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Get yourself connected: WIRED reflections

by Emily Johnson

With the Doncaster instalment of our WIRED music tech club now complete and safely coiled away until next time, session leader Emily Johnson shares how she learned nearly as much as the participants.

Yorkshire Sound Women Network hired me, Liina Turtonen and Sophie Cooper to lead the WIRED club in Doncaster from January to April this year. The goal was to introduce young women aged 11 – 18 to a variety of music technology applications, in a fun and accessible way, and highlight the range of careers in music open to them. Together with YSWN, we planned 12 sessions covering music production software, studio and field recording, foley, DJing, music gear and terminology, inspirational women in music, and routes into the music industry.

WIRED workshop

Creating a vegetable orchestra at WIRED in Doncaster. All photos by Sophie Cooper.

Highlights of the course were a guest session with DJ Angel Lee, and two visits to Doncaster College where we had the chance to produce film music and record audio in several professional studio rooms. The young women were impressed and excited to use the big mixing desks and recording booths.

Rather than focusing on specific outcomes or finishing pieces throughout the course, we encouraged the participants to try out different activities each session and think about what they enjoyed. We left the last few sessions open, with the idea to revisit any areas that they particularly liked and develop a performance or piece of work to show their parents on the final session. However, this didn’t go to plan; just after session 10, Covid-19 restrictions hit!

After considering a few options, we decided to continue the course online. Looking back, I think this was the right decision because we already had momentum, everyone was available at that time, and we were able to equip the participants with ideas for making music at home. Their parents who were suddenly thrust into home-schooling were also grateful for the sessions and resources we provided.

Over the final two sessions we played with free music-making apps which everyone downloaded on their devices before the sessions. We chose this as the most accessible option, since all the participants had access to a phone or tablet. My personal favourite was RoboVox – a vocoder app which puts a range of effects on your recordings and we had fun sending our friends silly voice messages.

At the end of the final session, we asked the young women to share their thoughts on the WIRED course, and their comments were touching. They said that they had gained in confidence, learned new music skills, had lots of fun, and some said that they were now considering further education or a career in audio. Liina and I were over the moon at this point since their feedback ticked all the boxes of what we wanted to achieve with the course.

WIRED workshop

Emily (left) and Liina at a WIRED session.

Completing the course online was also a fantastic experience for me and Liina, showing us that online session delivery is not only possible, but has certain advantages. We are now planning our first online music production courses through our company Equalize Music Production, which we launched last year after meeting at a YSWN event and identifying a need for female-focused music production courses.

Giving an online option can increase accessibility for participants who live in remote areas, can’t access our venue, or have childcare commitments. It also lowers our costs as we don’t have to pay for venue hire or travel. It was interesting to research making music with phones (a new experience for me), with a host of free resources available out there to use.

I have learned so much about music education and working with young people over the past year. My journey with music started with playing the flute as a child; I later developed my independent Emily J Electric act which includes live flute and Electric Wind Instrument, DJing, custom LED lights, light whip dancing, costumes and surprises. I also play with my band Poppers Revival and run the Sheffield Ableton Live User Group.

Thanks to the WIRED club, working with other facilitators, and support from YSWN, my confidence as a music leader has grown and I now have a bank of workshop activities for groups of different ages, sizes, and levels. I know, for example, that recording and producing music to a fun cartoon clip is a big hit with teenagers!

Overall, projects like WIRED offer an amazing opportunity for the participants and leaders to progress along their musical paths. I’ve been lucky to play my live act all over Europe, but I’ve struggled with confidence and a lack of female role models along the way. The overwhelmingly positive response we’ve had to our Equalize and WIRED courses proves that female-focussed sessions give participants a safe space to play, learn and grow.

WIRED is supported by Youth Music using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England; ISME (International Society for Music Education); Music for All; and Kirklees Council via the Leeds City Region Business Rates Pool. WIRED is delivered in partnership with Leeds Beckett University and University College Doncaster.