Gateway School and JAMES co-founder David Ward on bringing the industry and education closer together

Phil Ward talks to Gateway founder (and no relation) David Ward about the trends shaping pro audio education...
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David Ward

David Ward

Recording industry expert, engineer and educator David Ward has recently co- authored a ‘Creative and Educational Proposal’ with record producer Phil Harding in support of The National Plan for Music Education 2020, hopefully to be endorsed by The Department of Education and The Department for Culture, Media & Sport. It’s the latest in decades of initiatives Ward has brokered as the co-founder of both the Gateway School of Recording and the organisation Joint Audio Media Education Support (JAMES).

Gateway is now earmarked for resurrection and Ward has lost none of his passion for the highest standards of education, not only in pro audio but across the whole of the entertainment technology sector. At this pivotal point in the music industry, his vision is arguably needed more than ever before...

Is it difficult to recruit students into professional audio at the moment?

Most students from the very best JAMES-accredited courses are finding work in the entertainment industry – as opposed to strictly pro audio - very quickly. They might start their course thinking they’re going to be engineers or producers but very quickly find all the other possibilities in our industries. This could be theatre, manufacturing, sales or audio post-production. I’ve talked with some who’ve been very happy recording Court and Parliamentary proceedings, where clarity is essential. I believe one of them went on to study law; he would be richer than me.

What was the motivation behind your response to the National Plan for Music Education 2020, and what are its main tenets?

The last national Government plan for music was many years ago and we’re hoping that a new one will be published in 2020. Phil Harding and I – and the folks in JAMES – want to make sure that music technology and production is rightfully highlighted in this plan. We want to make sure that from an industry perspective awareness is raised of the infinite possibilities for using music technology in the classroom at all ages. Sound engineers and producers need not only technical knowledge but also high levels of numeracy and literacy. The so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – can all be complemented by what we do.

As an industry we need to give ourselves credit for the breadth of our knowledge and experience. We want to raise awareness of all these possibilities and the wonderful work that many people are doing using music technology for people with special educational needs and disabilities. Rather than the new national plan being written by civil servants for us, we want to ensure that we – and our colleagues across the music spectrum – have a greater part in what it contains. We are going to raise awareness of the educational potential of music technology and audio production. This is why Phil and I are working very closely with UK Music and the Music Education Council (MEC). It’s also vital that we start to address the gender imbalances in our industries as well as making educational possibilities inclusive and relevant to all young people.

What is JAMES and how did it start?

JAMES started in APRS when [UK studio guru] Dave Harries and I started the education committee. All us studio owners were inundated with CVs and we had no idea which courses were any good. The board asked me to write an industry accreditation process so that we could sort out the best courses and build mechanisms to support them. This was very successful, and the Music Producers Guild became involved alongside many other industry organisations. JAMES has now become an alliance of many of our industry organisations, set up to support education and make sure that the many years of industry knowledge and experience are not lost to future generations. It was formed so that our industry could be both rapidly proactive and reactive to education needs and could create industry-led initiatives with minimum waffle and maximum action.

What do you hope to achieve by publishing a database of JAMES accredited graduates, beyond simply finding them employment?

The graduate database is one of several projects initiated by JAMES to help bring our industry and education closer together. It is only available to graduates from JAMES-accredited courses, where we are assured of the industry relevance that these courses offer. Yes, the graduate database is designed to put graduates in touch with employers, bearing in mind that a lot of the industry is freelance-based, so it is also a networking opportunity. Later this year we’ll be launching a new membership scheme. There will be the three basic categories of membership: industry ‘friends of JAMES’; academics from accredited courses; and all students on accredited courses. Among other things this will allow our suppliers, manufacturers and studios to post useful industry information, technical papers and news about job opportunities. Academics can post links to their learned papers, news about academic developments and jobs, and useful learning resources not only for students but across the whole entertainment and creative industries.

Who qualifies to be a ‘Friend of JAMES’?

A Friend of JAMES is a commercial organisation, equipment or instrument manufacturer, supplier or retailer that wishes to join with JAMES in supporting education to benefit the future of our music, entertainment and media industries. There are no criteria other than a dedication to helping JAMES ensure the quality of education for our industries. There is some marketing potential in becoming a Friend, but this is not the primary motivation. There are opportunities to take part in masterclasses, forums, educational exhibitions, posting technical information and news items – whatever initiatives a Friend might propose. We can’t do all this alone and we rely on our industry partners to come up with ideas that we can help realise through the educational framework developed.

What are your plans for reviving Gateway?

When we first opened the Gateway School in London, it was designed to provide much-needed training for people in the music industry about what studios get up to. We recognised the need for training people already in the industry rather than training young people for the industry. This was the first such educational initiative in Europe and was very successful. We got seduced by universities to develop undergraduate training, but we are now going back to our roots and developing training initiatives for people across the creative industries who need to know what studios and production is all about. As our creative industries converge it’s important that we all develop the language to understand each other so that we can avoid many of the pitfalls of not having a working knowledge of what each other does. The first of these new courses – by Gateway Professional Development Training – I’ve developed with Dave Harries to be taught at Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studios. With Wendy Laybourn I’ve developed a similar course that demystifies the film and television production process, to be run in cooperation with the equipment manufacturer and supplier Arri. Several other courses are in the pipeline, in particular one explaining how audio post-production works.

At Gateway we’ve always been aware of the wellbeing of people in our industries and have developed special courses in effective stress release, for example. We’ve always believed that ‘people who feel good, do good’.

What do you think were Gateway’s main contributions to audio education?

Many years ago we realised we were spending too much time in recording sessions explaining to producers and musicians what the processes and technologies were about. It did help make sessions smoother because we developed the language to communicate with our clients. So several producers suggested we start a school in a spare premises above the studio. We found that we’d developed simple and understandable methods of getting complex information across.

If I’m honest, we created these methods to be able to understand recording production for ourselves, remembering that Gateway was first of all the studios “by musicians for musicians”. There was nowhere to teach us in those days.

We had huge amounts of help from colleagues in the industry, particularly the manufacturers and suppliers. When we started I was determined that we would begin with a new approach to education and training that not only made it effective but also fun. I studied many advanced educational concepts that made a lot of sense to me and we developed all courses around them. We discovered the importance of putting ‘context before content’ so learners always had a big picture on which to hang detailed knowledge without sitting wondering ‘where does this all fit in?’. We recognised the importance of taking care of not only physical comfort but also emotional wellbeing, particularly when dealing with scary concepts, technical or creative.

It is gratifying and flattering to discover that many of the educational techniques that we developed are being used in our best university courses. It warms my heart when a lecturer or anyone in the industry says: “Hey, I kicked off my career at Gateway”. One of the best memories I have is when a father came up to me and said: “Thank you – my son was so introverted and un-communicative but since your course he’s brimming with confidence and enthusiasm”...

What’s the best piece of career advice ever given to you?

I’ve had so much support from the industry over the years and lots of advice – most of it very useful. Here are some of the best:

“Always take care of your gain structures and invoices”

“People like to hear the words”

“Never be afraid to ask for help, but don’t be pissed off if I say no”

“Whenever you hear yourself using the word ‘should’, turn it into ‘could’. This helps you make better choices”

And someone reminded me of Einstein’s quote: “Keep things as simple as possible but not simpler”. This has always been a guiding light to me.

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