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Joshua Barrass

Level 5 Music Performance

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Joshua Barrass

Joshua studies Music Performance at Newcastle College University Centre. He Stepped Up to a degree after studying at Newcastle College. Find out what he has to say about his time learning with us.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, etc.?

I’m a guitarist primarily. I left high school after doing GCSE Music there. I wasn’t sure what sort of work environment I wanted to go into yet, so I decided to stay in education and tackle a subject that I enjoy. I came to Newcastle College to do my Level 3 qualification, and then move on from there, but after realising the strength of the course and the benefits of having a Bachelors Degree for my future job prospects, I decided to step up to the University Centre to study Music Performance. I’m hoping to eventually get a job teaching music, and performing a bit on the side.

Why did you choose to step up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

After studying Music at Level 3, I looked more into the job roles that are possible in music away from just performing. I thought it’d be worthwhile to have a degree in my back pocket, since it can lead onto a broader range of professions like teaching or composing. The main appeal for me to step up though were the contacts I’d gain through Newcastle College University Centre, as well as the recording facilities I’d have access to at the Performance Academy, since I knew students could use their industry-standard equipment for free, and I could potentially make connections with future musicians, which could lead to jobs in the long term.

What was it about this course that made you want to progress onto a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

The degree course at Newcastle College University Centre is very practical, and can be tailored towards whatever individual students wanted to achieve. The units are all quite broad, so whatever you want to specialise in, you’ll be able to learn something useful you can apply to your own career plans; that breadth also gives you more opportunities to be individual, and create whatever you want, than the more rigid and structured Level 3 course. For me, the chance to explore and express my own musical interests makes the degree course far more enjoyable, since everything is much more open to interpretation. I was also more comfortable with the lecturers since I’d already studied at Newcastle College for two years by that point, and all my friends and fellow musicians were based in Newcastle too. It also saved me the trouble of starting over somewhere else, since I would have missed the relationships I’d built during my time at Newcastle College, so my decision to step up to the University Centre became that much easier.

What benefits do you think there are in choosing to stay on to study at Newcastle College University Centre?

Since I had already studied here, the University Centre and its staff were already familiar on the whole, and all my lecturers and tutors knew me too. If you’re new and joining Newcastle College University Centre from somewhere else, I honestly think you’d struggle to find better facilities at any other university, at least for Music. The entire campus is a really friendly, welcoming community where everyone tries to work together and support each other’s interests. For example, if you want to be a producer and develop music, then you can go onto the Production degree course and find someone who will be willing to work with you, so it’s a fantastic professional network to enter into, not to mention a brilliant resource for preparing for your career.

What are the facilities like at the University Centre for your course and as a student?

The facilities are great! I can access all the music facilities, but the ways I use them can be specifically tailored to my degree course, which is fantastic for my career prospects. We get lots of practice in the different studios on site, as well as production courses, and the equipment and facilities are all constantly being upgraded to the latest versions as soon as they come out. On top of that, if I ever need to do work outside of my lessons or teaching hours, the Parsons building tenth floor and HE Hub are brilliant degree student-only facilities to use to work or relax. I’d definitely say that the facilities at Newcastle College University Centre are better than those at many other universities.

What do you enjoy the most about your degree?

What I enjoy the most is how open-ended many of our assignments are. So if I were set a song writing task where I had to write and perform a forty-five minute set of music, I can choose who out of my classmates I can work with to write and perform the songs, and also be more individual by playing the kinds of music I like the most. By contrast, at Level 3, I wasn’t allowed to be quite so individual in my work, since whenever we had group assignments, our lecturers assigned the members of each band, and set the genre of music each band would be playing. Overall, the degree course at the University Centre presents way more opportunities to study units I enjoy, with a lot more opportunities to write, produce, and perform music that I enjoy, and that I feel I can learn more from to hone my craft.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the creative environment at the Performance Academy. Whenever I come into the University Centre to study, I’m surrounded by a massive, diverse community of musicians who are all trying to be the best they can possibly be. Whenever I’m auditioning for bands or gigs through my degree, I know I have to put my best foot forward and be my best possible self, since I’m very aware that I’m in an academy full of fantastic musicians, so band try-outs can be quite competitive. That said, while I do put pressure on myself to do my best, everyone at the Newcastle College University Centre is so positive and so supportive of each other’s efforts that we’re all pushing each other to be the best. At Level 3, classes and even auditions felt a bit more relaxed, whereas now we’re at degree level, everyone knows that we’re here to work hard, so we never waste time in practices, and we all strive to be as collaborative as possible throughout the creative process. For me, that willingness to help and support everyone in your network of staff and students is one of the greatest strengths of the University Centre.

Tell us about how you have worked with industry whilst studying your degree (i.e. talks / live briefs / projects).

We’ve had a variety of guest speakers and industry professionals come in throughout my degree course to talk about their experiences of working with professional musicians in different roles. Most recently, we’ve had a couple of musicians from the band Sam Fender come in to talk about their work, and tell us about how opportunities can present themselves to students at Newcastle College University Centre, since those students are graduates of the University Centre as well, and have obviously gone on to be really successful in the industry! But another thing I love about my degree at the University Centre is that, for as many musicians as we’ve had come in, we’ve also had quite a lot of experienced guest speakers talk about the theory side of music, or the performance side itself, which gave me personally some useful insights into the skills I’ll need to cultivate to achieve my career goals.

How do you think learning from industry experienced tutors has benefitted you?

Having this much industry experience readily available throughout my degree has been such a massive benefit to me. We’re always being given first-hand anecdotes and stories from people who’ve had up to forty years of experience in the music industry, nationally and globally, so there are no better people to share this advice than those who’ve experienced pretty much everything imaginable from the career path I want to pursue. There are long-time musicians, producers, and instrumentalists who can tell you what working in the industry meant to them personally, rather than just being taught from a textbook. When we hear these first-hand stories, it puts a lot of perspective on the challenges of entering the music world, rather than just being told what obstacles we might face from someone who’s never had to face those issues.

How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?

The University Centre staff are all very helpful, not just because they’re always so willing to go above and beyond to help out, but also because they are experts in lots of different fields related to the industry. There are lecturers who specialise in the production side of music, as well as tutors who are experts in sound mixing for live music gigs, or lecturers who are experts in a particular instrument like guitar or drums, so every lecturer has a lot of knowledge and experience to share. The HE Team are also supportive of any written academic work we need to complete, making sure we understand the assignment and get the support we need. There’s so much guidance on offer at Newcastle College University Centre to anyone who wants or needs it, and our staff are always willing and committed to giving us students the best experience possible.

Have you overcome any challenges either before or whilst studying your degree?

I’ve faced some challenges relating to Music, but they’re fairly general. Sometimes it can be hard to find your way into bands, especially when you’re a new student starting Level 4. For example, two new students joined our class for Level 4 at the University Centre, but since most of our class had stepped up from Level 3 at Newcastle College, the fact they lacked those established friendships with the rest of us worked against them at first, and made it harder for them to secure slots in bands or gigs. Everyone in the Music department is extremely helpful though, and lecturers do their absolute best to introduce every student to the different projects going on. There might be loads of different projects or campaigns going on at the same time, but everyone in the department, staff and student, are really supportive and help each of us to get into projects or roles we want, and help us to acclimatise to those projects as fast as we possibly can.

What kinds of support have you received during your studies?

I’ve had a lot of one-to-one sessions with tutors, since they check in regularly to make sure I’m up-to-date with all my college work. Outside of projects at the University Centre, Newcastle College has its own record label, Push Puzzle, which students can request to go through to release music and get extra support. The amount of industry-standard specialist facilities we have on offer at Newcastle College University Centre is amazing considering we’re students, but it’s the one-to-one care each tutor takes with individual students, and the opportunity to request personal meetings with representatives from different areas within the music industry, that really sets the degree course apart. It’s honestly hard not to stay focused or motivated to do the best possible work I can on my degree, since the personalised course and individual tuition as standard mean everyone is discussing their own work so much that it’s hard to keep it from our minds, so we’ve always got our eye on the long-term goals.

What has been the highlight of your time studying at Newcastle College University Centre?

I absolutely love the performances that we do. In the Music Performance modules we study, we’ll be playing cover songs or our own original music, but the end-of-year performances are always so much fun because I’ll be playing on stage with the musicians on my course whom I most want to work with. Sometimes the unit might mean that I’m playing with musicians that I wouldn’t normally work with on a new genre of music, but I appreciate being forced out of my comfort zone since it means I’m gaining real-world experience on a new live music scene. Performances are a lot of fun, as is music production, and I’m very keen to learn more about studio work and all the kinds of effort that goes into releasing music on Spotify or similar platforms.

What’s Newcastle like as a student city, in your experience?

Newcastle is a brilliant city to be a student in. There are lots of activities to participate in off-campus, and loads of opportunities to get extra experience in the music industry by playing live gigs outside of the Performance Academy. Newcastle is chock-full of venues, rehearsal spaces, and recording studios, so music is a massive part of Newcastle as a city, I think. There’s also the option to mix the music in Newcastle College facilities, then go and record elsewhere. Outside of music, there’s also a lot of places to just go and relax, but it through food and drink or different entertainment venues.

In what ways do you think your degree at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared you for employment?

Studying at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared me for a possible career in so many different areas of the industry. Before starting me degree course, I never would have thought about going into teaching, since I always just wanted to be a performer. Since starting my Level 4 though, I’ve learnt so many different skills separate from just playing guitar – like producing, teaching, and music promotion to name a few - that I’ve become so much more confident in my ability. I’ve learnt much more about how to present myself as an artist, but also how to promote musicians I work with to paint them in the best light possible, so there are so many different areas to go into.

What are your plans after you graduate?

I want to go on and study a PGCE, so I will be able to teach while also playing music. My main dream of playing in a successful band remains the same for me, since I’ve always wanted to be a performer, but the more realistic side of me wants a job somewhere in the music industry, so teaching would be the most solid bet for now. I believe it’s possible to balance a full-time job with gigs and being a performer, and while it might be challenging in some ways, I would relish the opportunity to improve my skills as a teacher while also honing my craft as an artist. I think that Newcastle College University Centre has provided me with all the tools and training I will need to achieve my goals, whichever avenue I take.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about Steppin’ Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

I’d say that if anyone was feeling apprehensive about stepping up, go for it! The courses absolutely open up at degree level, so you’re able to shape your own creative process a lot more, and explore your influences and interests as an artist. Studying at Newcastle College University centre opens your eyes to more work than you could have imagined, so the practical training and industry-standard facilities you’ll receive here will inspire you to push yourself, and be confident enough in your own abilities to go beyond your comfort zone. The opportunities provided by Newcastle College have opened my eyes to so many channels of work that I never thought possible, or even considered as something I would want, but now I really do! You’ll get so much support from an entire network of experienced lecturers and like-minded musicians, and while everyone will push and challenge you, they will also support you to be the best possible version of yourself you can be.

Describe your student experience in three words.

Useful. Exciting. Friendly.

What are your top 5 tips for Steppin’ Up at Newcastle College?

Be open minded – take every opportunity to try new tasks, or new genres of music.

Build your network of contacts – whether it’s guest speakers or people on other courses, you can learn something useful from all of them.

Practice your instrument very hard, and try to get into other instruments as well – having a broader skill base will only make you more employable in the long run.

Take all the advice you are given – every lecturer or guest speaker has their own specialism, and decades of experience; use them!

Work on trying new things outside of college – if you play gigs outside of college, you’ll gain more experience, meet new bands and promoters, and hone your skills even more than you could within teaching hours.