Mastering a Masters?

Hardly. I have technically just finished a Master’s in Electronic Music Production in Bristol but let me caveat this by adding I still have a trailing module (a retake which will be capped at the pass mark) due in November so although the bulk of the work is complete I still have one bit left to finish. 

Master’s degrees in the UK are different from undergraduate degrees in that you have 3 levels of grading for modules and overall degree classification - Distinction, Merit and Pass. A pass mark is 50% and above. This post is about me trying to summarise my experience of doing a Master’s degree in electronic music production over the past year. 

TLDR: If you want a formal qualification, perhaps for a future job or for teaching, go for it. If you just want to get good at music production, get a mentor you value and a supportive community around you - a master’s degree won’t necessarily give you that as the focus is on passing academic exercises. 


Why Electronic Music Production?

For those of you who don’t know me or have just stumbled upon this blog looking for experiential stuff around Master’s degrees/Electronic Music Production education let me introduce myself: my name is Jemma and I’m an artist/producer from Bristol, in the Southwest UK and up until this Master’s degree I had no formal training in music or production. I didn’t want to collect another undergrad degree (I already have two) so I decided I would try a Masters as it would hopefully fill in some of the gaps and formalise my learning. I also thought learning locally would help me feel more connected to a local music scene and network and thought live, in person, learning would work better than online in terms of keeping me motivated and having deadlines to adhere to. 

I vacillated between the blended and hybrid master degrees on offer and looked at Tileyard, dBs and a couple of others, but this degree came up and it was brand new. There was an option to do Music Production and Sound Engineering or Electronic Music Production as well as a two-year part time Masters degree called Innovation in Sound. Innovation sounded really interesting but probably too unstructured for me at a time when I wanted to know where the edges were on the knowledge I already had. Music Production and Sound Engineering seemed cool, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to work within a studio environment and Electronic Music Production was more about honing the skills you already had and learning new things like how to make an electronic music product (for example a sample library or Max 4 live instrument) which seemed to be more what I wanted. 


Being Neurodivergent in Education 

Being neurodivergent and not having learned or shared music a lot with others, I found the course pretty hard. It was the first time I had studied whilst “knowing” I had ADHD and although it meant I was able to access support which I hadn’t had previously and I also had a better understanding and more compassion for myself, it didn’t alter the way my brain works or how I process sensory information and communicate with others. I found great help and understanding within the student support services, but little to no translation of this in the classroom - where it really counts. I think awareness and translation of students’ needs is something the university are working on and hopefully this improves in the future. 


Being a Female Producer in a Male-Dominated Environment

We can’t really talk about learning/ music production without mentioning the phrase “male-dominated” and on the two courses of 18 students there were 2 women, including me. I was never taught by any female staff and was often the only woman in the room. It was weird for me as I’d learnt music production mostly during the pandemic in female-orientated or female-led environments such as- Saffron, Liz Cirelli, 2% Rising, Songseeds, Music Production for Women… it was a bit of a shock to the system and also felt depressing - as if this is the real world where you are supposed to operate. 


When mentioning issues like “why are we not taught by any female staff?” I was told “well we do try to recruit…but what can you do?” or “It’s just indicative of the industry unfortunately…” Which, when said by another middle class cis white dude is pretty hard to take and makes it difficult to stay in an environment where you are already ‘other’ several times over. Complaining about the social environment you chose to be part of is just seen as being difficult, so in the end I just stopped mentioning it because it’s exhausting trying to change something where there is little institutional will and things already feel tough for you. To be fair them I know they are aware of trying to improve in terms of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion so we were told based on our feedback things would improve for subsequent cohorts. 


So, What’s Next?

That said, I learnt a lot about myself, about how I learn; I cried a lot (I mean embarrassing amounts); I got to use some equipment and studios I hadn’t done before; I met some really nice people and had some incredible learning support outside of lectures. 

I was also able to more thoroughly research my ideas for “The ADHD Music Producer” and put myself in a better position to move forward with this as a business. Now I have just finished my dissertation and I finally have the brain space to make music again, I am reflecting on whether my production skills have improved in the past year… Well, there is only one way to find out! I guess I’d better make some new music and see what happens and perhaps you can let me know!

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