School of Rock?

Cat Acheson responds to claims that high tuition fees are killing off student bands

A recent Guardian article observed that because of high tuition fees and financial pressures, student bands ain’t what they used to be. Where is the present-day answer to the likes of Queen and Pink-Floyd, who began playing together at university? Apart from a smattering of exceptions such as Alt-J and Coldplay, there’s a distinct lack of student bands taking their sound from humble student-bar beginnings to huge stadiums around the world. There are many possible explanations for this, no doubt including the increased pressure to get value for your money at uni by clinching the best degree possible at the expense of creative pursuits. But this is surely not the end of the issue.

To suggest that students just don’t have the time or the drive to commit to playing in a band because we’re buried in the library 24/7 has to be grossly inaccurate. Likewise is the suggestion that there’s no audience for small-scale student gigs because we’d all rather be off our faces in a club in the precious free time we so rarely get. Despite looming anxiety over our debt-ridden futures, most of us still find the time and the pennies to have fun at least some of the time, and, encouragingly, popular opinion shows that for a good many of us the age-old dream of finding yourself and your true passions at uni refuses to die.

“I for one have always imagined the purpose of uni to be about 50% the degree and 50% being creative and trying new things”, says Calum Price, part of the Live Music and Features Team at Glasgow Uni’s Subcity Radio. “Students have always been strapped for cash, [but] people don’t not attend gigs because they’re saving to pay off their loans”.

Similarly, students don’t not start good bands. From Los Campesinos! to Twin Atlantic, there’s no shortage of major musical talent emerging out of UK universities. Rather than asking why students aren’t devoting themselves to music anymore, a better question might be why student bands are too frequently boxed away as niche or ephemeral, and don’t get to enjoy the same patronage or spotlight as the more commercial, London-based industry giants who are topping the UK charts.

Wiktoria Muryn is in her fourth year at uni and is also Events Convenor at the QMU. She  runs QMU Live, a monthly showcase for local bands from Glasgow University and beyond. In her opinion, there is very much an audience for up-and-coming student talent. The problem these bands face in making it big lies elsewhere.

“It’s difficult to convince promoters to invest in local gigs, and therefore you don’t get much publicity compared to clubs in town. The reason it’s quite difficult to get people in [to QMU Live] is not because there are no good student bands or venues – it’s because Indie venues or student unions usually can’t invest in massive PR schemes and with the local scene being very much a word-of-mouth kinda thing, it’s difficult to reach potential audience.”

However, it can’t be denied that trying to make it in the music industry alongside studying for a degree is no mean feat, even if there are plenty of brave souls who are willing to give it a go. Back in September qmunicate got chatting to Glasgow-based Indie rock band Fatherson, and the subject of how to balance your studies with a musical career came up again and again. The band have already toured all over the UK with sell out shows in King Tut’s and The Arches, as well as performing on the BBC Introducing stage at T in the Park. It may therefore be surprising that bassist Marc Strain is still a student.

“Don’t tell the university – don’t tell the lecturers you’re doing it. They don’t like it at all”, he told us, when asked what advice he would give to students who want to get into music. He admitted that his biggest mistake at uni was “probably just not turning up”, and cautioned students to “try and get a degree before you try to be in a band”. He added that he himself should have graduated two years ago.

So what hope is there for a bunch of students messing around with guitars, drums, trumpets and the like? The only solution is just to keep slogging away at it. Opportunities are out there, despite the odds. Devoting yourself to your creative passions at the same time as trying to get a degree is always going to be difficult, and financial concerns certainly aren’t helping. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the pernicious message that getting a good degree and staking your claim in a competitive jobs market is the be-all and end-all of university, but this is not the case and never has been. Ultimately, in a generation where many of us will be paying back thousands of pounds of debt for years to come while the Tories tell us we’re not worthy of the living wage, it’s more important than ever for students to keep making stirring, inspiring and badass music.


[Cat Acheson- @cat_acheson]  

Want to get involved in running QMU Live and other music and club nights at the QMU? The QMU Events Committee meets every Tuesday at 5:30pm in the Board Room on the third floor. Everyone is welcome and no experience is required. 

1 Comment

Leave a Reply