Create Stage of TICE Music took place at one of the UK’s top universities and most popular HE institutions, Newcastle University. Studying Music at Newcastle makes you a part of ICMuS, the largest part of the School of Arts and Cultures sector. Music at NCL has been named as one of the Top 10 courses in the UK for Music by The Times Good University Guide and ranked Top 20 in the 2015 Guardian University Guide – with this in mind, students were given access to their studio on campus to work on their final projects, a wonderful opportunity for students to explore what could be available to them in the future.

Students firstly had to choose which project suited them best. Both briefs were supported by big industry names which allowed the chance for students to test their professionalism as well as their musical talent.

Project 1: The Next Big Thing

Form a band and write an original song in a style of choosing, to then perform at the final show. The first part of the project will focus on pure song craft and then progress onto performance skills and how to visually present the song best on stage.

Feedback from:

  • Keith Armstrong – manager and publisher of Jake Bugg.
  • Louise Henry and Ged Robinson – artist development specialists at Generator.
  • Dean Thompson – engineer and producer at Blast Studios: “What I look for is a strong motif which will hold my interest throughout the track. I also like tracks to me on a journey, whether that be lyrically or musically, if you can lose yourself in a track, you’re onto a winner!”

Project 2: Songwriting Supremos

Form a songwriting team and write an original song to fit a professional brief, to then perform at the final show. Live briefs will include the likes of Rhianna, Maroon 5, The Chainsmokers, Major Lazer, Liam Gallagher and many more.

Feedback from:

  • Jordan Riley – Songwriter for BMG/Chysalis and management at Bucks Music Group: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus. Start low in the melody and then get high. Listen to what the brief references are but don’t do a direct copy. Try and suss out the theme within the referenced songs.”
  • Mark Gale – Senior A&R for Universal Publishing.
  • Wayne C McDonald – Songwriter, remixer, producer DJ with The ILLIONNaires.

21 aspiring musicians arrived at Newcastle University, instruments in hand, firstly greeted by Dr Adam Behr, lecturer in Contemporary and Popular Music at ICMuS and Jane Nolan, Teaching Fellow in Enterprise and Module Leader for Music Enterprise. Students were shown around the Armstrong Building, the home for Music at the University with eye-catching facilities and venues including the famous Kings Hall. It was a great opportunity for the students to gain perspective on what the university is like in preparation for their potential applications. To help them even further, Adam filled them in on the courses available and what exactly is involved. It was surprising to hear that not only are there opportunities to explore the world of performance and composition but to also study the social and political contexts in music. Students had already started the morning with a completely new perspective on what studying Music at University would be like. Surely there were no more surprises, right?

Well…they were inevitably in for a surprise when they walked into the main studio on campus. Studio manager and fellow musician, David De La Haye kindly gave the team a tour of the facilities and showcased the wide range of available software, gear and rehearsal spaces available. They were also guided to the main studio, used regularly for recording live music, albums etc. You could see almost straight away the excitement on their faces in knowing that this building would be their HQ for Create Stage. As if they weren’t already pumped enough, this put the icing on the cake!

Students were finally thrown together into their groups, completely mixed in school and specialty. That’s what Day 1 and 2 primarily involved – getting to know one another and understanding each other’s tastes in a short period of time as well as using their creative space effectively. The beginning point for each group varied. Some came with basic ideas, some had fully written songs in their pockets and some had no idea where to start. Despite this they all dedicated their time to feed off each other’s ideas and embed them into their chosen brief.

Dr Paul Fleet, Interim Dean of Academic Affairs amongst many other roles in HE, stopped by in his hectic schedule to have a very interesting discussion with our students. Paul, in his inspiring TED-talk manner, talked about confidence and the common fear of performing on stage. He discussed his own humiliations in the past and how those moments helped shape his success. Paul also briefly touched upon his primary research, the big question, do students need to understand music theory to study Music in HE? The discussion sparked debate, of course, but left the students feeling reflective on their own practice. Paul’s words seemed to strike a chord with the groups as they returned to their rooms with even more determination and resilience in completing their projects.

The final day is always the most stressful part of the process: tightening loose ends, making sure everyone is satisfied with the outcome and the most challenging of all, working on their stage presence. It’s the moment when everything is considered, not just the song. To really put their musicianship to the test, they were expected to play their song to their peers, teachers and mentors live in the performance area of the studio.

All four bands went through their own bumps and hurdles, many facing their fear of the stage and learning to simply have fun. With some perspective and pep talk by all of the industry professionals, including Louise Henry from Generator, performances were swiftly polished and ready for the big stage.

Building friendships, making music and entering the professional world of music is exactly what these students had experienced throughout their TICE journey and it was wonderful to see this being reflected in their performances. Every individual faced their own journey of discovering their sound and most significantly, acknowledging their potential to succeed in the music industry.

I think it could impact a large scale of things in my future, in terms of teamwork, the confidence side of things etc. Even if I don’t succeed in the music industry, I’ve still got all of those skills that are still going to be with me throughout the rest of my life.’ – Georgia Davies, Churchill Community College.

I’m much more confident in songwriting after this. I was interested in pursuing a career in music and to study music at college but TICE has helped me realise that. I definitely want to do all of those things now.’ – Stan Woodward, Gosforth Academy.

Only a couple of days later, all four bands were to take their masterpieces to the stage for the TICE Final Show. In front of nearly 400 people, full of industry professionals, parents, teachers and alike, they showcased their achievements. Here are the final performances…

Feedback from our industry collaborators:

Songwriting Supremos (Pink: Songwriting Crew):
Jordan Riley (songwriter/producer) – “Good vibe for Pink. I think have a look to get the key of the song higher because it would mean all the singing would be in a higher range. Nice one.”
Mark Gale (Head of AnR at Universal) – “Well put together song and good musicianship. Great potential for their age!”
Wayne C McDonald (songwriting/DJ/producer) – “Sounding very competent. Great song. Love the performance also.”
Next Big Thing (everyone else):
Dean (Blast engineer/producer) [commenting on all three bands] – “The quality of the songs is absolutely outstanding, the vocal melodies are catchy, yet unpredictable and exciting. All of the artists made great use of instrumentation, nothing was overbearing but had a strong enough part to cement itself into the arrangement. One point which I believe everyone could improve on is their stage presence, really own that stage when you’re up there! You’ve poured your heart and soul into writing a song and that should transcend to the performance, really show the audience you’re confident and passionate about your masterpiece!”


A huge thank you to Newcastle University, our wonderful collaborators on these projects and all the schools involved in this year’s programme!