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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell