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Music to My Ears: How music can improve young people’s wellbeing

Overhead view of a music studio set up including keyboard, headphones and computer screen.

Tim Page, from our Music to My Ears service in Surrey, shares his experience from conceiving the idea for the service through to the first young people walking through the doors.

Music to My Ears provides emotional wellbeing support to young people aged 14 to 21-years-old, using music and music production as a tool to engage and encourage young people to explore and understand their feelings and emotional wellbeing.

16:59. Friday afternoon. The dreaded end of week emails start coming in, but just as I am about to slap the laptop closed and embrace the weekend, something different landed. “Ideas for innovative approaches to helping young people’s wellbeing wanted” – my brain is immediately back into work mode.

My father was a musician in the 60’s, I worked in the music industry for a significant amount of my adult life, all my friends work in music, my kids write and play live music, my wife regularly fills the house with the dulcet tones of Take That: so what is my submission for the above brief going to be… You guessed it, COOKING! Joking, joking, obviously a music project.

I hurried myself to produce an idea and sent it around to a few colleagues in the hope they could transform my crayon filled paper, full of ideas, into a genuine proposal. They did, and we won funding from the local NHS partnership. It was at this point the hard work started.

Day 1: Funding arrives.
Day 2: Develop our service aimed at enhancing wellbeing amongst young people from hard to engage groups with contemporary music production and song writing at its core.
Day 3: Delivery and implementation.

The first few weeks were spent agreeing processes and tools such as: promotion of the service, the evaluation tools, the referrals forms, the risk assessments, the monitoring sheets, the writing of lesson plans, the design and build of mobile music studios. Of course, these are absolutely necessary but certainly not the reason anyone enters a career in youth work.

In January 2017, the service went live, taking its first referrals from the then youth support service. The first few sessions were testing. I hadn’t considered what happens when you arrive for a session with a young person, unpack all the equipment, sit down and … well… and what? All of the implementation had slightly stripped me of my creative spark, I was thinking about reports, spreadsheets, budgets and not young people and music. As I sat in that first session looking at the young person, them looking back at me, nerves and expectations bouncing of the walls suddenly it happened, the young person said, “Come on mate, give me a beat” and it happened, we started making music.

I was instantly rewarded by this young person, I was reminded of why we choose to work with young people: they are the future, they are creativity and they are life blood for us.

In the following sessions we wrote lyrics that had been poetically disclosed to a grime sound track. We did iTep maps to understand issues and used restorative elements to talk about harm and violence. I challenged him, he challenged me, we didn’t just create a song; we both gained confidence to change things in our lives. For me, the changes were my approach to this music project, for him it was re-entering education, gaining new skills, gaining a new hobby, getting a new peer group, understanding the impact words can have. Engaging with his parents again and finally… Enhancing his wellbeing!

Half a year later, ‘Music to My Ears’ has two mobile studios delivering sessions to groups and individuals on a daily basis plus 6 iPad work stations for recording 2 track live music or programming electronic music.

We work with local radio, professional rehearsal and recording studios, music equipment manufacturers, professional musicians, local council, local police, council arts centres, local youth centres, high schools, unaccompanied asylum seekers, gypsy Romany traveller groups, LGBTQ groups and CAMHS.

We run regular half term drop in style workshops, we work with alternative education providers, we have drop in centres at music festivals and we are taking centre stage at Surrey’s World Mental Health Day offering in October 2017.

We use young people’s lyrics to facilitate conversations about their wellbeing and use young people’s creativity to help them increase their self-esteem and resilience. We give people new skills, new friends, new experiences and we do all of this through music.

So my first ever blog, an introduction to Music to My Ears, at 39 years old I am now off to record some hard dub step with saxophone loops. This is awesome.