Death Metal Underground

University offers degree in heavy metal, and not all are thrilled

by Rob Jones
May 27, 2013 –

heavy_metal_foundation_degreeNew College Nottingham in the UK have recently announced that from September this year they will be offering students a foundation degree in Heavy Metal.

“We’ve created this pioneering course in response to student demand and Nottingham’s growing music and creative economy. At its heart is music performance so students will be forming bands, gigging and promoting, while academically delving into what makes metal such a music phenomenon. Applicants will be auditioned and will need to demonstrate an ability to play or sing up to Rock School, ABRSM or Trinity Grade 5 standard and have knowledge of music theory at ABRSM Grade 5,” the school announced in its class syllabus.

Further, New College opined, “Due to the largely unstructured nature of the music industry, the FdA in Music Performance (Heavy Metal) places a strong emphasis on the development of entrepreneurial skills designed to allow the students to work confidently on a self-employed basis.”

As supportive as I am of the growing area of metal studies in academia, this course sounds like a terrible idea – unless of course it consists of 21 hours a week forced listening to and analysis of Demilich’s Nespithe, in which case it’s worth every penny.

A budding metal musician would be much better off getting a degree in music – whether at a predominantly classical or jazz institute, they will get a much broader grounding in the theory and history of western music, and thereby understand better which bands and ideas are good and which are garbage. By the way, for those that don’t know, Grade 5 Rock School is not a very high benchmark for musicianship at all.

I’m sure that the college believe they are helping facilitate people into a niche and commercially lively area of the economy, but I wouldn’t be as optimistic as they are.

Its been a long time since the UK produced a viable classic metal band that could draw in a consistent crowd (let alone produced a noteworthy scene or movement), so its hard to think of a stable, growing sector in the UK metal economy other than Iron Maiden’s stage crew. Remember also that most metal musicians the world over will at least have to supplement their income with other work, if not wholly support their music through a day job. It’s also not as though, when business is slow, you can go play a few weddings or open mics when your stock repertoire consists of Slayer songs and originals that are probably only Slayer rip-offs.

I could of course be completely wrong about it; but if it were my kid choosing their degree — £7,000 a year for something that will only look bad on their CV — I don’t think I’d be too quick to let them test out the possibility of me being mistaken.

No quality metal band before now ever required this qualification to propel their career in the right direction or provide them with worthy scene credentials, and that will probably remain the case.

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7 comments

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  • bitterman

    What’s really lame is the “Music in Context” part of the course, where censorship, violence, aesthetics, and gender issues are going to be discussed. On aesthetics, they’re probably going to force feed the students some crap about how mixing shoegaze and black metal is acceptable because “metal is a brotherhood and… tolerance man!”. I don’t understand what gender issues surround metal. Bolt Thrower, Derkéta, Mythic, and others seem to have no issues with having female members. They’re probably going to pressure students into recognizing bands like Kittie and Otep as being metal based on some feminist stance. Also, learning about the “Heavy Metal Industry” is a bit of a joke as well. The “industry” right now is Earache, the biggest name in early extreme metal, who got their bands distributed or licensed to Majors like Sony and Colombia (even my Cadaver In Pains CD came out through Sony/Relativity here in the USA), has to rely on scamming past artists with their reissues and asking for crowd funding. Nuclear Blast and Century Media make their new artists sign “360 deals” where the label cuts in on all their profit in exchange for sending them out on tour, so they could “live the dream”, which is the only reason why these labels are at the top of the food chain. Roadrunner got bought out by Warner Media who is basically re-purposing the label as a home for Porcupine Tree esque bands and radio rock further than even Roadrunner has during the Fear Factory/Sepultura Roots days, but had to close down offices worldwide to do so. Metal Blade, the biggest “bank” out of all the metal labels, signs artists based on trends then immediately disposes them when the trend starts dying, going as far as signing bands now based on their facebook likes or youtube views, sending them online contracts and impersonally sending them on tours, making the artists “money makers for semi-hire”. Making a living in metal now is a joke. Even an interview I read with a current Metal Blade band (forgot who, but big enough to tour with Slayer and Marilyn Manson on the Mayhem Fest Tour) suggests they collectively make less than a Burger King manager. I have to hand it to Darkthrone. Sure, they’ve been awful since 1995, but at least they’re smart enough to have jobs outside of getting drunk, recording 80s retreads and then shipping it out for NWN boards “true” fanatics.

  • Adrian Ganter

    This is awesome! Sign me up! Who wouldn’t wanna be educated in Heavy Metal? I was gonna do it the good old fashioned way like Matt Heafy and other great metal guitarists/vocalists and practice hours on end every day to a metronome. But this would be awesome to be a part of!

  • fallot

    Yet another convenient example of both academic bloat and the decline of the UK. I like that they use a picture of a black girl with dreadlocks to signify a metalhead, very fitting. bitterman you are absolutely right, but I would be extremely surprised if this stuff was limited to that part of the course. I would expect a steady stream of `critical` discourse in every part of this course.

  • Carg

    All of these inane “metal” courses being taught in our universities/colleges are only drawing attention away from the real deal – there are lots of new bands popping up in the UK who, bored of the crap that’s been coming out for decades, are just playing back-to-basics Heavy/Speed Metal. Forged in Black (formerly Merciless Fail), Risen Prophecy, Toledo Steel, and Wytch Hazel were all formed in the past few years (and those are only the bands that I’ve seen/played with); nobody hears about these bands because the press is filled with bollocks like this “foundation degree”. Something tells me I should start doing a zine for the NNWOBHM.

    Hundred were asked to play a festival in Greece next year, and we’ve only been gigging for two Summers. Give it five years, and Britain will reclaim the Metal Throne, regardless of (despite?) this ridiculous “degree”.