Ahead of the Youth Music Awards their CEO Matt Griffiths tells us what the national charity is all about

Matt Griffiths speaks on the Youth Music Awards, highlights of being CEO of Youth Music and where he's looking to take things with the charity

Denzil Bell

29 days ago

By Denzil Bell

The Youth Music Awards are taking place on Wednesday October 16 2019, with the ceremony featuring 12 award categories, including Outstanding Act Award, Original Track Award and Live Performance Award. The ceremony will take place at Battersea Arts Centre, London, where the winners will be announced.

The awards will also be judged by some key industry players, with the likes of AJ Tracey, Julie Adenuga, Rag’n’Bone Man, Octavian, George The Poet, Ray BLK, Bicep, DJ Target, Steel Banglez and Yizzy making up the judging panel.

So ahead of the Youth Music Awards, we spoke to the CEO of Youth Music, Matt Griffiths, to find out more about the ceremony, highlights of running Youth Music and where he’s looking to take things with the charity.

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What would you say is the overall aim of the Youth Music national charity?

Youth Music is 20 years old this year. We are a national charity that works across England. we’re hoping to expand with some new developments being planned for Wales also. But basically what it boils down to is that young people love music; they want to make music, but they are so many people that have got a barrier in the way of being able to do that because of where they live; because of lack of money; because of their own well-being or special educational needs. They have as much potential as anybody else, but the opportunities aren’t there for them to reach this potential. So in essence, Youth Music is about getting to those young people. How we do it, is that we fund around 350 music making projects across England, including youth centres, mental health units and  young offender institutions; we are anywhere we believe music can make a difference in young people’s lives, because we all know that’s what music can do. In terms of our scale, we reach about 90,000 people every year. We also give a lot of advice and guidance on the best way of achieving social impact for youngsters who are in pretty tricky situations.

Why is it important to you guys to focus on ages 25 & under, what is so significant about this stage in our lives?

Well our work starts with really young children, like 0-5 right up to 25 and why? We do a lot of research and we know that the earlier you start making music, the better for you, socially, personally and academically; that’s what music does. It makes you a team player, so the sooner you are able to learn these key life skills, the better and that’s why we focus on young people.

In what ways do you support young adults to build their confidence, resilience and self-esteem?

we support them with all of that. That’s in Manchester, that’s in London, it’s in Newcastle, it’s in rural areas. It might be a young person who is in care or who is a carer themselves, they’ve had a bad experience with their peers, possibly getting bullied, and the programmes that we support apply to that. They tell us what the situation is and who they want to work with, then we help them with money and advice. At the moment, the youth sector is talking to Sadiq Khan about all this bad stuff around youth crime and there’s come crap going on with some politicians who are saying drill is the cause of it. But of course that’s not the cause of it, it’s all sort of complex social and political reasons why this happens. We know through some of our programmes, that when we give young people more positive things to think about and they’re writing lyrics about their experiences and addressing the issues they face, it’s a preventative measure. Music isn’t a hard sell to young people, but many of them just don’t have the opportunity. So we might let them use one of our community studios, some decks or production facilities so that they can have somewhere to make music.

Mental health is a big topic amongst the youth at the moment, would you say youth music are active in this sector as well?

in terms of mental health, in the most complicated situation we have music programmes in secure mental health units. I went to one in Nottingham quite recently and it’s pretty intense with the care and one of the programmes that is really helping is the music sessions. Or it might be young people who have different levels of anxiety, that’s been identified in a youth club and then they do some music together. You’ll know as well as I do I think it’s getting worse with all these pressures: school, attainment, exams and social media amplifies all of this.

What are the main projects you guys are funding at the moment?

Well at the moment we are still funding Reprezent Radio. There’s quite a few community radio stations that we fund, like one in Bradford, Reform Radio in Manchester we support and some of the content that is coming out of their studio is great. We also do quite a lot of work in youth offending institutions with young people who are at risk of committing crimes and there are quite a lot of examples where people have come from negative situations and turned it into a positive.

In terms of the Youth Music Awards, what was the criteria you used for picking the judges?

We picked judges that would really identify with the cause and who related to how it was for them as young people. They go, “I’ll do that because I needed that break when I was younger as well”. Also we do all types of music, so we wanted the judges to be quite broad minded in their tastes. They’ll have a specialism, but they will be open to various genres. And when we initially sent out the emails to get the judges on board, they all come back really easily, which is quite interesting because these things are normally pretty hard.

Why now for the first Youth Music Awards?

Mainly because we are able to support around a third of the projects that want our support. The reason we are giving it a big push this year, is so we can raise more money and in turn reach more young people. We get money from the National Lottery, through Arts Council England and they’ve been supporting us for the last 20 years.  I think in those years we’ve supported around three million young people, but we still want to do more, so we just thought that in our twentieth year it would be a great opportunity to get the word out there, in terms of raising the profile for Youth Music.

What do you hope comes out of doing this awards ceremony?

What we would love is for a contestant who came out of the awards to get picked up by a label or by a reputable manager, that would be great. Also if it gets Youth Music more known, that would be great for the charity as well. A lot of the young people in music go through the classic X Factor route, whereas we’d like to provide an alternative route for these up and coming artists. Sometimes X Factor gives off the impression that success is instant, you get on telly, you win it and you become famous. But of course that’s generally not what it’s about, so we’re trying to say you need to learn your craft, you need to get better at it and then you gradually move onto the next stage.

For you, what have been some of the highlights of being the CEO of Youth Music?

So I’ve been CEO for seven years. I’m only the second CEO, as my predecessor did the first 13 years. So it is the type of role that gets under your skin, and I took it on in 2012. As a leader one of the things I had to do was reshape the charity, things had changed with the government and the country, so the charity had to change along with it. That was quite demanding and rigorous, but in the end it’s gone really well. And I suppose what I’m quite proud of, is that we’ve still managed to keep ourselves efficient, sticking to the main goal which is to get the money out to young people. Also when I go out to the projects and see the youth working together in music programmes, it’s great to see first-hand music making a positive difference in their lives and I suppose that’s what really motivates me.

How do you think your previous jobs prepared you for your current role?

From quite a young age, I’d say from my early teens, I really wanted to be a drummer. I went to music college and I got a degree in music and as soon as I finished the degree, I just went and became self-employed as a musician. This enabled me to get enough money just to get by. And I suppose what’s really driven me, is that I then got asked to do workshops myself in mental health within prisons and special schools with young people, and that was where I saw firsthand the absolute difference music can make immediately and that’s stuck with me through my career, so all of my jobs since then have been in music and young people. So it started of running the workshops and then 10/15 years later I was able to transfer those skills I learned at the ground level to be CEO of Youth Music. You’ve got to understand what it’s like on the ground level, otherwise you could be running an organisation and not know what it’s like.

When it’s all said and done with your time with Youth Music what do you want to have achieved?

Well if Youth Music has done its job, whereby young people can get to make music in their community where they live. If we can get to a point where this is being delivered and set in place to keep running, then Youth Music has completed its mission. So there is this theory, that once you’ve done your job as a charity, should you always exist? 20 years down the line, if we’ve done that, then we’ve in essence achieved what we set out to do. That would be a real sign of success, but the reality behind it is that a lot of people say that we need charities like ours to be able to raise that flag for the cause. The work isn’t going to be complete in the next 10 years and over time it might be that we focus on something else. But there are 150,000 charities in the UK, that’s a lot of charities, but I think the temptation for charities is to be there forevermore to sort of have a profile for themselves. Our job is to make sure that young people can make music. If that gets done better and better overtime, to the point where we can do no more, then we should stop existing. That’s a massive dream, but I believe over time it can be done.

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Interview by Denzil Bell

Follow Matt Griffiths