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MI Pro special focus on music education

8th May 2015

MI Pro speak to some leading voices in music education to find out how brands and dealers can get involved with the sector and what they can do to get more young people playing…

Lincoln Abbotts, director of strategic development, ABRSM

Last year we worked with partners from across the music education sector to produce the Making Music report – a research initiative looking into teaching, learning and playing in the UK. The research indicated issues around musical opportunity and progression – highlighting the need for the music education sector to better support progression from the point of first access.

We have a dedicated team who work with retailers around the world, and Phil Jarvis, our publications sales executive, works closely with retailers here in the UK. We provide retailers with information and resources that enable them to form meaningful customer relations. We feel that this enables retailers to be better informed in conversations with teachers, parents and learners.

We’re currently undertaking a programme to equip sheet music retailers with ABRSM branded display units, helping them to provide a focal point for our publications and other support materials for our exams.

ABRSM is a global company and our business is growing at different rates around the world. Since 1999, there’s been an increase of 2.3m children that say they know how to play an instrument.

We think that brands and retailers need to keep reminding people of the broader benefit of music, as well as promoting the value of learning an instrument.

ABRSM is always developing its digital offering to meet the needs of young learners through the introduction of high quality apps and resources such as Speedshifter, Aural Trainer and Melody Writer.

Music has had a spotlight shone on it like few other subjects and there is a continuing need for the sector to be working closely together in the name of music education. We hope that any future government would value the importance of music education and make funding for music education, linking first access with opportunities for progression.

We are all part of the ecology that inspires musical learning, participation and progression. As a sector, let’s work together to ensure that our offering is as clear and connected as possible so that anyone motivated to learn and make progress in music will have the best possible experience.

Oliver Sussat, director of marketing and technology, The Academy of Contemporary Music

The biggest change seen over the last 12 months, in my opinion, is to do with the kinds of music education courses that prospective students are interested in. We’re seeing a particular evolution of the ‘Creative Artist’; a midway between the performer and producer, encompassing elements of Songwriting and Artist Development, too. This is, without a doubt, a generation of people who want breadth in their education.

We recently held an evening with our sister company, Metropolis Studios, to introduce musical instrument manufacturers and retailers to the end-to-end proposition available at both ACM and Metropolis.

At ACM, we have approximately 1,500 young pro-sumers at any one time, whilst Metropolis hosts an innumerable amount of industry professionals every year, responsible for treating over 50 per cent of the UK chart.

We love showcasing new products to our students, staff and clients alike, and also engage in co-op marketing activities with artists/manufacturers/retailers in doing so. We’re always interested in connecting with more partners.

In light of the recession, thanks to a growing reputation for delivering high calibre graduates into the industry over the last 20 years, and the strength of the UK’s musical output throughout the last recessionary period (bolstered by ACM graduates such as Newton Faulkner, Ed Sheeran and, more recently, The Shires), ACM is going from strength to strength.

Regardless of the sector’s experience, for ACM, we are seeing an increase in young people getting involved with music education. Our applicant figures have been way up year-on-year for a while now.

We’d love to work with more artists, brands and retailers in conjunction to make music education accessible to more young people. The US has a very strong history of brand-sponsored scholarships, for example, that support talented students in building lifelong, sustainable careers in music. But here in the UK, there’s a lot of work to be done in this area. We’re working with a select few partners, in this regard, but are always interested in speaking to more.

ACM is currently working with the government on several levels to make music industry education more accessible to talented young people. We are a steering member of UK Music’s Music Academic Partnership, a key partner of Parliament’s Rock The House competition and constantly working with various Government departments to ensure that ACM’s education provision not only meets, but exceeds, the quality standards they require of all Higher Education Providers. We’ll keep up the good work and trust that they will, too.

Andrew Higgins, director of sales, Alfred Music

Over the past 12 months, we have seen a greater emphasis on technology. Interestingly I have seen highly experienced teachers listening transfixed to a 20-something techie who knows a hell of a lot about technology, but probably never stood in front of a class of restless students in his life. It is as if teachers have lost confidence in the subject itself and need the technology to encourage the students.

To connect with musical instrument retailers we have visited, emailed, met at exhibitions and shows, including MIRC, sent customers to them and fed them data for their websites. We try to work with them in any way they need us to.

Currently, the market is very tough, but it is no longer a recessionary issue (if it ever was), it is about globalisation and pricing. Our sales are fine, and our margins are tight.

It can be quite difficult attracting new and young customers. Young people are technology savvy, and many things they can source at the best prices online, so having a virtual shop front is critical. I also think young people are selective about the music they choose to learn and it tends to make them rather narrow minded in their choices. This is also not helped by the categorisation of music, which is a phenomenon that has always existed to serve marketing and media people, but its influence is now being brought to bear on education too.

Service is key to attracting more young people to music and music education. A shop or seller who can point young people in the right direction for teachers, bands, venues, rehearsal facilities, is always helpful. For brands trying to reach the right demographic is a challenge and shops can always advise on this and we are happy to support them in this with SOR or sample stock.

I think when governments start to pronounce on education they really do get the wrong end of the stick, even when they are trying to be helpful. However, taking music seriously as a subject in its own right would be a start: that it helps with maths and lateral thinking and teamwork and confidence and all the others things they mention is often overlooked. It is a great subject to understand and know about, either recreationally or professionally. Like languages, music is regarded as a luxury, when it is far more critical to mankind’s well being than that – children should learn music throughout their school career because it is a life-giving force in all its various shapes and sizes.

The most important thing we have lost in this global market is value: we must seek to uphold the value of the goods we sell, otherwise we will be working for nothing and, as we have seen, that is a road that always ends in ruin.

David Mather, marketing manager, Rockschool

Fewer students are studying ‘traditional’ instruments/classical music now in schools, and there has been a real push on contemporary music; particularly with singing/acoustic guitar, which has no doubt stemmed from the X Factor sensation.

Most music students are spurred on by the concept of a concert and/or competition, regardless of age or ability.

More students are looking to music technology for composing and music coursework for qualifications; the likes of Garage Band/Logic/Cubase are in virtually every music department now.

Schools have moved away from ‘keyboard’ based sessions at KS3, and there is more of a trend for ukulele and guitar in large groups.

All music GCSE/A level qualifications now have strands of world and popular music, as well as classical music, so this has sparked an interest in steel pan/African drumming groups.

The most popular level for candidates doing music exams is Level 1 (up to Grade 3), this drops a little at Level 4 as candidates tie this into GCSE music, and at Level 3 the numbers decrease even further as only the ‘serious’ players take Grade 6+ as they need it, often, for A-level music, and to get into university/college.

To connect with musical instrument retailers, we have targeted teacher-training workshops to drive traffic back in-store with selected discounts and freebies.

The ‘Official Stockist’ section was added to Rockschool last March (2014) in order to promote specific stores and give them additional discounts and benefits. The market has been tough for most of the music education sector and exam boards. We were down during the recession like the majority of the market but business has been steadily increasing through 2014/2015. But we are seeing a big increase in exam numbers this period.

The number of young people getting involved with music education is not diminishing; we’ve definitely had to fight harder for new customers during the recession, but there’s still a huge, receptive market for the type of qualifications we offer. Whether we’re doing an expo or a workshop, the interest and enthusiasm is still there – music education is alive and kicking!

Brands and retailers could attract more young people to music education by offering:

  • More advice and guidance for musicians starting out
  • More one-to-one tuition
  • More events, workshops and master classes
  • More literature and face-to-face time with schools
  • Adaptable technology that works with traditional music education resources

The government could do more in the name of music education. More money needs to be invested into the sector. They are cutting funding not just in music, but also across all of the performing and creative arts. This is extremely sad, because it means that KS3 groups (Yr 7-9) are often on a carousel system and only get to learn music for one term a year; in some cases, just once in the three years they have before choosing GCSE options.

The government needs to change their attitude towards contemporary music education and realise that students don’t want to learn about classical music and read notation – some get just as much from working with a computer or playing on a guitar.

Read more on the MI Pro website