Music education

Music education needs to get down to business

With creative subjects seemingly taking a backseat to the government focus on Ebacc subjects, Ewan Grant, MD at The Notting Hill Academy of Music, discusses the importance of music education in the national curriculum.

Well over 8,000 people have already signed a petition lobbying the government to include arts subjects in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), adding fuel to calls for a stronger cultural presence on the curriculum for our younger generations. Currently, the EBacc comprises english, maths, science, a language and a humanities subject, either history or geography, and in its current form, fails to recognise the need for creative subjects including art, drama and music, giving no acknowledgement to the significance of these to nurture the young more creatively-minded individuals through education in this country. The petition on the official Parliamentary site reads that ‘the exclusion of art, music, drama and other expressive subjects is limiting, short sighted and cruel’, and I tend to agree.

The music industry alone contributed an impressive £4.1 billion to the UK economy in 2014, and with the recent global successes of British artists including Adele and Ed Sheeran, this is set to rise in the years to come. With this in mind, it’s important for us to nurture our younger generations at the earliest stages of their education, something that the EBacc doesn’t currently take into account. In light of this, we have to ask ourselves how the EBacc and the skills it currently develops can possibly help a child realise a passion in the creative industries, particularly in the notoriously tricky world of music, if young talent isn’t harnessed to its full potential from the offset.

A balanced curriculum
With children required to study EBacc subjects to GCSE level, it’s easy to see that the creative pathways for our school children are disappearing, which will slowly result in funding for creative subject areas being cut, leading to options for our children being vastly reduced. A balanced curriculum that includes the creative arts and sports as well as the more ‘traditional’ subjects is what is required at this crucial developmental stage. This will empower young students to make a balanced choice for their future by having a foundation in all subject areas, giving them a well-rounded understanding of all areas to allow them to discover a passion that they can pursue, whether that falls within the traditional study routes, or the more creative subjects. 

The way that I see it, having spent over 30 years in the music industry, music education is a very significant part of producing well-rounded young adults, and a really easy way of engaging pupils in something that isn’t just perceived as ‘school work’. As I’ve explained above, the provision of music education in the UK’s schools can be patchy because of the heavy focus on traditional subjects. This means that students are easily swayed away from their passion of music early on, and lured in by the world of tech, for instance, particularly when encouraged to do so by well-meaning teachers and parents. This has meant that in the digital age, we’re losing good people, who could’ve potentially been game-changers in music as the next big executive or performer.
It’s a two-way street though. With new tech subjects garnering ever more attention from students at the early stages of their education, we in the industry also need to ensure we’re doing everything we can to invest in young talent, which in turn will help keep their passion for music alive.

Getting down to business
At the Notting Hill Academy of Music, we believe that this starts with understanding the business side of the music industry, which should be introduced early on at levels 1, 2 and 3 in music (the equivalent to GCSE and A–level), or introduced as an option for a compulsory creative subject for the EBacc. This would give students an early understanding of the business side of the creative industries, and lend itself to more forward-thinking students considering a career in music. The UK has an extremely proud music heritage and it’s a shame that we’re not instilling this within secondary education by making students aware of the legacy behind it, as well as the career paths available to them within the business.
Part of this is helping ensure that young people are aware of the revenue streams in the music industry, and how to monetise them based on their passions. The media might focus on how the industry is in a constant state of flux with some revenue streams dwindling due to digital, but the truth is that the internet actually makes music more accessible to young people, so there’s more opportunity nowadays than ever before. Song writing and the world of live music for instance are still extremely lucrative areas for growth if you have the right product and know how to market it effectively. Learning about these areas is therefore vitally important. Understanding the way businesses operate is key whether you have dreams of becoming a DJ, producer, artist, song-writer or future executive. These are all things that should be covered from the very beginning of an education in music as, ultimately, the music industry is a business like any other.
When I first started out in the industry, it was a huge learning curve whilst on the job. I believe that if I had had more of grounding in the business side of music from an early age, I would have been able to learn a lot faster, and perhaps not made certain mistakes while I was figuring the industry out. This became even more evident as I moved up in the industry, as business orientated courses just didn’t exist, even in higher education, which meant that when it came round to me hiring my own employees, they were missing some essential skills that should have been developed during their education. Nowhere were they able to take advantage of courses that offered the most relevant, up to date and future-thinking guidance needed to equip talent with the tools to make it in the industry.
The key thing to bear in mind when considering the importance of music in education is that students can only learn if they possess a passion for music. This is how they can gain an understanding of the business side of the industry, particularly as the world of music is constantly undergoing change. This passion should be nurtured in the person at school by courses that really teach young people the power of music and how it can benefit their lives, so that later they’re able to forge a genuine career in the industry in one of the many different roles out there.

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