What have Hurts, Delphic, Everything Everything, Gomez, Faithless, Elbow, Stephen Fretwell and Long-View got in common? Well, amongst a whole host of bands, they either met, or had members, who studied on Salford’s BA in Popular Music and Recording. What they also (mostly) have in common is a reticence to ever make mention of it.*
Salford’s Popular Music course is one of the finest in Europe, and has seen a host of talented musicians, sound engineers and studio producers pass through it’s doors. However, it’s really not very ‘rock n roll’ to admit that you might have studied a music degree, and so the stories of the bands’ development always involve meeting in smoke filled nightclubs, slogging the gigging circuit and eventually realising that rock n roll dream of the holy “Record Deal”.
At a time where tuition fees are £9000, we often hear tales of students from working class backgrounds being increasingly put off higher education in its entirety. We hear less about the effect it has on the choice of course they undertake. As a wide eyed 17 year old, I announced to my parents my long held plan to go to Salford and become a rock star. I was the first in my family to go to University, I’d always had the academic potential and had been extremely lucky to have supportive parents who drilled into me the importance of education – and those parents didn’t want me to make a mistake I would regret forever. After a two hour lecture about how I should study physics, and how there were no job prospects for me with a music degree, we reached a compromise, and the rest, as they say, is history (or BA Popular Music and Recording, 2004, 1st class honours). I graduated with both an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music history that makes me everyone’s first dibs in the pub quiz, and most importantly, the opportunity to work in my chosen area. A few years after I graduated, my very talented cousin followed in my footsteps and studied on the very same degree course – a pathway immediately supported and understood by our family in part because, this time, they had seen the benefits an arts education could bring. He’s now doing very well for himself working at an amazing arts centre in Manchester and making wonderful music.
With a complete lack of role models to hold out to my parents and say, “Look!”, I had a tough time getting their support to drop the plans to work for NASA and concentrate on my bass instead. I was one of the very lucky ones. Why would they believe that I could amount to all that they hoped for me with a Popular Music degree? Here I was, with all of the opportunities and chances that they had only dreamed of, and I was going to throw it away playing guitars for a few years? Who can blame them for having that attitude? Those who have benefited from an excellent arts education, 3/4 years of vocational career development and access to contacts that you could never dream of, deny or minimise their own opportunities for the sake of the “cool” factor. In doing so, not only do they make themselves look a bit silly, but they also contribute to closing the door behind them, and hoisting the ladder up.
There is much important discussion to be had about how Higher Education does not and should not serve solely as a tool by which students increase their job prospects. Yet, it would be foolish to think that it doesn’t and shouldn’t contribute to students’ degree choices. In 2012, UCAS have reported a massive drop in applications to arts and humanities subjects – the University of the Creative Arts has reported a 29% drop in applicants alone. A Guardian article from July 2012, interviewing two very middle class students on their choices to study English, include the hackeyed gem of, “We’re learning for learning’s sake”, as well as a whole host of pity for those poor people who can’t afford to choose a subject that matches their interests, not their career prospects. Very little attention is paid to the lot of the vocational practical arts student who spends 3 years honing their craft. The media relish in interviewing and highlighting privileged students in Russell Group universities and their woes in securing employment after studying theoretical humanities degrees. Instead of emphasising the potential and opportunity that these areas of study offer to develop a career in the arts, the rhetoric around degree choices in the Arts stubbornly refuses to budge. Vocational arts subjects DO lead to employment, and they DO lead to the opportunity to realistically chase your dreams. Whether you ‘make it’ is still a massive dose of luck, but your degree choice can genuinely stack your dice.
So, Salford bands. Do your 15 year old self a favour and stop pretending you met on the Manchester scene/outside 5th Ave/scrabbling around the bargain bin of the coolest 2nd hand shop in Afflecks. You spent 20 hours a week rehearsing in Adelphi. You got the support of professional musicians in honing your skills and learning your craft. You benefited from the opportunity to spend three amazing years focusing on perfecting that trill, exploring a century of popular music history and being around some of the best young musicians in the country. You looked at your UCAS form and went, “Geography? Biomedical Sciences? … nah. I’m going to study music!”, and every time you deny that, a kid with ridiculous amounts of talent and potential turns the page in the prospectus and turns their back on their dream course because who makes it with a music degree anyway? You did, and given the state of funding for arts education in this country, you should be shouting from every stage about it to every kid who dreams that one day they might be like you.
*I’ll give Jonathan from Everything Everything his dues – in a piece on Drowned in Sound, he is keen to point out their background as Salford alumni http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4140875