Paul Epworth and Jamie Hartman on TheWRD and breaking music industry barriers

Oscar and Grammy winning producer Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence and the Machine, Rihanna, Kate Nash) and 2021 Ivor Novello Songwriter of the Year Jamie Hartman (Will Young, James Bay, Kylie Minogue, Rag’n’Bone Man, Lewis Capaldi) have spoken to Headliner about their support for TheWRD, a new initiative launched in association with The Ivors aimed at helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds kickstart their career in music.

Backed by the biggest players in the music industry, TheWRD is a further education course offering young people the chance of building a career in this highly competitive industry, with the first intake starting in September 2022.

Following GCSEs, the new pre-degree diploma will be delivered through a combination of an immersive learning platform for remote-learning alongside regular group sessions and mentorship days in local grassroots music venues across the UK.

Students learn online and in person at their own pace on this accredited, UCAS-recognised course, which takes up to two years to complete. The course is designed to give students the skills and knowledge to create new opportunities whether they stay in education, start a career in music – in front of or behind the mic – or in another industry.

Taught and mentored by top music artists, publishers, producers, composers, technicians, marketeers, business executives, lawyers, accountants, graphic designers, publicists and agents and powered by TheWRD’s talent development technology, students will have a unique opportunity to chart a more fulfilling career in the creative industries.

Speaking to Headliner about the origins of the initiative, TheWRD CEO Ian Mack explained:

“We started it primarily to help young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds – I came from a tough upbringing in Barnsley and I had to move to London to start my career. I was very fortunate to have a career that’s brought me here, but lots of people are not so lucky. So, I reached out to Paul and Jamie and [co-founder] Howard Monk and said we need to do something about this – how can we open access for young people? We knew enough people to get this happening, and that was five years ago. That’s how it started. We just want to help as many young people as we can.

“I would say the biggest barrier for a lot of young people is lack of confidence. People from my neck of the woods don’t tend to make a career in music, they think they can’t get on in that career. We want them to know that TheWRD is here for them and that all these people are here for them. I want people to have the belief and confidence to go for it.”

Here, Epworth and Hartman discuss their involvement in the project and their own beginnings in music…

How did you get involved with TheWRD?

Paul Epworth: Ian Mack and Howard Monk, who set this up, are old friends of both of us and initially they came to us to explore the idea of offering content or advice and being mentors for the programme, but the more we realised how important it was and how it was addressing the gaps in the education system, the more time we’ve invested in it. It’s such an amazing project to be involved in. Neither of us had conventional routes to where we are in the industry, most people don’t. It’s not like you do well in your exams and then you’re guaranteed a job in a record company or as a record producer, it’s all about merit and experience. What this does allow us to do is pass the knowledge onto these kids, especially at a time when arts education is being cut so severely after a period of austerity, and there is no youth outreach, no youth clubs, which are all the things that got me started. This fills all the gaps in that situation, and it means kids might have the opportunity to go to university or to get jobs, so it opens the door if you have hopes and aspirations.

Jamie Hartman: Today is the first real industry announcement and from here it rolls out. It’s industry wide and kids are going to hear about this from the artists and that’s the best way in. If their heroes and people they connect with are communicating it, that’s great. We just put 20 kids from Centre Point through this and if you talk to them they’ll tell you how it was. We can talk about it as much as we like, but if a 17-year-old kid from Centre Point says that was worth every second and I now understand I can be a manger, a publisher or a label head – it’s not just about being an artists – then that’s great. Across the summer we will be opening up the enrolment, and it’s means tested so if you can’t afford it it’s government accredited, so it’ll be paid for. We wanted to open it nationwide to everyone.

How did you make the leap to being professionals?

PE: That’s the thing, you never take a conventional path. I played in bands, I did a bit of DJing, I did live sound, I worked in studios. Sometimes I was a tour manager, sometimes I was a guitar tech, but through that process I learnt all these skills that I could use as a producer later on. They are unorthodox paths, but if you give these kids the confidence to trust the unorthodox path as part of the programme, and for them to hear these stories, that should give them confidence and encouragement to fulfil their aspirations.

JH: I grew up in a fairly middle class background, but we fell on hard times and I found myself busking on Portobello Road and Oxford Street and like Paul I had a very roundabout way of getting here. I won the Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter of the Year last year, two days before my 50th birthday. That’s how long it took me to get here and I’ve been doing this since I was 19. Knowledge is hard-earned, and if it’s worth sharing it’s usually hard-earned. Also, kids learn and relate in a different way to me, so we can talk to them but the other thing that is great is that this programme is designed for the way kids learn today. It’s not done in an hour-long chunk, it’s done in bitesize bits that genuinely get across the important points – avoid this, swerve this, learn that. That’s much more specific and relatable.

Does the plight of grassroots venues also close avenues to the music industry?

PE: Absolutely. The routes of access are being reduced. The venues have gone, and a lot of the pubs and youth clubs have gone. I was lucky that when I was young my mum could afford £500 for me to do a sound engineering course, three days a week for eight weeks. The rest of it was just doing the job. How do you get the experience now to get the job? The routes to market are definitely reduced and TheWRD is looking to address all these issues.

Are you encouraged by the fact that even though there are still major challenges for new artists and music industry professionals, there are at least moves being made to address them?

PE: Definitely. Something needs to happen, otherwise the industry becomes exclusive to those people who have route to access, and that’s not representative of music or the demographic of the country. The next genius might not have a way in.

You can find out who won what at this year's Ivor Novello Awards here. And you can read our in-depth interview with Epworth on his career to date and his approach to songwriting and production here