31 students from schools across the North East completed day one of #TICEMusic Explore Stage as led by music mentor, Sam Burt, with an insightful day of touring local music venues, filled with industry-led talks and workshops.

First stop was a visit to the leading recording studio in the North-East, Blast Recording. Dean, one of the wonderfully talented recording/mix engineers warmly welcomed the Explore team to the reception area of the venue. Before their studio experience, Sam began the day with his famous warm-up – that’s right, it was the ‘Bird & Egg’ game! As always, it gave students that refreshing boost and motivation to start the day. It also, without fail, resulted in smiles and laughter.

The students made their way into the mixing room, many of their jaws dropping at the amount of buttons and equipment which surrounded them. Sam and Dean filled them in on some very useful tech-related information, including how sound can vary depending on the output and how this can effect how a track is mixed. Dean even set up his vintage tape recorder and sparked a discussion around the idea of authentic sound.

Sam led the students to the other side of the studio wall, allowing them to explore the recording area. They were informed on what makes the area ideal for that perfect sound, as well as getting a grand tour of the expensive recording equipment safely stored in the drawers. It’s every musician’s dream to see an array of beautifully crafted microphones!

After a couple of hours of tech talk the students were joined by Louise Henry, Enterprise Development Coordinator at Generator – the UK’s leading Music Development Agency. She informed TICE students on her own journey into the industry, emphasising the various pathways available and how Generator can support creative/digital careers.

Louise assigned them a few insightful tasks along the way, one being a very interesting discussion on the roles available in the creative and digital industries – music journalism, event co-ordinating and music management and so on. The morning ended with students looking at the industry from a completely different perspective and suddenly they were exposed to endless possibilities. The students left with a refreshing sense of determination and excitement, ready to face the afternoon…

The afternoon session kicked off with a talk in the Music Education Centre (MEC) of Sage Gateshead from David Camlin, the Head of Higher Education & Research, to discuss the vast music education programme at the Sage and in particular what the Community Music and Jazz and Contemporary Music BA degree programmes can offer the young musicians. David spoke candidly of the struggles faced by contemporary musicians due to the modern consumption of music through streaming, leading audiences to expect music to be free. However, he quickly reassured the students this should not deter them from their goals in the industry. They simply should be ‘canny’ about it, with the Sage degree programmes helping to prepare them for the new musical climate. As his talk came to a close, David introduced the highly regarded percussionist, Roger Hempsall, who was just about to start our percussion workshop.

Undoubtedly, the percussion workshop was a highlight for all, teachers and students included. We each took a seat with various drums on offer, including djembes, conga and snare drums, using classic drum sticks and speciality plastic PRO MARK TUBZ. To get us started, Roger introduced us to the universal rhythm in percussion, which is often used in contemporary music. Furthermore, we learned how European traditions of rhythm were infused with Afro-Cuban influences. After this introduction, we were able to get straight into playing call and response rhythms with Roger directing different sections of the room to play different beats, gradually introducing us all. We moved on to African drumming using triplet rhythms, as Roger explained to us how quavers and quarter notes create interesting patterns, citing the song ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers as an example. Throughout the session, Roger encouraged different students to have a go at improvising, which they undertook with a growing confidence.

The students asked Roger several thoughtful and practical questions, covering topics such as how to prevent tiredness whilst playing, how to combat pain or fatigue in your arms and tips about keeping in time. Accordingly, Roger offered sage advice indicating that it takes ‘years and years of practise’ to build technique and although some pain can be felt in your wrists, your hands and fingers can take a lot of the strain, which all depends on how you hold your sticks. As the drum is the ultimate timekeeper in music, he also emphasised the importance of keeping the beat by getting used to playing with a metronome, tapping your feet and silently counting whilst playing. Naturally, our final request was to test Roger’s tempo limits, and he did not disappoint by playing his fastest beat on a snare drum, the double stroke role. After rapturous applause, the session had finished and we all thanked Roger for his time, whilst he equally praised the group for maintaining a steady tempo and creatively improvising. To wrap up this section of the day, Sam gave a short talk to the students highlighting that the session had made each one of them infinitely better musicians due to the importance of understanding rhythm in all styles of music.

We then began a tour of the iconic Sage building, led by Becki Durham, first visiting Sage Two, a unique ten-sided space for smaller and more intimate performances. We then made our way to the acoustically perfect Sage One, stopping mid-way to learn about how the Sage itself is three separate buildings housed under its overall ship-like structure, with visible boundary lines on the flooring. Arriving at level two of Sage One, it was clear to all this was an impressive venue, with its vast scale and modifications for sound quality. It was an ideal spot to get the whole group together for a picture!

Thus, concluded our tour with Sam giving a final briefing to the students to prepare for next week’s session, each bringing a cover song to work on in groups. It was with a sense of anticipation about next week’s practical work that this inspiring and creative TICE Music Explore Day came to a close.