Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Reports on Music and Music Retail in the UK

I'm a piano tuner and retailer....although with the changes going on I'm less and less sure. But those in this sector receive trade magazines. Here are some excerpts from this month's Music Industry News  

 Interestingly this first one writes cogently AGAINST the very moves the music industry is making with regards to Michael Gove's's explained here.

Industry veteran Gez Kahan weighs in on the

fight to save creative subjects in schools in the

wake of Michael Gove's education reforms

Last November someone asked me to write to the government, or at least to sign a petition. They probably asked you too. A worthy cause, with the headline 'Save the future of Creative Subjects in Schools', it was a campaign by BFTF (Bacc ForThe Future), a coalition of music industry companies and associations, in response to Michael Gove's proposals to tackle grade inflation by introducing the English Baccalaureate.

I followed the links, and read the Department for Education's consultation document. This suggests a new and more rigorous examination system to replace GCSEs, built around five core subjects: English, maths, a science, history or geography, and a foreign language.

And the campaign? It seeks - almost certainly in vain - to persuade the government to include creative subjects in that core curriculum . Apples and oranges,anyone?
The whole of the government's proposals is in measurables - can people read and comprehend,can they add up, order a meal in a foreign city,trot out Boyle's law and give a reasonable account of the factors leading up to World War 2? How exactly do the creative arts fit into that?

Are we proposing, for instance, that all children should have reached Grade 5 on an instrument of their choice? I'd go along with that for all the well-rehearsed social and academic benefits it brings. But those arguments are less proven for other performing arts, and I'm sure that the arts sector as a whole would insist that dancing and acting be included. And visual arts. But in an age where a four-hour film of a bicycle in a canal can vie with an unmade bed for
the Turner Prize, how do you define visual arts, let alone measure achievement? Anyway, what exactly does the creative sector want? BFTF's website is distressingly thin on concrete demands or proposals. Yes, it points to the £36bn that 'creativity' adds to the economy, but not all the economic activity in the sector is actually'creative' - just think about the non-creatively educated accountants, engineers, lawyers and copywriters who provide support to the few stars. Think about the private teachers who teach the non-creative syllabus to the players in orchestras. Think about the salesmen, warehousemen and receptionists involved in the manufacture, distribution and retail of musical instruments. How much of their contribution is down to whether creative subjects are on the syllabus at Key Stage 4?

More fundamentally,is state education even relevant to the success of the creative sector? How many of the dancers you see on the West End Stage learnt their craft at the local comprehensive? Can demonstratethat most of the shining stars who lead the creative industry were not educated in the days when the curriculum and exam system looked very similar to what Michael Gove is proposing? And can it demonstrate that a majority of its most successful younger leading lights were educated in the modern state system, not privately, where those principles have never changed?
The industry may, of course, fear that easing music out of the core curriculum will be bad for trade. Well, it might stop music advisors going direct to Chinese manufacturers for shoddily made instruments that put generations of willing pupils off. It might benefit local shops at the expense of the big education distributors. Bad for some, possibly. Good for others? Almost definitely.
But BFTF says nothing about the threat to the MI Industry. it's more concerned with the threat to children - and this where you begin to wonder whether BFTF might itself benefit from Mr Gove's proposals. For a history lesson, it could look at Sun Tzu's
Art of War and follow his precept to know your enemy. Faced with an intellectual debater such as Michael Gove, couldnt it make some pretence at cogent reasoning? Instead, BFTF's home page says this: "The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) threatens the very future of creative subjects - like music, art, design & technology, drama and dance. By missing them off its list of core areas children must study, the government is undermining their place at the heart of learning."
Emotive, for sure, but it hardly stands up to logical analysis. How does the EBacc threaten the 'very future of creative subjects? It might threaten the jobs of those who teach those subjects in schools. But it might not. Nobody has talked of banning schools from teaching music, nor of banning private music lessons (which are certainly not curriculum - dependent).

And what's this assumption that these subjects have a 'place at the heart of learning'? Most people would say the point of education is to equip people to make their way in the world. Employers rarely ask for good dancers. They ask for people to be literate, numerate, and able to learn.
Now if the substandard copywriter responsible for this flim-flam had cited research showing that studying music improves children's learning of maths or chemistry, the assertion might have carried some weight. But no. Instead we get more inept tugs at the heart-strings:
"Without them, our children will be denied the balanced education they need to grow and thrive."
  Oh, for heaven's sake. That's so trite it doesn't even deserve to be dismantled. "Without them, the skills that drive our creative economy will be lost." If this is the sort of drivel that's under threat, then bring it on.
And so to the petition itself. "I support the calls for the Education Select Committee to hold an inquiry into the lack of creative and cultural subjects in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and the speed of GCSE reforms." What? Complaining about government getting a move on? That's a new one. As for lumping'cultural' in with ' creative' in the wording, does BFTF think there's no culture involved in English literature, in history and geography, or in learning a foreign language? Either education or the meaning of the word 'culture' must have changed a lot since I was at school. And not, if you ask me, for the better. Reader, I didn't sign it.       END

Musicians' Union has published Working Musician, a report that has highlighted the plight of the self-employed Musician. The MU distributed its survey to 10,000 of its members and promoted it to non-members, with a resultant 1,966 working musicians responding. Of that fiber, 60 per cent responded that they worked for free in the last 12 months 56 per cent reported earnings less than  £20,000 per annum. One in three respondents earned between  £10,000 and £20,000, with 42 per cent of these holding a degree, and 58 per cent having more than 10 years' experience.
The report also highlighted a trend that working musicians have fewer provisions for their future compared to employees in other labour markets. Only 35 per cent of the musicians surveyed pay into a pension scheme, while in the UK 71 per cent of self-employed workers do so. The report draws more attention to the MU's campaign Work Not Play, which aims to ensure fair pay for professional musicians.
This news comes during a troubling period for music professionals, with the government's recent £6m pledge to the creative industries through Creative Skillset focusing on TV, film and the video game industries, but omitting any funding for the music industry.
John Smith, the MU's general secretary, speaking in light of the report's publication, said: "So many of the MU's members are SMEs battling against a tide of arts cuts and reduced income due to piracy. Small but significant investment by the government could make all the difference in the struggle to survive."
The Working Musician report can be read online at

Why is this in any way relevant to this blog?

Because musicians are in some way part of the litmus test for how a culture is doing. If musicians are not thriving, other artists will feel it to, and you can bet the more prophetic and whistleblowing voice in a nation is already starting to wane.

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