Industry Article: Youth Music: Reshape Music

‘The music industry should be inclusive for all, not exclusively for those who aren’t disabled.’

As many of you reading this will be aware, Listen to Discover serves the purpose of providing in depth music coverage, that draws on my knowledge as a music educator, musician and music journalist. However, what some of you may not be aware of, is that over the past few years the arts have been somewhat sidelined in education. This, put simply, is down to the perceived belief that STEM subjects offer the best opportunities for all. But, without getting too political about the whys and wherefores, I know from experience that this isn’t the case. Even in those areas, every student learns and benefits from the different subjects in a way that is individual to them. But, the arts – as cliché as it may sound – really do offer opportunities that are different to many other areas of education and life. In some cases, it really can be these differences that makes the difference. Therefore, you can understand why I very much felt it of importance to bring your attention to Youth Music’s ‘Reshape Music’.

The Report:
Developed with the ‘Take It Away Consortium’ and launched October 2020 by Youth Music, Reshape Music aims to increase awareness of the barriers faced by Disabled musicians, and ultimately encourage widespread changes to occur. And these barriers really are at every stage. Right from the purchasing of an instrument, learning it and developing skills, through to performing at live shows and working with other musicians. If you are a musician doing most, if not all of these things right now, the chances are that some aspects aren’t given a second thought. But remove any one of those aspects, and progression within an industry that is already difficult to develop in, becomes even trickier. And this is something that is expressed wonderfully in the Reshape Music Report, by the team of experts and Disabled musicians who are directly involved.

The People:
All too often, when research is carried out and findings written up, it becomes apparent that those doing it have very little on-the-ground understanding. But that is not the case here. Undertaking comprehensive and insightful research into the areas of concern, the eight Disabled musicians involved know exactly what the experience right now is like. Most importantly though, they know how it could be improved. Comprised of Charlotte, Georgina, Holli, Hunter, Jess, John, Leo and Oliver, each one of them brings their own personal story and focus area, that will ultimately help reshape the future of music for the Disabled community.

In the case of Georgina – who has Autism – it’s about ensuring teachers understand how the disability affects the student: Music educators need to understand the limitations and obstacles that disability can bring, so they can offer appropriate support.’ In the case of Holli – who was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 11 – it’s about performers from different backgrounds benefiting: ‘I’d like to see more Disabled musicians playing with non-Disabled musicians so we can better feed off each other’s strengths’. And in the case of Leo – who has severe speech and language disorder and ASD – it’s about the importance of expanding the playing experience: ‘Disabled people need to be able to try out different instruments, genres and ensembles. It’s really important.’ And all this couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune moment. [Read more on the Youth Music Website]

The Wider Impacts:
As part of BBC Introducing Live 2020, on Saturday 24th October, four guest speakers contributed to the Disability in Music Masterclass. Talking about their experiences of performing, as well as attending and working at music venues, it was insightful, shocking, but sadly, not surprising. It was very much a discussion that needed to be had. And it was had eloquently. Blaine Harrison (Mystery Jets) – who also endorses the Reshape Music Report – highlighted, among many other key points, that proper discussions about inclusivity and diversity, rather than tokenistic ones, really need to take place. This was then built upon by musician, technologist, innovator and MI.MU Glove collaborator Kris Halpin (AKA Dyskinetic). Speaking about his hand impairment, the mixed bag of experiences he’s had and conversationally asking  ‘What happens when you put a [disabled] artist on tour?’ it was incredibly thought provoking.

From the audience side, when Bristolian gig-goer Jeffrey Johns (AKA Big Jeff) was asked about how many gigs he had been to, he estimated a whopping total of 5000! This number, when you consider he attends one most nights of the week (pre COVID-19 of course), could in fact be a bit low. On a more serious note though, in explaining how he has to assess access at venues due to his Asperger’s, it highlighted just how much things need to improve. Encouragingly though, in Natalie South (Attitude is Everything) delivering some real wake up moments when discussing the organisation’s ‘Beyond the Music’ initiative, it’s clear there is a growing sense of positivity around helping deaf and disabled people within the industry. It really was a brilliantly insightful 30 minutes and I just hope that at least some of right people were listening at the time. If you did miss it, you can re-listen on BBC Sounds here.

The Next Steps:
Even with everything that’s going on in both the music industry, and the wider world right now, it genuinely feels like there is a real opportunity for progress around Disabled musicians. A change that sees music become the industry that others look up to perhaps. Ultimately though, if we back these organisations, back others like them and spread the word, the music industry should, in time, become inclusive for all and rather than remaining exclusively for those who aren’t disabled.

Industry Article written by David Croker

Share your thoughts and experiences by joining the conversation over on Youth Music’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #ReshapeMusic and/or #DisabledMusicians

Find out more about Reshape Music, the team of co-researchers and the recommendations from the report on the Youth Music Website.


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