I left school with basic level 3 qualifications and tried various jobs before becoming a residential social worker for six years. But music was my first love and I was always playing in bands as a guitarist so I got work with a company called Access to Music, which trained musicians to become sessional music teachers while continuing to work in the industry. After a year I was asked to run the course. My social work background has given me a real empathy with the students and an ability to get on with people. It all helped me land my college job.
I lecture in advanced studio practice and construction music technology mainly across three areas: computer-based studies, including how to use software to produce, arrange and record music; studio-based technology; and professional studies that look at how the music industry works. Now there is also more emphasis on freelancing including how to market yourself and manage your own kind of events, given the industry has less vacancies than qualified applicants.
I tell students that A levels and BTecs give them a taste of what’s on offer in music and technology. This allows them to find out where their skillset and passion lies – it could be in writing, producing, performing, film/media/gaming or music technology – and they can then apply to university with a speciality in mind or do a specific HNC and HND. My other role is technical manager of the college’s now state-of-the-art recording studios that are regularly booked by professional musicians to give our students a real feel for how the industry works. We launched our own ‘Hempstead Road Studios’ record label last year . . .
The relationship between staff and students – I often work with young people who spend up to five years at the college from age 16 to 21 (level 2 through to level 5). I treat them as adults, hold them responsible for their actions and meet them halfway when they bring something to the table. It’s great that some still call me years after leaving, anxious to show that what I taught them has really seen them succeed.
I get in at 8am to sort out emails and admin, start drinking coffee at 8.30, with lessons starting at 9am. I teach higher education courses from Monday to Wednesday each week in classes from 5-15 students. Last year we recruited 16 HE students and this year it’s the same as our reputation has grown through word of mouth and our great facilities, along with our emphasis on industry practice. We teach 6-7 hours of HE a day as we need longer time blocks than normal – 90 minutes to two hours for curriculum information/music theory lessons but at least three hours for studio recording and technical sessions as we would never get through the full processes in less time.
This year I switched to teaching just HE courses – one-year level 4 HNCs and one-year level 5 HNDs. Many students then do a top-up year at university to get a full honours degree. Previously I’d taught levels 2-5 from around 2012 when our studios were upgraded and, prior to that, levels 2-3. I particularly like teaching level 2 students as they frequently have few expectations – they are real beginners and have often not been academically successful at school. I love getting them motivated and showing then what they can achieve.
The end of the summer term is always manic. Many students are finishing assignments – level 3 music technology students were working on their final course projects. They produce an EP, a fully mixed master recording that would go towards their university or job- based professional portfolio. We were also snowed under when organising end-of-year shows, gigs and celebrations.
Teaching such a wide variety of students – some come with difficult backgrounds and/or mental health issues, others are on the Aspergers/autism spectrums. We help students unsure of themselves to find their feet in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. Five years ago 80% would have specifically chosen music, now it is more like 50% – the other half are far less motivated initially so we have to work that much harder to bring them on board.
One of my former music technology students got signed up to work on US rapper Nicki Minaj’s record label – and has since asked to come back to share his experience with my students. I also recall catching a strapping six-foot student – a great guy who was no trouble – bunking off from a level 3 music theory class and telling him he really needed to go off and study something he liked otherwise he was wasting his time. Three years later I saw him winning gold at the London Olympics – it was Anthony Joshua!
Good attention to detail because as coordinator you have to follow demanding course specifications for media, music and performing arts. It’s also about putting your students first and yourself last, showing the unflagging enthusiasm and energy you also want to instil into them.
I’ve taken almost all mine while at the college and, besides my teaching certificates, have taken countless in-house teaching, professional and software courses. When I became coordinator for performance, music and media, managers made me realise the staff I was coordinating were better qualified than me – as would all the students be once they had degrees! So rather than follow suit, I went one stage further and applied for an MA in the ‘toughest academic’ university course I could find – UCL’s Institute of Education. I gained a place after an interview, a qualifying essay and my extensive professional and teaching experience,
What makes a grade 1 lesson? We ask all candidates to give a 15-minute micro-teaching session on a specific topic to show how they can motivate students in a short time on really technical subjects.
The students, who make no two days the same, and our fantastically equipped studios.
Interview by Richard Doughty