The Kids from Fame never had anything on the kids from the Brits School.
Deep in the southern most part of South London, the Brits School is tucked away down some very non descript residential streets, just outside Selhurst Station.
The huge entrance dome with its silhouettes of singers, dancers and performers of all sorts, suggests this isn’t your average British school. On entrance it’s all your dreams (or nightmares depending on how drama diva you are) come true, if as a young kid you dreamed of attending a performing arts school like the infamous Kids from Fame.
As soon as my London360 filming team and I walked through those doors, every one of our senses was assaulted. Loud pop music hit us through blaring speakers, as 14-19 year old students in all levels of hype were doing their thing around us. Dancers in cliques practising their routines, singers rehearsing echoing vocals bouncing through the corridors, excited shrieks and a general level of extreme euphoria. And why not?
These students have excelled in their areas of performing arts and won a place at the Brits school where their former alumni include Adele, Katie Melua, Lynden David Hall, Amy Winehouse, Dane Bowers and Wayne Williams (Another Level), Shingai Shoniwa, Kate Nash, Jessie J, Leona Lewis and more.
We are here today to witness global music star Ne Yo, lead a song writing master class with 100 of the current Brits school music students. Ne Yo has his latest album NON FICTION out on Feb 16th and is in town to promote it. The Brits music students aspire not just to become pop chart stars, but also songwriters and music producers, something that Ne Yo is a triple threat genius at.
Ne Yo himself was spotted after writing hits for numerous American singers like Teedra Moses and Britney, but it was his hit ‘’Let me love you’’’ for Mario that catapulted him into a Def Jam records office, where hip hop mogul Jay Z signed him immediately. It was a time when a few other acts had gone from behind the scene to make it in front as stars themselves. Acts like Timbaland and Kanye West had broken the mold, and were making a lot of money being the main man. Next up was Ne Yo. Quietly confident, relaxed and quiet, not about tabloid hype or exaggerated swagger. He had no need. His superhero gift is song writing, which he’s bloody talented at. His songs have incredibly successful hooks and never fail to have you humming after a single listen.
The Brit school is an exceptional educational institution where students achieve great things in academic, vocational and artistic studies. We overheard excited talk all around us of impending shows and scripts. It is an independent state funded City College for the Technology of the Arts, dedicated to education and vocational training for the performing arts, media, art and design and the technologies that make performance possible. Courses include dance, musical theatre, interactive media, music, digital media, broadcast communication and more and so the music students listened intently as Ne Yo shared stories of his song writing history, mistakes and successes.
His new album Nonfiction has already gained its Billboard. Album no 1 spot. Its often said that once an act makes it, its hard for them to reach deep to write songs about pain and reality that relate to their fans. So clever Ne Yo this time around reached out to his fans on direct message on social media platforms like instagram and twitter to get their personal stories about life and relationships.
One such example he gave the Brits music class was about his fans experience in a nightclub. This fan was in a solid relationship with his girl friend of two years but bumped into a really tenacious girl in a nightclub that just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Even after the fan pulled out a photo of his girlfriend the bolshy nightclub chic took it and scrawled her own telephone number on the back! Neyos advice to his fan was run away from a crazy chic like this! Hence his single ‘’Run’’.
He also revealed to the students that some singles were still based on his personal life. For example his most personal song on NON FICTION is titled “Why” which is about his relationship with the mother of his two children. Ne Yo put his hands up and admitted that he screwed up by being unfaithful to her. ‘’I take ownership of that and poured out my story on my song’’.
Ne Yo admitted that
‘’Writers block happens to everyone. you can write but you have to want to write for you not just your label and fan base. U have to be loyal to what your fans want to a certain extent. I’m not selfish. I know what they want and if what we want is different. But you have to make that choice. Frankly, If it takes you longer than two hours to write a song you’re forcing it so take a break’’. ‘’also I don’t listen to people in the music industry too much. I like real regular peoples comments. You either like it or you don’t. If my kids love it it’s probably cos its catchy and its a hit. My daughter and son are three and four years old so if it catches their young ears I know its good!’’
Of course during the conversation Ne Yo emphasised over and again the need for all the students to learn about the business side of things or they would get screwed over.
‘’I don’t like to write with others songwriters as they tend to squabble over finances after writing one or two words and I can write my own hits, its just not worth the hassle. Learn about the business and contracts. I got bit! I wrote a song for my first album, which never got released but the record label gave it to another singer called Marquis Houston and I heard it on the radio with horror. I fought for my rights as I still owned the publishing and won. Remember if your records are ever on the radio, someone somewhere is making money off your intellectual and artistic content!”
Of course once the floor was opened up so that the students could ask their own questions, (aside from the now always expected student trying to grab a lucky selfie with the star), there were questions about who he’d most like to work with….
’’I worked with Michael Jackson before he passed. He and I had been writing songs over the phone for a while and we’d speak constantly. He’d tell me ‘song no 3 could be better and take the hook from song no 1 and change it like this’. We were meant to record these songs together personally after his tour but alas that wasn’t to be’’.
When pushed on his current favourite acts he pondered for a while before admitting ‘’you should check out new acts , clever acts that make you think. I like what Drake does. He’s clever and deep making you think more than your average act but also not too clever so as to alienate his fans. And of course like most music acts that respect fellow talent I love everything that Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay Z and Big Sean do”.
Reminded by a student about FKA Twigs he jumped to agree that he too loved her. Predictably he chose Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith as his favourite current UK stars. ‘’ I don’t know Ed personally but the fact that he doesn’t have to even be in his video cos he doesn’t look like a pop star is dope’’.
Ne Yo reassured the Brits music class that he had struggled for years before gaining mainstream success.
‘’I’ve worked at fast food places, telesales, you name it, I did it, but the coolest job I had was in Las Vegas on the strip, at the MGM Grand hotel in a show called EFX where I was given the opportunity to sing for thousands nightly’’.
At one point a Brits student asked if he could beat-box for NeYo and subsequently blew us all away with his new age Faith FSX and Killa Kella style human beatboxing. He and the rest of the students were truly a testament to the Brits ethos of developing confident, happy students academically, vocationally, socially and morally so that they leave the School as independent, co-operative, responsible and creative young people with a lifelong interest and ability in learning, the arts, technology and self-development.
I myself know how the years of studying ballet, tap and street dance at my own local dance school instilled in me levels of team work, grace and poise and the cajoles to tackle anything life threw at me. You could easily see at the Brit School that these skills and qualities, coupled with relevant academic and vocational qualifications, were preparing their students to go into further and higher education and the world of work, positively contributing to society.
The worry in recent years has been the recognition that with so many more young people than ever choosing to study in creative arts courses and aspiring to make a life long career in the arts that there simply isn’t space or paid jobs for them all.
The creative industries are worth millions of pounds to the UK economy every year. The government estimates its contribution to UK GDP is 8% and provides 1.8 million jobs in the UK.
The BRIT School is proud of its healthy contribution to this figure through the efforts of its thousands of former students who can be found across a spectrum of employment in the creative industries in general. However, there is an expectation, because of its special and unique relationship with the music industry that some former students will end up making a career from writing and or performing music. So we must keep questioning why the government and arts bodies continue to cut funding for the arts world.
Witnessing the totally relaxed relationship between the Brits students and their teachers was incredible to observe. The head master was so incredibly friendly, upbeat and his enthusiasm that greeted us on entry to the school stayed at level 10 until we left. The school has a unique atmosphere of support and respect, which helps cultivate the ability and talent of their young people.
I didn’t know what to expect with the diversity of the students before my visit. I’ve visited other ‘’stage schools’’ across the city and many of their students often come across as spoilt brats, but the Brits school students were the most diverse mix of ethnicities, classes and genre mixes I’ve ever witnessed and very respectful, helpful, keen and friendly. It felt healthy.
Students and staff have created an open, friendly, flexible, yet rigorous approach to study and even regular visits from stars like Ne Yo just help make these young Brits more worldly aware about their industry. So let’s support the future of our country’s arts talent. Take an interest in British talent and speak up when funding for the arts is cut. A world without music and creative would be unimaginable.
Tourists flock from far and wide to experience the British arts culture. Our performers and production teams are revered across the world. Look at America where the Superbowl, Grammy’s and MT Awards are all produced by British director Hamish Hamilton and his team.
Stay proud of our diverse talent. We’re winning!
FULL NE YO INTERVIEW TRANSCIPT BELOW.
LONDON360 – can you tell us a bit about what you are doing here today at the Brits and a bit about your masterclass and what the main aim of the masterclass was for the kids.
Ne-Yo Ok, I’m here today at the Brit school to do a songwriting masterclass, I guess it was supposed to be a songwriter masterclass but it just kinda turned into a music industry one-on-one masterclass. Uhmm, basically the goal was to get a better understanding of the music industry and what it is to be in the music business and what it is to be a songwriter and what it is to be an artist, uhmm, you know for these kids. I feel like maybe the next Ne-Yo might have been sitting in here, and hopefully I gave him some information that he can use on his journey forward.
LONDON360 – in saying that , what do you want the students today to take away with them?
Ne-Yo one thing, definitely, to learn the business side of the music business, because that’s something that happens more often, in that where a young kid who has talent, who has drive, who is thirsty to get into the business allows that thirst to you know, make him make some really bad decisions, in regard to signing this because I want to get on, or I’ma just trust this person, because I want to get on. No, no, no, the more you know about the business, the less wool can be pulled over your eyes, so to speak, and that there are definitely people out there that are, err… waiting for you to make a mistake so that they can then capitalise off the mistakes that you then made.
LONDON360 – what do you love most about working with young people?
Ne-Yo what I love most about working with young people is just being a source of inspiration. You know, I feel like nowadays just being a person that inspires somebody to do something is super duper important. Because there is not a lot of inspiration to be other than to you know, just being, nowadays. Uhmm, I feel like, especially coming to a place like this. Like I went to a high school like this, I went to a performing arts high school, so for me to come here and share my story and my struggles with them, you know, kinda lets them see first-hand that the dreams that they are following, you can actually accomplish them, it can actually really happen, because I was here just like they are here and it happened for me, so it can happen for you.
LONDON360 – you went to a performing arts high school, what do you think that did for you and how did it helped you with your future in singing?
Ne-Yo going to a performance arts high school helped me focus on what it is that I wanted to do. Now, mind you I went to a performing arts high school for visual design. You know, I didn’t have the confidence to try and step into music yet but being in the school, with those kind of teachers and with those kinds of students, it helped me develop the confidence that I needed to then go ahead and follow my music dreams and I feel like it is in an environment, that is founded on creativity. And I feel like it’s nurturing to the creative spirit. I think there is some amazing things going to come from these kids.
LONDON360 – it’s not often that young people get to hear the grassroots story, that you have given them today about getting into the industry. Do you think more celebrities, or people in the music industry need to speak to young people. What do you think about that?
Ne-Yo Yeah, I definitely feel like more people in the industry should take it upon themselves to speak to the youth. Uhmm to just basically open their eyes to what it really is. You know there is a lot of misconception of the music business. A lot of misconception about what it takes to be in the business, what it takes to stay in the business. Because I run across kids all day long who say: “If I could just get a record deal, all my problems would be over.” – that’s when your problems start! There’s getting the deal, there’s keeping the deal. Okay, you can get a deal and your album will never see the light of day and these things can happen. Like, it’s very important that these kids know what they are getting into before they just, you know kind of get tossed into the deep end of the pool, and you know, are trying to swim.
LONDON360 – do you think that going to a performing arts school determines you getting into the industry, do you think there’s a correlation, do you think they [students] will always make it?
Ne-Yo I will say that, uhh going to a performing arts high school can definitely help you point you into the right direction without taking you to the business now. There’s no guarantee anywhere, you know. No matter what school go you go to, no matter what background, no matter how good you sing, dance, whatever… There is never a guarantee, you know… But I do feel like being in a school like this, being in an environment like this, does help nourish your creativity, does help possibly push you in that direction a little better than maybe not.
LONDON360 – what do you think about the creative industry in London and how do you think it differs to the creative industry in the US?
Ne-Yo I think the creative industry in London speaking about music, because that is, you know, the part of it that I focus on. I feel like the creative industry in London is, there seems to be a bit more focus on the quality of the music than, you know, no disrespect to the States and what happens in the States, I mean I live in the States, of course, but I feel like in the States we have a tendency to get caught up on a scandal and the controversy of the story, of you know of what that person is driving, who that person is dating, how much money they do or don’t have as opposed to focusing on things that are important which is the artist and the music. I feel like out here, or wherever it is, it just seems like the music and the art gets more respect and attention out here than so much the scandal. Mind you, scandal is everywhere. It’s here, it’s in the States, it’s everywhere, but I feel like here the music gets the proper respect in addition to the scandal, whereas, in the States sometimes the music will be you know overlooked for the scandal.
LONDON360 – finally a lot of young people in the UK don’t have the means to go to drama school or music school, so what do you think, in that sense can be done to kind of nurture their talents at a young age. What do you think, what are your kind of views on that?
Ne-Yo if you are a child who doesn’t have the means to come to a performing arts school that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, you know. There are artists who have made it into the business, who never went to a performing arts high school, who never took a singing class, acting class, who simply had a passion for it and took it upon themselves to follow the dream. And that’s really all it takes, you know. Understanding that, it’s not an easy thing, it’s not something that’s going to happen fast, you know, if this is something that you really, really want and you are willing to work for it, you can have it. And that’s true about everything on this planet. If you are willing to work for it, and if you are willing to not ignore the fact that it’s not going to be easy, the difficulties there is going to be, then you can have it, simple as that.