James Ayrton

Audio Production

Audio Production Instructor
The Art Institute of Philadelphia

James Ayrton

Do what makes you happy. And figure out a way to make a living at it. James Ayrton , Audio Production Instructor , The Art Institute of Philadelphia

Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I did a creative project early in high school where the only stipulation was to explain your “style.” I used a cassette deck, a CD Walkman, and an old DJ mixer to make an audio collage of music that said something about me and my style. I spent more time on that project than most, but it never once felt like I was doing work. It made me think this was a path I should really pursue.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

Because I come from a diverse background of professional experience, I emphasize the idea of flexibility. Don’t just be good at one thing. Use the same skills you learned to produce music to help you with post-production for a film. Media convergence means that there’s less separation between fields of media. We have to be media creators first, and audio producers second.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

My favorite is the class-wide project I do for Studio and Project Management. The class as a whole works on large-scale audio-related productions. The students are completely in charge, and I provide guidance rather than leadership. We’ve ended up with concerts, a fashion show, and an hour-long podcast episode of various skits. Every year we do this, I see students learning leadership and coordination. And I see them launch careers inspired by experiences they had while completing this project.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

To me, collaboration means figuring out how to talk to people who see a project from a different perspective. It’s not an easy skill to learn. A small arts school like ours enables this kind of collaboration. And that’s pretty important, because working across departments, you build the skills you’ll need in the real world. On top of that, often students open networking opportunities that will come in handy when they’re starting their careers.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

Learn how to break down a problem, a project, or a business. Figure out the real motivations and make a plan to reach the objectives.

What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

Do what makes you happy. And figure out a way to make a living at it.

Anything else you’d like to share?

We get a lot of young adults who didn’t initially think college was for them, or tried another college and weren’t satisfied. They’ve figured out who they are, and they work harder than students at any other school I’ve seen. The most inspiring thing is talking to a student who’s about to graduate, and they say that in high school they never imagined they’d be standing here about to get a degree.