At the time of writing our last blog post (June 2020), we knew that our next submission would be focussed around our experiences with working through the Coronavirus pandemic, with a hope to share some ways of mentoring whilst gathering some feedback from some of you too. When the UK was first put into lockdown, we worked so hard to try and provide music and holistic support to our participants - It wasn't easy but with time, we found ways of working and in this blog post we will be exploring the past, present and future of working with young creatives through COVID-19.
Pre-Lockdown (Plans & Future Projects)
This year was off to a flying start with our first EP ‘Return To SEND’ being released and celebrated in February with our showcase event which was held at Rough Trade Nottingham. None of us knew that this would happen and it seriously impacted on our plans for the rest of the year.
After releasing our participants first EP, our next project was to focus on creating an album to show the development in creating music for bodies of work - our mentors were excited to be working on a larger scale project - one that would include varied styles of music and explore a more in-depth level of collaboration between our participants. This was backed by our popular ‘Studio Visits’ with partnering organisations in Nottingham (specifically CRS & Nottingham Music Hub) where the aim is to build cohesion between young people accessing music making opportunities from different areas in Nottingham.
At the start of March, the studio visits we planned were centred on combining producers/lyricists with more instrument based musicians with the hope to create something both modern and musically advanced. The idea was to have one or two participants from Nottingham Music Hub meet with a SEND Project participant at our studio to explore, share and collaborate on musical ideas with the hope to create a piece of music we could put forward for our album. As lockdown was enforced, it was clear that this idea had to take a back seat… for now...
Alongside the collaboration aspects of our project, we really wanted to organise a second 2020 showcase event (almost like an album launch party). As we have had experience with organising an event in the past, we wanted to make this one bigger and better to encourage our participants to take their music making to a next level. Again, this was put on the back burner for now as it was hard enough getting toilet roll from Tesco’s, nevermind organising a public event.
Whilst preparing for distanced mentoring, we wanted to consider a number of factors to ensure our participants were set up to engage in both virtual meet ups and creative activities.
When lockdown hit, we were proactive to deliver equipment to our participants. This typically included midi controllers, microphones and an audio interface and with the help of Zoom and Instagram, we were able to offer remote music tuition and holistic support.
Zoom and Instagram have played a huge part in connecting us to not only our participants, but our staff too and weekly team briefings were integral parts of delivering our project throughout lockdown. Collectively, we set up a rota where 2 music mentors were available on a Tuesday evening between the hours of 6-8pm. Participants had the opportunity to book slots with our mentors and access support with anything musical or just to catch up and have a chat. At the start of lockdown, we created an Instagram private messenger group and added our core participants with the hope they would connect with each other and share musical ideas. For the most part it was a very productive platform for us to use because our participants could opt to take advantage of mentoring but also check in with their peers. Alongside the group chat, our mentors delivered 1-1 mentoring via Zoom; this ranged from digital music production, vocal training, songwriting and instrument tuition. After each workshop, the mentor would leave a few notes on our digital contact log with regards to what they covered in their session along with any follow up actions for that participant - we find this a really helpful way to keep on top of the goals our participants set/any important upcoming events.
Along with weekly musical challenges (e.g. write 16 bars on the theme of lockdown), we wanted to encourage our core group of participants to remain in touch with each other so we scheduled a monthly quiz with a prize for the winner. We found this was a nice way to bring everyone together with a major focus on creating music! That said, many participants found the Zoom room experience to be a little awkward (when not doing a quiz) and the best work was done via 1 to 1 communication with mentors.
Whilst a lot of work was happening with our core participant group, we also wanted to engage the public in as many music making opportunities as it was a great time to pick up a new skill. Using Instagram and Facebook as our core platforms to engage with the public, we really wanted to maintain a presence through lockdown and create/share meaningful content for people in our city to connect with. We even managed to get a video tutorial from our instrument tutor Rich on various Bass Guitar playing techniques (see link below).
VIP Studio Sessions
Much of the music tuition delivery at SEND Project is centred on the use of digital music technology and computer aided music production. Typically, the programmes used to create music on a computer cost a lot of money and therefore aren't necessarily accessible to the young people we work with. What is the work around for this? How can our participants continue to create music without the same resources we offer at our centre? These were the questions we were trying to answer. There are free programmes (like Reaper) people can use. However, not all of the team here are trained in using this software, so delivering remote tuition would be a learning curve for all involved. Thankfully, we were blessed with the introduction of VIP Studio Sessions.
VIP Studio Sessions is an internet based music production suite that has virtually all the functions a ‘normal’ DAW (digital audio workstation) has - the only difference is, you don’t have to install anything onto a PC.
“As a recording artist on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, Max is one half of duo Anushka with over 750k plays on Soundcloud, an album and world tour in 2014 and Radio 1 plaudits from Annie Mac, Skream and others.”
Max Wheeler (the brains behind the operation) has thought of everything to aid complete beginners in creating music using a computer. VIP Studio Sessions has an extensive range of online tutorials that cover skills in everything from lyric writing, music production and recording.
Being funded by Youth Music, we were lucky enough to obtain a license for VIP Studio Sessions and we started to get used to the programme straight away. Upon receiving our login details we found a ‘Teacher Section’ where the user can create username and password information for participants. From there, we distributed them to our cohort along with a cool video which explored the website and its different areas - tutorials / online studio etc.
VIP Studio Sessions is also a great platform for getting feedback on your tracks. Participants can create music and then upload it to the website for feedback along with being entered into monthly competitions - honestly, it is such a great platform and our participants have used it to create some really interesting music. If interested, please drop us a comment and we can forward your details to Max who will hopefully be able to get you set up!
Although live music events were postponed throughout lockdown, we were lucky enough to take part in a very exciting initiative called ‘NottsStopping Festival’. The invite came from our network partner Nottingham Music Hub, who offered a 10 minute slot to any of our participants who wanted the opportunity to perform for their live streamed event which was held in May.
NottsStopping Festival featured performances from some of the city’s most exciting up and coming artists and in total streamed for over 6 hours on the 23rd of May. Alongside showcasing musicians, NottsStopping Festival programmed a number of local comedians, actors, theatre workers and artists with the aim of celebrating and connecting Nottinghamshire.
We passed the invite forward to our cohort and of course, due to lack of technical experience/equipment, not everyone could get involved. However, our own AKADEEKAY and Maugz put together a sterling performance in preparation for the drop of their collaborative EP (which by the time of posting this should be released). The link to the performance is below.
NottsStopping festival was a great way to show the public that our young creatives were still very active throughout the lockdown period. The number of people that tuned in just shows that these type of ‘events’ can be a very popular thing moving forward if the country is forced to lockdown again.
As lockdown restrictions eased over Summer, we wanted to ensure that we put a number of measures in place to make our teaching space as safe as possible for our participants and staff. Along with various signage outlining the rules of social distancing, we also created floor markings and devised a one way route to minimise any contamination throughout the centre. We installed hand sanitizer stations at every doorway to ensure the spread of germs was kept to an absolute minimum and we wiped down all surfaces and door handles before and after every scheduled session - you can never be too careful!
In terms of running a meaningful session, we came up with the idea of creating a timetable for our participants. We created three 1-hour booking slots (to be used on a 1-1 basis) where they were able to access music tuition, recording opportunities and holistic support. In the studio, we kept a strict 2 metre distance from our participants and we were really impressed to see that they were also very cautious and diligent when in the centre.
A huge positive for us is that our vocal booth is on the other side of the room and we can communicate with our creatives via microphone and headphones - this ensured that we could still communicate with them very clearly and we also have a window in the vocal booth so our participants could also see our mentors when recording. Alongside using the studio for recording, we were also lucky enough to use the room situated next to the studio for more practicing. This really helped manage our time because whilst one participant was recording, another was able to practice their song in preparation for using the studio to record.
Going forward, we have started to allow two participants in the room at the same time as long as they are 2 metres away from each other and they are adhering to the rules set by ourselves and the centre. We thought that this would be a good way for our participants to socialise a little more and get that buzz back in the studio.
In the hopes of not going into another lockdown, we are currently planning a few exciting things to keep us focussed on our project goals, one being an EP themed on lockdown. We sourced a number of instrumentals by an incredibly talented young producer named ICTUS Beats and distributed these to our current cohort. We have been lucky enough to start the recording process and we hope that it will be ready to release around Christmas.
Alongside the EP we are in the process of planning a series of very small studio visits with our partner organisation Nottingham Music Hub. They work with young people who are more inclined to make music using instruments rather than digital software, so we wanted to collaborate with them to create something fusion-based with a heavy influence on contemporary culture music. The idea is to set up a very small socially distanced learning space where the instrumentalists can provide melody lines via various instruments to contribute to a group song. We are really looking forward to this one.
Finally, we are in the stage of creating an online calendar with our network partners (CMON) to advertise music making opportunities that are currently available in Nottingham. We plan to use Google Calendar to input this information and then distribute it via social media to the city of Nottingham - more on this in a future blog post!
With us all living and working through very strange times, we would love to know how you have been finding it. What issues have you faced and what is the best way around them? Youth Music have also released an interesting report about how COVID-19 has affected youth music making (we’ve put the link below)
We would love to hear from you so drop us a comment below!