Rock'n'roll survivors

Not all starstruck youngsters will make it big in a band. But, armed with the right qualifications and experience, they could still have an exciting career in the music business, says Diana Hinds
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The Independent Online

Last week my son's rock group made its debut at a school concert, and four more 12- and 13-year-olds signed up to the teenage dream of one day making a successful career in a band. Dreams can take you a long way, and already these boys talk wistfully of demo tapes and recording contracts. The reality is, of course, that only a tiny percentage of hopefuls will ever make it big. But for those that don't, the burgeoning music industry can accommodate them in ways they may not yet have considered - as managers or promoters, music technologists or recording engineers. And what they may not know is that there are now a number of specialist degree programmes in the UK that can prepare them for such roles.

Last week my son's rock group made its debut at a school concert, and four more 12- and 13-year-olds signed up to the teenage dream of one day making a successful career in a band. Dreams can take you a long way, and already these boys talk wistfully of demo tapes and recording contracts. The reality is, of course, that only a tiny percentage of hopefuls will ever make it big. But for those that don't, the burgeoning music industry can accommodate them in ways they may not yet have considered - as managers or promoters, music technologists or recording engineers. And what they may not know is that there are now a number of specialist degree programmes in the UK that can prepare them for such roles.

Allan Dumbreck is a lecturer on the BA Honours degree in commercial music at the University of Paisley in Glasgow. "We set up this course with the music industry because they were saying to us, 'We get people who know about being in bands, but they don't know enough about accounting or negotiating skills.' The music industry needs people who are versatile, from a range of backgrounds." The University of Paisley's degree course comprises three strands: performance and instrumental, technology and production, business and sociology. "All students begin by doing a bit of everything, and then they can customise as they go forward," explains Dumbreck.

At the start of the degree, around 50 per cent of the students are interested mainly in the instrumental side (with more than a third of these playing electric guitar), 30 per cent in technology, and 20 per cent in the business side. But by the fourth and final year, Dumbreck says, the position has reversed, with performance down to 20 per cent and business up to 50 per cent.

As they see and hear the very high-level performers on the course - perhaps half a dozen a year - other students become more realistic about their chances, and find their interests turning elsewhere. "They start to get enthusiastic about running events or becoming studio managers. They see that this can be as exciting as standing on a stage, and they begin to see a career path opening up for them," says Dumbreck.

The University of Glamorgan has been running BSc Honours degrees in music technology and sound technology for the last five years, and the two now attract around 330 students a year. As Jim Barrett, senior lecturer and course leader, explains: "We are based in the school of electronics, but we have taken care to create courses that span from the engineering to the creative end, allowing students to find their own position on the spectrum. If you're extremely good at playing, or engineering, than you're fine. But if you haven't got that skill, you need to be able to bridge the two - the creative and the technical. It's what the modern world needs."

The Glamorgan degrees attract young people already playing for fun or in signed bands, as well as classically trained musicians who want to extend their horizons beyond a career in an orchestra. The courses offer a range of opportunities, including working in recording studios, producing computerised music, video-editing, web-page design and animation. "We are preparing people for portfolio careers," says Barrett. "If you have a wide range of skills, you can pick up different work according to what's available, and use your contacts to move into other areas."

Phil Ellis, business development manager for the arts at City College Manchester, believes students contemplating careers in the music industry need as much hands-on experience as they can get. Seven years ago the college initiated its course in music and new media management (now a two-year foundation degree), and set up its own record label as part of the course. Now internationally respected, according to Ellis, the label has produced over 400 original tracks, and sold 200,000 units on secondary compilations around the world. Closely linked to the industry, the course encourages students to attend international conventions - including Midem in Cannes, and South by South West in Texas - where they can make contacts and have a go at band promotion. After the foundation degree, students can continue to honours-degree level at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, the University of Salford or the University of Westminster.

Katie Pattenden graduated in 2000 from the music industry management and specialised music marketing course at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, and now works as a regional radio plugger at Hart Media in London. Students shouldn't expect to walk straight into an industry job, she says, but a specialised course helps. "They need to have fingers in lots of music-business-orientated pies, working at venues or record shops, helping gig promoters for free, doing work experience at radio stations and so on. Combining this with the course will make students stand out from the rest."

'NOW I SPOT NEW TALENT'

Barry Saint, 25, graduated from Paisley University in 2003 with a degree in commercial music. He now works in A&R (artist and repertoire) for Sony BMG

"I played the bass guitar in a band for about six years, but unfortunately the band didn't do very well.

"I did an HND in music technology at Stow College in Glasgow, followed by an advanced diploma in music management and marketing, and thereafter I decided to do the degree course at Paisley University.

"The band had broken up by this point. I admitted that we weren't good enough - which was hard, but true. I was listening to other bands, and I realised that there were many better bands around than my own.

"At this point, I was taking an active interest in A&R, and I started managing other bands. Through the degree course, I made a lot of contacts. I did some work-experience at Warner Brothers Music in London in the new media department, and I also set up an online music magazine giving people information about new bands.

"A degree course like this opens up new opportunities, and I got more and more interested in the business side. The creative part of it for me was being involved directly with artists - seeing where they were going wrong, for instance with their song arrangements, and being able to help them.

"I applied for the Warner Music graduate scheme, got down to the last six, and after I graduated I worked for Warner in their A&R department for four months.

"After that I was unemployed for a while, but then got some work helping an A&R scout at Sony BMG. When he left, I got the job, and I've been here for nine months now.

"My job involves looking out for good new bands and going to hear them. I'm just on the point of signing my first band: I heard them at a rehearsal in the Leeds area, and I was blown away by them. This band is really something else."

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