by Author Sam Scott

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VIP Studio Sessions - reflections on the last year

An image of the interface on VIP Studio Sessions

In April 2020 Youth Music launched a partnership with Charanga to offer projects we fund free access to VIP Studio Sessions (VIP), Charanga’s online learning and music production platform. Over the last year we’ve supported 936 young people, 306 music leaders and 46 organisations to gain access to VIP. We also ran the first Youth Music VIP Studio Sessions competition, judged by Youth Music Ambassadors BICEP.

The list of organisations using VIP in their work continues to grow, and free licences remain available to Youth Music grantholders (click here for more details on signing up).

Background

Our aim at Youth Music is to equalise access to music, focusing on people who miss out because of who they are, where they live, or what they’re going through. We do this through our grants programme and by campaigning for change in music education and the music industries.

As the coronavirus pandemic accelerated, with national lockdowns forcing projects to pause face-to-face delivery and millions of us instructed to stay at home, new barriers emerged and others were reinforced. For our sector, access to resources enabling organisations to deliver projects remotely - and to support young people to continue making music - was essential.

As an online music production and learning tool, which can be accessed remotely and on any computer with an internet connection, VIP has been a valuable resource when access to studios or equipment has been challenging:

VIP Studios has been a fantastic tool to engage our young people during the UK Lockdown and helped them to stay focused, be creative and have some fun. We used VIP studios to build beats, look at & analyse music arrangements, record vocals, and use audio effects to polish our tracks. Some of the tracks were even entered into the VIP music competition & one of our students won! It is a great tool with a great suite of instructional videos - VIP is a gamechanger! Lead Tutor - Community Sounds

What is VIP Studio Sessions?

VIP Studio Sessions is an online learning and music production platform with a range of tools for young people to produce music and learn new skills, both as part of projects and independently. VIP incorporates an online recording studio with videos resources spanning song-writing, music production and artist career development (such as how to release and promote your music).

The platform also includes online units of work supporting young peoples’ musical knowledge and progression. For example, Brighter Sound created Music and Me – the first of a series of units focusing on inspirational women working in music.

We spoke to organisations who’ve used VIP over the past year in their practice. From the feedback emerged four key areas where VIP had positively impacted project delivery in the last year.

 

VIP Studio Sessions, music making and project delivery

Accessible and high-quality music-making resource

All the responses we received described the important role VIP played in helping young people continue to make music when access to music-making spaces or equipment/software at home has been a significant barrier.

VIP is a sick resource to use, especially in the situation we’re in. 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 mind set and he was able to carry on making music. Music Tutor - Audioactive

We were also told that the quality and functionality of VIP as a music production tool made a big difference. For the musinc project in Middlesbrough and Coventry-based Media Mania using the platform translated well into the delivery of their projects focusing on music production. They explained how features in VIP served as an excellent introduction to using more advanced software:

It’s the perfect introduction to digital multitrack recording and sequencing; the fact that it can be accessed anywhere rather than needing to be downloaded onto a specific machine and the cloud storage is so helpful. We’ve seen definite improvements in our student’s consideration of how music is arranged. They’re listening to music differently now after learning about things like stereo panning and use of effects. It really is an excellent resource. Music Leader – Musinc Middlesbrough

Tool for supporting musical progression

As well as enhancing technical skills for producing music, the video tutorials on VIP were also highlighted as a valuable tool for supporting musical progression. These tutorials span a range of practical skills – from beat-making and laying down effects, to learning how to record and master tracks. Community Music (CM) told us how the tutorials helped to develop young peoples’ musical skills, and helped them to discover and play new genres of music they hadn’t previously explored:

It has been a great tool for young people to channel their energy into being creative. The tools and resources on the site are brilliant and great for the young person to develop skills and learn further from the tutorials on the site in their own time. It has also been great for the tutors as well! Lead Tutor – CM

CM have put together a playlist of some of the tracks produced by young people on VIP. Click here to listen to CM’s playlist.

Project delivery

Normal working methods have been disrupted by the shift into online working. We learnt how VIP helped organisations to continue working online and negotiate some of the challenges of remote project delivery. For many, delivering projects “behind a screen” was difficult because the environment was very different to what young people and music leaders were used to. For CM, being able to make use of the resources on VIP helped maintain levels of engagement and gave project participants - as well as music leaders - ideas and inspiration for the sessions.

Brighton-based AudioActive told us how VIP helped them continue their outreach and mentoring programme when contact time was limited. Using the collaboration resources built-in to VIP, tutors were able to listen to tracks in advance and record feedback for their mentees ahead of their meetings; helping replicate some of the ways their music mentoring worked when face-to-face delivery was possible.

The sessions have been great and I hope they continue. Highlights include being given tracks from other members of the group each week and having to write to them. Just the ability to make music and collaborate with people whilst in lockdown has been the best. All of this has stretched and improved me as a singer/songwriter. Participant – Audioactive

You can read more about how VIP helped take projects online here.

New opportunities

As time has progressed it’s become clear that there are various elements of online delivery that have opened new directions for projects to travel. We were told how the shift to online working – and access to VIP - helped enable organisations and young people to connect and collaborate online in new ways. For example, CM saw more link-ups happening nationwide between their project participants – based in London - and those from projects in Scotland, Manchester and Lancashire:

CM is committed to breaking those barriers and creating accessibility to creative learning for young people and the VIP platform has given us the ability to continue this work and reach more young people which has been brilliant. Lead Tutor - Community Music

We’re seeing organisations taking all they’ve learnt delivering remotely in the last year and embedding it in their future plans. With VIP, as with other online resources, many organisations plan to use it to support with the transition back into face-to-face delivery. They also see VIP as a tool to help young people continue to make music in their own time, as well as in project settings.

 

Looking Ahead

As we tentatively move away from the latest government restrictions, the prospect of the return of physical music-making and project delivery is exciting. In the face of significant challenges in the last year it’s been inspiring to see how innovatively and impactfully projects have managed to pivot and adapt their ways of working time and time again. As one resource that’s helped support these transitions, we’re delighted to see that VIP has had a positive impact over this time.

Of course, there remain significant barriers to music-making and remote engagement. For example, access to a computer, the internet or home equipment remains a barrier for many. There are also clear advantages that face-to-face learning and music-making has over that which takes place remotely. Saying this, the methods and resources used this past year to continue engaging young people remotely have the potential to remain to be valuable tools as face-to-face delivery becomes steadily more commonplace again.

This is why we’ll continue to offer free access to VIP for Youth Music grantholders; to have it as an option to embed into project delivery, and for young people to be able to continue using it to make music.

Just to say that digital will never fully replace traditional face-to-face, however, the combination is here to stay.  Once you reframe how digital aspects might enhance your work…that's the key aspect really. Ross - All Star Ents

For more information about VIP Studio Sessions, the offer to Youth Music grantholders, and the process of signing up please email sam.scott@youthmusic.org.uk