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THE STORY OF THE NOTTING HILL ACADEMY OF MUSIC

The Notting Hill Academy of Music is located within the Notting Hill Arts Club and has mentors like Trevor Nelson. The Resident examines why it could be the most exciting thing to happen to the locals art scene in years… 

When one thinks about Notting Hill, there are many things that come to mind – top-notch restaurants, Hugh Grant and a blue door, Carnival and some of west London’s loveliest streets. Yet it’s also the case that, despite the many record company offices based a short walk away and the legendary West London scene, there has been surprisingly little in terms of music education in the area.

Now, thanks to Relentless label supremo Shabs Jobanputra and experienced artist development manager and former head of respected institute ACM Ewan Grant, the Notting Hill Academy of Music has come into being. Fittingly, it is located within the famous Arts Club. 

Chatting to Grant about his involvement with the Academy, it becomes clear that he’s taking his responsibility extremely seriously indeed. ‘I’ve been involved in contemporary music education for the last five years, and have done a lot of guest lecturing. One thing that I’ve found about teaching music in the UK is that it isn’t industry relevant – these traditional degrees have not been validated by the industry, but by educators.

The pretty streets might be the first thing to spring to mind with Notting Hill

The pretty streets might be the first thing to spring to mind with Notting Hill

The students didn’t have the experience that they needed. So earlier this year, I hooked up with Shabs – who I’ve known since I was a manager at Ministry of Sound, and who had a similar attitude towards what the industry needed – and we had the idea of setting up a finishing school, somewhere that wasn’t a staid classroom in a university space. Shabs, the owner of the Notting Hill Arts Club, seemed a perfect fit – not least because the Arts Club is synonymous with the music industry, so putting a classroom in there seemed the perfect combination.’

With a maximum of 24 students per course, the Academy is intended to be small, boutique and focused. Grant is also intent that, rather than it featuring ‘the kind of traditional lecturer who’s never worked in the industry and knows nothing, or someone who’s only there to trade war stories’, it will provide the best music industry-facing education to a select number of students.

As he puts it: ‘We will not be expanding this to fulfil a dream that doesn’t exist. It will be focused, intense and vocational. We want to be proactive and reactive, getting our students in front of industry specialists, but we expect a lot from them.  When you find music, and you fall in love with it, it takes you over, so we put our students through a rigorous interview process, as if they were going for a job in the industry – we want the right people on the course, and we won’t tolerate people slacking. There is no free ride in the music industry!’

Notting Hill Arts Club is synonymous with the music industry

Notting Hill Arts Club is synonymous with the music industry

Nonetheless, early results have been extremely rewarding. An impressed Grant points out that ‘it’s been enlightening to find people who have passion and a desire to get on in music, to set up their own publishing company, as well as being a songwriter’. The contribution of Jobanputra will also be crucial (‘He brings a vision of the industry as it is today – his label living under the Sony umbrella – and our students will attend marketing and A&R meetings at Sony. Nobody else is offering that’) and they have a high-profile patron involved in the form of Trevor Nelson, who will be mentoring students for a day a month.

Our students will attend marketing and A&R meetings at Sony – nobody else is offering that. And we have a high-profile patron involved in the form of Trevor Nelson

‘We’d known Trevor Nelson for a number of years – I’d known him since my days at Ministry – and knew that he would be coming from a broadcast angle. He has a great reputation in the industry, and he believes in what we’re trying to do. He has seen the quality of the modules and the teaching – and he said, after the second open day, ‘I’d send my daughter here – this is what she should have had at university, and she didn’t.’ We wanted to find the right patron, someone who wanted to do it rather than just boosting an ego. Trevor only gets involved in stuff that he’s passionate about, and he wants to be able to help the students at every level, including work at the BBC.’

Ewan Grant and Trevor Nelson give the Academy a high-profile name

Ewan Grant and Trevor Nelson

Grant knows that the Academy faces a tough challenge in the straitened days of the music industry, but sees the decline in record sales and the rise in downloading and streaming as an opportunity, rather than a problem. ‘The industry today is an extremely exciting marketplace, and the parameters have changed a great deal. Some areas are no longer as lucrative as they were, but it’s still a hugely valuable worldwide industry. We want to explain to our students how revenue streams work.

On the one hand, the streaming industry is being accused of killing music, but on the other, it’s making it more accessible. I used to run a record shop, and if I could have streamed music back then, I’d be a multi-millionaire. A campaign on an artist ten years ago was all about pre-release and interviews, until it charted, and now streaming has changed all that. Look at Uptown Funk, which has been in the top ten for nearly a year – back in the day, that would never have happened, because streaming has kept people aware of that.’

And, of course, Notting Hill is the perfect location. ‘The opportunity with the Arts Club meant that it was our first choice – we couldn’t think of a better place to do it with,’ Grant claims. ‘There’s nothing else in West London like this, and having the locale is a big advantage, when it comes to the masterclasses and the guests. We’re trying to appeal to a broad section of people, everyone from singer-songwriters to Brazilian music nights. And we think that’s great for our students, who need to understand that it’s a big industry. We’re round the corner from three major record companies, but are dealing with a huge risk of independent and smaller companies. The heritage of the people who have lived and played here – Mark Ronson, Lily Allen, Rita Ora – it’s inspiring.’

One imagines that it won’t be long before we hear about the next generation of Ronsons, Allens and Oras, all products of this thrilling new initiative. 

WORDS Alexander Larman  

Notting Hill Academy of Music, 21 Notting Hill Gate W11 3JQ; 020 598 5226; nottinghillacademyofmusic.com

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