A collaborative music project on the south coast is helping talented youngsters to stand on their own two feet in a famously risky business, writes Martin Whittaker
WHILE TV shows like Fame Academy and Pop Idol pick the latest fresh-faced talent to package for pop stardom, a college in Brighton is giving young musicians a chance to make their own success in the rock business.
The Brighton Institute of Modern Music offers a range of courses taught by known recording artists and working musicians, with contacts and careers advice from figures in the industry. While its young hopefuls may not be able to achieve overnight fame the TV talent-show way, they can learn the musician's trade and become session players, songwriters or recording artists in their own right.
The institute is a private college run in partnership with Haywards Heath college, Varndean college, City college, Brighton, and Sussex learning and skills council.
"Many people still assume that musicians are only successful if they get a lucky break - and if not, then they continue with their day jobs," says Bruce Dickinson, the institute's co-founder and managing director.
"As experienced music industry professionals ourselves, we know this just isn't the case. We provide professional music tuition that encourages the students to work hard to achieve their own success."
Bruce Dickinson has an impressive CV. In the early Nineties he played guitar with a band called Little Angels and had a number one album and a run of hit singles. He also toured with Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Van Halen and Aerosmith. He founded Brighton Institute of Modern Music with co-directors Kevin Nixon, Sarah Clayman and Damian Keyes, who all have a solid track record and still work in the music business.
But this is definitely no fame academy. The institute recently turned down an opportunity to work with the TV show of that name. "I don't think there's anything particularly wrong in it," says Bruce Dickinson. "It's entertaining - or for some people it is. But what we're interested in is young people who control their own careers and have the knowledge and the skills to do that."
The institute is in a smartly refurbished warehouse at the aptly named Rock Place, just off Brighton seafront. There is a definite buzz around the place. In a soundproofed ground floor studio decked with instruments and amplifiers, rows of students sporting guitars are having a music theory lesson. Upstairs, floors throb to the sounds of drumming tuition, while in other rooms students learn bass guitar and vocal techniques.
The institute offers a one-year level 3 (A-level equivalent) national diploma in music practice for under-19s, and higher diplomas for over-19s, run in association with the local further education colleges. This September it begins a degree course in professional musicianship with the University of Sussex.
Courses are described as "intensive, vocational programmes - a heady mix of rock and roll and homework". But they are no easy option - students have to show they can play or sing to a certain standard and audition for places.
The institute prides itself on a heavy input from the music business. Some students have scholarships sponsored by singer Ronan Keating, by Neil Hannon of the band Divine Comedy, and by Q Magazine.
Since its launch last year, tutors have included singer songwriter Carleen Anderson, and Mark Richardson, the drummer with Feeder. And a songwriting course has been written in partnership with BMG, the world's third-biggest music publisher, whose artists include Robbie Williams and Christina Aguilera.
Students also audition to play on a compilation album, recorded at a nearby recording studio owned by The Levellers, and get to attend the sound checks at local club The Concord for artists like Ms Dynamite and Gary Moore.
As well as studying their chosen instrument, students must also make a personal career plan to help them progress. Bruce Dickinson says: "The careers thing is really vital. There is a massive responsibility on a course like this - you have to be very careful how you market it. It's easy to hype up a 17 or 18-year-old and say, 'You're going to be a rock star.'
So we don't do that.
"We're very clear on the fact that they are professional musicians with a massive amount of work to do. The way people's careers start is in having a clear idea of where they want to be, and then realising that the goal is achieved by a lot of little steps."
Natasha Bent is a PR and German graduate studying on a course in vocal performance. After doing work experience at a top music publisher, she has decided to go into the music industry when she finishes her course.
"We get taught theory, singing, performance, then we have business lessons every Friday," she says. "We have industry people coming to talk to us. If I hadn't come here I wouldn't have been able to get a foot in the door."
Fellow student Ross Gautreau says: "It's hard getting into the industry, but they're guiding us and giving us the knowledge to get in there. They've been there and done that, and they've got the contacts."
Russell Strutt, principal of Haywards Heath college, said: "The venture is an excellent example of effective collaboration to provide a new curriculum for young people and increase participation."