Manchester music: The future's Bright(er)
Brighter Sound is a music charity that runs a diverse programme connecting a wide range of musicians, artists, schools and communities through music and creativity
With a small core team and a pool of freelance music workers, they deliver multiple projects spanning all genres of music and work with many other cultural organisations in the area. They organise a year-round creative learning programme, open to all, that recognises the importance of free provision and easy access to opportunities for young people and the wider community who want to find out more about music.
Many of Brighter Sound’s programmes and activities are based at Band on the Wall, a live music venue with an impressive heritage located on Swan Street in central Manchester, recently covered here by Gemma Saunders.
The organisation was originally founded in 2000 as GMMAZ (Greater Manchester Music Action Zone) and Music Leader North West, but went through a transition period after regular funding from GMMAZ ended following national reforms in the way music education is funded. The ‘new’ organisation, renamed as Brighter Sound, became a kind of umbrella brand for the past project and began working on its learning and participation programme in 2011.
Since 2012, Department for Education funding for music has been distributed by Arts Council England via a network of regional Music Education Hubs. Manchester Music Hub is part of Manchester City Council Children’s Services and Brighter Sound are a lead partner and delivery partner in this initiative.
When AHRC Research Fellow Karen Smith last met with representatives of the organisation, a process of reconfiguration and re-branding was taking place and the organisation was finding its feet in new territory. They had built up long-standing partnerships with a diverse range of organisations and GMMAZ had become a brand that young people identified with, so the new name for the organisation had to be “driven home quite hard”.
Brighter Sound “offer a clear route into music for everyone, from first time opportunities to play, to progression and professional development” (1). Music is considered by the team to be fundamentally important to young people and Brighter Sound pioneers new ways to explore music making, interested in the spaces that exist between what’s already on offer.
They are a not for profit intermediary organisation whose work falls into three main areas:
- Children and young people and those that work with them, including practitioners and organisations.
- Producing and commissioning new music to support emerging and professional musicians.
- Support to the next generation of musicians via Brighter Sound Creative Music Programme at Band on the Wall.
Described on the regional Music Services hub website as a ‘creative music education company’ that primarily works with young people, this doesn’t sum up the value of the impacts on project participants’ well-being and personal development, or the way they are nurturing the next generation of local music talent in a Northern city where music heritage means a lot to people.
There are some challenging situations in Greater Manchester, levels of deprivation and social concerns that the organisation responds to, and gangs in the area have particularly been a problem in the past. Moss-side and Cheetham Hill for example are infamous.
Music is a big part of gang culture and Brighter Sound use music to convey positive messages. They were awarded Home Office funding for work that aimed to stop teenagers getting involved in knife and gun crime, conveying positive images and messages in Rap culture. Brighter Sound helps young people to grow in confidence, increase their sense of self-worth and to develop creatively and personally in a non-judgemental supportive environment.
Through different approaches to engagement the organisation maintains a balance between funding-led and practice-led projects. Last year they were commissioned by Manchester City Council to produce Chaos to Order a six day music and performance project in which Manchester band Everything Everything based themselves in Manchester Central Library, other well-known collaborators who have participated in their 'Wall of Sounds' Artistic Directors' Series of professional residencies in recent years include Snarky Puppy, DJ Yoda and Beth Orton.
Sing City is a weekly singing and songwriting workshop session, open to ages 13-18, which has links to other festivals and cultural programmes in the area, including a series of workshops and events held at this year’s Dig the City, Manchester’s annual summer garden festival.
There are professional development and career progression opportunities and courses available in everything from playing the harmonica to mastering Ableton Live software for music production and professional mentoring.
A two week Modular Music Lab this summer was a residency programme of ten full days for laptop musicians aged 16-24 to develop their digital composition and live performance skills.
Brighter Sound work across all ten boroughs in Greater Manchester and in Cheshire and Merseyside, but see themselves as Manchester-based. Brighter Sound also sit on all nine of the music education hubs, an extremely time-consuming and demanding role as an intermediary communicating knowledge gained at delivery level back to strategic level planning.
Music business rhetoric frequently employs a language of celebrity, competitiveness and ‘making it’. Brighter Sound have a different approach that combines experience, knowledge and links to schools programmes and young people in order to challenge these perceptions and provide meaningful routes to opportunities in the music industry.
Their wide range of participatory courses and residencies give young people and emerging musicians the chance to explore their own talents and interests, develop confidence and broaden their skills in music, even perform, in a collaborative and supportive environment.
This article was written by Laura Ager. It draws on a profile and interviews originally produced by Karen Smith as part of the AHRC Cultural Intermediation project @cultintermed.
What's the Alternative?
Find out here about the background, purpose and content of the 'Alternative?' series of articles on Platform as part of the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform.
Laura is a freelance event organiser and film programmer who became interested in the politics of the cultural economy after running a small co-operative clubwear business in the late 90s and early 2000s. She is currently a PhD candidate at the SURF Centre, School of the Built Environment, University of Salford Manchester, on the AHRC Cultural Intermediation project. She is researching how universities interact with urban creative economies, with a particular focus on the role of festivals as networks of creating and distributing meaning and value.