What I Do at The U

I don’t teach the vocation of “plugin programming” and in our program at the University of Miami, we avoid vocational education altogether; that was actually a directive from the first Music Engineering program director in 1977, Bill Porter (Elvis Presley’s engineer). 

I teach the principles of real-time audio signal processing, not the vocation of writing plugins – a common fallacy on the forum message boards. In my classes, I give the students AES papers, US Patents, and sometimes actual hardware (e.g. Roland Dimension-D and the Novation BassStation, to name a few) to implement in code and create their design projects. The goal is to learn how to take those algorithms (from the AES papers or Patents) and implement them as audio signal processing code. Or, to reverse engineer the hardware (no looking inside!) to “clone” the device. This is crucial in developing and honing the students’ analytical problem solving and decision making skills, which is ultimately what their future employers really want. To get an A on my projects, you have to add something novel, unique , and value added to a basis project that I assign. You have to use analytical thinking and go “outside the box” — and students are amazingly good at this, even though they often resent this approach, because they haven’t been “inside the box” long enough to form opinions or prejudices. I am constantly amazed at what they come up with, many times it’s stuff I’d never consider because I am old. 

In the process, the students internalize the DSP theory concepts we teach as they see how these concepts and abstract algebra work in the context of real time audio processing that they can hear with their ears and control with a GUI. The goal is NOT to teach how to use a given plugin framework like JUCE or ASPiK, which would be a massive rip-off – how could we charge students for tuition, and then simply teach them a vocation they can learn from watching YouTube videos? We have to add much more value than that to the coursework otherwise there is no point. My students who do the projects and embrace the process have no problem succeeding in job interviews, whether for embedded DSP systems or music production or anything in between because of that development of their analytical problem solving skills. 

So, plugins, RackAFX and ASPiK are simply parts of a real-time audio-signal-processing-education-delivery-system, and not direct ends to means — from 1997-1999 I taught signal processing via Analog Devices and Motorola DSP assembly language and dev boards for the same reason – they were delivery systems. And, in my classes the students can use whatever plugin framework they like – JUCE, iPlug, ASPiK, etc… I don’t care, because that simply isn’t the point of what I teach; I am not funded by a plugin framework company like the other audio programming sites, who have a vested interest in pushing their product/API on the consumer, while usually neglecting the others. You don’t see logos for commercial products or APIs on my website or in my videos for a reason. RackAFX and ASPiK are 100% free to use and develop plugins, commercial or non-commercial; doesn’t matter to me because that’s not how I earn a living in higher education. 

Ultimately, RackAFX has helped many aspiring audio engineers for all over the world get started in audio signal processing, and sometimes directly in getting jobs, going to grad school, or changing their opinion on learning math, and it makes writing, debugging, testing and verifying audio signal processing code insanely simple and quick, so that the DSP theory, which is often abstract and nebulous for the students, becomes crystallized in their minds as they hear the results of the math, and follow the logic of the code – that is the point of what I do.