The BRIT school is the UK’s most well-known music academy and has launched the careers of some of the biggest pop-stars of all time. But is the school an example of a larger class problem within music: people paying their way into fame?
Based in London, the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology is a secondary school that teaches students ages 14-19 to dance, sing and act. Despite what many people may think, the BRIT school is the only performance arts school in the UK that is free to attend and accepts students based on their application and audition. This being said, 90% of the students that the BRIT school accepts must live within the catchment area, the other 10% needing to show “unusual merit” to get in.
The necessity of living in the catchment area (i.e. living in Borough of Croydon where the housing price is around £400,000) arguably means that the school is only accessible to those whose families are well-off.
So, what’s the issue here? Arguably, there is none. The school is free for anyone to attend. Therefore, you could say that the training required to become the next Adele or Jessie J is accessible to everyone. However, the necessity of living in the catchment area (i.e. living in Borough of Croydon where the housing price is around £400,000) arguably means that the school is only accessible to those whose families are well-off.
Additionally, the process of auditioning children as young as 14 puts a lot of emphasis on children being especially talented from the get-go in order to “make it”. As Dave Grohl put it, some of the most successful musicians in the world were really terrible before they start getting better (see Ed Sheeran playing an old song on the Johnathon Ross Show). Many people, such as Grohl, believe that the process of auditioning youngsters from such a young age is damaging the next generation of musicians.
But is the phenomenon of parents paying their children into fame exclusive to the BRIT school? Absolutely not. Behind every other mainstream musician is a wealthy parent who paid a pretty penny for them to be there. Miley Cyrus auditioned with her already famous father for her career-launching role in “Hannah Montana”, Ariana Grande’s father is the CEO of Ibi Designs INC. and even Rebecca Black’s parents paid $4000 for the production of the infamous song “Friday”.
This isn’t necessarily an issue. As learnt from Black, just because a parent pays for their child to have fancy singing lessons, access to a recording studio or a place at the BRIT school doesn’t mean they are going to resonate with an audience. On the flip side, a musician having certain short-cuts into the industry doesn’t make them talentless. Whilst Amy Winehouse may have had an advantage from her prestigious place at the BRIT school, it’s hard to listen to “Back to Black” and argue that her success was not well-deserved.
Ultimately, we live in a world where money and status does have an impact on the likelihood of your success in any field. However, money is not the only way in. Whilst there are many mainstream musicians from privileged backgrounds, the impact of YouTube and SoundCloud is making the Justin Bieber-style success story more and more common. Whilst elitism has and will always exist in the music industry, it is also becoming more and more democratic. Hard-work and talent can never be bought.