions of Leeds Becket’s music production and technology courses:

-       - The university has invested in very good studio-facilities (in fact, it was this rumour that first made me want to visit).
-       - It has a number of (non-music) programmes well suited for collaboration (I do not know to what extend such collaborations happen, and it is often up to you as a student to initiate your own collaborations).
-       - Established community for music producers and technologists (three undergrad and four post grad programmes) with external accreditation.

While not having a dedicated music-programme, Leeds Beckett has well-established courses and above average facilities for both music production and technology. It is a university worth a visit.

The main building at the Headingly Campus in the beautiful area of
Beckett Park
A 19th Century courtyard surrounds a central lawn


Several mid-sized studios are set up with small Allen & Heath consoles.
They don't have the analogue in-line architecture usually associated with studio
consoles, but they provide an intuitive front-end to the recording-chain. The
R16 depicted has digital functionality similar to that of an in-line console.
Dynaudio BM15s provide full-range listening, and a simple collection of
outboards provide training in traditional work-flow. In spite of their simple
set-up and relatively compact size these studios are well equipped to
provide basic training.

The larger studios are equipped with Audient ASP8024 consoles. The
Audient consoles have traditional in-line architecture and provide a
natural progression from the smaller A&H Zed-based studios. The
Audient-equipped studios are also set up with more backline and
outboard than the smaller studios.

The largest of the Audient-consoles is a 32-channel frame. That is,
32 lines of recording and 32 tape-inputs for mixing, plus returns.

Always nice to see analogue tape being available

Hammond & Leslie

Computer Labs


All workstations in this lab had both extra USB and analogue connectivity
below the interface for better ease of use. All stations were set up
with headphones.

Years ago I went to FE college in Norway studying electronics,
a background that has often come in handy while working with
sound. Computer labs like this one provides a tangible proof that
Leeds Beckett takes the link between sound and electronics seriously.

Breakdown of work-stations:
Oscilloscope, signal generator and multimeter...

...midi keyboard, mixer and headphones in the same set-up.

List of Mac Labs and available software

Binaural recording facility. If I'm not much mistaken there's
an ultrasound speaker hanging on the wall behind.

Big thanks to all academic and library staff that made the day at Leeds Beckett University interesting!

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