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Communicate the value and impact of what you do, explain your work, sell your services

AH: Hello, it’s Anita here, and welcome to this month’s podcast. In this episode I’m talking with Paul McManus, who’s chief executive of the Music Industries Association (MIA), the trade body for the UK musical instrument industry, and also the chief executive of the Music for All charity. Why I thought you’d be interested is that the MIA are very supportive of the music education sector and it feels as if there’s an increasing interest from both sectors to work together more closely. The MIA has a charitable arm called Music for All which runs initiatives like the ‘Learn to Play’ day and ‘Make Music Day UK’ and it gives grants to encourage more people to make music. It’s joined the sector in campaigning including against the EBacc, and more recently in October 2019, they held a conference focussed on music education and encouraging the industry to get more involved. So welcome Paul, and thank you very much for making the time to talk to me today, it’s great to have you here.

PMc: Oh, my pleasure.

AH: Before we go on to talk about your current role and how it relates to music education, can I ask a bit about you? How did you end up where you are today, and why is it so important to you personally?

PMc: Well I’ve always been a musician, ever since school, but if I’m honest I never had the confidence to try and make a career out of being a musician, so I ended up in the retail sector working mainly for Marks and Spencer for 20-odd years. 

AH: Oh right. What do you play Paul?

PMc: I’m a bass guitar player. 

AH: Excellent, OK.

PMc: And I played in various bands and things, and I decided it was time to leave M&S. The world had changed and M&S wasn’t what it used to be when I joined frankly. And the only thing I was prepared to move for, was for something to do with music. And that’s how it all happened.

AH: Wow. So how long ago was that?

PMc: That was 17 years ago [laughs]. 

AH: Wow, that’s amazing. That was a big move then, but it must be amazing if you’re a musician to be involved.

PMc: It was the biggest decision of my life at the time, because you’re leaving the relative security, and financial security as well, of a big company like M&S to take, frankly, a pay drop to come to the music industry with all the uncertainties of something you never knew how to work. A trade body, I mean not many people would know what one is, let alone how it operates. But I took the gamble, and it paid off thankfully.

AH: And so, that leads me on to the next question. What exactly does the MIA do, and who are its members? What is a trade body in this sector? What does it do?

PMc: Well there are thousands of trade bodies in the UK, for every walk of commercial life. There’s one for grave diggers, there’s one for roofing felters, there’s one for mortgage lenders. We are the one for the musical instrument industry and like most trade bodies we’re a membership club, so companies in our industry that we represent pay us an annual subscription and that’s what powers the office and the small team of staff here. And our members range from music shops, literally from the full breadth of the UK, from Guitar Guitar in Scotland, right down to GAK in Brighton. The manufacturers of instruments ranging from Yamaha, Fender, Marshall, Stentor, all the brands that you can think of. And then many allied members such as education establishments like the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guilford, and publishers of music magazines. And trade bodies all do very similar things. They act as a coraling point for the industry, in order to lobby government centrally. And to put on events for the good of the industry, publish statistics, run daily newsletters and the likes of that. But generally to act as the fulcrum for the particular industry they represent. 

AH: Excellent. So what are some of the member benefits that people get from being part of the MIA? 

PMc: Well you have members joining for different reasons. I mean, some will join because they think it’s important to have an industry trade body fighting the fight for the industry, and just join, and that’s wonderful. Others join because, oh I don’t know, maybe they want to get their company more exposed generally. Others might join because they literally want to get money-for-money benefits, so if they give us a tariff they want money-saving benefits in return, which is fine. So people join for a variety of reasons and we welcome them all. So long as their in our little world we can represent them.

AH: So are some of the allied members music education organisations? 

PMc: Yes. The Institute of Contemporary Music and Performance in Kilburn is a full blown academy where young people go to learn degree level rock guitar and all the rest of it. Or Rocksteady Music Schools is a full blown educational body that teaches 30,000 young people a week to play rock instruments.

AH: Ah. So music education delivery organisations can join. So a music education hub could join you for example?

PMc: Yeah. I mean, we basically take the premise that anyone that’s either making an instrument, selling it, or possibly teaching it can be part of the MIA. We work on the principle ‘we’re all better in the tent’, you know the tent analogy, so we just get as many together as we can.

AH: That’s really interesting. And so you’ve also got a charitable wing, which I mentioned, which is the Music for All charity. How did that come about and how does that link to the trade body?

PMc: Well the industry, nearly everyone in our industry, no surprise, is a musician. So we all get the power of music to change people’s lives for the better, and we genuinely wish everyone was able to make music. Sadly, far too many people aren’t able to make music, either because they can’t afford lessons, or an instrument, or they’re in a rural area where there’s no teachers. So we set up the charity to really put the goodwill of the industry, together with donations from the public, into a fully registered charity that could help people that were disadvantaged in any way, towards making music. So any individual in the UK can apply to us for a grant towards their instruments or lessons, and any community project can do the same. Community projects do include schools by the way which sadly we see more and more schools needing our help. But we’ll come on to that I’m sure. And that’s what the charity does. It just does nice stuff and changes people’s lives for the better.

AH: Does a proportion of the membership fee go towards that charity? Is that how it works?

PMc: No, they’re separate bodies. So the MIA’s funded by the industry directly into  membership subscriptions and a few other bits and bobs we do like our events and things. The charity is totally funded by the general public in terms of donations or events they put on, and the only other major input we have into cash is a foundation called the NAMM Foundation which is based in America that we’re very good friends with and they’ve supported us for the last eight years with our charity.

AH: Ah yes, I know them well. It’s really brilliant that the UK has made links with them because they do such amazing work for advocacy for music education. 

PMc: Well the NAMM Foundation is the charitable arm of NAMM, and NAMM is the American equivalent of the MIA. So the MIA and NAMM have a very close working relationship day-in-day-out anyway, as we do with our trade body equivalents all around the world, funnily enough. We’re a very close unit, a little unified industry. 

AH: Ah, that makes sense. So how large is the Music for All charity?

PMc: It’s not very large. It’s all run by volunteers from the industry, so myself andAlice and Hayley in the office here, we all give up our time to sort of, you know, co-ordinate and run the charity. Its turnover isn’t huge, you know, we’re not talking about a multi-million charity, anything but, we’re very small. But we get a very big bang for our buck as they say, because everyone we give a grant to we often get support and help and discounts from the music industry itself. And the general public are extraordinarily generous. I’m sat here surrounded by a whole host of musical instruments that the general public have given us to find a new and deserving home for. So we can make our efforts and grants go a long way with relatively little income funnily enough. 

AH: That’s fantastic. I think you’re a small organisation as it is, the MIA, a handful of people. Is that right?

PMc: Well yes. We’re literally talking about 3.4 full-time equivalent that runs both organisations [laughs].

AH: Oh wow. Goodness, so you’re quite busy.

PMc: But we have a lot of helpers and supporters from right across the industry that very generously give up time, effort and indeed products and things to help the greater good. So we’re bigger than we look if you know what I mean.

AH: Yeah, absolutely, and I’m very aware of your work so I think you do get a good bang for your buck in terms of communications as well. So I’m really interested to hear about the music education conference the other week. Can you tell me just a little bit about how that came about, why you decided to put that on?

PMc: Well, we run a very vibrant MIA education committee that meets three or four times a year and brings all sorts of partners together from right across the industry and the education sector. And we’re also very plugged in to the education sector so I’m part of the Music Education Council, we’re members of the MU they’re members of us, we’re members of ISM they’re members of us, we’re members of Music Mark and they’re members of us. So we do work very closely with all the equivalent bodies in the music education sector, and we just said, you know we often do industry conferences, but why don’t we do one that brings together industry and education, particularly in these troubled times with cuts to school budgets and all the rest of it, cuts to community budgets, to see if maybe by working together more closely we can get a lot more done. And it was as simple as that, and we were delighted with the outcome. We had some wonderful speakers and a great attendance, over a hundred people came for our first one.

AH: And so, what were the kind of themes? What were the speakers talking about?

PMc: Well we set scene first of all with Youth Music, the organisation, who presented the highlights from their Sound of the Next Generation research. Which basically shows despite all the gloom and doom you’d suspect exists, and we know about, from cuts to school budgets, and cuts to GCSE number take-up and all the rest of it, the number of kids accessing and making music is actually growing in totality. Because of course children are accessing music in ways different to maybe how we learned. So when you hear a statistic like 24% of children are teaching themselves musical instruments off the internet, you realise the world has changed and the old model is not necessarily the only model anymore. 

AH: Exactly, definitely.

PMc: So we set the scene a little bit, you know, the world is changing and forget you know the Millennium generation we’re now on to the new generations beyond those that are accessing technology, and music through technology, in ways frankly that a lot of the adults, myself included sometimes, haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. But they’re making music nonetheless, and it’s a good thing. So we set the scene a little bit with that and said let’s look at the new models of delivery and discuss them. So we had shops on panels that have got full blown teaching academies on site at their shops, we had Rocksteady Music School, which as I said earlier are teaching 30,000 young people a week, in and outside of schools. We had the Strings Foundation that does summer holiday camps to learn bowed instruments. And we were basically sharing with our industry, look at all these ‘private’ providers, for want of a better word, that are filling the vacuum very creatively that is left by the cuts to the state situation. And that was really the whole theme of the conference, to help our industry to see there’s an awful lot of music provision going on out there, but it’s not necessarily how you think it’s going on. 

AH: Definitely. That report is absolutely fascinating from Youth Music isn’t it, and I think it’s been really helpful for a lot of different parts of the music sector. And so who else was there, and who else was speaking?

PMc: Well we had Barbara from Making Music, the trade body that represents all the adult community music sector, they have over 3,000 members and 200,000 individuals all making music in the adult territory outside of school and work and everything. We had Bridget the head of Music Mark, she was there moderating a panel and talking. We had Mary-Alice Stack from Creative United, who’s been part of a project we’ve been working on to bring a greater provision of musical instruments to disabled people which we can talk about if you’d like. We had Scott Monks the CEO of Rocksteady Music School, Amy Cunningham from the Strings club that I’ve mentioned. We had Britain’s Music there, who are now teaching 300 people above their shop in Tunbridge Wells, and are now starting ensemble teaching. So the whole day was a succession of panelists, including I should mention Steven Greenall, the governor of Warwick Music who are the groundbreaking pioneers of the pBone and pTrumpet products, that have  revolutionised young people getting access to brass instruments, because the pBone had enabled them to do that. So it was all sorts of game changers in one way or another, who were just talking and sharing their ideas on a succession of panels that then the audience were given half the panel time to literally ask them questions. So it was a very two-way thing.

AH: Is there any video footage of the conference?

PMc: We’ve got audio recordings of all the panels, and funnily enough we’re literally editing as we speak and we’ll be publishing them on the newsletter as quickly as we can.

AH: Lovely, that’s one for people to look out for to sign up to your newsletter. So what were your key take-aways from the conference? Were there any actions agreed at the end of it? 

PMc: I think there were a number of themes that came out of it. I mean one was, without being unkind in any way, do not wait for or rely on the government to provide a child’s music education. And while it’s good, I don’t know if you’ve heard the news this morning, that music hubs have got renewed funding?

AH: Yes I have. Great news. That’s all you could expect really isn’t it, at this time?

PMc: Well, yeah, and of course it’s not at the level it used to be, and the EBacc is still penalising schools for even daring to teach the art and all the rest of it. So I think the theme of the conference was very much, ‘Look, we need to take a greater hand and responsibility for overseeing and getting involved in particularly children’s music education’. But that also, we should look at the opportunities in the market, the ageing population being a good example. You know we’re going to have 1 in 4 people in the next 50 years will be over 65. I was thinking about their musical wants and needs, particularly as each successive generation does more and more exciting stuff the older they get it appears. So it wasn’t just about the young, and we deliberately didn’t go on-and-on about cuts and problems. We didn’t want to talk about any of that. We wanted to talk about opportunities instead, for young adults. 

AH: Yeah, and that’s where innovation comes from isn’t it, and really being future facing. Are you planning to run another conference?

PMc: Well it was our first one, and it went so well and we took a lot of feedback, and we decided that we’ll make it an annual event, frankly. 

AH: That’s really, really great to hear.

PMc: You can come to the next one. 

AH: Yeah, definitely, and I’m sure a lot of listeners would be really curious about that and want to come so I’m really glad you mentioned that. So how do you think the musical instrument industry and music education organisations can work together more closely to help more young people get involved in music making?

PMc: Well, I mean we inevitably touched on the National Plan for Music Education [in England], and the frank reality that the communication that was supposed to come from the hubs is varied. You know, I have some music shops that have never heard from their local hubs since it was established. Others went to the inaugural meeting and that was the last involvement they’ve had. Other shops haven’t frankly made the effort to get involved with their local music service or music hub. We’ve got manufacturers and distributors dotted all around the country, and the event was as much to sort of say, ‘Look, why don’t you just talk to each other? Get to know each other and see what comes out of it?’. So a shared taxi, this is a true story, had one of our distributors in it and an educator who just happened to share a taxi to get to this place and by the time they’d got out of the taxi they’d both agreed to work with each other. 

AH: Oh that’s amazing, just getting people together.

PMc: It’s not rocket science, just facilitating people meeting and understanding what each other does. Dispelling the old, you know, rather polarised views that industry must be just trying to sell me more instruments, and, you know, educators are just trying to bash down a better deal with me, sort of thing. It goes far deeper and wider than that, as you’ll know. 

AH: Well when you meet people and really see them as people, when you’re in a professional environment, but actually seeing them as people, I think that most people working in this sector are just genuinely passionate about other people making music as well and benefitting from it aren’t they? So there really isn’t that much difference when you get down to the people level.

PMc: It’s always the irony when I go to any music education events, you think, ‘Well God, we all want the same thing, but my goodness me we’ve all got such a different view of how to do it’. 

AH: Yeah, yeah. And the difficulty is that people kind of operate in silos, inevitably we all do it don’t we, kind of have blinkers on sometimes. So I suppose one of the messages coming out of the conference is simply opening yourselves up to hearing from different people who you might not expect might be able to help. Because I think in the funded sector, as well as in the music service, music education sector within that, they’re very, very focussed on the concerns about having to deliver on the national plan, deliver the core extension roles, and sometimes I think that probably prevents people from looking wider, for example, looking at their local music shop. I know that, you know, your Learn to Play day is a brilliant opportunity for music education, and I’m sure that could really expand and more people could get involved in that. 

PMc: Yeah, it’s a tricky one, and I do feel for the hub leaders sometimes, in that many of them simply rose through the ranks of the old music service having started off as a music teacher. And all of a sudden, they were charged with being this fulcrum of the whole, entire music community, you know, charities, businesses, anything to do with music in, I don’t know, let’s say West Sussex. And one thing I never saw was appropriate training to help them suddenly develop from often what was a very good music teacher and co-ordinator, into a business person that was trying to get sponsorship from the local community and develop all these cool relationships. And you know some of them, I suspect, have really struggled to do anymore than just run the day job of the music service.

AH: Yeah, definitely. I think there’s been some training via Music Mark now, some leadership training, that’s been going for a few years now and apparently is really amazing. And also people are just growing and learning as hubs have grown now. So the sector has definitely changed and is more outward looking. So anything else that you think would help in terms of music education?

PMc: Well I think for us as an industry, you know, like I touched on a minute ago, we have to look at every living human being as a potential customer. And we have enough trouble making our businesses attractive to women sometimes, let alone people from an ethnic background, or people from a disability background, or pensioners [laughs]. And I think this was the resounding message that the youth as a percentage of the total population are decreasing, but the old as a percentage of the population are increasing. So while we always rightly have a major priority towards teaching our young to become music makers, we should have an equal prevalence towards now the ageing population because they are the dominant part of the population going forward.

AH: Hubs now are looking beyond those 5-18 age groups that are in the national plan, a lot of hubs work in early years anyway. Some hubs are looking at adults now as well.

PMc: Well, adults, frankly, often are best placed to be able to afford music provision. So if you take Bromley Youth Music Trust, the Bromley hub, I know they do evening clubs for old buggers like me sort of thing to go along and learn rock instruments again or piano or what have you. Now, you know, that is income directly into the music service and a useful service in itself for the population it’s supposed to serve as well as the kids. So I just think it makes common sense on many levels as much as anything else. 

AH: There actually aren’t many adult music making groups, apart from the kind of traditional things like choirs and things like that. I think there’s loads of people who’ve learned instruments in the past, given it up when they’ve had a family or had a job or whatever, and you get to that age where you kind of think, ‘Oh, I’d like to do that again. I’d like to play music with other people. But who would I make music with now?’. So I’m sure there’s potential there.

PMc: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And Barbara at Making Music would say to you, ‘Yes’, the vast majority of her members will tend to be choirs, ensembles and amateur orchestras, not so many rock clubs. I mean we ran a scheme a few years ago called, Weekend Warriors, that was literally designed to get ageing rock musicians to get their guitars out from under the bed and get into a programme that got them back in a band with a gig at the end of it sort of thing. And we looking at the question whether that needs rebooting because it could be even more of its time now. It’s an American scheme that NAMM pioneered funnily enough, mentioning them earlier, and we brought it here a few years ago. I’ve got it here on my pad that it must be time for a reboot.

AH: That sounds really interesting and maybe in partnership with hubs?

PMc: Absolutely. It shouldn’t always be shops, I mean it should be anyone. As ‘Learn to Play’ day, I mean about half our venues for ‘Learn to Play’ day, yes, might be music shops and music rehearsal rooms and studios, but the other half are music education establishments in one shape or another. And that’s fine with us.

AH: So, can you tell me a little bit more about ‘Learn to Play’ day and also ‘Making Music’ day, I think, the one that’s in June?

PMc: Well ‘Learn to Play’ day we’ve been running for eight or nine years now. And it literally started off with one shop doing a ‘Learn to Play’ day weekend where we just put a few music teachers in it and gave the general public free taster lessons. And 200 people turned up on the day and we were like, ‘Oh my goodness, all these people just needed a very simple, easy way to engage with music’, but they wouldn’t have walked into that shop otherwise on a Saturday. So from that we just tried to make it a nationwide, annual gig, and that’s what it is now. And Alice, my right-hand lady, runs the whole thing now and I mean she’s already got 40 venues signed up for next March already sort of thing. Because people love doing it. For music businesses like shops, surprise surprise, they suddenly find they’ve got a whole bunch of new customers. For music hubs, I mean back to Bromley, Bromley Youth Music Trust got the Grenadier Guards down for ‘Learn to Play’ day this year and they had 200 families all turned up, all signing up then for lessons, not just the kids but the adults as well.

AH: It’s a great hook to hang stuff on isn’t it. Because often with marketing campaigns you’re looking for a hook to hang a campaign on sometimes, and to have something that’s a particular date, a particular time, it’s a brilliant opportunity for music services and music education hubs and community music organisations.

PMc: Yeah, we think so. And as I say, we just run it every year, and we know that between a sort of a fifth and a quarter of the people that come on the day do something as a result of the day. They either sign up for some lessons, or they go an buy an instrument, or they get out their old instrument, it’s just a direct incentive to do something with your music again, or for the first time.

AH: So the ‘Make Music’ day, that’s a different thing?

PMc: That’s a global event that takes place always on June the 21st, so next year it’s on a Sunday, and it happens in about 120 countries all on this day. And basically the idea is that the world of music making just comes out on the streets and just plays some music to inspire and entertain people. So we had over a thousand events took place in the UK this year, literally from Scotland down to the south coast [of England]. There was bands, there was choirs, there was ukelele groups. It can be anything, and it’s just free, there’s no money changing hands. But it’s just musicians coming out and performing, schools as well, and just entertaining the general public. So again it’s a ‘call to arms’ sort of thing. 

AH: So do you think there’s anything more that the music education sector and your own sector could do to build on that really? Joint campaigning even?

PMc: Well campaigns, I mean, we work certainly with the DfE on the campaigning to keep music provided for, and we work with the DCMS as well, and all the people you’d expect. The Baccalaureate campaign is obviously a very live and active one that we supported the ISM who started it from the very first time sort of thing. But I think a lot of this is about the general public knowing what’s out there sometimes. There’s a heck of a lot of great stuff going on in terms of music provision throughout the country, but if you said to the average mum or dad, ‘Do you know what’s going on at your local music service?’, you can imagine the answer, you know, ‘What’s that?’. So I think there’s a huge amount to be done and you know, and if you’re talking about visions, what if there was a one-stop portal where, you know, ‘I want to learn a musical instrument’, and you could find everything in your area sort of thing or something like that. Or more weekend promotions of music services in the local shopping centre or what have you. Or more summer holiday camps, like you know,  the Amy strings one that I mentioned earlier. So that all the kids who are off for seven weeks, you know, mum and dad could dump them and get them learning an instrument for a week or something like that. There’s so much that can be done but it needs people working together and seeing the opportunities. You know, Rocksteady Music School is a great example of a little organisation – it’s now big – seeing the opportunity that many, many thousands of kids wanted to learn rock instruments but weren’t given the opportunity through either their school provision or curriculum or what have you. And they’re teaching 30,000 kids a week – it’s staggering! [Laughs]

AH: Their expansion has been incredible hasn’t it? They’re a really brilliant organisation, and they’ve done some really interesting things like the ‘Foo Fighters’ day last year, that was amazing.

PMc: I mean, Scott Monks, if you ever get the chance to interview him, is inspirational, as indeed is Steven Green of Warwick Music because they just get the fact that don’t wait for someone else to make this happen, do something yourself and take charge of the destiny of our new music making generation.

AH: Absolutely. I just wanted to move on to something you touched on earlier about the work of Youth Music and its partners. We know that there are many young people who are simply missing out, not because their parents don’t know about the opportunities available, but actually because of who they are, where they live, and what they’re going through, or simply the lack of diversity of opportunities. So do you think that the MIA and its members could help to promote a more inclusive music and music education sector, and do you have any thoughts on how that could work?

PMc: Well I need to flip between the MIA and Music for All here. Because as I said earlier, any individual in the UK can apply to us for a grant when they can’t afford their instrument or lessons. And, you know, we help hundreds every year and I have to be honest, most of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds. So we have something very tangible, on the ground that does all it can for that. Strategically, yes, no child should not have access to music making, but we’re in the world we’re in, which is why in many ways our charity shouldn’t need to exist, but it does. Organisations like Youth Music are exemplary in what they do on the ground to support children, right through to people like Jinx that runs Music Fusion in Portsmouth. A music group that takes some of the most disadvantaged kids off the streets of Portsmouth and brings them in to a music making environment that for many of them is literally the highlight of their week. So there’s always some brilliant stuff going on out there by many, many organisations, and we just try and do our bit as an industry to help as many as we can, chiefly through the charity which as I say the industry fully supports and I have instruments donated here from manufacturers, and they say, ‘Find some kids that want these guitars and get them to them’, and that’s what we do. 

AH: There was a question on Twitter from Dr Martin Fautley which is kind of similar to what I’ve just asked you, and Martin’s a professor of education at Birmingham City University, but I suppose he’s looking at more how the industry might adapt in terms of actually adapted instruments for children, so he’s asked: ‘How is the industry responding to the drive towards inclusion for all youngsters in music education? How are they coping with the requirements of differentiated access for say, whole class ensemble tuition, as discussed recently with the OHMI Trust, which is the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust I think, but they’ve expanded to wider groups of young people who aren’t accessing music because they can’t use traditional instruments, and there are other organisations who are doing amazing work in this sector, like Drake Music.

PMc: The body for this whole project is an organisation called, Creative United, that I’ve worked with the leader of Creative United for over 12 years now, Mary-Alice Stack. And we put together a whole research project trying to establish how many young people were not able to make music because they couldn’t have instruments that were suited to their various needs and abilities. So Drake Music, who by the way Music for All have given two grants to over the years, and the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust, who by the way, Music for All have given two grants to over the years, all work together because we all know each other. And a pilot is currently taking place in Nottingham music service area whereby a research project was established as to how many children there were that would be making music if only we could find some adapted instruments. So you’ll be delighted to hear that Music for All specially adapted as part of this project, six acoustic guitars, 12 mouthpieces and a number of headphones and things, and they all went to these schools in Nottingham where children are now making music with adapted instruments that would not otherwise be doing it. So we’re in the thick of it as we speak.

AH: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Where could people find out more about that? 

PMc: Well Creative United are the custodians of the research, which will tell you that something like 14% of the population are identified as disabled in one way or another back to the opportunities for our industry, let alone the educators. And Mary-Alice Stack is the contact at Creative United and as I say the pilot is literally happening as we speak in the Nottinghamshire music service. 

AH: Oh that’s really great. So presumably there’s an aspiration to roll that out further?

PMc: Yes. I mean this is literally just a pilot, and if successful, and these children are able to become musicians, then our industry has already met with Mary-Alice Stack to talk about the types of instruments that might need to be considered if we can find ways to mass produce adapted ones. Obviously a one-handed musical instrument is a very expensive thing to do as you can imagine, but you know, the rewards for doing it if a cost-effective way can be found to deliver it are enormous to the changes it makes to people’s lives. 

AH: There’s a big movement in music education, spearheaded by Youth Music, called the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England, and if you haven’t heard about it already, you will do soon. 

PMc: Yeah, we all know what we’re all up to.

AH: Brilliant. So that’s good stuff, and I think there’s a lot of change happening at the moment, particularly around the social model of disability and just sort of saying, ‘It’s not on that kids can’t access music simply because of the instruments or the structures etc. etc.’.

PMc: No, I mean we see no barriers on this so I’ll give you a real example. We bought a Soundbeam for a young, disabled lad, about a year ago, and all he can do is move his head. Our charity bought him a Soundbeam that enables him to trigger apps that make musical sounds. So he is a musician because of the Soundbeam. So that’s the extent that we’re prepared to go to as a charity. We make no delineation between age, gender, background, ability, it doesn’t matter to us. Everyone’s a potential music maker.

AH: So another question from Twitter is from Jimmy Rotheram who, you’ve probably heard of him, he’s the Bradford primary teacher who was in the news about the transformation of his school through music, and he asks, ‘Has the industry seen any drop-off as a result of the declining numbers at GCSE and A-level and the current existential crisis music faces in many primary schools? Are people still buying as many instruments?’.  That’s a really interesting question.

PMc: Well the short answer is, yes they are. This goes back to that Youth Music research which, as I say, is the clue. More kids than ever are making music and therefore while some of it might now be software music, or whatever, we represent the full breadth of musical products, from PA systems, to technology products through to raw instruments. And the overall picture is still remarkably consistent. We haven’t dropped-off in the last few years at all. We’re still moving forward. And when you look in terms of volumes, because the price for products continues to drop, particularly anything with electronica in, you know if you look at the price of digital pianos today compared to 15 years ago you wouldn’t believe it’s the same product, but it’s better. So the volumes of instruments are increasing. The sterling level of the industry is fairly consistent, but the volumes underneath the sterling are increasing because the prices of product continually keep reducing. 

AH: That’s good news.

PMc: So it is good news, it obviously means that as prices continue to drop, you know, it gets harder and harder to make a living out of selling product in many cases, but no, in totality, we’re in relatively good health.

AH: It kind of brings us around to what we were talking about at the beginning and the whole point of the music education sector and the music instrument sector working together is that the more that we can work together to get more people making music, the more it helps everybody, it helps both sectors survive and thrive.

PMc: Well, it helps the sector, you know, the more people who are making music, it makes for a better community, it makes for a better school, it makes for a better world. I’m convinced we’d have less world wars if everyone was playing an instrument. It’s all good stuff, and I think as an industry we just have to (a) look at new partnerships, and (b) look at the whole breadth of opportunity of who might want to become a music maker, compared to the old models about, you know, it’s just kids or whatever. No, no, it’s well beyond that.

AH: Yeah, really interesting. And actually the music education sector organisation, Music Mark, their conference in a few weeks time is about partnerships. So finally, can you give us three pieces of practical advice, or three ‘calls to action’ for people working in music education who are listening, and wondering how the MIA and the organisations you represent could benefit the young people they work with?

PMc: Well if you want to know more about the MIA or to make contact with any of our members, our website is very transparent with all our members and contact details on. But you know, they are very welcome to just call me up for a chat, or Alice, and just talk about what they’re trying to do, and we’ll put them together with the right person. I mean, one of the things a trade body does is it’s here to facilitate, so I’m very happy to talk to any educators out there who think they might want to get involved. Equally if any of them think they need to talk to us about the charity and any plans they’ve got and whether it might be suitable for a grant from ourselves, or just a general working partnership, they’ve only got to pick up the ‘phone or drop us an email to the charity. And the other one is, you know, generally we’re nice people in our little industry, we all want the same thing and we just want to work with anyone. So you know, just don’t be afraid, just try something. I mean we had Charly Richardson, the new head of Lewisham music service at our conference the other day and he was great, and he’s probably met loads of people in our industry that will give him some help to help him do what he’s trying to do out there. 

AH: It’s been so interesting talking to you Paul, and thanks so much for coming on. If you do want to know more about the MIA, I’ll share a link to their website and other links in the show notes and thank you very much for listening.

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