Music Education Expo – Second day report


Thanks to the Birmingham City University, I had the opportunity to attend the second day of the Music Education Expo held in London at the Barbican Centre on 21st March.

The Music Education Expo is the UK largest exhibition and professional development conference for anyone who teaches music. This year offered 54 seminars and debates for primary, secondary and instrumental music teachers to provide a supporting platform to get updated in latest technology, resources and music educational thinking, to strengthen their CVs and to implement their own network.

I had the opportunity to attend some of these debates and listened which issues are more relevants according to the operators of the educational sector. Leaving aside merely educational themes and concentrating on the economic side instead, I noticed that the central theme was the effects that technological evolution has produced and will continue to produce in music learning. The technological phenomenon has a significant extent on the proposal of new digital tools that rely on online resources, but is also affecting the musical instruments industry itself, which in recent years has started to offer new types of musical instruments to facilitate music learning, especially for children, but has also begun to modify the classical musical instruments as I will report further.

To describe this impact, I selected three debates among those I attended.



The debate’s panel was composed of Scott Price, secondary music teacher and MMA president; David Barnard, head of education, Roland UK; Deborah Annets, chief executive Incorporated Society of Musicians; and Alison Wolf, the author of the government-commissioned Wolf report, a review of vocational education. The discussion’s aim was to describe the path that music teaching followed during the last decade and to try to make a prediction of what could happen in the next one. One of the first items of discussion has developed around the role of technology in our lives in general and how this is affecting educational methodologies too, giving greater access to endless knowledge resources and also facilitating creativity through the use of new tools. However, there are different opinions about the relevance that technologies should cover in education. As pointed out by Barnard, it will have an important role in the future, and above all we do not know in which direction it will be pushed, since, for instance, thinking about the ‘iPad 10 years ago would have been impossible. At the same time we have to keep in mind that digital innovation must be seen as a tool to better learn and practice music, but it can’t replace the fact that music has strong affinities with the feelings and the human soul. Therefore, the challenge in this path is to create tools that can help us to develop those feelings and facilitate music knowledge sharing. However, as pointed out by Scott Price, technology is not the definitive answer to the educational needs, because the primary need is a financial one, which reflects the aim to provide an equal access to education to a high level for everybody. What is more, music education must consider the effects that technology has caused in other areas of the music business, in particular the copyright infringement issue, and that future generations of musicians need to be educated about their rights as professionals workers within the music industry.

Another point on which has been placed emphasis is the lack of importance suffered by the classical music in contemporary music education. This is a significant problem, firstly because music teachers have to ensure an education the most eclectic as possible to their students, but also stressed a lack in distributing this musical culture. This theme is intertwined itself with the necessity of innovation in teaching methods to provide a more attractive packaging particularly for the youngsters, who approach the music in completely different ways than in the past, particularly outside the classrooms.

In my opinion, this is probably the biggest need that new education methodologies should try to answer, and new technologies can help in developing new and more charming tools, but the real challenge is to find the right mix between high level tools and high level contents.


During this seminar, Simon Dutton the managing Director at Paritor Ltd has officially launched an innovative social network community designed for the education market: Schooble. The aim of this project is to answer to the need for improved communication between primary and secondary educators, students, parents and educational organizations. In fact, as reported by Mr Dutton, Schooble connects everyone involved in the sphere of education in a highly secure and interactive environment, allowing users to create their own unique online space. In particular, teachers can use this tool to create a career portfolio, view and support children’s work online; students can record examples or work, produce evidence of educations achievements in their own portfolio, interact with other students, access to learning materials online and finally create an e-learning passport. As regards the students point of view, this project aims to give connotations of fun to technical education. Moreover, parents can view their child’s work and catch up with teachers, and at the same time, education organizations can create their own profile to show their documents, videos, projects, teaching methods and curricula as well as inviting other “Schoobees” to join the organisation where they will automatically be updated with news posted from the organisation itself.

At the moment we can’t say if the project will succeed and if it will be an useful tool in education development, but I think this is an interesting example of how new technologies can be used to create an extensive educational environment that breaks the limits of the classroom, creating the possibility for all the actors involved in education to better interact and spread music culture.

For more informations about this project this is the website:



This seminar exhibited two recent technological developments in music and music education, including a demonstration of how virtual music tuition is working in remote, sparsely populated areas and a long distance piano performance on Yamaha’ Disklavier.

Regarding the virtual music tuition, it’s been showed as the video conferencing technology is largely used for teaching, especially within remote areas. In this way education costs can be cut in order to ensure that all students can receive an equal education. As pointed out, this technology hasn’t been created specifically for this purpose, but both public and private teachers are using distance learning to teach music playing and the results at the moment are really enthusiastic. The central point is understanding that the virtual environment is just a tool and the good results of education depend on the quality of teaching itself. The only reported limit is the impossibility for the student and the teacher to play simultaneously, but this might be one of the technical developments to be made in the future.

The last music technology example showcased in this seminar was the Yamaha Disklavier. It consists of a normal grand piano, but has additional technological implementations: it can record performances in MIDI and above all it can reproduce it accurately! Yes, it plays alone what performers recorded and even other piano-music you want to be played! Disklaviers are already known for their educational features, can be used as compositional tools, recording improvisation and reviewing the mistakes, giving the possibility to the students or generally to performers to reflect on their own performances and transferring their works on the music scores. Further more it can be used in distance learning because it’s possible to connect Disklaviers around the world using an internet connection.

Finally, I found the whole event really interesting. It was an opportunity to give a closer look to an area of the music business that is usually not immediately perceived as such. I say this because, as a Music Industries student, I always thought only about the commercial process that is used to push a musical product and that allows an artist to be known and appreciated, but I made no considerations about the process which allows the artist to be such: music education. This area of the music industry is relevant, primarily because it plays a fundamental role in the construction of future generations of musicians, but also because is probably the leverage most directly involved in the distribution of musical culture.

Music Education Expo in London

This report was written by Max Kiyoshi, an MA Music Industries at Birmingham City University

On 20th and 21th March 2013 at Barbican Centre in London, Music Education Expo, the UK’s largest music exhibition and conference chiefly for music teachers, was held with a focus on classical music. I attended several sessions on day 1, each of which discusses a different subject with different speaker(s). Although there were few sessions directly related to the popular music industries, it really was in many ways an eye-opening conference with regard to how music education in the UK has been and will be conducted and advanced as I grew up in Japan and had my education background there.

The first session I attended was “Making more of classroom music technology” mainly aimed at primary school teachers, explaining how one simple piece of music technology and software, not initially intended to be used for classroom, could be utilised to engage a whole classroom with music. In particular, I found the second half of the session where the presenters showed how to utilise GarageBand to immerse students in music quite fascinating. Deploying a song from the film, The Proud Valley, they have demonstrated how everyone is capable of improvising the melody and fill the space in the song through using GarageBand instruments such as acoustic/electric guitar and synthesiser with a little trick. As seen in the video, whatever attendees played blended in with the music and it would make anyone who gives it a go think they can genuinely play instruments, which is obviously an illusion. This demonstration really was impressive for a number of reasons. It would, first of all, certainly encourage school children to pick up a real instrument by getting them to experience this illusion. In addition, there has never been an idea of utilising GarageBand as a teaching method in primary school in Japan, nor have I seen any similar examples in the past considering even though my both parents are primary school teachers and so I know a little bit about music education in primary school in Japan. Hence the session successfully convinced me that music education in the UK was quite advanced compared to Japan although the method demonstrated may not be applied everywhere in the UK.

“Government music education policy” was the next session I went to, with the room packed, presented by Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries. The session was about how the government’s funding has helped music education in the UK in order to ensure every single child has a chance to learn an musical instrument, alongside the minister describing some of the achievements to which the funding has contributed. For instance, Mr Vaizey proudly stated that the funding has resulted in having remarkable outcomes in Liverpool and Northampton whilst Nottingham has successfully formed choral groups from deprived areas as a consequence of the funding. Further, university students are involved and offer positive influences to children in the choirs as a result. Although the minister emphasised the successful instances of the government’s aid, one female music teacher from Hertfordshire raised a very critical question in the Q&A session. She claimed that the government’s funding has not yet reached out throughout the country since many of the school children she teaches are enthusiastic about learning an instrument, but 98% of their parents are not able to afford for tuitions. Also, a man from a music organisation expressed his worry over the threat of possible job losses of charity and other music organisations due to the establishment of Music education hubs, which was funded by Art council. What could be discovered from this session was, therefore, the government’s funding has brought some positive impacts on music education, though has not yet been distributed in some parts, as well as negative implications that might accompany with the funding.



“How the Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians raised £1.25m for music” was the third session in which I was interested, telling us how the Fund was formed and used. The Fund was basically established to offer chances to young disadvantaged children to receive musical tuition and learn about music continuing for four years. So far, the Fund has raised just over £1.25m and helped 166 children from disadvantaged families in London in collaboration with London orchestra. Thus the scholarship and tuition are inclined to be distributed to classical music. What appealed to me more, though, was the talk regarding how one could set up a fundraising organisation. Taking what the speaker explained into consideration, founding such an organisation sounded very difficult and time-consuming as one needed to bear a number of things in mind. For instance, being crystal-clear about the idea, meeting demands of society, forming a team, having wide network, and having someone top in that particular field are only some of the crucial components of setting up a successful and sustainable fundraising organisation. When applying to the popular music context, I have seen several fundraising bodies in the UK providing either financial aid or recording studios for musicians to record their music and distribute afterwards. In my opinion, it is more important to give young aspirant musicians accesses to social capital (e.g. sound engineers), instruments, equipment, and studios because recording and distributing their music is extremely crucial for them more than anything else. And I hope there will be some more organisations that will let them access to these things.
The last session was “Music education in London: discussion and showcase” with four different speakers presenting projects that they were taking part and were taking place in London. Particularly focussing on classical music projects, they have been providing opportunities for youths’ arts participation and used to develop talents. The most outstanding project to me was “Performing arts project” that took place once a year, yet it involves students from year 6, secondary schools to even postgraduate students in order to enhance the children’s abilities of composition and listening. Moreover, this project invites professional musicians in classical music to schools so that they inspire pupils to go to proper concerts afterwards where these pupils can expose themselves to atmospheres of authentic and real classical music. For the success of this kind of project, one of the presenters explained the ingredients: equal recognition and relationship between schools and musicians; working closely with organisations. While listening about this project, I thought a same thing could be applied to the popular music industry. Whilst British pop stars like Jessie J has visited colleges such as Birmingham Ormiston Academy to encourage students to pursue their musical career, instances of them visiting primary and/or secondary schools are unheard of to me. Acknowledging that they barely have time to spare for such things, I still believe it is a good idea for them to visit those schools to encourage many school children to learn more of music as popular music is liked by many by definition.


Overall, the conference was quite an enjoyable experience. I learnt so much about music education in the UK that I would have not if I had not attended. Albeit the focus on classical music, I also found some sessions discussed at the conference could be applied to the popular music context not just to get students interested in learning music but to possibly increase marketability for the sake of music companies. Although there seems to be an invisible wall between classical music and the other genres, one thing for certain is that they are undoubtedly interconnected and live under the same tree.


“Overall coherence in everything” – Interview with Steve Swindelli

On 25 November 2012 I spoke to British songwriter and producer Steve Swindelli about his experience of teaching a Popular Music Analysis module at Pécs University of Music during the autumn term of 2012/2013, comparing it to his experience in Szeged. Swindelli also shared his analysis of Hungary’s popular music culture and industry. 


Ambrus Deák / imPro School Interview

On 20 November 2012 I spoke to Ambrus Deák (AMB), Ableton Certified Trainer, Head Teacher at imPro, the Budapest School of Music Technology. Deák founded imPro School after spending four years in London and completing a Music Technology Specialist degree at Thames Valley University. The School currently offers three types of degrees: Ableton Basic, Ableton Pro and Music Producer. Deák teaches the following modules: Sound, Mixing and Mastering; Final Project; MIDI & Synthesis; Sampling; and Music Industry. He talked to me about the programme, the staff and the students, the process of developing the School’s policies and methodology, about overcoming difficulties, and about future goals. (.pdf attached)





Campus Online interview with Balázs Bihari (Almost Famous Rock School)

Here is a translation of a recent interview by Heni Hegyi, originally published on Campus Online:

There’s a place where anyone can dig deep into pop music life and activity in the broadest sense – now within the framework of a certified training programme

Almost Famous Rock School (Majdnem Híres Rocksuli) is aiming to make all knowledge available for those interested and to train professionals, not only so that they can find employment as a band manager or press person, but so that they can be trusted with any relevant task. Although prior to AFRS there had been no such initiative in Hungary, it is important to mention PANKKK (Programme for the National Contemporary Popular Music Culture), which has existed in a ‘hibernated’ state since June 2010.

We talked to Balázs Bihari (AFRS-founder,, Hippikiller etc.) about the rock school and its plans.

What kind of training begins in January 2013 and is it still possible to apply?

The rock school trains popular music managers and this also applies to the course beginning in January 2013, this is when our next term starts. You can still apply by writing to, but apparently there are fewer and fewer entrance interview slots available.

What does such an interview look like? Is there some kind of basic knowledge that is necessary if one wants to apply?

During the interview, we attempt to ascertain why one is here, what expectations they have, and we compare this to what we offer. The age distribution is very interesting, because we get people who have just completed their secondary school-leaving exam, but also 35-year-olds, we get outsiders, event managers and everything in between. As a result, people arrive with various expectations: some want to build networks, some want to organise their already existing fragments of knowledge into a coherent system, and so forth.
What is the primary motivation behind the school?

It’s quite funny that we were the first to have accredited popular music management as a profession – it took approximately ten months for it to be included in the Ministry list. This also highlights the reason why we established the course: Hungarian pop music has existed in a twilight zone and this can still be felt in various areas. PANKKK was beginning to sort this out, and an important element of this process is education.

Somehow in Hungarian pop culture a certain continuity, which one can experience in Anglo-Saxon countries, is lacking to this day. This is still a product of the pre-regime change era: there was not much overlap between mainstream and underground, and therefore none between generations either. A consequence of this is the fact that some of those who are interested may be familiar with some elements, but few people have a comprehensive knowledge, few people are able to properly place events, people, references into context. For this reason, we examine pop history primarily from a music industry perspective, we prioritise cause-and-effect relations, as opposed to whether David Bowie released his latest single on the 23rd or the 24th of October 1972. We are at the very beginning of a very long process, even if we have managed to cause a stir in young people involved in pop culture: Almost Famous, imPro [School], university courses, Music Networks [Association] all cover a different area of pop, but work towards the same goal – that is, the acceptance and inclusion of pop as a part of general culture. This is why we originally set out and this is our expectation today.

Isn’t the problem that there are good professionals, but on the part of the audience the desire to find out about things and make use of this opportunity is lacking?

The audience is not aware of how small and inbred the Hungarian pop world is – but this is okay. You can only think long term, because the people we train will mature in five to ten years’ time. The same with a change in the general outlook – it is a slow process, but you need to recognise that moment where you can take a spectacular step. At the moment we are working on a coursebook, the building blocks and chapters of which could constitute modules that other institutions would also be able to use. We are already doing this in practice, since we act as guest lecturers on other courses and vice versa.

I have read in an interview that during the first term, the material you learn is less specific, then during the second term, in-depth knowledge is introduced, for instance, you are introduced to law etc. Does this mean if someone only wants to get a taste, it is worth planning for one term only?

Yes, we are constantly pondering this, since it is a learning curve for us as well and we change emphasis, we actualise. I would rather say: perhaps it is worth attending our course for one term , but it’s silly, because the classes during the second term are always surprising and exciting, even for us. For example, a producer sometimes arrives at the class with the exact opposite conclusion to the previous year. There are very few students who do not finish, and in those cases this happens mostly due to financial or family reasons, and it is very good to see when all these different people form a cohesive community, who get together even years later, and work together because they had met each other here.

Does this mean the course is at least as much about self-management as professional practical and theoretical knowledge?

Naturally, since you need to be able to manage yourself first, before you can move others around – although then you could cite the counter-example of the best pedagogues, who have the worst-behaving kids (laughs).

Yes, of course, nevertheless, most schools do not place too much of an emphasis on the acquisition of this philosophy.

It actually becomes evident pretty quickly who will be the ones who charge forward like a bulldog, and who are the ones from whom this skill needs to be extracted. Besides the compulsory professional practice, there is also compulsory project work, the topics of which are decided upon by the students or us. The realisation of these projects reveals a lot, amongst other things, about the situation regarding self-management, and what could be done. Beyond a certain number, the students start behaving as a class, and they become more of a passive receptive community, and neither us nor them need that, we need to pay individual attention to everyone in order to bring out the best.

Inviting people experienced in various professions is important in your training programme. Besides regular classes, what other types of events do you have in an average academic year?

We go somewhere practically every week: we visit exhibitions, performances, events involving students. We have Bike and Roll, and of besides all this, places providing internship and their events.

Where does the idea of Bike and Roll come from? Did you have a model for it or is this something entirely new?

I don’t know, I’ve always been a bicycle guy. In the year when Bánkitó [music] Festival started, I went to Bánk with my friend Kata Piroch to explore the site, and the idea somehow arose in the car – and we realised it a month later. This is also a form of education, even if slightly different: a pop cultural sightseeing tour around Budapest – which we have so far managed to always organise differently, because there is such a great pool of both places and topics. Most recently, we took Irish, Dutch [?], and British managers and academics on an English language tour as part of Hangfoglalás [conference and festival]. There were 27 of them, and close to the finish line, on the way back from the Rodolf Hervé exhibition, near Astoria, we lost Andrew Dubber. He cycled straight onwards while we turned left towards the Synagogue, back to Budapest Bike – and his mobile had been turned off. But luckily he reappeared after sixty minutes (laughs).

What is the most interesting thing so far in the history of the school?

I really cannot highlight anything, I would rather say that since it is so dynamic, every single occasion, every single preparation is the most interesting at the time. It couldn’t be better than this.

* * *

And here is a recent promo video, featuring footage from our own Budapest Bike’n’Roll ride, as well as the previous one, which I described in a previous post:

Song Analysis and Writing – Szeged, Hungary

The first Song Analysis and Writing course, entitled ‘From Please Please Me to Paparazzi, was held in Szeged, Hungary in February – March 2011. The twelve-hour course was spread across six weeks and was held during afternoon sessions at the Grand Café cinema and arts centre in Szeged. There was no funding body – Grand Café provided the venue and students paid a small fee to participate. The course was promoted through posters placed at venues and the university, word-of-mouth, and Facebook.


About the course:

The initial questions to which the course sought answers were the following:

 (1)   Why does 90% of the music industries output fail to produce any financial return on its investments?

 (2)   From the start to the end of a three-year recording/publishing contract, do most songwriters show a definite improvement in their craft? If not, why not?

 (3)   Does the lack of a specific language when talking about a musical object hinder creativity, its development and commercial outcomes? Business intermediaries tend to talk about the ‘vibe,’ ‘feel,’‘I don’t get it’ or ‘the chorus isn’t strong enough,’ and are seldom more specific.

 (4)   Why has Hungary not produced an internationally successful popular music act in the past 20 years?

 The objective of the class was to teach participants to rapidly evaluate a song, articulate the general architecture and its organising principles, and to identify recurring musical patterns that exist in songs that have achieved significant success over time. Terminology was employed for describing the different aspects of a song. The songs analysed were used as a model to start the creative process. Without waiting for inspiration to activate creativity, the process aided participants to write competent, coherent songs in various styles.

Participants of the course were encourage to present their own work, which was then collectively evaluated, with, if necessary, suggestions on further improvement based on the results gained from the analysis.

The sessions were aided by an online platform – a Facebook group page – where homework tasks, material, and all necessary information were posted.  

Sessions, while officially two hours, always resulted in most participants staying on informally at the venue until late in the evening, further discussing questions that arose during classes.

About the course leader:

The course was led by Steve Swindelli, a songwriter and producer with substantial music industry experience as a recording artist, who acquired an MA from the University of Liverpool School of Music, and subsequently taught songwriting modules at the same university as a PhD student in Popular Music Studies. He is currently working in LA with the Head of Production at Rondor Music publishers, as well as co-writing and producing the debut album of Hungarian artist AK (András Petruska).

Swindelli will continue to teach songwriting and song analysis in Hungary in October-November 2012 as part of the new University of Music (Zenélő Egyetem – ZEN) programme of the University of Pécs. (A report on the experience gained from this course will also be prepared for the IMMHIVE blog.)

About the city and the venue:

Szeged is a city in the South of Hungary with a population of cca. 170,000. It is home to the 12-faculty University of Szeged (the number of students is approximately 30,000, the number of teaching staff 2,149), which means the city and the university exist in a close economic symbiosis, and the university determines much of the city’s social and cultural life. Grand Café is a community-oriented arts cinema and café, which regularly hosts a variety of cultural events including lectures, poetry readings, exclusive screenings, concerts, and themed parties – it is at the centre of Szeged’s cultural, intellectual and social life. Through its management, it is also linked to a music venue called Jazz Kocsma (‘Jazz pub’), and the recently opened summer outdoors café and music venue outside Szeged Castle by the River Tisza.

University of Music (ZEN) – Pécs, Hungary

In the following I will give you some information regarding recent (popular) music education initiatives in Hungary.

ZEN (Zenélő Egyetem – University of Music) was launched in December 2011, with the first – introductory – course held at the University of Pécs (PTE) during the spring term of 2011/2012. The programme is coordinated by, and based on the idea of, Zoltán Beck, Assisant Professor in Romology at PTE and lead singer of alternative rock band 30Y.

The funding of the programme is provided by the University with the assistance of Pécs city council.

The following information is based on a report by Orsolya Facsády on Moha Online (, as well as my own involvement in the programme.

ZEN’s goals include ‘lifting’ the study of popular music and related phenomena into the realm of academic subjects. The organisers find it important to emphasise that it is not a rock school or a school for managemers or journalists, but an institution for the cultivating of an understanding of music with a practical and project-focus (as communicated by Miklós Stemler).

Infrastructure and personal background is provided by the University of Pécs, as well as acknowledged representatives of the Hungarian popular music world.

The programme consists of three main modules: ‘academic,’ ‘tutor,’ and ‘publicity’ modules.

 Academic module – establishing an informed audience

This module includes the formal courses (MA programme as well as optional courses for other students of PTE). Besides the academic interpretation of popular music, an important goal is imparting knowledge regarding its cultural, economic and social aspects. The content of the course is centred around the following: lyrics writing and analysis; the study of economic and legal aspects of the music industry; the history of popular music; the study of music as subculture; the scientific and technological basis of music production. 

Tutor module – music making on a professional level

This module is based on an American, British and French model. What is taught here is not musician/singer skills or composition – this is the task of the University’s Arts Faculty –, and musical competence is not necessarily expected – the goal instead is for students to acquire knowledge regarding preparation for the creation of the music product: the process from idea to high quality work. Sound recording, sound technology, event organisation, studio technology, stage technology, visual presentation and promotion all belong here. Tutors teach in the form of so-called ‘palette’ courses. The ‘palette’ course introduces a range of topics through a range of lecturers from across segments of academia and the music industry. The material of these lectures will also form the basis of a textbook – the first popular music (studies) textbook written in Hungarian.

Tutors represent the following main areas:

Composition, songwriting, arrangement

  • Design, visual profile
  • Studio (music production, recording, mixing, mastering)
  • Stage technology (live production, sound/lighting)
  • Press, media communication
  • Artist management

Publicity module – space for showcasing talent

The tutor module functions as a background to enable the music product to reach the audience, and is linked to the nurturing of young talent. Amongst other aims, the module assists the many groups formed by students of the University. ZEN plans to host regular talent contests, which will also be available for photographers, music critics, video makers, poster designers, or bloggers. With the financial backing of a not-for-profit company, ZEN provides performance opportunities, publicity, three well-equipped, soundproof rehersal rooms available 24 hours a day, a recording studio, and opportunities for national and international touring for bands. Plans include the organisation and promotion of ZEN’s own events, as well as cooperation with other cultural events, festivals, clubs and organisations in other university towns. From September 2012 ZEN is also collaborating with public service radio station MR2 Petőfi through a regular ‘open university’ radio slot with the participation of four of its lecturers per semester, with the aim of spreading knowledge regarding popular music and establishing an informed audience.

“The Hidden City”: innovative media, innovative approaches to heritage.

The team at BCU have been asking their contacts across education, music industries and related businesses to write-up short blogs about issues and activities that will be of interest to the various partners on the Leonardo project as well as other interested readers.

One such organisation is 470 Media which is run by two graduates of the Birmingham School of Media Chris Williams and Steve Thornton. With experience of radio and music businesses, they work in a variety of fields that innovate around sound production and online presentation. Their work offers innovative ways of presenting information, often dealing with the kinds of heritage and educational strategies of importance to IMMHIVE.


They describe their company as one which produces:

intimate online content, promoted using powerful social media techniques, made successful through the greatest attention to detail.

Nominated for a Sony Radio Award in 2011 and shortlisted for Best Emerging Brand in 2012 […] Fourseventy Media believe that by providing creative marketing and media support for large organisation, as well as charities, is an important part of what defines us as a professional, community orientated, friendly company.


This is Steve’s account of a current project.


The Hidden City: Telling stories in a different way.

I’ve been asked to discuss a current, local project that began last year following a failure. This can be considered as fate, an act of a higher force or just luck.


The project in question is The Hidden City.


The Hidden City came about after 470 Media co-founders, (myself) Steve Thornton and business partner Chris Williams had been beaten to the punch in attempting to create a radio documentary on Birmingham super group ELO.


As radio specialists, we were trying to follow up a previous Sony Radio nomination for our work on UB40’s 30th anniversary of ‘Signing Off’, but realised access to the people that would make the documentary that we desired, was out of reach and had already been completed.


Why we wanted to create another documentary is down to our passion for radio.


Our background is audio and particularly stories, telling them, discovering them and finding out what makes people and communities the way they are.


Getting inside a person’s life has a certain voyeurism about it and something, which we find fascinating: the human-interest stories that are told on a daily basis and shared through the varying media platforms.

This coincidence of how things unfolded that began with failure, or however you wish to see it is where The Hidden City came about.


What is The Hidden City?

The Hidden City reveals the Midland’s lost, forgotten or untold stories. It is a locally based project that looks at communities, individuals, history and heritage of varying subject matter. This is what is important to us and why we wanted to document stories about our city.


We wanted to find out- why is the city the way it is? Who are the people that influence our city: past, present or future?  How do these affect the city’s cultures?  These are the questions we ask when doing the project and collating stories to share with the wider community.


As well as going out into the public and creating content, The Hidden City also gives the local community a voice, encouraging them to tell their stories and submit them as ideas for potential future projects. The project is therefore the city’s as much as it is ours. We want to be seen as providing a platform to use when uncovering different stories, no matter how old they may be.


Therefore, crowdsourcing stories opens avenues of research into our local history and heritage, but particularly from the project’s perspective, focuses on stories that others don’t tell. This, untold nature of the stories we collect, may be seen as a disadvantage or question why these stories?


Why do you want to uncover stories that aren’t deemed as newsworthy? Telling what others may not wish to know?


Media institutions tend to feed us what they think is relevant; the producers are in charge of the topic’s content and style that shape our viewing in what we see, hear and read.


Now we are not suggesting that we are all sheep!  We are fully aware that individuals have the intelligence to seek what he or she feels is representative of their personal interests, their tastes, in what type of media we consume.


Recent cuts in the media and seemingly similar stories covered in our local news, really brought the value of the project home for us and underlined why it should be created and why it is a necessity.


With more and more media agencies unable to report on true local stories hyperlocal bloggers have begun to fill the void. By their very nature, their audiences can be very small, but the stories they uncover can be equally, if not as important, as national headlines. Local media and consumption/creating media has dramatically changed over recent years and the growth of  ‘hyperlocal’ blogs suggest how communities reach out to one another, popping up all over the city (and in online spaces), reflecting their locations in dealing with local issues that matter to them. In theory this provide a communities very own news outlet that’s focused and relevant to its members.  A lot of this information is however written and used as blog entries, something we realise was hugely important, but at the same time, we wanted to offer something different in how we would document stories.


We just wanted to tell stories that we thought Birmingham deserved to know about, the real stories of human interest, character and discovery and from the real people of the city.


We believe it is important to bring to light the people who have, or continue to make a difference in our city. The events that have changed the way we look at our community. The stories that we believe should not be lost to time. No matter how difficult, or challenging those stories might be to tell.


How we do this is through the ‘photofilm’.


What is the photofilm? In its simplest term, a photofilm is an audio documentary with pictures. Other media institutions (BBC, Guardian, FT), use these, to engage with their audience and for us it seemed the best way to tell a story and also to gain the attention of our potential public – as contributors and consumers.


Using the photofilm also separates the project’s media form from what we consider regular news/story telling that we tend to digest in the form of a newspaper, recorded footage, and audio only.  The photofilm requires a different level of engagement through its make up of still imagery and listening to the narration/commentary (audio) as the imagery unfolds. This medium is known, as a hybrid of traditional ‘sit forward’ media (e.g. watching TV) and ‘sit back’ media (reading a paper). The photofilm’s middle ground requires attention from the eye and the ear and opens up and asks questions of the viewer.


Our intention when creating this type of media is to ensure that the viewer always goes away with questions or memoires of a shot, a particular comment or both from a photofilm on a subject or person.

(Here’s the UB40 slideshow we did on The Hidden City site)

Where are these stories?

Each story is pinpointed to a location on an online map that highlights a database of stories, past or present, that are hidden away within our community – these can be related to Music, Arts, Culture, Science… anything.


Using an online map to locate each story, The Hidden City hopes to become a populated media project that works on two levels- our production level and personal contributions, but as a portal of community and freelance ownership through submissions.


The more stories we can locate and pin onto the map, the more areas we can populate, the more we get to know about our city and its make up of different communities.


Our project is growing and our intentions are changing from our original vision.


Our next aim is to develop the key relations between existing hyper-local bloggers in how we document stories, using these skilled and knowledgeable individuals/groups and taking their expertise in order to grow the project into their existing channels of communication. We would also like to teach these people and the wider community how to make photofilms so we can then use these stories for archiving and showing Birmingham in a different light for future reference.


We also hope to use mobile technology to geo-locate areas of Birmingham that then opens up the project to the public to view stories anywhere they are, not reliant on being in front of a computer screen. We want people to be able to stand at a place, enter their location and watch stories around them when they want, teaching them about the city, its areas and uncovering the heritage and history that may have been forgotten.


A typical Hidden City story is Tiny Dancers based on an OAP Irish line Dancing group with audio production by Aaron Howes and photography by Chris Jones and Dan Johnson.

Birmingham has a strong Irish community which forms the heart of its Irish Quarter. Join us at the ‘Irish In Birmingham Activity Centre’ as we grab an insight into how one group of the Birmingham-based Irish community have been working hard towards the upcoming St Patrick’s parade. Following after New York and Dublin, Birmingham’s St Patrick’s Parade is widely accepted as one of the world’s largest, with over eighty-thousand visitors each March. So let’s see how one group of ‘Yeehaa Grandmas’ plan to cause a stir and celebrate with a show like no other.

 From a project that started from failure, to a project that hopes to offer Birmingham and the West Midlands a new way of viewing and mapping their city through the eyes of the people that make it, what it is.  This is The Hidden City.


Studying Music Industries and Heritage in the Digital Age.

For the BCU team, one of the objectives of our participation in the partnership is to gain insights that will aid our existing work in music scholarship as well as our teaching.

For instance, we’ve been offering an award in MA Music Industries since 2009 under the leadership of Andrew Dubber.

Dubber edits the New Music Strategies blog where you can download his widely read book The 20 Things You Must Know about Music Online, a work which informs much of our thinking about the challenges for music industries and culture in the digital age.

Readers across Europe will be pleased to know that Dubber’s book is available to download in the Portuguese, Spanish and German.

As an addition to MA Music Industries we have just launched some new MA awards that are informed by the ongoing partnership experience and our mobilities across the EU with our esteeemed partners and their contacts.

Our new awards, with links and some explanation of what they entail, are:

MA Music Heritage:

The history of music has become as increasingly important as its present. Popular music’s past, in particular, has become prominent in many cultural activities. We only have to think about the way in which the popular music heritage of cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Seattle, or Chicago define what we think of those places. Museums and galleries increasingly feature exhibitions about popular music heritage and there are even institutions dedicated to the Beatles, Nirvana and the Chicago Blues. A strategy for popular music heritage can be increasingly found in national and regional cultural policy. Fans, of course, have always been involved in un-official heritage activity and this has been enabled on a much grander scale by the internet.

Music heritage, though, remains a complex and contested term, interleaved with the commercial and cultural sectors and employing a wide range of activities. This masters course will provide students with the opportunity to explore how music heritage is being used and deployed by individuals, communities, organisations and institutions in both the physical and online environments. We ask some fundamental questions about what concept of heritage is being deployed and whose popular music heritage is being presented, by whom, and for what purpose? We will study the creative industry and cultural policy initiatives and interventions that have utilised popular music heritage and examine the role that popular music can play in stimulating the economy and tourism and as a form of ‘place making’. We will cover the core issues which occupy music heritage academics, practitioners and fans and music heritage as popular music culture. Students will be able to take a further option that will allow you to explore ways to make a living out of music heritage, or study its place within creative industry and cultural policy formation and intervention. Students will work closely with other students and staff from across the world who study on our Music Industries, Jazz Studies and Creative Industry & Cultural Policy MAs.

MA Jazz Studies

Jazz has been, for different people at different times, a mainstream pop music for teenagers, an art music for the cognoscenti, and a folk music for a people. Today it remains a significant cultural force with musicians and fans who feel a strong sense of commitment to its traditions and contemporary innovations. This masters course will provide students with the opportunity to explore jazz as a world-wide musical culture. We will cover the core issues which occupy jazz academics, fans and musicians alike, and jazz as a popular music culture. Students will be able to take a further option that allow you to explore ways to make a living out of jazz, curate its heritage, or study its place as in the cultural industries and cultural policy. Studentswill work closely with other students and staff from across the world who study on our Music Industries, Music Heritage and Cultural Policy MAs.

These awards build upon existing research expertise within the Birmingham School of Media where we have established international reputations for our work.

Teaching staff include: Prof Tim Wall, Dr Simon Barber, Dr Paul Long, Andrew Dubber and Jez Collins have strong track records in jazz studies and music heritage. The Jazz Studies programme was developed in consultation with our colleagues in the BCU Conservatoire.

As these award recruit students from September 2014, we hope to involve them in sustaining project outcomes and partnership.

Take a look at the detail of the course in this leaflet:

For queries about how to apply contact Paul Long directly: