Artistic Assessment - 25 April 2017 - MiXT UP Youth Music Project
This assessment has been commissioned by Arts Council England to assist with its evaluation of the quality of the work created or presented by the arts and cultural organisations it funds.
The workshop I attended was one of several regular sessions delivered by Soft Touch at their base in Leicester. People are invited to attend to make and record music with the supervision of professional producers and musicians (some of whom have graduated through the programme from attendees and volunteers).
There were several groups of people in attendance on the date I assessed: a grime outfit of schoolboys laying rhymes over beats; a recently arrived Middle Eastern refugee interested in composing songs on guitar and some adults with learning difficulties writing songs with the in-built software instruments on desktop recording programmes.
There were also people taking advantage of the general creative space at the centre of the building, and a DJ honing his mixing skills. The studio set-ups were sophisticated and each participant was encouraged by staff to go at their own pace.
All the music I heard being made was commendable in different ways relative to the varied experience and skillsets possessed by the musicians in question. The grime outfit played me some work they made when they were new to MiXT UP and their development since then was impressive.
The different elements:
There was a central room containing arts materials, computers, DJ equipment and chill out space acts as a hub for different sized recording studios located around the periphery. One of these studios contains a full sized live room for bands to play in, as well as an impressively equipped mixing room and vocal booth. The other studios feature more minimal set-ups, mainly desk-top computers and software mixing desks alongside high-quality monitors and a section of instruments and amplifiers. The people using the spaces each inhabited the room most suitable to their needs and requirements, and were all well-guided by staff and volunteers in their music-making.
The studios were very well equipped with high-end computers, software and hardware, and soundproofed to a good level. The variety of spaces created are ideal for the range of abilities and music styles of those using them.
The impact of the work:
I am very keen on music making and recording being accessible to everyone, especially those that might not be able to experience such environments via conventional channels (ie record deals). As such, I was very impressed with not only the standard of facilites available to people here, but also the range of people making use of the regular sessions, the assistance given to them (regardless of whether they were novices or more advanced) and the music being produced as a result of this environment.
“Giving young people who wouldn’t normally get the chance to access music- making activities” is the stated aim on the Soft Touch website, and it certainly meets this aim, and indeed offers music making activity to a broader range of people who might not usually get that chance – not just young people.
Does the work make a positive contribution to development of the discipline?
I would suggest that any well-considered scheme such as this, offering high-spec musical equipment, suitable spaces and good quality mentoring to people who wouldn’t normally be able to make music in such surroundings makes a positive contribution to the development of the discipline.
The scheme sits alongside a number of other workshops and regular sessions for art, music and creativity aimed at providing opportunities for young people.
The programming or curating of the work:
The participants were from diverse backgrounds, united by the fact that withou schemes such as this there’d be less opportunity for them to access such facilities and expertise and develop their music making abilities.
I was present for a little longer than the two hour session. There were several staff members, volunteers and regular attendees there, alongside some newcomers. Everyone concentrated on making music with support from the staff, and everyone was enjoying themselves and making progress with their particular interests. The grime collective were building backing tracks and recording live vocals over the top; two men from a sheltered housing scheme for people with learning disabilities were taking a break from their usual lives (in what is essentially an old people’s home) to experiment with software synthesizers and a young refugee was being inducted on the desktop recording software and finding common musical ground with members of staff.
I was taught how to mix when DJing with CDs by a regular attendee. All those in attendance shared a sense of belonging in the space, which should be a sense of real pride for the scheme as recording studios can often seem unwelcoming, intimidatingly grand and not for everyone.
The care for those taking part in the session was excellent, everyone could go at their own pace but were being subtly nudged to try new things and push themselves. Staff attitudes were good for this nurturing environment and the space was fantastic and well-equipped.