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Learning The Ropes

Music Technology at Sussex Coast College

Written By Grace Vogiatzis

The technology revolution has changed the face of music. 

As much as things pirate and downloading related have done their damage; making, producing and publicising your own music is now more accessible than ever. With new and proliferating ways of making music, travelling via new mediums, and being put to new uses. 

All this makes for making for a dizzying mix of new opportunities, and the same old challenges of finding recognition amongst vast competition. 

With eyes on this changing industry, the Music Technology department at Sussex Coast College offers a single year BTEC, and a two year extended BTEC diploma, aiming at giving students a handle on how to start making their way into the vast world of music production. 

‘It’s on the lips of every parent, you know- “what you are you doing music for!”’ jokes Gary, one of the BTEC’s teachers, recalling his own mum’s horror when he made that move. It’s common knowledge that breaking into the industry can be a daunting task, one that requires a lot of hard graft. 

The department at Coast College is certainly in good hands with the two teachers, former dancer and song writer Gary Palmer, tech savvy punk/prog rock aficionado Malcolm Levon, and department head, 1066 Rockitmen member, Rick Nesbit, all having groundings in the industry, branching from the West End, to Hastings own local music scene.

“We take on students for whom music is a passion, many of the Students coming in are musicians already”- a glance at the class tells me this is predominately 16-19 year olds. But the department has also seen older, established musicians taking courses to be more independent, producing their own work. ‘You can buy a couple of pieces of software and you’ve got what used to be Abbey Road in your bedroom,’ explains Malcolm, ‘but how do you work it? How do you use it? How do you get the best out of it? The technology’s not that daunting, it’s about skills and understanding’- having the ability to process, critique and perfect your own work. 

There’s little “front of the class” teaching- students are free to wander from Mac computers to the little recording booth, and there’s a constant mash of sounds coming from various corners. 

So is the focus on making music, or handling technology? Both, with modules that dart in all directions, the course’s aim is giving students the skills to record and produce music, spanning from the strictly practical- say learning to set up mic’s on a drum kit- to the more creative- manipulating sounds, ‘getting creative with samplers and synthesizers’- dipping into music theory, as well as grounding them with an introduction to promotion, career opportunities and legal issues. Gary summarises, ‘we’re just trying to balance the science and the arts and love the business surrounding it.”

Less well known than the BIMM at Brighton, and tucked snugly away on the Ore Campus, this department seems to have gone a little under the radar- something they’re looking to change, with plans on ‘making more of a noise,’ with their current project of an ongoing college band. 

The department is also hoping to offer instrument based Rock School limited courses in the near future, (ignore the Jack Black sounding name- it’s a well respected awarding body), to put more focus on the all important live performance side of things.

That said, many of the students are branching out on their own, making their own bands, involved in organizing events, and putting their music online. The team points me in the direction of student Jakk Roud, creator of Urban music collective Fraktured planet which has amassed an impressive following on YouTube, spilling out into music events in Rye. Though obviously ambitious about the future of the project, Jakk is cautiously realistic about its prospects: set against the widespread culture of downloading music for free, making any money is an enduring anxiety.

The department seems to tread a difficult ground between inspiring students and giving them a sober take on the music business. Which can mean changing people’s perception of what success looks like in the music industry. Gary is enthusiastic, ‘the music industry is huge, it’s a multi million pound industry, we’ve just got to let them know there are opportunities out there for them. Find what your niche is. Not everyone’s going to be superstars, but there are departments out there where they can go.” 

Malcolm agrees, ‘people come here and are not really aware of all the avenues in the music industry, and how dramatically the industry has changed. The reality is, there’s more music being listened to than ever before. It’s much easier to get your music out there, it’s finding ways of making money from it’. That could mean going onto work freelance, and out in the sphere of the corporate. 

The course certainly concentrates a lot of young creative musicians and aspiring producers in one place; ‘It’s interesting because not everyone has the same ideas. Everyone has different talents which can compliment each other’ says first year, guitar playing, Joey, ‘It’s introduced me to the flip side of music- the engineering and technology side of it. I think this is more free and creative than A levels.’ 

Talking to students, despite differing degrees of confidence, there’s a lot of genuine love for their subject, and a lot of hopes for futures in music: animation, management and production, film scores, further study at university. 

We look forward to see what comes from this rising generation.

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