Freelance journalist Tim Slater looks at whether or not academia is the right way to go for young people seeking a career in MI...
The Music Industry is a unique working environment. No other industry that I have worked in offers such a warm welcome to the newcomer whilst presenting such a diverse choice of careers. Sales & marketing, journalism, retail, management, product development, event management and artist liaison; the sheer diversity of jobs under the MI umbrella is a goldmine of opportunity for anybody lucky enough to gain a toehold.
However, until recently none of these roles required much in the way of actual academic qualifications. Apart from a few notable exceptions that joined the industry after achieving success at a high management level most successful MI bods have got there through proving themselves able once a suitable role presented itself.
In recent weeks the news that BIMM Manchester is offering a BA (Hons) degree in Professional Musicianship among its raft of music-based qualifications has caused a bit of a stir. On one hand it’s great to see that young people who are passionate about music – and not necessarily purely from the standpoint of wanting to learn to play a musical instrument – having the opportunity to pursue their dream. There are kids who were failed by the school system but who can still flourish in a sympathetic and creative environment that guides them through the often-bewildering choice of MI jobs within the safe cocoon of professional education. Decent work placements that put students in contact with the right companies and people will at least give them a fighting chance when they finally graduate, but even then nothing is guaranteed.
On the other side there is a degree of resentment from some industry insiders who are offended by the idea that someone can leave education after three years with a Professional Musician certificate when in fact they may have actually done very little to earn the tag. A piece of paper describing someone as ‘professional musician’ when they may have spent less hours on the bandstand than a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent does understandably rankle with seasoned veterans but the antipathy seems more aimed at the colleges than the kids themselves. Are kids being hoodwinked by the system, believing that they are entitled to a career when in fact they still lack the experience?
This debate throws light on another fact about the type of people who are attracted to MI and who come to occupy the most high profile roles within it.
The UK Music Skills Academy, which forms part of the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural is actively trying to overturn the ‘jobs for the boys’ route into the industry whereby it was who you knew that helped you gain a foot in the door. Unwelcome as it may be in some quarters, this broader approach to recruitment might actually help to strengthen our industry by breaking down some cultural barriers, attracting some new talent, ideas and even helping to break into new markets.
Think about the cultural demographic of the MI industry for a minute. White males dominate it. Where are people of ethnic backgrounds? How many women work in our industry that are employed in senior management roles? Very, very few.
I am not suggesting for a minute that the MI industry is openly racist or sexist, even tacitly so. Nevertheless, if higher education can attract talent from more diverse backgrounds it will help to make our industry as strong, successful – and recession proof – as it deserves to be.