Although I’m writing this as a practical guide for anyone involved in an online project, I think we’re all looking for anything positive emerging from the current, overwhelming situation we’re facing; a pandemic that has transformed our lives to such a degree that we’re rethinking many aspects of our daily routines and reality. I’m hoping that building an online music community and linking together projects around the country can be one of those positive outcomes. I’m already seeing some amazing signs that this is actually happening!
What I want to do here is to share some of the learning Charanga’s VIP Studio Sessions team has encountered so far when designing online provision. I’ll focus on how VIP can support online work for community projects, as well as those who haven't used the programme with young people before.
Mentoring has already been one of our biggest success stories. Working with Brighton-based youth music organisation Audioactive, we created VIP logins for their mentees allowing them to create music at home. VIP’s online step-by-step tutorials enable users to create different styles of music between contact times, and we’ve been adding more and more content onto the platform based on our conversations with new projects recently. Between sessions, Audioactive tutors check in with their students to coach them, offer advice and feedback on their work via phone and secure web chats – the idea being to keep participants motivated, encouraging them to learn or try things out, even if their contact time at a project level is limited. For example, tutors can suggest improvements to tracks in advance of a scheduled phone call or web meeting. Any progress a student makes can then be listened to together.
VIP is a sick resource to use, especially in the situation we’re in," says Audioactive mentor Sam Maryon. "A young person I’ve been working with, who is obsessed with making music, had been using his cousin's laptop at home for its music software, but it was taken back. Luckily, he had another computer from his school and was able to use VIP to make beats and record vocals. This completely changed his mindset and he was able to carry on making music.
Audioactive tutor Jack Kingslake adds:
P is a 16 year-old young man with autism, ADHD. Pre-Covid, he'd been working with me doing a combination of tuition, songwriting and music production. The lockdown has had a massive impact on P, with no music equipment in his care home, he was unable to continue pursuing his passion. With access to VIP and its video tutorials, and our regular online check-ins, he is now happily producing music again.
You can read more in Jack’s blog here. https://network.youthmusic.org.uk/music-leadership-lockdown
I’ve been personally involved in setting up various VIP-supported projects; a partnership with Audioactive and BHMA Soundcity called ‘Our Spaces’ being one of them. This is a weekly drop-in project, which we are taking fully online given the current situation. This is quite similar to some of the projects I have talked to several Youth Music organisations about recently, and hopefully the approach we’re taking may be useful to others. First, we set up VIP accounts for all students and tutors in the project. We’re using these to support our weekly Zoom calls with the participants. We’ve also created special ‘Collab’ logins which can be shared amongst a group who want to work on tracks together. In this way one participant can create a beat; another can add some guitar, before someone else adds a vocal. We will keep everyone updated as to how this approach develops, but the first session getting the tutors up to speed was really fun, and actually felt like a real creative space.
The plan is for everyone to work on their music using VIP each week, and then have a sharing session over Zoom sharing their system audio when appropriate and also using our programme’s ‘Latest Uploads’ player to catch up on everyone’s latest work at the end of each session. We have agreed a deadline each week by which time participants' latest work needs to be uploaded so tutors can listen and give feedback on it before our ‘listening party’. In this way we can all hear what each other has been up to, feedback and stay creative. Another project I have been delivering is in Bow, East London, for Soundskool at the Ian Mikardo School. Again, we have created VIP logins for students and staff who then create beats from home, check in each week for a catch up, or access masterclasses and some coaching via Microsoft Teams, the school’s chosen secure platform. Every session is attended by TAs to ensure safeguarding. So far each one has been really positive and it’s been great to see such engagement; particularly from a challenging group in very difficult circumstances.
Ian Mikardo High School offers specialist provision for young people with social, emotional and mental health issues that act as a barrier to engagement with traditional, mainstream education,’ explains headteacher Aaron Mulhern. ‘Soundskool has been working with us since January 2020, engaging our students with music and lyrical sessions that have stimulated the creative curiosity and passions of our young people. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Soundskool has responded creatively and speedily to ensure our students continue to have access to the creative channels they pursued before the lockdown. Soundskool contributes to the development of their creative skill and expert knowledge through masterclasses delivered through VIP and our virtual platform. We are delighted that our students can switch on and tune into this wonderfully creative space.
My advice for project-working?
1: Have an online listening party! This is already proving to be the highlight of many sessions and VIP’s Recent Tracks player offers a straightforward way of doing it.
2: Set tasks for students to do in their own time. Encourage them to write some lyrics or to create a beat using VIP tutorials, for example, and then check in with them the following week. As video calls are often quite intense, we’ve found that having tasks to complete individually has worked well. VIPs step-by-step guides are designed to support this, even for students who are not familiar with the technology.
3: Play to the strength of your tutors by using masterclasses and check-in sessions. VIP is not intended to replace tutors; the opposite in fact: It's a platform designed to support them. Specialist delivery, coaching and playing to our individual strengths as tutors is what will make this work! Our networks, relationships and skills are what it will take to engage and keep young people connected. VIP is a platform which will do its best to support this, so if there’s anything we can do to help in terms of new content, ideas or guidance, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4: Use competitions to motivate students. Our ‘track of the month’ is a great place to start and, in partnership with Youth Music, we’ll be offering some incredible prizes and opportunities over the coming weeks to encourage students to log in. Follow @vipstudiotweets on Twitter or @vipstudiosessions on Instagram for the latest updates.
5: Accept that any engagement is positive. In the current situation, it’s been hard for me as a workshop leader to accept that projects will look so totally different online. However, I think embracing this in the short term is the best way to make sure vulnerable students get the contact and support they need. Waiting for everything to blow over and return to normal misses the opportunity to try out new approaches and to support young people during the biggest crisis of their collective lifetimes. By building this digital community, my feeling is that we are building something important and permanent; something that benefits all involved.
Stay tuned to find out how our new friends, these projects and others are progressing!