Live Music Exchange Resources

Playing Wales: the relationship between higher education and the live music industry in Wales – Paul Carr (2012)


Author(s):  Paul Carr
Organisation/Publisher:  Higher Education Academy
Date: 2012

With a focus on Wales, and featuring interview data from promoters such as Stuart Galbraith (Kilimanjaro Live), Johnny Phillips (SJM Concerts) and Peter Florence (Director Hay Festival), this report investigates the potential opportunities for collaboration between the live music industries and Higher Education in addressing the skills gap identified by Creative and Cultural Skills and others.

Read the full report here

Conclusions and Recommendations

From a music industry perspective, the recent acquisition by Live Nation, of data entertainment firm Big Champagne,50 could be considered a microscopic indicator of how the global live music industry is changing, and the financial and intellectual property emphasis that is being placed upon it. According to’s Bruce Houghton, the takeover represents the essential next step to drive a transformation of live music based on data rather than the antiquated assumptions of the old guard music industry (Houghton, 2012b). However, if we regard this purchase more cynically, it clearly follows the paradigm that is pervasive throughout the history of recorded music: the purchase the smaller innovative companies by a dominant wealthy few (ironically, what Houghton describes as the antiquated “old guard”) – an oligopoly that facilitates the capitalist society both Higher Education and the Music Industry operate in.

Within this environment, the Higher Education sector is going through a period of great change, with “New Universities” in particular having to face up to issues such as employability, the influx of private providers, and validation powers in Further Education Colleges, not to mention the unknown impact that increased student fees may have on the entire sector. In Wales of course there is also the question of impeding university mergers, and although the exact details are not known yet, the Welsh Higher Education sector of the future will look very different to what it does today.

The question for Welsh Higher Education music departments engaged in live music, is how to negotiate these independent, powerful forces. How do we engage with both the national and international live music scenes from a pedagogical, industrial and research perspective, ensuring our students gain a relevant and academically challenging experience, while undergoing the changes to Higher Education and the live sector as outlined above?

It is apparent from this report, in addition to previous investigations undertaken, that in order to answer these questions the Welsh music industry requires far more research into its various infrastructures – of which Higher Education can play a part. Although not an exhaustive list, issues such as why bands bypass Wales when touring; transport issues to and from venues; publicity infrastructures in the capital and throughout Wales (Do audiences feel informed? What community and local Council activities are already taking place?); working relationships between venues, local councils and national promoters; and the relationships between live music and cultural tourism (from both an import and export perspective),51 are indicative of factors that not only require on-going research, but also should be included into taught music industry modules, that from experience tend to focus on global rather than local paradigms. Although some parties within the Welsh music industry would question its relevance – arguing that academic exercises such as this represent the pinnacle of the “knowledge resistance” outlined earlier, in congruence with the numerous nations mentioned in this report, it is suggested that a comprehensive mapping document of Wales is required, documented independently, and including a critical investigation of what could be learned from nations such as Scotland, New Zealand and Finland – the latter who seem particularly successful in fostering government support for performing live music abroad.

Regarding pedagogical initiatives, in congruence to the University of Bolton’s relationship with the Backstage Academy, and the University of Plymouth’s work with Deep Blue Sound, it seems prudent for Welsh Higher Education to continue to investigate what industrial and governmental bodies it can work with in order to address the specific skill gaps referred to by Creative and Cultural Skills, and most importantly how they impact the Welsh live music industry. As stated earlier, keeping intellectual property and income streams within Wales is an essential factor if the industry is to build upon the £60 turnover outlined above, an increase which is essential if the Welsh industry is to become truly self-sufficient.

Considering that part of this skill gap needs to be targeted at practitioners already working in the Welsh Music Industry, it is also logical to suggest that Higher Education needs to investigate part-time, distance learning and particularly “accelerated” provision – in order to open up these markets, so Higher Education institutions can facilitate practitioner engagement within and between their working lives. As stated in the stakeholder interviews section of this report, a number of industrial and government bodies are open to the idea of strategic work placements, and in congruence with the likes of Buckingham New University, the instigation of “production companies” within the Welsh university sector would potentially facilitate outward facing, industry focused “centres”, that would encourage music departments to engage with mechanisms such as APEL, accreditation for current work based learning, in addition to ensuring “traditional” undergraduate students get the opportunity to engage in meaningful, accredited scholarship with the live music industry. As suggested earlier, positioning these industry focused centres as part of a “creative hub”, which includes networking, internship opportunities, current industry news, guest blogs etc. also appears to provide a strategic opportunity to encourage the live music sector to engage with higher education more productively – something which is essential if these proposals are to move forward.

The importance of skills, and the relative lack of interest in accreditation outlined in both the questionnaire and some stakeholder interviews reflects larger scale studies carried out by Creative and Cultural Skills (Wenham and Felton, 2011) a Creative and Cultural Industries Workforce Survey (Anonymous 9, 2009), and a recent 63 point plan recently launched by the Welsh Government (Matthews, 2012) – all of which suggest that Higher Education is not currently serving industry with the skills it needs. Announced in partnership with Welsh universities, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Confederation of British Industry, The Skills and Employability Framework is still in draft stage at the time of writing, but according to Matthews, includes actions related to increasing the number of students enrolled on employer approved courses; increasing the number of courses co-designed by employers; in addition to improving the opportunities for work placements (Ibid.). These governmental proposals look encouraging for facilitating some of the proposals in this report, however, as outlined earlier, in the music industry, the grey area between skills and qualifications can only be alleviated if:

1) Employers understand what skills students will have once they have obtained specific qualifications.

2) Students themselves have a clear understanding of the relationship between skills and qualifications.

3) Both parties are convinced that course content is relevant to the sub-sectors of live music they are working in.

It is understood that mutual trust between the live music sector and Higher Education will not develop overnight, and initiatives such as the forthcoming Framework for Skills and Employment and The Live Music Exchange is for the first time beginning to facilitate how both parties can constructively work together. Based on some of the work undertaken as part of this report, the next Live Music Exchange event is planned to be in Cardiff, as part of the 2012 Sŵn Festival in October 2012, and it is envisaged this will provide a strategic opportunity to explore further how Higher Education can facilitate the economic and cultural development of live music.


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