As a full time music leader, music mentor and music producer, working in roughly 10 different settings on an average week, including secondary schools, PRUs, hospitals, youth centres and recording studios; lockdown has dramatically affected my ability to do my job. Initially I thought there would be no way I could continue to work at all during this period, which was a daunting prospect, but I was at least happy to have my small home studio and was relishing some time to be creative on my own. In the last four weeks since the lockdown began I have however now got many of my regular sessions with young people back up and running using every possible online approach, and I felt that opening up a dialogue around this here on the Youth Music Network would be a good idea.
Audio Active, who are my main employer down here in Brighton are an organisation that prides itself on leading the way in this sector when it comes to pioneering uses of technology; so it isn't surprising that they have been quick to adapt to the current crisis in an attempt to retain the engagement of many of the young people that we work with across the south east. Initially the entire staff team were invited to take part in a massive Google Hangouts meeting in which we all discussed ways that we might be able to retain young people’s engagement, this led to the drafting of an online survey that went out to all of the young people registered with Audio Active, gauging the wants and needs of our regular participants. The well being of the young people was our first concern, as we work with some of the most vulnerable young people in our area through open access, targeted work and one-to-one mentoring.
The survey proved that many of them were suffering as a result of the social isolation, and that there was a desire from young people to continue to engage with us using online platforms; but the two serious issues were that not everyone has access to a computer / the internet, and of those that did, including many of those that I mentor regularly, not everyone had any kind of Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Luckily this second issue has been tackled fairly quickly by the generosity my good friend and colleague Max Wheeler, and the VIP Studios package that he developed with the music education specialists - Charanga. We have been given free logins for any young people we work with to enable those without access to DAWs to continue making music during lockdown. This has been really useful for the young people I was mentoring in foster homes in Crawley. VIP not only provides a basic DAW, but there are tons of tutorials so my mentees have continued to work on their music away from the weekly sessions that I have been delivering, and they are able to upload their tracks for feedback from music professionals.
As well as delivering one-to-one mentoring sessions online using Zoom or other video conferencing apps, Audio Active have been working on a number of other ways of continuing to engage our young people. Some of our group sessions, including the young women’s music production group Equaliser, have managed to deliver their weekly group via Zoom, using the session as a supportive social drop in where the participants can share and discuss their music as well as anything else they want to talk about. In addition to this, responding to the survey, Audio Active music leaders including myself have been producing regular tips and tricks videos which are posted onto the Facebook page, and these seem to be popular amongst our young people; this will hopefully be something that continues after the lockdown ends, and we’ll be encouraging young people to get involved by producing their own as well. We are also begining to host online events and competitions, including beat battles and online rap cyphers, all of which help to keep young people engaged and may even bring new young people into contact with what we do.
This is clearly a really bad time for any self employed music leader; trying to do our work remotely is stressful, and often impossible. The safeguarding issues that arise when beaming ourselves into young people’s homes are a real challenge for anyone in charge of policy making, and trying to communicate musically through a lagging Wifi signal is hugely frustrating. However it’s amazing that after just a few weeks we are adapting to this brave new world and we are continuing to change young people’s lives through music. I’m really keen to find out how other music leaders and organisations are adapting to this crisis and hopefully we can learn something from each other.