Making Connexions: Brits glitz backs Brit school graft
Every year, the glamorous Brit Awards ceremony attracts massive media attention. Less well known is the contribution this event makes to developing the careers of future generations of rock stars
It's never easy offering career guidance to young people keen to explore options in the music industry. We certainly don't intend to stifle enthusiasm or trample on emerging talent but neither do we want to encourage wildly unrealistic dreams that might drive our young charges towards rejection and deep disappointment.
Most of us err on the side of caution in such circumstances... but there's always the possibility that we might just be talking to the next Kylie, Robbie, Dido or Justin. None of us wants to recognise our self in the sort of glossy magazine interview with a rock god that says: "I always knew I could make it but my career adviser at school told me I should put away my guitar and train as an accountant."
What a dilemma. What's a poor guidance practitioner supposed to do? There's no easy answer but there could be the merest glimmer of a clue in the high-profile glitz of the Brits, the glittering ceremony that seeks to celebrate the best of British popular music.
Did you know, for example, that this sparkling, star-studded popfest makes a serious contribution to nascent superstar ambitions?
Every year, around £250,000 of the money raised at the Brit Awards goes towards the Brit School, a specialist institution designed to bring on the best of UK talent. Based in Croydon, south London, it prepares students aged 14 to 19 for a life in professional show business.
The first of many
Now, after working hard to develop their skills at the Brit School, 19 year-old talents Katie Melua and Amy Winehouse are starting to enjoy considerable success.
Director of music Tony Castro insists that they are the first of many to come. "I'm not interested in anything less," he says. "We exist to prepare musicians for the highest possible level."
Katie's story has all the trappings of traditional classic showbiz appeal: it was only last autumn that she met record producer Mike Batt while he was on a visit to the school. He heard Katie sing, offered to work with her and they ended up recording an album together. 'Call off the Search' quickly went to number one and has since achieved platinum sales.
"Katie has a fantastic talent," says Brit School principal Nick Williams. "She was also a good student and it's wonderful that she's had this level of recognition. Of course, it's unusual to go so far so quickly, but it is excellent reward for her hard work."
From classroom to contract
As part of their BTEC music course, students are exposed to a wide variety of styles, including jazz and world music. The curriculum covers everything from writing songs, singing, playing musical instruments and dancing to producing records and making business deals.
The course takes around 40 hours a week, while musical instrument practice accounts for a further 15 hours or so. The Beatles' producer, Sir George Martin, designed one of the school's recording studios and established performers such as Tom Jones and Duran Duran have visited to discuss the workings of the industry.
"The students who come here have to prove they are here to learn for their career," observes Nick Williams. "Having music or dance or acting as a hobby is not enough. We have to treat show business as a vocational subject. It is what the industry needs."
City Technology College with a difference
Funded by the Department for Education and Skills and the charitable Brit Trust, the Brit School counts some of the biggest recording labels, including Sony and EMI, among its backers. It is the only one of England's 15 City Technology Colleges with a focus on the arts
and it already has three applicants for every place.
"We are the only school of our type in the UK, and possibly Europe," says Nick Williams. "We need to have several more Brits around the country."
The Brit School pulse pounds with exciting sounds spilling from music rooms, singing classes and remixing studios, not to mention the animated buzz of talented teenage ambition. Indeed, the sense of stimulation is central to the school's existence.
"It's hard to make a living in music unless you're multi-talented and interested in doing lots of things," concludes Tony Castro. "The technology is so advanced these days that anyone can produce a fully professional CD in their bedroom, but new ideas and new sounds are what really sell. If you are exposed to lots of different styles, you are more likely to come up with new ideas. Both Katie Melua and Amy Winehouse are examples of students who have benefited from this."
At the rate they are going, it shouldn't be too long before we see Katie and Amy graciously receiving their Brit Awards at a future ceremony - and generating more money to plough back into their alma mater.
To find out more about the Brit School, visit the website at: http://www.brit.croydon.sch.uk/