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Finely tuned to the economy

Glasgow has long been one of the UK's music industry heartlands, a breeding ground of original talent that has spawned more than its fair share of great acts, from Alex Harvey and John Martyn to Chvrches and The Amazing Snakeheads.

Schoolchildren take part in a performance as part of the Behind The Noise scheme, which is run by run by Rico Capuano, below, and Ewan MacLeod of Doghouse Studios
Schoolchildren take part in a performance as part of the Behind The Noise scheme, which is run by run by Rico Capuano, below, and Ewan MacLeod of Doghouse Studios

Less enviably, Scotland's biggest city is no less well known for its high proportion of young people slipping through the educational and employment net. Their ­unfulfilled potential has been - and is likely to remain - a multi-generational drag on the ambitions of the Scottish economy.

The success of new business-led schemes that use the former strength to combat the latter weakness are adding lustre to this Unesco-designated City of Music as well as prompting the "why-didn't-we-think-of-this-before" reaction generated by all great ideas.

As Glasgow's art and music scene comes under an unusually bright international spotlight this year thanks to the Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme, word is spreading about a raft of new music industry-led programmes that have been quietly and successfully leveraging the professional expertise, social enterprise and passion of the music industry in Scotland's biggest city. Together these projects are doing their bit to transform the lives of hundreds of young people from across the city.

Take Behind The Noise, a scheme for Glasgow and Renfrewshire schools run by Rico Capuano and Ewan MacLeod of Doghouse Studios. Capuano, 42, is a veteran of the city's music scene who has worked throughout Europe and across the musical spectrum in his 25 years in the industry, with clients ranging from Gary Numan to Tricky to LCD Sound System to Shaun Ryder.

Supported by funding of £18,000 a year from high-end hifi business Linn Products and matched by contributions from Glasgow and Renfrewshire councils, the scheme draws on the commitment and drive of some of Scotland's best-networked music professionals to help groups of pupils from 24 schools across Greater Glasgow with an interest in every aspect of the music business - performing, recording, marketing, design and promotion. The 15 to 17-year-olds are given a week's immersion in the industry, culminating in a public performance - like the one that Renfrewshire schoolkids will give next Tuesday at Classic Grand in Jamaica Street.

Behind The Noise has been a roaring success. While many of the up to 500 teenagers who have participated in the scheme would have headed to further and higher education anyway, many others would not - but now they are, armed with hard and soft skills picked up while doing something they love.

Behind The Noise - launched by Gary Condie, employability and enterprise manager for Glasgow City Council, in 2011 as part of the city's wider Determined To … programme - has turned around the lives of many schoolchildren from some of Scotland's most challenging backgrounds. But it is also doing its bit to ensure that Glasgow continues to thrive as a hub for a global recording and performing industry worth tens of millions to the Scottish economy.

Behind The Noise has helped nurture a crop of motivated, well-grounded and well-trained recruits for one of the city's most important cultural industries, by first of all channelling them towards a local college network hungry for recruits who will stay the course - and reflect well on the institution in their subsequent careers.

Capuano says: "The idea was to form a bridge from school to the industry or into further education that we felt didn't exist." That is in addition to the role the project has had in motivating teenagers for whom - like Capuano himself - the idea of continuing education beyond high school held little appeal.

Glasgow head teachers, it seems, have come to trust it for that reason, and their counterparts in Renfrewshire are also engaging. The hope and expectation is that, as the scheme matures - and if support from Creative Scotland and business sponsors falls into place - then the benefits of the scheme can be spread around Scotland.

The team running the course is itself steeped in the music industry from the recording and the stage management sides. Just as well, says Capuano, as "the kids can tell if you're phonies". His Behind The Noise colleagues include Ewan MacLeod, a former A&R man and music TV presenter; Sean Kerwin, an experienced engineer and producer; and Kato, a stage technician who has worked alongside Emeli Sandé, Glasvegas and Friendly Fires and is stage manager for RockNess and Bestival. The team's sound engineer is Gerry Gregory of Central Sound Studio, on Glasgow's Berkeley Street.

Capuano says: "We've currently got 30 acceptances of kids who have participated in Behind The Noise into places at the University of the West of Scotland, and the amalgamated Glasgow colleges. We are also looking at work placements at DF Concerts [promoter of T in the Park], King Tut's and Ticketmaster.

"The whole programme has started to grow arms and legs.

"Musical performance is not really what it's about; they're breaking down the various careers that exist in the industry, and going through workshops with the people involved.

"The programme can't go into major depth, but it at least allows kids to take the lid off the various boxes and see what they're into.

"Most young people see bands but they don't understand the agents, event managers and promoters - they don't know that all these other jobs exist."

Capuano - who remembers the difficulty members of his generation had in breaking into what he calls "the Glasgow music mafia" - describes how the programme enables participants to put a band together, work through the promotion of the gig and come through rehearsals.

He has also observed with some amazement the "massive developments in confidence" that Behind The Noise enables.

Managing a busy studio and with no great interest in education issues, Capuano has become a passionate advocate of the socially transformative effects of the programme.

"When you first get them into the recording studio they're terrified to go into the booth, but if you work with them and build trust with them, they just fly, and within three months they are on stage playing to 500 people. It's incredible," he says.

"One of the other key things that surprised me is that you see all the schools communicating - when I was at school in Glasgow we were quite territorial.

"You see all of them at the gig, you have 17 schools who have been contacting each other and Facebooking each other, and the gig becomes a massive social event. When they're working on things you would expect them to be quite bitchy with each other, but instead they're all really encouraging."

Gilad Tiefenbrun, managing director of sponsor Linn Products (who is himself a keen guitarist and amateur band member) says: "The music industry offers a wider variety of jobs than many people realise.

"Behind The Noise opens school kids' minds to possibilities ranging from performing and producing music to promoting and organising gigs.

"And because music is easy to export given the global reach of the web, and the enduring appeal of Scottish bands worldwide, the programme's success can benefit the economy."

Capuano and colleagues are now busying themselves looking for more funding, the ideal scenario being that they will be able to offer a service that works out at a cost of about £3000 per school for free.

He declares himself "very hopeful" about sourcing funds from Creative Scotland because the scheme "covers so many aspects of their [funding qualification] criteria, from performance, to arts events, to transferable skills, and it ticks boxes on the Curriculum for Excellence".

He adds: "A recent survey of 130 Behind The Noise students displayed that many feel the project has increased their confidence, communication, organisational skills and their ability to work within a team.

"It also lets students meet with pupils from different schools and backgrounds. The positive impact of this is displayed in their support and encouragement towards each other at the shows and via positive commenting online. The survey also shows that over 50 students have started new bands or projects since taking part."

For him, one of the qualities that makes the project likely to flourish is that is does not require much top-down imposition.

He says: "We feel that we are only the custodians, the kids themselves have taken ownership of it. They come to us for advice, but they take on the responsibility and they move it from the initial phase of excitement and terror from coming into the studio to what are full-on professional gigs, with changeover times of six or seven minutes.

"The atmosphere of the place on performance night is electric, and the recorded tracks that have been uploaded on internet audio platform SoundCloud have had an astonishing 33,000 combined plays over three weeks."

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