Andy Sankey, Chief Examiner Music Performance and Production

For many people, thinking about music education brings up memories of being forced to play a recorder in a school assembly hall, a painful experience for both performer and audience.

This form of delivery is often unengaging and very few people will walk away from it feeling inspired to develop their musical abilities.

Thankfully, music education has become much more open-minded and diverse, encouraging young learners to discover a range of career opportunities and pathways, both on stage and behind the scenes.

It benefits mental wellbeing, it is expressive, creative, enjoyable, and it helps enforce the importance of working collaboratively and collectively.

The music industry is worth £5.8 billion to the UK economy 

The music industry is worth £5.8 billion (2019) to the UK economy, employs over 200,000 people and is something most of us are exposed to in our everyday lives, either by choice or cognitively. Without music, TV, film, and games for example, would not have as much emotion, intensity or suspense.

In films such as ‘James Bond’ , originally composed by John Barry, and more recently David Arnold, musical motifs are used to remind the audience of locations and characters. Without the John Williams score for the 1975 film based on the Peter Benchley novel ‘Jaws’, Steven Spielberg’s career could have been over before it started (If you have not seen this film, you should watch it and if you have, or when you do, watch the opening scene without sound to experience and realise the importance of the score).

With the increasing development in gaming, more money has been afforded to the production of supporting audio and music, with the score and audio supporting the action and financially attracting accomplished composers and artists. Music synchronisation, used primarily for TV idents, advertising and radio jingles etc., are mini compositions that catch the attention of the audience and link melodically and/or harmonically with a product or message in a very short period. These mini compositions come with their challenges but are equally important and lucrative despite being rarely over one minute long. These are all examples of the less thought of music performance and production opportunities available to students and graduates.

And of course, there is performance – the ‘star’ of the show, and why so many people begin to think about a career in music to begin with. Music performance is something people will often associate with popular music (or pop music), and contemporary performers in the many genres they listen to, watch, and engage with in a constantly evolving multimedia world.

The musicians and singers may often be seen as the ‘stars’ of the show, however there are many other opportunities available within music performance productions, such as Dancers, Backing Vocalists, and Session Musicians. Not to mention the team of people who run the show, including Sound Monitoring, Lighting Engineers, Technicians, Costume Designers and Make-up Artists.

All these people are part of the production in some way, and each area helps to communicate and engage with the audience more effectively. Business support also contains various career opportunities, including Managers, A&R, Agents, Songwriters, Merchandise and Marketing. Basically, when one new artist, band or DJ is signed, a business is created.

What does Brexit have to do with music?

The recent events of Brexit and the pandemic have had a big impact on every aspect of the music industry, as with all sectors and industries globally. Brexit negotiations did not include live music as promised. This means that the suggested approach to allow UK musicians and subsidiary businesses to perform, tour and work freely in Europe, was not discussed or represented.

UK Music and many others from the music industry are asking and lobbying for Westminster to re-open the negotiation regarding this. This is not just for UK based musicians — the UK was commonly used by international artists as a gateway to Europe. The crew and tour managers would hire transport and equipment for European tours in the UK.

Before Brexit all insurance and equipment was EU regulated, this unfortunately is no longer the case, so international artists may reconsider if they continue to use the UK in this way. These restrictions will have a negative impact on the music industry and creative arts generally, resulting in decreased income for the economy and career opportunities for artists and those who support them.

Although the current road map out of the pandemic for live music is very positive, (due largely to the Let Music Play: Save Our Summer 2021 campaign), there are still some questions and issues to be raised. Over three quarters of the people who work in the music industry in the UK are self-employed and have had to re-consider their career choice and future due to the pandemic and Brexit.

In addition, post Brexit, we will lose some of the technical support, skills, and people due to UK working and travel restrictions. To ensure a successful re-opening of live music events we need people with these skills. Having a live venue open without sound engineers, lighting engineers or technical support is basically an empty room.

How can music education make a difference?

Adapt and overcome; the music industry and careers within, are diverse and offer a host of opportunities and experiences. While some people have natural talent, most are not born with these skills, and with an ever-changing landscape and technology we need to nurture and develop young (and all) people through robust education and experiences. We need on-going talent and skills pipelines, and realistic, engaging, and flexible qualifications that focus on developing skills practically to respond to the needs of the industry. First and foremost, we must always put students at the centre of development and delivery.

To enable this, all students must have access to musical instruments and music education should be available to all regardless of age, social and cultural demographic. Campaigns such as Better Provision for Music Education for example, help to shine a light on the importance of provision.

The music industry and educational experience, formal or not, need to be protected and not forgotten. Extra-curricular (before and after school) and weekend clubs with a vocational approach in delivery and developmental assessment and feedback are a good starting point. Reference to music terminology and theory embedded within these programmes, but not prescribed, along with realistic, engaging projects and delivery is what will help them to thrive. Education must be enjoyable and contextual for successful skills development. Knowledge, understanding and application with on-going self-evaluation and reflection will inform individual progression and development.

Future qualification development

As we move into the future, student’s knowledge and understanding of the industry will need to include and adapt to the issues and problems caused by Brexit. For some time, music business has been a key factor within music education. As technology has changed the way people create, release, and promote themselves and their work, entrepreneurial and creative approaches to reach a global audience using digital marketing and social media for example, have become essential. To enable this, qualifications need to be flexible in delivery and assessment, work in collaboration with industry and have the student experience at the centre of every decision.

The UAL Awarding Body (UAL) Music Performance and Production qualifications were developed to be adaptive and flexible to meet the needs of the students, academically and practically. The development process behind UAL qualifications includes involving representatives from the industry and encouraging creative projects that are realistic and provides the skills required to achieve, adapt, and succeed.

UAL Awarding Body continues to develop relationships within the industry and has recently become the first awarding organisation to be accepted as a member of the Music Academic Partnership (MAP). This new partnership with UK Music will allow UAL Awarding Body to have access to research and resources to inform future qualification development.

Another key area that must be embedded within education and projects, are the new requirements to work within Europe post-Brexit. Engaging with PRS for Music and Musicians Union (MU) for supporting information and materials is where students (and existing professionals within the music industry) should be directed.

The Flowchart Guide to Working in Europe published by the MU is a visual guide to when and what is required and has some important information about touring and gigging in Europe.

This knowledge and understanding is what people working in the UK music industry today need to ensure they are prepared for change and have the confidence to go out into the ‘new’ world.

Andy Sankey, Chief Examiner Music Performance and Production, University of the Arts London Awarding Body

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