Well, I am coming toward the end of the research into the relationships between live music and higher education in Wales. With the report due at the end of this month, I thought I would provide some comments below. Very happy to receive any comments, preferably before the end of the month – I could include them in the report then!
From a music industry perspective, the recent acquisition by Live Nation, of data entertainment firm Big Champagne, could be considered indicative of how the global live music industry is changing, and the financial emphasis that is being placed upon it. According to Hypebot.Com’s Bruce Houghton, the takeover represents the essential next step to drive a transformation of live music based on data rather than the antiquated assumptions of the old guard music industry (Houghton, 2012b). However, if we regard this purchase more cynically, it clearly follows the paradigm that is pervasive throughout the history of recorded music: the purchase the smaller innovative companies by a dominant wealthy few (ironically, what Houghton describes as the antiquated “old guard”) – an oligopoly that facilitates the capitalist society both Higher Education and the Music Industry operate in.
Equally so, the Higher Education sector is going through a period of great change, with “New Universities” in particular having to face up to issues such as employability, the influx of private providers, and validation powers in Further Education Colleges, not to mention the unknown impact that increased student fees may have on the entire sector. In Wales of course there is also the question of impeding university mergers, and although the exact details are not known yet, the Welsh Higher Education sector of the future will look very different to what it does today.
The question for Welsh Higher Education music departments engaged in live music, is how to negotiate these two independent, powerful forces. How do we engage with both the national and international live music scenes from a pedagogical and research perspective, ensuring our students gain an industrially relevant and academically challenging experience, while undergoing the changes to Higher Education and the live sector as outlined above?
It is apparent from the report for the Higher Education Academy, in addition to previous investigations undertaken, that the Welsh music industry requires far more research into its various infrastructures. Although not an exhaustive list, issues such as why bands bypass Wales when touring; transport issues to and from venues; publicity infrastructures in the capital and throughout Wales (Do audiences feel informed? What community and local Council activities are already taking place?); working relationships between venues and local councils, and venues and national promoters; and the relationships between live music and cultural tourism – from both an import and export perspective, are indicative of factors that not only require on-going research, but also should be included into taught music industry modules, that from experience tend to focus on global rather than local paradigms. Although some parties within the Welsh music industry would question its relevance – arguing that academic exercises such as this represent the pinnacle of “knowledge resistance”, in congruence with the numerous other nations, it is suggested that a comprehensive mapping document of Wales is required, documented independently, and including a critical investigation of what could be learned from nations such as Scotland, New Zealand and Finland – the latter who seem particularly successful in fostering government support for performing live music abroad.
Regarding pedagogical initiatives, in congruence to the University of Bolton’s relationship with the Backstage Academy, and the University of Plymouth’s work with Deep Blue Sound, it seems prudent for Welsh Higher Education to continue to investigate what industrial and governmental bodies it can work with in order to address the specific skill gaps referred to by Creative and Cultural Skills, and most importantly how they impact the Welsh live music industry. As stated earlier, keeping intellectual property and income streams within Wales is an essential factor if the Welsh live music industry is to build upon its current £60 turnover, an increase which is essential if the Welsh industry is to become truly independent.
Considering that part of this skill gap needs to be targeted at practitioners already working in the Welsh Music Industry, it is also logical to suggest that Higher Education needs to investigate part-time, distance learning and particularly “accelerated” provision – in order to open up these markets, so Higher Education institutions can facilitate practitioner engagement within and between their working lives. As stated in the stakeholder interviews section in the report, a number of industrial and government bodies are open to the idea of strategic work placements, and in congruence with the likes of Buckingham New University, the instigation of “production companies” within the Welsh university sector would potentially facilitate outward facing, industry focused “centres”, that would encourage music departments to engage with mechanisms such as Accreditation for Prior Experiential Learning, accreditation for current work based learning, in addition to ensuring “traditional” undergraduate students get the opportunity to engage in meaningful accredited work with the live music industry.
The importance of skills, and the relative lack of interest in accreditation in both the questionnaire and some stakeholder interviews reflects larger scale studies carried out by Creative and Cultural Skills (Wenham and Felton, 2011) and a Creative and Cultural Industries Workforce Survey – both of which suggest that Higher Education is not serving industry with the skills it needs. It is suggested, in the music industry, the grey area between skills and qualifications can only be alleviated if:
1) Employers understand what skills students will have once they have obtained specific qualifications
2) Students themselves have a clear understanding of the relationship between skills and qualifications
3) Both parties are convinced that course content is relevant to the sub-sectors of live music they are working in
It is understood that mutual trust between the live music sector and Higher Education will not develop overnight, and initiatives such as The Live Music Exchange is for the first time beginning to facilitate how both parties can constructively work together. Based on some of the work undertaken as part of this report, the next Live Music Exchange event is planned to be in Cardiff, as part of the 2012 Sŵn Festival in October 2012, and it is envisaged this will provide a strategic opportunity to explore how Higher Education can facilitate the economic and cultural development of live music in Wales.