Wonder if you guys can help me decide on the right MSc

    Sep 02 2010 | 6:21 pm
    Hey I know this is kinda a bit off topic, and different to people seeking help with Max Patching and stuff. But I am looking into a MSc in either Audio Programming or Sound Design, and would like it if you guys could share some background into your occupations, knowledge etc and which one would you go for if you were me. I am currently going into my third year of Music Technology so have a year left of study, plus a dissertation at the end of it (of which I do not know what to base it on), and I am currently in the process of learning Max as I really want to learn it to help develop ideas and projects to manipulate audio/midi.
    I really love to manipulate audio and Max seems the best tool to use to take control of it (even though the learning curve is quite erratic) and think that it is well documented compared to the other audio programs out there (Csound, Supercolider) which are less documented and require a broader knowledge of programming.
    Do you think that going down the audio programming route I will struggle a lot (as I will be programming in C++ and Max), rather than the Sound Design route (where there will be some programming using Max). Sorry for posting such a topic here, but would really appreciate it if you could just post your experience with both topics or anything that relates to them, and provide me with further information. Cheers everyone (and sorry for the long post)

    • Sep 02 2010 | 6:25 pm
      I'm currently in a similar situation, going into my last year of uni with vague plans for a masters of some kind. Sorry I can't offer any advice, but I'll be watching this thread :)
    • Sep 02 2010 | 6:43 pm
      personally I'm a Max addict, coming from music composition/theory background. Did some Flash and Director "music-mixers" and a sequencer about 6-7 years ago, and while it was great for figuring out lots of code fundamentals and UI issues, they're way less suited for that kind of stuff than Max. (Of course there are different advantages to those platforms too.) But once I sort of first "got it" about what Max could do, I was totally hooked. And "getting it" keeps happening every day, years later, particularly on these forums...
      I've never used a program that made me say "whoa! it can do THAT?" more than Max, and every time that happens, it just hints at so much more that you don't know (or don't know "fluently", where you could patch up the idea easily and quickly). So many little pushes forward when you get something going, then backsteps when you mess up, which can be totally frustrating, but at the same time will always point out a better way once you figure it out, as well as hint at related possibilities.
      So... it's not as straightforward technically as something like Sound Design probably would be (chiefly using pre-written software, especially if you know the programs well already), but it has so many new possibilities if you're willing to dig and experiment. That said, a Sound Design degree which incorporated a lot of Max work along with it (like to make those absolutely crazy sounds you just can't get anywhere else, or making sequencers you can't get out of other programs) would be pretty great too, depends on a lot of preferences and your level of experience.
      I really like recording experimental sound clips with a patch, then using a DAW to slice, dice, effect, layer, and mix everything---all those features are ready to go, even in a freebie like Audacity. Could you do all that in Max? You bet... But where do you draw the line with what you want to create as tools versus what you want to create as sound? I love how that gets so overlapped and fuzzy sometimes... :)
      Anyway, I dig these kinds of threads and am glad that this "new media/music/art/interaction" kind of trend is growing, it'll only be more and more prevalent down the road, I think. And with more people into it, there will be more demand for people with experience in the technical and artistic elements to it... freelance programming in Max for performances, installations, new Human Interaction devices, educational software, and many other possible projects... some really interesting jobs will be out there!
    • Sep 02 2010 | 6:58 pm
      Hi OP,
      I'm currently on an MA by Research. Essentially I'm making tools for composers in Max with a focus on ease of use and reducing the time it takes to create certain sounds (mostly drones at the moment!). I would say that if you have any talent with C++ then go down that route, as my limited knowledge of the industry is that there is much more of a need for programmers than sound designers. For example, when Max for Live came out I checked out Ableton's site for any Max related jobs and they all needed 2 years C++ and more technical skills that I didn't have. I did have the chance to work with C++ at uni but I never got on with it from the start. If you are serious about employment afterwards, go for the Audio Programming course.
      Have you thought about taking a year out to think about it? I dived straight in after my degree and initially planned to complete it part time over 2 years with an aim to get some flexible employment alongside it. Flexible employment is something of a rarity it seems so I switched to full time. Personally I can't wait to finish at the end of this year, I feel like forgetting about it all and becoming a mechanic or a carpenter, something completely different to Music Technology (which I've done for nearly 7 years now!). I suppose my point there is something similar to Roman's post in the other thread, which is that if you're thinking of employment for the future, it might be worth doing something unrelated but stable whilst keeping your Max/Programming stuff as a hobby.
    • Sep 02 2010 | 7:22 pm
      I'll just wanted to add my two cents...
      I studied music and computer science as an undergrad. I have been doing software development for 15 years: mostly video game and device drivers.
      I can say for a fact that outside of academia, Max jobs are almost non existent in the programming world. My maxing is purely for my own artistic endeavors.
      Unfortunately the Cycling74's of the world are very few. So if you pursue the programming path, get ready to be flexible and willing to work on other things as well. But if you do computer music, the programming world is not a bad place to be. You are at the computer, and no one really knows what code you are really working on ;)
      I think sound design would be the best route for you. Tailor your skills for the video game world. That would allow you to utilize you Max skills to create tools that help automate and create content. Also get to know audio software development libraries like fmod.
      best of luck, Anthony
    • Sep 02 2010 | 7:27 pm
      Max is a good introduction to things but you'll rarely find people who make their entire career off of Max making a good, solid living(even successful artists find that they have to use Max only as a skeleton prototype, often programming so much more outside of Max to add what they need to their Max projects... Mattijs Kneppers, Autechre, Noriko Matsumoto, etc.). As the best example, next time Cycling74 posts a job for their company, try applying based on your Max knowledge alone(i've done this for the past 10 years). Only if you're lucky and persistent will you finally get a politely fake response saying, "your Max experience is very valuable but we simply need someone with more experience in [so-and-so]"...('[so-and-so]' always being something that lies outside the realm of Max). I know lots of people who also say that Max has slowed their career down because it gave them the impression that they could do so much when they actually didn't know the operating-system level knowledge needed to make that knowledge practical for the businesses and public at large(most businesses and development teams will not want to use Max because it is not as easily extendable as something like an OOP language's API since you cannot get access to everything you might need to streamline overhead CPU to create apps which are specifically dedicated to some task).
      When i completed my M.F.A. having ample knowledge of Max(as well as CSound, SuperCollider, Reaktor, ProTools, Logic, FinalCutPro, Flash and so much more...), i found that if I wanted to get better at developing apps, ONLY SuperCollider came close to offering me knowledge that was practical in the real-world of software development. You might as well just skip ahead to learning C++ within the context of creating AU/VST plugins.
      So I'd recommend learning C/C++/Java and killing any dependence you might have on Max as early as possible(only using it for prototyping or projects for yourself). I am a Max addict, too! Hopefully it makes my experience no less credible.
      If however, you simply want to do sound-design or create art at the level of an artist who wanders from grant to grant(not a bad thing at all but never a 'secure' living), Max(along with PD and any similar environment) is perfect for this.
      Just 'I'n 'M'y 'H'umble 'O'pinion.
    • Sep 02 2010 | 9:58 pm
      The MA I took in Music Technology used Max/MSP as its weapon of choice......when we should have been better prepared for the real world and been given industry standard tools and skills, such as those mentioned by Noob4Life, Mike S, et al above. My uni did offer an MSc though. I now envy my PhD colleagues who are fluent in SuperCollider, CSound, C++ and other OOP languages - that stuff just fries my brain, and, again as Noob4Life has suggested, I kid myself that I have valuable and transferable skills cos I can programme in Max..........oops indeed! Given the opportunity to rewind, I would choose Audio Programming, and teach myself Max as a hobby or additional skill. Good luck Brendan
    • Sep 02 2010 | 10:12 pm
      Really interesting replies guys, which have helped a lot. How would you say audio programming differs from sound design or do the two kinda share aspects of one an other. As pointed out c++ seems crucial for the audio programming route, whereas the sound design does teach max but other aspects too ranging from dsp, foley work etc. The audio programming ranges from max then to c++ and incorporates sound engineering into it.
      Would you say sound design is more about designing instruments and manipulating sounds whilst audio programming is about building the software and algorithms to produce a desired outcome?
    • Sep 02 2010 | 10:21 pm
      DISCLAIMER "As weak analogies go, this one is very flimsy, and I will get a severe kicking for it but here goes....."
      Sound Design, very broadly, is like learning to drive a variety of highly complex fast and fun vehicles. There, I'm wrong already but bear with me. Audio Programming could be more akin to learning to be a mechanic, who builds complex fast and fun vehicles.
    • Sep 02 2010 | 10:29 pm
      i like what brendan said, to carry the analogy further, sound designers are like mechanics who know how to use tools well to fix and modify vehicles while audio programmers are like the engineers who know how to create the vehicles and tools which mechanics will then use, fix, or modify... if you are both an engineer and a mechanic, it means you don't have to depend on others as much(for example, Autechre writes many of their own private apps using C/C++, and then they also make music and know how to use things like Max and Supercollider... even better example of this is Curtis Roads; these peoples' positions at the forefront of technology is most enviable because they have the best of both worlds).
    • Sep 03 2010 | 5:19 pm
      I think that brendan's ideology of the audio programmer being an engineer whilst a sound designer being a mechanic has greatly improved my opinion on the subject, audio programming seems a step above sound design in this context if I learn how to program then I can also delve into the sound design aspects by writing my own programs in a way to manipulate audio etc and designing my own sounds (if that makes sense).
    • Sep 03 2010 | 5:23 pm
      I hope everyone knows that I certainly didn't intend to suggest that "programmer versus designer" may be inherently hierarchical. It's more like "science or art", with each discipline informing the other. Hence MA versus MSc,
      Glad your thread has generated an important discussion and helped you a little in making a decision
    • Sep 03 2010 | 5:37 pm
      thanks it has helped a lot in the decision and provided a better insight into these two subjects, as I stated if I opt for the audio programming route then once I have got greater to grips with programming then I can create sole programs geared towards sound design.
    • Jul 24 2011 | 6:12 pm
      Great thread,
      Is there any MSc in sound desing/sound programming that is based around Max Msp?
    • Jul 25 2011 | 2:55 pm
      Not all post-grad courses are 'taught' courses - some even less so than others - and in general, you are expected to stand on your own two feet a lot more than on graduate courses. So like Brendan, I love Max, but wish I could do the dirtier code stuff too, but my feeling is that if you're not already up to speed with some 'proper' programming at graduate level, you would struggle to take it up at post-graduate level. I ended up choosing a Sound Engineering & Production MSC for that very reason (oh, and because they cancelled the Audio Engineering (software) course at my uni too!). Sometimes it's been on the flimsiest of pretexts, but I've managed to get Max into just about everything I've done of the course, so I'm happy :) I'm sure you'll find plenty of reasons to use Max on a Sound Design course - after all, creativity is what it's all about. But I'm sure you'll also be expected to spend time with a lot of other software, (and even hardware!) too - though I doubt you'll be expected to code the stuff from scratch. But, as my old mate used to say, 'It's all good stuff'! cheers Roger