A Statewide partnership between Tasmania’s Department of Education and APRA AMCOS kicks off today in Hobart under the SongMakers umbrella.

ARIA-award winning musicians, Rai Thistlethwayte (Thirsty Merc), Katie Wighton (All our Exes Live in Texas) and international producer Robert Conley (Dean Lewis, Tina Arena, Ricky Martin, Montaigne) will join senior music students in class to write and record new songs and give industry ‘insider’ career advice as part of a state-wide trial. 

To celebrate the new in-school mentoring scheme, TIO tapped SongMakers Project Director Tina Broad to pen this piece on the importance of closer partnerships between schools and industry.

Australian music is having a moment. In NSW people are waving placards in the streets to protest the NSW government’s draconian festival rules and, in Canberra, a parliamentary inquiry has been hearing from musos and industry reps about how to grow and sustain an Australian music industry in which many of its artists struggle to make a sustainable living.

Across the country, thousands have been motivated by ABC TV’s Don’t Stop the Music campaign to donate their old instruments for schoolkids’ music education and a record 2.8 million votes were cast for our favourite songs in the Hottest 100.

Whether you take a music industry glass half full or half empty perspective, most observers agree there are huge opportunities for Australia in a global recorded music industry projected to be worth USD 50 billion by 2030if we can improve our ‘ecosystem’ of education, legislation, Australian content quotas, government investment and the like.

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As a long-time music advocate with a strong interest in education, I’m convinced that closer partnerships between schools and industry are an important, foundational strategy in growing our industry from the ground up, raising our global market share and making sure our young musicians are armed with better knowledge about career opportunities and pitfalls.

We shouldn’t rely on the tertiary system

We shouldn’t rely on TAFEs and universities to usher well-prepared new entrants in to the industry because a lot of young musos – including, it seems, many that find early international success – bypass Uni or TAFE on the way to their careers.

That means secondary school can be a sensible stage at which to invest in some pre-emptive support. One of those investments has been APRA AMCOS’ in-school songwriting and recording program, SongMakers, which I helped to introduce in 2013.

songmakers KLP and Taka Perry and school kids group shot
KLP and Taka Perry with the school kids they mentored as part of SongMakers

The program sees Australian secondary schools matched with industry mentors  – APRA AMCOS Ambassadors who are internationally-credentialed artists and producers.

Targeting public schools, including in regional areas, they work in classrooms over two intensive days to write new songs, demo tracks, model industry practices like writing collaboratively and to a deadline, mentor teachers and give career pathway advice from an insider’s perspective.

The program is about fast-tracking students’ understanding of the industry and the importance of content creation (not just replication) to a sustainable career. This is important because, surprisingly, most school music curricula around Australia don’t prioritise the things today’s industry demands, such as collaborative creation, originality, high levels of technological competence and enterprise skills.

SongMakers helps fill the gap

It also sees schools go on to introduce their own strategies to encourage students’ music, including songwriting clubs, industry days and recording initiatives. SongMakers alums include Taka Perry, Tia Gostelow, Harley Mavis’ Hannah Robinson and Grace from CLEWS.

School music education is about more than preparing students for music work, with overwhelming evidence linking it to a student’s social, emotional and academic success whether or not she pursues a music career. But school music education has a strong connection with a country’s music export success too.

Take Sweden, the world’s top exporter of music, per capita. Sweden’s success has been attributed, in part, to the role-model effect of its famous successes such as ABBA and super-producer, Max Martin, as well as to its long tradition of government-funded contemporary music education where school-age young people can learn an instrument or beat-making, songwriting and producing.

Australia’s government initially came with us on the SongMakers journey, partnering with APRA AMCOS through the federal Department of Education and the Arts Ministry under a four-year funding agreement which expired in late 2017 and which, sadly, the current government decided not to renew.

This is despite a glowing independent evaluation of the program’s many impacts on schools and on the industry and pleas from a national roundtable of teachers to keep the program going because of, among other things, its ‘invaluable role as a motivator for student success.’

Schools love the program because, beyond the music outcomes, it also builds students’ skills in things that transfer to life after school whatever career they choose: resilience, teamwork and critical thinking, for example.

The ALP has made support for SongMakers part of its pre-election Arts policy so the program will be back in schools nationally if there is a change of government. Until then, mighty Tassie has embraced the program and its Department of Education is partnering with us on a program of workshops and teacher training for the State that kicks off this week in Hobart.

We hope other States and Territories will follow Tassie’s lead and work with us, making investments in their young creatives at school and recognising that industry collaborators such as APRA AMCOS can, as David Gonski says: ‘Unlock a world of applied learning and development opportunities for students.’

Kicking off today, five SongMakers ‘hub’ schools across the State are set to host mentored song writing and recording workshops for students from their own and neighbouring schools, and 40 teachers across the state will receive industry-specific training. For more information head to SongMakers.com.au.

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