As a musician myself, it was an honour to meet Tom Dingwall who was previously a student on the Ladders Programme – in the very first music cohort, to be exact. We were also thrilled to have previously had him on our TICE Work Experience team in the past, where he has kindly shared his skills and knowledge with young, aspiring musicians. We discussed his time on the programme, as well as his own musical endeavours…

Let’s start from the very beginning. When did you first discover your interest in Music?

I was quite young, probably about Year 7 at school. When I went to secondary school, a lot of the friends I made were into rock music. I had a friend who could play guitar and it inspired me to follow the same path. So, my parents bought me a guitar, I dug through their record collection and went from there really.

And did you study it at school, or was it more of a hobby?

Yes, it started as a hobby but when it came to GCSEs, I ended up picking it as one of my subjects. From school, I went to Sunderland College and studied music for two years. After that I got an apprenticeship at The Bunker in Sunderland, doing various jobs in the studio and teaching guitar lessons. It was pretty soon after that when I discovered Ladders actually!

Ah! What was it that made you stumble across Ladders in the first place?

From what I remember, it was on social media. Whether it was something I was tagged in or found randomly on a page I already liked, I just remember I saw it on Facebook and I think I got in touch with someone, filled in a form online and that was that!

So, from starting in Music education, did you enter these courses with a full idea of what you wanted to do as career? Or did Ladders bring a different perspective? Because of course, Music is so vast.

Yeah, I think it definitely broadened my mind a bit because I was only ever interested in making or playing Music. Unfortunately, that’s quite unrealistic and a very rare circumstance, and not many people can make a living out of that. When I studied Music, it was more about performing and theory – not much about the industry itself. So, Ladders kind of opened my mind to careers such as being a Music Sync and teaching and that kind of thing.

It is kind of mind-blowing how huge it is, isn’t it? I understand because when I was a student in the TICE Programme back in 2010, all I wanted to be at the time was a Pop Star but once I met Sam, it was very interesting to see exactly what was out there. And how about Sam, your music mentor – how has he helped you on the course?

Sam was great – knowledgeable and tells you how it is.

Haha yes, that’s Sam!

Yes it is, and I really appreciated the opportunity to sort of shadow him teaching because I told him whilst on the Ladders course that I thought teaching guitar was an avenue I was considering amongst other avenues within music as a source of income. So, he invited me to do a bit of teaching with him at this Guitar club he was running in Sunderland, and I did that for about a month or two. Sam has really helped me come out of my shell and showed me a lot about the industry itself.

When you began the Ladders programme, what were your initial feelings? Were you nervous or apprehensive at first?

I was excited and nervous, but in social situations when I don’t know people, I end up feeling like that anyway regardless of whether it’s about Music or anything else. But once I got to know people and find out how cool everyone was on the course, it ended up being a course I looked forward to every week.

So, the fact that you’ve always been socially hesitant, it must’ve been quite difficult to go into something unknown like Ladders.

It was a bit daunting at first but once you got to know people, it felt a lot more relaxed and you realise you’re in a safe environment and you all have a common ground – you’re all there because you love music.

Tom on the Ladders programme, working on his final project at Blast Recording Studio.

What would you say was your favourite moment on the Ladders Programme?

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the o2 academy, looking behind the scenes. I also really enjoyed going to Loft and Blast – I had never been to a high quality studio that was cool. I enjoyed getting to use those facilities.

What did you do for your final projects on Ladders?

I brought in one of my friends who is into Hip-Hop, rapping and so on. We collaborated on an original song and recorded it, then shared it on our SoundCloud and Facebook pages.

And did you feel like that experience helped with anything in particular i.e. songwriting, production?

Yeah definitely. I was essentially taking something I had been working on and when we were all in the studio, we were kind of always looking for other people’s input. People openly tell you what they think and we were constantly saying “why don’t you try this”. On the programme, you’re always learning from other people.

So, what are you doing now and what are you working on!?

I have a part-time job in retail, but with it being only 20 hours, it’s giving me time pursue to my musical goals. I think it goes without saying that when you’re a musician starting out, you need a source of income, so you can pay for equipment and studio time. Outside of that, I’ve been getting singing lessons in Newcastle City Centre and working on my own music. I did my first solo performance recently which went very well so I’m just looking to experience more of that.

Brilliant, so it seems like you’re really finding out who you are as an artist. What is the genre and vibe your exploring?

It’s along the singer/songwriter realm, which I like to experiment with through making rhythmic patterns on the acoustic guitar and loop pedals. But yeah, I’d say the singer/songwriter, indie vibe!

What are your long-term hopes for the future?

Just to eventually, one day, have enough going on to sustain myself and make music full-time. I’d be happy with that.

Let’s talk briefly about the music industry in general, because it ultimately ever-growing and ever-changing. Is there anything exciting you about the industry at the moment, particularly in Newcastle because there’s actually a lot more going on than what is being shown. And do you want to stay in Newcastle, or do you hope to branch out one day?

Newcastle is certainly a cool place for music because there’s something about travelling and playing music that has always interested me. Just getting to see many places through the means of doing something I love to do. But overall, there’s plenty of things I’m excited about musically, especially locally. There’s a lot of good talent and original sounds from bands in the North East now so I think it’s a good place to be. I know that I want to start in Newcastle, locally and then hopefully be able to branch out from there.

Check out Tom’s final project here:

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