Week 1:

TICE are currently delivering creative courses in collaboration with Generator and their new project, Ladders. This course enables young people between the age of 18-24 to explore their inner creativity and help them improve their knowledge of their chosen field. I have the delight of looking in on their music course and it has certainly been a brilliant first week!

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The mentor of the group, Sam Burt, puts his heart and soul into music and really gives the group an insight into what is expected in the music industry and the best ways to get involved. In the first session, Sam told the group his experience and the music he has created during that time – everyone in the group seemed enthusiastic and excited about the programme. He gave some friendly advice to the group “How can you educate yourself?” as he went on to explain that the music industry is so competitive. It was clear as day that everyone in the course can learn throughout the eight-week period, but also find their inner creativity and musical talent and flourish in their work!

After introductions and getting to know the group a bit better, they took part in an exercise which involved letting the group express what they wanted to find out and what they find difficult. “I’d like to know more about the music industry” was favorably mentioned, which is great for this course as I can tell from only being there for the first week that the group is going to find out so much information about the industry itself. Another exclaimed that it’s “hard to find opportunities” which is exactly why Ladders exists – it opens many doors for young people and exposes fantastic opportunities via. growth in contacts. There’s a wide range in what people aspire to do but the course has been able to accommodate everyone.

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During the second session the group had the delight of visiting Loft Studios – a cosy studio based in Newcastle City Centre. It was a great way for the students to look around and get a feel of what they could be involved with in the future. They spoke to the co-owner of Loft, John who is a producer, worked for games and well known shows like CSI – a really interesting perspective for the group. He let us listen to a piece that he is currently working on and all the individual samples he uses to get the piece completed and up to the standard that he wants. It all seemed very complicated but the group were in a trance as he did it. He was extremely helpful talking to the guys about editing and talked of various software that they could use. He described it as “making traditional sound modern” which is exactly what he achieved! There were no questions from the group as he pretty much covered everything they needed to know and the guys seemed enthusiastic about everything that John was saying. “Be a songwriter, be a producer, then put on a lab coat and be a scientist” were his words of wisdom.

We then met Wayne Mcdonald who is the co-founder of Generator, or as the mentor, Sam said in the first session “The Godfather of Generator”. Wayne exclaimed, “we all have a passion for music, you can indulge”. He gave us a bit of background of how he first started out and explained he started out in radio and that “DJ’ing comes hand in hand with producing”. I think he made a really big impact on the group as he talked about working with big named artists and gave some really good advice. The one thing he couldn’t stress enough was contacts, contacts, contacts!

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“Your network is your net worth” and “everyone starts somewhere” is possibly the best advice Wayne could’ve given about the music industry and due to his experience, the group hung on to every word. Wayne was an inspiration who gave a real insight into the potential of a successful career in the music industry.

The whole group seem to be incredibly enthusiastic about the course and are thrilled to continue the course over the next few weeks!

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Week 2:

We are now onto our second week of the TICE music programme and just like last week, the group loved everything they were learning about. This week, they were introduced to some pretty important people with significant roles within the music industry.

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In the first session of week 2, the guys were introduced to Dr. Kitty Porteous – yes, that’s right, a doctor of music – who is the relationship manager for music, working for Arts Council England. Everyone listened inventively to what she had to say about her job and what it takes to receive funding from the council. Kitty told the group of artists the council has helped and how they could potentially receive funding through the most popular methods of national portfolio, strategic and grants for the arts funding. She spoke of grants that were probably more suited to our music beneficiaries with what works best for bands and individuals. Kitty also gave some advice to the lads on how to “craft your application”.

She further explained the process of the funds and that artists could ask up to a whopping 90% to be paid for by the Art Council! I think talking to Kitty really gave the group insight on the business side of the music industry, a topic that’s vitally important but generally never covered in much detail.

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In the other half of the first session, the group had the absolute pleasure of being introduced to the creator of NARC magazine, Claire Dupree. She prioritises with local bands/artists and for the last three years, many of them have been on the front cover. This seemed to encourage the group that they could also be featured in a magazine if they pursued their careers in music and got involved in more activities. NARC has been around for 10 years and Claire emphasised to the group that she loves her job and is extremely passionate about what goes into the magazine but she’s also passionate about local bands. She exclaimed she’d “never get another job again”, that working for herself is the best thing she’s done and there’s a lot of flexibility when working for yourself. Everyone in the group was hanging onto her every word and there were even some questions at the end:

What do you look for in a band?

“To be able to be interesting and different. Be recognisable, get out of the city to different places, it creates a bit of a buzz.”

Claire also added that she is always happy to hear from local bands which were handy for the guys to know as some people in the group are in a band or want to pursue a career down that route! It was an absolute pleasure to meet both Kitty and Claire – their advice was a huge element in the student’s development this week.

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In the second session of week 2, the students were lucky enough to visit the mighty Blast Recording Studio based in Newcastle City Centre. Blast is one of the leading studios in the North and has previously worked with top artists including Arctic Monkeys, Thin Lizzy, Maximo Park and Lulu James (to name a few). Dean Thompson, a fantastic recording engineer based in the North East, stopped by to share his wisdom on all things technical. They were given insight on acoustic treatment of rooms, types of microphones and their appropriate settings, compression, EQ, equipment positioning…many key terms, it was impossible to count! What was particularly fascinating, was Dean’s ‘insider knowledge’ that he openly shared with these students – weird little tricks including placing the mic outside the room, with the drum inside, giving it that extra dimension and creatively playing with sound.

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To follow up their new batch of ‘studio lingo’, our Ladders students were introduced to the following four local bands:

Chasing The Grind – Hard Rock/Metal.

Shannon Powell & Afnan Iftikar – Vocal & Acoustic.

Kay Greyson – MC, Hip-Hop.

The Gods Of Small Things – Indie Rock.

The plan of action was for these bands to record their latest tracks/covers whilst the students are in behind the scenes to set up, record and mix the tracks with everything they have learned so far in mind. Their most important roles were to listen critically to the recordings and advise the band on various aspects of the recording process. It was certainly a lot of responsibility but through teamwork and support by both Sam and Dean, the evening ran smoothly.

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It was particularly great to have a variety of genres in the recording studio, allowing each Ladders student to apply their knowledge to their own speciality. Not only this but the experience gave everyone a much more rounded approach, looking beyond their specific tastes. Many questions were asked which suggests that these students were consistently alert in this whirlwind of an opportunity.

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Overall, the session summarised a very important point: there are no rights or wrongs in music. Not only performing and composing but also engineering can be approached in a creative way, leaving endless possibilities for the future of sound. This week has certainly been an eye-opener for these students, allowing them to interact and practically challenge themselves in one of the most influential yet hidden roles in the music industry. I look forward to seeing how they use their experience from this week and apply it to the Ladders course and beyond.

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Week 3:

We are now onto week three of the Ladders programme and it has certainly been the most exciting week yet! The group have met absolutely delightful people and really made the most of what Newcastle has to offer within the music industry.

In the first session, the group were once again in Loft Music Studios – going up three flights of stairs really does pay off once you get there! The guys were introduced to media composer, Roma Yognik, who was really welcoming and encouraged everyone into the conversation. She was explaining to the group how she makes music for adverts and even showed some amazing examples of her own work that she’s recently finished for a charity called PLAN international. Her pieces were shown with and without music, which led to one of our students, Froggy to comment: “Seeing an advert with no music shows how important music is”.

Roma also discussed break downs within the music and went through the concept of royalties which seemed to really help. It was impressive that she could take a brief and then create a piece from words on paper but told the group “mix-ups do happen” as clients are not always clear, which lead to her advice: “Talk to someone if you can before writing”. The group thoroughly enjoyed her talk and seemed really interested in her work.

After a quick break, they were back to have a chat with Andrew, who is a producer and owner of Loft Studios. His main topic of discussion was music business and how to make money from the music industry. He reminisced on the previous work he had done and everything Loft has been involved with, which was pretty impressive to hear considering they have made music that is featured on CSI – which he received a large sum of money for and exclaimed it was “the best day ever”.

He talked to the group about copyrights and giving them tips on how to get their music out there for public consumption: send high-quality music, only send a few tracks and be available to be contacted 24/7. I think to talk to someone who has had experience really inspired these individuals to be consistent and resilient in their musical practice. It was a pleasure for the group to talk to him and he even offered the group to send him some of their own work for further advice – another foot in the door!

The group then had the wonderful opportunity of talking to Damir Price who works for RedCola, a music production company that makes music for movie trailers. It was a real privilege as they skyped him when he was all the way in Malibu! The call wasn’t long but I think just talking to him gave the guys a bit of hope that one day they could be working for a big company and Ladders is the first step in guiding them to that position! But Damir did tell the group to “offer something new, something fresh” and questioned “what can you do that’s different?”. They were simply in awe that they had the opportunity to talk to someone so successful in the music industry. Trailer music is different for the group but that’s what Ladders is all about! So many great opportunities for those involved.

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In the second session of the week the group had the incredible opportunity to taking a look around Newcastle’s O2 Academy, which I must admit myself was pretty fascinating. The tour was given by Lucy and Jordan who both work at the O2 Academy, they gave us a tour of the full building and then gave the group an insight of what they do on a day-to-day basis. The group looked round the main room and even got to look backstage where the artists sit before they go on stage, and then they even got the chance to go onto the stage – they could even be there in a few years’ time themselves. Lucy who helped gave the tour exclaimed that “it’s her passion” and Jordan said he’s “done every single job you could imagine to do with live music” so it just goes to show that you can start off small and work your way up. The advice they gave to the group was to make themselves known and encourage them to work in a venue like the O2. Lucy said she never dreads going to work which I think really made the guys believe that they have the potential to feel the same.

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We then headed off to Newcastle University to have a chat with Dr Paul Fleet, senior lecturer in music and Dean of Academic Affairs. He gave an almost philosophical talk about music and how it actually belongs to a person. He also discussed what the university has to offer, which seemed to appeal to the Ladders students – the facilities at the Uni were amazing too! Paul had a real involvement in the group and made them think “if you come to Uni, you’re going to be challenged”. This was something he said at the start of the talk which I think profoundly stuck with the group. We then had a lovely tour guided by David who is the studio manager at the University.

To finish off the little day trip, we headed off to Pelaw to visit DACS which makes different types of technology all based on music for example amps, mics and headphones. It was the cutest place to visit as it’s just a little warehouse, the workspace is small but it is highly known and super successful. The group had a little tour of the place and asked some questions as they truly were intrigued: “So do you build amps to a specific order?” was asked by one of our students. They mostly have preamps but are “one of a kind” and he added that the tester for them cost a whopping £8,500 – WOW! The amps take roughly three and a half months to make and they even tailor this to buildings so the sound can be perfect which the guys thought was impressive. Overall everyone had a lovely time and it was great for them to be introduced to some amazing people.

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Week 4:

Well, it has been another busy week for #LADDERSMusic and they’ve enjoyed every minute of it! Their mentor, Sam Burt, set up another trip for the guys and it was certainly one to remember.

They met at the Quayside and made their way to the Live Theatre where they met staff from LEAF – a team of professionals who constructed an app that enables people to make playlists and listen to music. We had a chat with them in their cutest, quirky attic office, discussing the app functions and how much they had invested in the company. One of the co-founders exclaimed: “music is where my heart is”, as he explained further that after having many jobs, he came to the conclusion that working in music to help others was something that would make him happy. The guys at LEAF showed us the app that they had made. It was amazing to gain further insight and the lads were particularly interested in how it works. Their main priority was to “create a place where people can share music”, which they are certainly doing a fantastic job at!

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After the pleasure of meeting LEAF, the group headed over the other side of the river to Sage, Gateshead. Most of the group were amazed at the size of the place and how much can go on there at one given time! We started off with a tour by a member of staff called Emily who showed us Sage 2 – it was amazing! The sound quality that came out of the room fascinated the students. They then had a peek into Sage 1 which is the biggest room in the building, and my oh my, it was really big! They then had a look downstairs into the practice rooms and recording rooms in the building, whilst being informed on FE/HE courses that they could take there. It was surprising to hear the vast range of different topics that they could study.

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To end the day, the guys headed down to Ouseburn to BLAST studios, where they met Eric and Jenny who gave further insight on the role of a manager. They told them that “if you manage someone, it’s a 24/7 job” – in other words, a really big commitment. “What can I do that’s different?” was the recurring question throughout this session, with originality being such an intense challenge for musicians around the world. Our students were interested in what they had to say, as they recalled their own experiences. They advised on finding a record label and how to professionally approach them in order to convince them of your relevance and individuality. To summarise the day, Eric and Jenny highlighted that it’s actually better to have a manager in terms of image but to also be cautious and wary of what’s involved.

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The next day, Sam covered the ins and outs of PR. He scanned overprinted/digital media, radio plug-in and club promotion – many of the aspects which appealed to the students in terms of what they want to work towards. Sam provided them with sampled documents, carefully covering what to look for in order to be aware of the misinterpretations and attempts to confuse the artist. Although this was all rather simplistic stuff and much less practical, it was a very relevant and important topic to cover for the sake of their personal and professional progression in the music industry.

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Ladders were honoured to be joined by Luthier, John Grierson – for those who are unaware of the role, John has the impeccable talent of dismantling/rebuilding guitars. Moreover, John has years of knowledge and experience, amazingly all self-taught through reading, watching and observing. Very inspiring, indeed. In addition to passing on his Luthier wisdom, he covered the basics such as instrument maintenance, tuning and controlling various tech problems that are likely to occur. John specialises in guitars which conveniently meant that all of our guitar-playing students felt comfortable and thoroughly involved in the experience.

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They were then joined by Sam’s equally talented brother, Dan Burt, who specialises in music production. He covered various aspects of composing in the studio, from sampling to music theory to orchestration and string arrangement. He exposed the real fun behind programming drum samples and making beats – essentially making your own sound library. Dan emphasised the importance of understanding this aspect of the music industry, and how other supporting websites such as Spitfire Audio, continue to make his career more fulfilling and progressive. The guys were completely absorbed in the rare opportunity to explore such a complex and fascinating form of post-vernacular composition, which they can then use to develop and expand on their artistry.

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Week 5:

This week has been really exciting for the Music group in the Ladders programme but also for the others as all three sectors joined forces for a day of preparation for their final projects.

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Everyone met at Newcastle City Library and was greeted by the TICE team, alongside Louise from Generator. It was a great opportunity for everyone to have the chance to meet other people on various courses. They started off with a talk given by the music mentor, Sam Burt, who exclaimed it was a privilege for everyone to be there. They were introduced into an icebreaker so they could find out more about the courses that everyone was taking but also get to know each other and properly introduced – it was a really good task which got everyone involved and made everyone feel more comfortable instead of sitting in a room surrounded by strangers. Silly but effective always works!

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The groups then had a very relaxed chat with Jenny, who had some great advice and skills which everyone could adapt to in order for them to stay on task and organised. This included making a timeline to make sure they really stuck to their tasks – which is only in a few weeks, how time flies! She said “don’t over complicate things” and “people will always understand” meaning that you can just keep things as simple as possible and try not to overbook yourself and commit to things that you’re unable to go through with. “What can you take out of this course?” was Jenny’s key point, causing everyone to seriously consider what path they truly want to go down and how Ladders can shape that. She gave steps of what they need to do and encouraged them to embed different elements such as; design, trends, finance, and guidance. They all seemed incredibly determined in their end projects and with help from the Ladders team, I’m sure that they’ll succeed in their final projects and beyond!

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Each sector split off after this, back to the music team to work on their own projects. They began to make timetables of everything they wanted and needed. Their ideas seemed amazing! They all decided that they want to record, whether it be singing or playing instruments. The concept of professional/publishable recording was an especially exciting moment for them all, including myself, who believes that there is some real talent within the group and I’m desperate to see what they all end up producing! They were talking of where they wanted to go to record and discussed among themselves how they’re going to go about it and what times they can fit in so everyone can produce what they wished too. Some of them haven’t had the chance to work in a studio before so in certain aspects, this will be a completely new experience for them – nonetheless, their knowledge and passion for what they do is so evident, which gives me no doubt that they’ll do a fantastic job. It’s interesting to observe these guys in thinking about the short term but also the long term of how they can use this course to benefit their future careers.

Within this session, I have been familiarised the same keyword that I have overheard for the past few weeks of observing these groups…connections. The group have had access to so many big names in the industry, many who have the ability and willingness to help them after this course but also during their experience. I’m really excited to see and hear what the lads come up with, considering the opportunities they’ve had to meet professionals for the past 5 weeks, being the primary influence of their final piece.

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Week 6:

It’s been another exciting week on the Ladders music course as the lads have just started to record their songs with help from mentor Sam Burt – and actually, with a little help from everyone else on the course!

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Last week the group focused on writing a plan for what they wanted to do in the upcoming weeks of producing a final project, and how they were going to achieve that. And this week they have started doing just that! Everyone on the course has had the opportunity to use the space of the study to their full advantage and try using different equipment that most of them have never used before!

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They have been using the space at Loft Music Studios based in Newcastle City Centre and everyone in the group has been having a huge amount of fun! In the first session this week one of the lads on the course, Froggy, got the chance to record one of his grime tracks in the studio. He said he was nervous about it being played in front of everyone in the group and also said he’s only ever used his phone to record his work, thus was nervous about how he would sound being in a studio format. But he didn’t have anything to worry about – he sounded great! Everyone in the group loved what he is working on and commented enthusiastically on how professional and authentic it sounded. Sam helped with the recording but other people in the group did also – finding what mic would work best with Froggy’s voice and how they would change the pitch and such when editing. Some of the guys really know what they are doing when they are sat behind a desk in a studio, it was certainly intriguing to watch.

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The first session was mainly spent with Froggy recording and editing what he had recorded but it gave everyone a taste of what the next few weeks are going to be like. Everyone was really hyped once they started discussing what they aimed to achieve in the studio. It was great to see the group really acting as one as everyone had input and constructive criticisms on their ideas.

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In the second session, they continued to work in Loft studios. They had more time so people could work on what they wished. One person in the group, Paul, has been working on his own EP and he makes his music on a launch pad connected to his laptop (it’s really snazzy) and the music he has been producing sounds incredible! It’s only the first week working in the studio and it seems like the lads are already getting used to being in one. The work that they are producing is of a really high standard and I can see them all working in the music industry doing what they love!

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Also, Froggy was finishing off the song that he had written and performed. Although he said it was weird listening to his own voice again I think he really likes how the track is coming along. Another member of the group, Tom, brought in a member of his band to help record the vocals for a song they have been working on. Tom himself sings and also plays the guitar in his band – the song sounded out of this world! Everyone was having fun in the studio and there wasn’t ever a moment when someone had nothing to do. The group are lucky that they have space in Loft, as it’s a really warm, welcome and open environment to be creative.

Everything that the lads are doing is really great and although it’s the first week in the studio, it’s almost as if their final projects are becoming clear – and I have no doubt that they will all be amazing!

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Whilst everyone was recording or helping with recordings in the studio, another of the members in the group, Matt, was working on practising his guitar skills. He was playing away in the main room of Loft whilst Tom’s band member was working on the piano whilst they had a bit of spare time – it was really nice to watch the group becoming a little ensemble and guiding each other through their musical development. Tom’s band member even taught Froggy how to play a bit of Eminem on the piano which was great fun!

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Next week the lads will be working in BLAST studios down in the Ouseburn, which will be a great opportunity for the lads to experiment more with what they want to achieve in their final project. They can be reflective and evaluative about their time on the Ladders course, which will certainly be interesting…

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Week 7:

It’s the seventh week for the Ladders course, which means there is only one week left for everyone in the project, but also only one week left until it’s all over. This week the Ladders music course found itself in BLAST Recording Studios, the lads have been here before and knew the drill.

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Like always, Sam the mentor of the group helped the guys out with whatever needed doing. This week, Barney and Rob were recording the drums and guitar for a piece they are working on for their band that they play in outside the course – it was great for them to use the studio as I’ve been told it’s really hard to record the drums! Throughout the session, in BLAST everyone was practising what they were going to be doing in the 4 hours that they had there. As well as Barney and Rob recording, Froggy had another listen to the grime track that he had been working on last week and although he was sceptical at first, he was starting to like the sound of it.music-wk7a

Other people in the group found it easy to chill out at Blast and take some time to practice what they were doing, whether it be the guitar, the piano or doing vocal exercises. It’s as if everyone in the group can teach someone something different every week. It’s the last week next week so I think everyone will miss each other when they don’t see them every week – bless their cottons! Tom was practising playing his guitar and then his friend Dan joined in rapping to the music he was making which was nice to watch. Later in the session they were able to record Tom on the guitar (as Dan recorded his vocals already) and listening to them both together it really worked! Tom and Dan are already in a band together and they wanted to record a song for an EP release to get their band more well known by people. They’ll be finishing their song next week before the final project presentation in front of all the other Ladders course groups!

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Matt also practised playing his guitar so he can record next week, as there wasn’t enough time for him to record his song this session but he will be next – and it’s sounding really good! He even taught the mentor Sam a new vocal warm up as he used to sing opera but now has a rock approach within his music. Paul was still producing on his laptop using his launch pad and some fancy looking software – it’s all very techy! Froggy also commented on how techy BLAST is altogether as only one person in the group knew how to work the desk. It was commented that it seemed like they were speaking a different language when discussing what the different buttons did!

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Some of the lads took a well-deserved break from recording with some table football for entertainment. BLAST is such a friendly environment to be in and it has such a good vibe that I think the lads really picked up on because they all seemed to be 100% motivated and enthused. It’s also such a big space, so it enables everyone to do what they need to do in order to complete their final pieces. In their little break, I asked them all how they were finding the course and how they found BLAST in general. I got some really positive feedback off all of them “It’s explosive!” exclaimed Paul and Tom, a man of many words said “generally it’s mint, it’s a really mint studio”.

They’ve achieved so much this week and are all enjoying the experience of being in a studio – I have no doubt they’ll be gutted when it ends!

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The Final Showcase:

Sadly, the time has come to say goodbye to the Ladders course! It has been an amazing, life-changing eight weeks for all involved and I know the lads in the Music course will move on to great things.music-wk8

In the studio session Matt finally got a chance to record himself playing the guitar and then later in the session could record himself singing, the lads in the studio brought them together and it sounded amazing! All that work finally paid off as he was really happy with how it sounded in the end. Froggy finally polished his song off! At first, he again didn’t think that he sounded that great but after putting a slight echo on his intro – he absolutely loved it! “I feel good about that now man!” he exclaimed.

Everyone had a chance this time to record and clean anything that they weren’t too sure about. Sam talked to Paul about what he was making and they had a good chat about it, he ended up sitting at the desk of the studio and did his thing! I think he was happy to be surrounded by all the technical things in the studio.

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Tom and Dan listened to their final track and tweaked a few things they weren’t a hundred per cent sure on but in the end, loved it! I think everyone was sad to be leaving the studio but at the same time super excited to hear everyone’s pieces in the final presentation! They were also looking forward to seeing what all the other courses had produced over the eight weeks of being involved in Ladders.

I can’t believe that it is the last week of Ladders course – time has flown by for them! From being introduced in the first session they have come so far with their music capabilities, have shared knowledge with each other and even made friends with each other! Froggy, Tom and Dan even said they are going to collaborate after the Ladders course has finished which is amazing and I can’t wait to hear what else they come out with!

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The final project presentation came around so quickly! It was nice for everyone involved in Ladders to be there, both mentors and people on the course all sat together and watched/listened to what every course had produced over their time with Ladders. With the three courses within Ladders sitting together; Music, Film, and Software.

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Like the other groups, the team had a Q&A session led by mentor Sam who started off by saying “everyone worked really well together”.

He introduced Tom as an acoustic singer-songwriter who chose to write and record his own song, Tom said it was good to use high-quality facilities with me and a friend, Sam then asked what the plan was next, “keep gigging and build up from there”. Congrats on the finished song Tom!

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Next was Matt’s turn, Sam told everyone that he recorded a track which is something that he’s never done before, Matt continued saying “I found it difficult but hey, I had a go. Not finished but definitely on the right track.” Although he didn’t finish. Matt is a incredibly talented artist so I know he will go on to do great things!

Froggy was last as Paul was in the audience and unfortunately Barney and Rob were unable to make the presentation but their work sounded fantastic and I wish them all the best in the band’s future! Froggy said “Never had the confidence and I’ve been doing it for ten years…so a massive thank you” – inspiring stuff! Sam said it was a pleasure to work with a variety of artists as nobody from different backgrounds and passions.

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The evening ended with six big boxes of extremely large pizzas – a wonderful way to end the night! Everyone had a little natter and then it almost turned emotional when the people of Generator and TICE were saying their thank yous. Some of the mentors even received gifts – it was really sweet.

These past eight weeks have been an incredible experience for all those involved. A huge thank you to the mentor of the music group Sam for letting me follow them around for this long, and huge good luck to all the lads that participated in the course – all so talented and wonderful!