Sebastian Lander previews the third Make It, Break It awards which encourage students to create and own their work
There could easily be anything from 10 to 100 members of urban band Blazing Squad. More revealing than whether Reepa likes brunettes or blondes or Melo-D prefers Walkers crisps to Monster Munch is whether any of them know anything about the production and creative processes behind their music. If you want an alternative take on the state of British youth music, then take a look at the Make It, Break It award scheme run by Yamaha.
Make It, Break It is now in its third year and is billed as an "annual songwriting and enterprise awards scheme aimed at encouraging and uncovering fresh creative talent from young artists and entrepreneurs". Pop Idol this isn't.
The premise is relatively simple. Individuals or groups of pupils are encouraged to submit songs written, produced and recorded by themselves, with information on how they recorded the composition and how they would promote it. Entrants will be judged by a panel of industry professionals, including Radio 1 DJs Mark and Lard, Coldplay's Chris Martin, promoter Harvey Goldsmith CBE and Grammy award-winning producer Steve Levine. The winners will have the thrill of performing their songs at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts as well as receiving pound;1,000 worth of Yamaha music equipment. And, if nominated, their schools can receive the same.
This sounds straightforward and fairly commercial but there is a very strong education ethic at work and it is definitely not all about the winning and the potential "bling"; it's what you learn from the taking part that counts. That is why, even after the event, winners take part in a weekend of masterclasses with music professionals on songwriting, music production and marketing, all in equal measure.
Record producer Steve Levine believes there is a definite educational process, which taps into the curriculum. "This is not just about music and judging musicians," he says. "Entrants have to write lyrics which, by default, touch upon the English curriculum." He believes that teachers should not simply focus on the obviously musically talented members of the school, but look for children with other skills: "There might be very technically minded children who can help with the recording elements and the music technology involved encompasses computer skills, physics and electronics on the curriculum."
Craig Sullivan is a Year 11 teacher at Blatchington Mill School and Sixth Form College in Hove, a school with performing arts status. Little surprise that he nurtured one of last year's Make It, Break It winners, Alice's Garden, who have since gone on to achieve a considerable level of exposure.
"This scheme goes across the board," he says. "It's clear that Yamaha has looked at the curriculum, which is why teachers should definitely buy into it. The scheme obviously covers music but there is a strong creative writing element, PSE, business and ICT are involved and the fact that the entrants have to record their songs is absolutely spot-on."
Craig feels that Make It, Break It has widened the scope of the music curriculum in general terms but there are areas which are under-represented: "These awards have raised the profile of contemporary modern music in schools as there is often a bias towards classical music when, in reality, there is room for both. That said, there is less representation of urban music and not enough entries from rappers and hip-hop artists."
Ed Potter is a Year 10 pupil at Blatchington Mill and member of new band Caelum, who are entering the scheme for the first time. Inspired by Alice's Garden, he hopes to benefit beyond just winning. "We obviously hope to win but, more than that, the competition makes you think about your music in a business-like way - you have to think about marketing and promotion," he says. "It has also made us finally record some of our music so that we could enter. It will be good to get some feedback from record producers and music professionals about what they think of our music."
Craig has seen from last year's scheme how the benefits travel beyond the curriculum and affect the personal development of participants. "The scheme encourages pupils to be more disciplined and parents have written in to say that their children are much more focused and doing better in school," he says. "In return it shows them that the school is taking their music seriously, and gives them a feeling of ownership, entrepreneurship and a sense of community."
Steve Levine agrees: "Through working together, teachers and students can form a more personal relationship which will benefit them in other areas of their school life, and some of them get to perform in front of a live audience which not only gives them a great buzz but a massive confidence boost."
He made it clear that these awards are not the next X-Factor. "If some of the entrants learn that they want to be singer-songwriters or find they want to work on the technical side that's great, but it's a bi-product," he says. "This is about the real deal. It's about people that are passionate about making music and learning about each stage involved in making a record and seeing that a career in the industry takes time and hard work."
HOW TO ENTER
The closing date is November 30. Entry is free. Entrants are required to submit two songs, each less than five minutes long. Songs will be judged on composition, lyrics and melody, originality, the quality of the recording and the inventiveness of the promotional ideas. It will not be enough to produce a brilliant song as all these elements are important.
* Full information about the awards and an entry form can be found at www.makeitbreakit.org
Tel: Liz Lord at Yamaha on 01908 369293. Email: email@example.com.
For information about projects at Blatchington Mill School and Sixth Form College visit www.blatchingtonmill.org.uk
To find out what the scheme can do after the competition, log on at www.alicesgarden.net
Steve Levine's advice for teachers entering the scheme is:
"Try not to replicate songs that have already been written and performed.
Let them write about what they know, what they feel, what they see. A hit song is when you represent something someone else feels when they listen to it."
Craig Sullivan's suggestion for teachers is:
"Pass it on to the kids and give them ownership. It is amazing what they can do. Look for all types of talent, even if it is not there in the ability to play a musical instrument. They can all get involved."