Contemporary music academies give stars of future a chance to be heard

If you were searching for the best spot to establish a school for popular musicians, you might not immediately think of Guildford, the Surrey hometown of corporate commuters. The Home Counties are where rock royalty retire to vulgar country mansions to count their money; not, surely, where the guitar heroes of the future are bred?

But for the past decade, Guildford is where many of the country's most committed young rockers have been flocking, to enrol at the town's Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM), hidden away above a sprawling pub, in a warren of high-tech recording studios, practice spaces and specialised classrooms. The school began life in the garage of now-managing director Phil Brooks, where he gave one-on-one guitar lessons. Brooks spotted the potential for full-class guitar teaching, and the rest is history: today, ACM offers courses - from diplomas to degrees - in guitar, bass, vocals, drums, music production and DJing, with a sprinkling of business studies to enlighten students on copyright, contracts and the realities of the industry.

"Guildford isn't rock'n'roll, but ACM's not just about being rock'n'roll, it's about understanding the elements you need to become rock'n'roll," says Ian Edwards, the academy's marketing and admissions manager. "London is only half an hour away, but here the students are in an environment where they can perform and make mistakes as part of their study and not be judged by any record company people that might have been at the venue if we were based in London."

The aim of the courses at ACM is to integrate the students into the music industry, so when the time comes the school are more than happy to invite record company types to meet their protégés. "We hold industry days, when representatives from major labels, production houses, record companies, radio and television, come in," explains Edwards. "We have our own small dance and indie record labels and an in-house magazine run by an ex-student. We've worked with THQ, one of the world's biggest videogame manufacturers, supplying music for their games." ACM's business development centre (BDC) ensures that ACM students have an opportunity to be auditioned by record companies, management companies or agents, or to get work placements with production houses or record companies. "The BDC guys promote ACM artists, but also promote ACM as a resource for the industry. Understanding where you are within the industry is a very important part of what we do here."

The academy has also persuaded the rock aristocracy to take time out from spending their royalties. Last year's national guitar competition, the riffathon, was organised by ACM and attended by such luminaries as Jimmy Page, Brian May and Dan Hawkins (of The Darkness). Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith is a regular visitor, giving masterclasses and taking part in live performances. Live performance is central to the instrumental and vocals courses, and part of the academy's weekly timetable is a Friday night performance in a local venue. The students are placed in bands, and every Monday they are given a new pair of songs to learn and perform to their peers at the end of the week.

"The atmosphere at the Friday night gigs is extremely positive," says Chris Hayne, ACM's vice-principal. "The students really encourage each other, and the fact that they do it every week throughout the course, makes it second nature for them. The speed at which they develop in their confidence and their playing ability is phenomenal."

"This week we're singing either 'ABC' by the Jackson Five or 'Killing In The Name Of' by Rage against The Machine," says Roz Turner, a higher diploma student in the vocals department. Turner was discovered by ACM scouts at a local karaoke competition. With her AC/DC T-shirt and dazzling blonde hair, she looks every inch the rock singer she aspires to be but, she explains, "I only listened to rock when I came here. But everyone had completely different tastes, so we all started to listen to each other's music. Now I can appreciate metal, funk and jazz and other things. We arrive with one voice and leave with five."

The academy's entry requirements are flexible, and for relative newcomers to their instrument, the diploma courses are designed to prepare less experienced students for the higher diploma or degree courses. While a Grade Eight instrumental qualification or equivalent is preferable for those applying to the degree courses, says Chris Hayne, "sometimes you can tell from a student's demo CD that they have incredible natural talent, even though they don't necessarily have a lot of technical knowledge. We don't want to miss out on those people. If we just did it based entirely on grades we would miss out on a huge, often very influential, group of people."

With the support of the industry, ACM is able to break the mould technically, with the teaching rooms each kitted out by familiar manufacturing names such as Fender, Gibson, Yamaha, Marshall and Roland, who support the drum classroom. Equipped with 22 state-of-the-art electronic drum kits, "the drum room is a bit like a language lab," Hayne explains. "People can work on something individually; they can play along to the tutor, to a track, to a metronome, depending on what they're trying to achieve in that particular lecture."

Around the country, other institutions are responding to the demand for contemporary music education. Paul McCartney's LIPA in Liverpool is one, though it has a broader performing arts remit than ACM. Point Blank in East London focuses on electronic audio engineering, studio-based production and DJ-ing, with a sideline in radio broadcast and songwriting. The original contemporary music schools were Drum-Tech, Vocal-Tech and Guitar-X, based in Acton and accredited by Thames Valley University. Drum-Tech, the first of the franchise (which will be joined by Keyboard-Tech in October) was established by drummer Francis Seriau in 1983. Seriau, still the Tech Music Schools' director, wanted to create a contemporary music conservatoire that gave popular musicians the same education that is available to classical performers.

"The music industry was in need of qualified musicians, who were versatile technically and stylistically," says Seriau. "We are an important resource for the music industry. To have longevity, musicians need more than just playing and performing ability, so we teach them programming, arranging, composing, business and music theory. We want our students to be self-sufficient, individual, creative musicians."

Greatest hits

Amelle Berrabah, an ACM vocals graduate, is the newest member of perennial pop pixies the Sugababes. The lucky things are supporting Take That on their comeback tour in the summer.

Chris Leonard, an ACM guitar graduate, is now plucking furiously away with Son Of Dork, the new band of former Busted singer and guitarist James Bourne.

Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien studied at Drum-Tech and Guitar-X respectively. You may have heard of their band, Radiohead.

Luke Bullen, a former Drum-Tech student, played drums for Joe Strummer before joining recent Brit Award winner KT Tunstall's band. Bullen and Tunstall also happen to be an item.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Goalkeeping howler allows Man City to scrap a draw – but Premier League title is Liverpool's to lose
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Crewe Teacher Perm Ch...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the lea...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Teaching Cheshire

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Long term position in large p...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal