My music education started in the 90s, when the choice of where to study music was either your local college or the one specialist music college in London called Guitar Institute (Basstech for us bassists). As a 16-year-old who had failed his GCSEs TWICE, I enrolled on a performing arts course just outside of my home city of Swansea, where I was allocated 35 minutes a week of specialised bass tuition with a tutor.
As a 19-year-old I was told about a new specialist music college in Guildford and while I had been accepted to study in London at Basstech, I chose Guildford as it was clear to me that the tutors were hungry to help young musicians (like me) with their careers. After my course I stayed on as a tutor. 5 years later that college had grown from 44 students to 750 students and it was time for myself and Bruce (John Dickinson) to leave and set up a new music college focused on making a difference.
Over the next 15 years the bar was raised year on year and pretty soon every local college, university and even school had invested crazy amounts of money to compete in the growing trend of music education. Specialist music colleges weren’t so specialist anymore, as they tried to accommodate for the thousands of students coming through their doors every year.
Those dreaded phrases which every music college wants to avoid hearing, like ‘the conveyor belt’, ‘bums on seats’, or ‘it’s all about the money’ became more and more common, as disgruntled students left feeling cheated from broken promises.
Is music education broken?
Music education is better than it has ever been, with more choice than ever before. However, while music colleges are putting the emphasis on qualifications, the smart kids are looking for mentors and time.
Music education is here, now! This video, my channel… I am a part of music education. I’m here to help you understand and navigate your career in music as a musician. I might not have all the answers, but I’ve been training, teaching and supporting musicians for 20 years. My beliefs are the same today as they were 20 years ago. The industry and the vehicle might have changed but the strategies and hard work have not.
I fully support and believe in music education. My personal view is that I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the piece of paper. It’s about the 3 years of learning, being mentored, creating, failing, networking and investing in yourself as a professional musician… that is what achieving something at music college means to me.
Music colleges are now like coffee shops. We have Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero who have the big money to spend on advertising and marketing – but what’s the coffee like? I don’t drink coffee but I can say that Starbucks tea tastes like piss! If I want convenience and there is no other option, I will take it and complain, but if there is an option to walk a few minutes to a specialist coffee house and I don’t take it, then I’m the idiot… drinking piss!
The formality of tradition is the problem with music education. Young musicians don’t need a degree – they need training. Back in the day I would be training someone for a potential career, not a graduation ball. I urge musicians to look at studying at a college/university where mentoring is the BE ALL AND END ALL. Every college will promise it but it’s your job to do the maths.
What is 30 opportunities divided by 300 guitar students? 1000 students multiplied by an hour of individual tutor time means that 1 tutor will be working a 40 hour week for 25 weeks solid, just to see every student once for a 60 minute cup of tea!
There are great teachers at these places… world class. However, what does that mean if you don’t get proper access to them regularly? Those amazing world class teachers become a marketing gimmick. It’s not the teacher’s fault, it’s the system.
Music education isn’t broken. It’s stronger than it’s ever been, but like everything else in the music industry, this means that 1000s of musicians graduate every year and join the noise (muso’s looking for work). This pushes the standards up year on year, so if you want to compete, you need to find the best option with the best mentors – not the best marketing. Find people you trust, because they will potentially have your career in their hands.
But if you’re happy with your Starbucks coffee like everyone else… then good luck!
I hope this article helps, but if you are struggling with where to study PLEASE hit me up. I won’t recommend a one size fits all course, however I will talk with you about what you want to achieve and the benefits of all the places I have lectured at, to make sure that you are going into a course with your eyes open!