Come with me to a place where music really lives...

In Spring 2024 Anthem asked music journalist Jude Rogers to explore pathways into music industry for young people in Wales.

We were on the verge of the Atseinio conference day, bringing together the youth music and music development sectors to explore journeys into music for young people in Wales. Anthem had undertaken four rounds of the Atsain Fund, giving out just under £380,000 and supporting 45 youth music projects across Wales. The National Music Education Plan for Wales was starting to gain traction, rolling out first experiences in music to primary school children across Wales

However, we were acutely aware of financial challenges threatening music with young people on all sides, from cuts in Welsh Government budgets, to local authorities tightening their belts, trusts and foundations refocusing their support, and parents struggling to make ends meet.  It felt like exactly the right time to dispatch Jude into the field to shine a light on the exciting developments in youth music and music education in Wales and she was really excited by what she found.

You can read the whole of Jude’s in depth article at the link below.

Jude Rogers

“Imagine a place where a life in music could be encouraged and supported from the start. Here, mentors could work with children and young adults to help them ambitiously develop their creativity, giving them the tools to be inventive performers, collaborators, thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs.

Thanks to this support, young people would gain the resourcefulness and resilience to express themselves with confidence, manage their careers, and gain crucial skills that they could then pass on to others in turn. It’s utopian thinking, clearly – but I’ve found out in recent months that this place exists. I’ve discovered that all this activity already happens across many organisations, in the country where I live – and still can if we continue to support youth music development in Wales.

Beacons SUMMIT 2024 Atseinio conference - Wales wide youth music networking event in Utilita Arena Cardiff

She visited the Atseinio Conference in Cardiff, the National Music Open Forum in Pontypridd, and undertook a Zoom call with Anthem FFWD> Forum.

A one-day conference showcasing the work of individuals as well as youth music projects across Wales, enthusiastic professionals attend and speak too, all wanting to champion the same thing – a brighter future for youth music. Everyone’s all energy and no ego up at the podium. Aisha Kigs talks about how much different things seem to be for Welsh artists, on the ground, in recent years, how it feels “like we’re at the beginning of something, and we’re being that change”. Beacons Cymru project officer Yasmine Davies, from the rural Rhymney Valley, talks about the success of their projects that enable “entrepreneurial spirit” like the brilliant Forte, which runs a programme of masterclasses, exploratory songwriting sessions, and assistance with recording, marketing, rehearsals, live showcases and wellbeing.

Music Futures by National Youth Arts Wales, funded by Anthem's Atsain Fund

She discovered the growing MOBO scene in Wales, and interviewed a range of artists including Kez O’Hare, Aisha Kigs, Aderyn, Hanna Lili, and Tom Grennan.

Giving young people development opportunities when their careers have already begun is another area where Wales is blazing – which is where the work of Creative Wales has benefited two young female artists I speak to. Hana Lili spent her childhood singing at school, and tells me how growing up in Wales was so important to her: “because it makes performing onstage feel like something really normal!” After playing grassroots gigs from her mid-teens (“with just my synth, an iPad and keyboard!”) she got support from the Beacon Cymru’s Forte Project, airplay on Radio 1, then last summer supported Coldplay at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium – an exciting achievement for a bilingual artist.

BBC Horizons funded artists Small Miracles and Mirari for Huw Stephens on BBC Radio Wales

She sought opinions on the sector from some of the major youth music organisations including National Youth Arts Wales, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Sound Progression, and BBC Gorwelion Horizons.

Simon Parton of BBC Gorwelion Horizons has an even more optimistic view of the future in which Welsh artists create things at home, but then bring people in beyond our borders. Still living in his hometown of Swansea, he loves how young people in Wales are building their own scenes, as they have with the successful Swansea Fringe Festival, driven by an aptitude for online marketing, promotion and creativity, and a push to do things in an organic, outward-looking way after the pandemic.

People are thinking of where they’re making things, then looking outwards from their little bubble,” he says, “and they want to tell other people what they’re doing.” Young people are also using social media and video communication technology to network further afield, he’s discovered – channels they had to use creatively when stuck at home in the pandemic lockdowns. They now know how they can help them forge connections, quickly, Parton believes, in the wider world.

Image: Ceirios Bebb - Lloyd and Dom @ Clwb Ifor Bach

She also interviewed key music industry figures Oli Morris (UK Music), John Rostron (Association of Independent Festivals) and Huw Stephens (BBC).

Stephens wants to underline how important grassroots venues are to the ecosystem: “They’re brilliant across the country, despite the constant threats to their existence.” He hopes that more managers will be encouraged to work in Wales, to give artists that next step of support and professional encouragement.”