Urban Development nurtures grassroots talent and emerging artists. The organisation’s founder and director Pamela McCormick reveals what it takes to make it in music.
The music business is a tough game. Regardless of how talented you are, it takes bucketloads of resilience and a willingness to work every one of your contacts, to gain a foothold in the industry.
But what if you don’t have any contacts or any idea of how the industry works? What if you haven’t had access to the western classical training route which sets so many on the path to a professional career – or have no interest in it, preferring to immerse yourself in urban music instead?
Eighteen years ago, Pamela McCormick recognised the disconnect between emerging underground artists – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – and the music industry and did something about it.
After a career working in music promotion in Edinburgh, Paris and London with John McLaughlin, Katia Labèqu, Courtney Pine and DJ Pogo, McCormick wanted to help those who didn’t have access to opportunities to connect with the industry.
“I had a sense that I could use my experience and be a conduit between the industry and those artists who hadn’t really been supported up until that point,” she says.
The first seed was sown when McCormick secured a grant of few thousand pounds to support emerging black artists. The initiative was a success and UD began to take shape as grassroots talent development organisation.
Since then it has grown enormously in scope and stature. It now helps at least 3,000 young people at all at different levels of their careers. Labyrinth, Little Simz and Devlin have all enjoyed UD support.
UD covers many bases in talent development. There’s the UD Foundation, a charity that equips young people with the skills to write, record and perform; a vocal collective called Urban Flames; Urban Accelerator, a scheme that provides A&R, marketing and publicity support to artists further advanced in their careers; and UD Music, which provides professional opportunities for urban artists.
“Even though we’ve grown over the years my original vision to bridge the gap between the industry and emerging artists hasn’t changed,” says McCormick who has no intention of resting on her laurels. Instead she’s busy plotting the next phase of UD’s evolution.
Excitedly, she reveals UD has just secured a development deal with Island Records for artists who are 18 plus. Successful performers will be given additional mentoring support from the label.
Ambitious plans are also afoot to create a purpose-built performance centre in Stratford, in conjunction with East London Dance. Much of UD’s work was (and still is) done in schools in the borough of Newham and McCormick believes UD, temporarily based in Kings Cross, belongs in East London.
So far £2million has been raised for the project with fundraising ongoing. The new building on the fringe of the Olympic Park should be ready by September 2020.
It will, McCormick says, be a physical representation of the talent development pipeline.
“A career in music shouldn’t be down to the lucky few,” she says passionately. “I’ve heard people in the industry say ‘talent will always find a way’ but we say ‘talent is everywhere but opportunity is not’.
“We recognise that it needs to be discovered at the early stage. Currently that mechanism in schools is based on the western classical tradition. We’re trying to appeal to a wider group of people.
“We want to create a structure, along the lines of what the National Youth Choir or the National Youth Orchestra offer, for young people interested in pop/urban music and the new centre will help us do that.
“Everyone should dare to dream.”
Here are Pamela’s seven tips for emerging artists
1 Build a body of work, and collaborate with producers, songwriters and other artists.
2 Build a scene around yourself – if you’re a songwriter build relationships with producers at your level.
3 Gig like crazy so you can build an audience.
4 Build your social media presence.
5 At the early stages you have to be a bit of an allrounder and understand marketing and social media as well as the creative side of things.
6 Learn how the industry works and meet people who are already working in it.
7 Build relationships. “From a UD perspective, the artists that have been most successful, people like Labyrinth and Little Simz, have been quite clever at figuring out what they need and the different people who can help them. It’s not necessarily about money but it is about resources. Who can provide them with free studio time? Who can they collaborate with?”.
Read about Urban Flames HERE
Read more about artist development HERE
MAIN IMAGE: Urban Development’s Pamela McCormick. Photograph by Chris Lopez.