6 Reasons Why Music Education Must Change
- Knowledge and contacts are now free and available to all.
- Traditional classroom delivery is over.
- Everyone is an individual and large groups don’t work.
- Study has to fit around your lifestyle - not the other way around.
- Universities and colleges have to drop the idea that they are doing you a favour by having you as a customer.
- Anyone who writes a music degree, or runs a music college, has to be an active musician and out there doing it for real.
We all have Google and we all have YouTube. We can all access quality, up to date, specialised courses cheaply on Udemy. Yet most universities and music colleges haven’t adapted to the fact that they can no longer sell us information and concepts because we have it already at the click of a button. This reminds me so much of when Napster emerged on the scene and music became a free commodity. The major labels buried their heads in the sand and thought it wouldn’t catch on. Why wouldn’t it catch on? People like free and people like easy. So just what are we getting for our £9k course fees? What exactly is the role of a university or music college in 2018? Well, I say that the role of universities and music colleges is to provide the community and to help musicians manage their personal journey within their education. As educationalists our job is to cut through the noise, negotiate and clarify individual goals and ensure those goals are realistic and achievable, all in an orderly and calm way. It is also our job to help plug any gaps in skills or abilities and prepare musicians for a creative life. To be successful yes, but also to be happy and healthy.
The concept of a tutor as a ‘sage delivering wisdom to the uninitiated’ is laughable in these times, when the music industry changes at the speed of light and the average 18-year-old can run rings around most lecturers in terms of up-to-date knowledge. The days of traditional classroom teaching are over - dead and buried. No one goes to work in the real world and sits in a room where an old person drones on for two hours. No, we work with coffee in hand, mac on the table, discussing projects, doing emails, writing songs and getting stuff done. We work in offices, coffee shops, studios and on the road. Higher education should be like that too. We are not preparing people to run the British Empire in Victorian times any more. Education is about asking the right questions at the right time, standing back and chairing debate. We don’t all have to agree - there is no ‘right way’. Knowing when to keep quiet is a rare skill in education, but we must learn to listen more and we might find that we learn more from the producers of new music than they do from us.
Today’s industry is fluid and fast changing. Every one of us has to carve a niche out for ourselves as a professional musician, as no two creative careers are the same. It’s nonsense to teach people in large groups, as if one set of ideas will work for all. Every musician is an individual and the only way to understand where they are coming from and where they want to go is through one-to-one discussion and small group work. This can be online or in a college – it doesn’t matter as long as the care and attention to detail is there and critically that the tutor or mentor has the skills and experience to make a fundamental difference to the student’s situation. It’s nice to have a chat, but discussion must result in real progression for the musician.
Time is precious and musicians need to practice, organise bands, record, tour and write songs. We can’t have our time being wasted dealing with an awkward timetable, unnecessary travel or lessons thrown together to bulk out a timetable. Within our degree course there should be room to breathe, reflect and look after our mental and physical health. Lectures should be accessible in a flexible way and there is now no excuse for lectures not being available online. As nice as it is to browse around a physical library, an online library is the future. We shouldn’t be forced to conform to a timetable for the sake of it. We are creatives and we don’t work to a 9 to 5 timetable. If we wanted to do that we’d be in an office.
That’s the key word - ‘customer’. We need to recruit responsibly and only accept people on a degree or master’s course that we can actually help. Make no mistake - music education is big business and once we have accepted a musician on the course, we have a clear responsibility to be accountable to them, especially given the level of degree fees in 2018. I’m talking about accountability for how their course fees are spent, the promises made at the recruitment stage and the quality of care on the journey through the degree and out into the creative work space. Universities and colleges who are slow to catch on to this culture change will find things very tough. Students are already voting with their feet and are no longer prepared to be spoken down to after handing over £9k a year.
This is simple. If you haven’t toured or put music out for real in the last couple of years, you don’t have any business writing or teaching on a commercial music degree. Times change and fast, so the designers of courses and lecturers have to be plugged in to the grid. Music education can’t be a comfy retirement home for old musos complaining that it’s ‘not like it used to be’. We live in a time where there is no age barrier to making music. People who can, do. People who can, also teach.
This is why we have set up a new college for creative people in Brighton called WaterBear.
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