Music technology is being taught more widely than ever before. But who's teaching the teachers, and who's building their studios?
Music education has always been crucial to the music industry, to our personal development as musicians and to the culture of this country as a whole. From the music lessons we had at school (a great alternative to double maths), through GCSE and 'A'-Level courses, right up to higher-education diplomas or degree courses, these various stages of education nurture our young talent. They point people in the right direction and equip them with skills relevant to the music industry as a whole. Or do they?
Once upon a time, at the dawn of the recording age, music was divided up into different art forms. There was composition, the ability to write music; performance, the ability to play your or someone else's music; and then, separate again, there were the new techniques involved in recording music. Recording was seen as a technical skill, rather than an art form — performance and composition were where the creativity really was.
Over the last 30-40 years, the lines separating these different elements have become blurred, with many of today's recording musicians doing all of the above. These musicians' 'art' is not a piece of manuscript paper or a performance. The end result of all their creative energies is the recording itself. But the school curriculum still has a strong bias towards the more old-fashioned approach to music.
Now what's this got to do with us? Well, we represent those that create this kind of music. On a daily basis we make music and listen to the music others have made. So it should worry us when our children go to school and are taught by people who don't fully understand the subject (not that this is true of all teachers), or lack the skills and facilities to teach it effectively. In essence, how relevant to the real world is the education on offer?
On top of this, many schools are now playing catch-up. They are purchasing computer systems and in some cases building completely new facilities, incorporating so-called 'studios'. As an educational consultant, I've found that schools often have no idea what they want or how to manage a project involving such a large investment; often this duty is given to the head of the music department. The schools are frequently left at the mercy of the retailers and builders. My experience has shown that they are often sold inappropriate equipment based on their budget and what the retailer happens to have in stock. Purchases never seem based around what the equipment is intended for — teaching the curriculum. Today's and tomorrow's curriculum, let's not forget, as schools can't afford to change everything around every two years.
As to the builders, they are so often just laughable. Genuinely experienced studio designers and builders are rarely employed, especially at school level, and large national building companies (I'll name no names but some are very big and specialise in PFI buildings) are often used to build new school blocks. They build nice shells with nice exteriors and shiny new classrooms, but with studios that are wholly inadequate. They are so far removed from the professional world that it's hard to see what someone could take from them into a pro environment. I've been to brand-new buildings which might have had real potential; where there could have been classrooms and practice rooms all linked to a decent-sized studio. Instead, I've seen shells with no soundproofing. The builders don't even think to prevent sound going from one room to another, let alone wire all the rooms together. And I won't even start discussing the equipment!
So, what can be done about this? Well, I for one have been pushing the APRS to start accrediting suppliers, builders and those who offer consultancy services. Anyone wanting to be accredited would be inspected and have to meet strict standards for quality of service. After all, today's students are tomorrow's customers, artists and studio owners. They are the future of our industry. If the curriculum is to be brought up to date, schools will need to be re-equipped accordingly. So far the process of equipping schools has been a dodgy affair which does our industry's name and reputation only harm. And for the businessmen and women out there, let me point out there is money to be made. Good money. But let's make it in an ethical and sustainable way. Let's raise the standard of what we, the music industry, can do for the education sector, and let's hope this results in a better-educated student who can use and maintain a studio. Let's start being responsible for our own future.
Steven Gurevitz is the owner of 2002 Studios in Harrow, London. In addition to music production facilities, the studio provides a variety of educational and consultancy services.