Music and Education – A Paradigm Shift

Modern music courses in Further and Higher Education are growing at an exponential rate across the UK and Europe. But in something so fickle and tempestuous as the music industry, can education really keep up with the changing times?

Most universities in the United Kingdom now offer some kind of popular or modern music courses to prospective students; publicly-funded (like Leeds University) or private institutions (such as SSR, SAE or BIMM) devoted to the exploration of infinite career possibilities within an industry that is so eye-catching and influential in society… even downright mysterious.

What this allows for is a more informed perspective on the beautiful art and science that is music; more people are aware that the music industry is more than the label-fuelled or highly promoted artists, and that careers can span from music journalism to audio engineering to artist management. Opportunities are discovered when there is an interest, and hard work is rewarded with opportunities – creating a cycle that mimics that of the industry these courses wish to explore.

In other words, you don’t need to be on TV to make a living out of this art, it is a fact that not everyone who appears on TV does. Honestly, it is a changing paradig, and this is a good thing! It may assure the continuity of music as a creative and profitable art – much like Design was in the 1920s, and still is a significant part of our lives.

This growth in Higher Education programmes may change the face (and guts) of the music industry that we have known for the last 60 years using what us teachers like to call “academic expectations”, as opposed to “professional relevance”.

You see, both prospective students and their guardians presume that a degree in Popular Music Practice or Professional Musicianship will help ensure that they can find a sustainable income. At the same time, the older generation of music professionals often see formal education as stifling of real world experience and creativity. The clash of these two diverging mentalities means that something is changing, and once again the result is hard to predict. We’ve seen the music industry shift immensely in the last 15 years, and with the effect of the Internet on music (illustrated so well by Frankie Fraser in his most recent article on the Pro Audio Web Blog), it shows no signs of slowing down.

It is down to each of us to make a well thought out decision regarding the paths we wish to take. Universities can provide a structured purpose and a useful network of contacts to help students in their quests for a meaningful place in Music; they can also delay our development as professionals because of external factors, such as a curriculum that isn’t sufficiently challenging or linked to current events.

The increasing number of graduates in popular music will certainly change the dialogue to a more professionally traditional one; it may very well be that in 10 years, when you tell someone you are a musician, they will say “oh, that’s great – where did you study?”

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