Music Ally’s Steve Mayall talks learning: ‘I tend to trust consensus and time’

Training and professional development are an increasingly important part of Music Ally’s business thanks to our Learning Hub. MD Steve Mayall explains the background to this expansion, and how we think about learning in a music industry context.

Why is learning important?

It’s literally life changing. It wires the connections in our heads and it enables personal connections in life. Opens doors. That kind of thing. It’s hard to understate the importance of it. But also it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not something you necessarily do in a classroom or get accreditation or even recognition for. It’s a lifelong thing we all do.

A problem has been when the approach to learning doesn’t fit the learner – which is probably something we’ve all experienced. If you enjoy the experience of learning then it’s a creative flow.

Do you remember when you first started thinking about learning for Music Ally?

With Music Ally we quickly saw that people liked reading our stuff but often felt it was too much information, and so wanted something that was more of a bespoke session to explain what it all means for them or their staff.

This morphed into training, which could also be seen as bespoke consultancy – ‘come in and workshop with our staff how we can learn from all of this information’. So in some ways the whole learning side of our business is an extension of the information we put out every day. 

But also a big part of what we’re doing is around community. People who read Music Ally, particularly in the early days, were a community of digital music people.

And while we’ve always been a mouthpiece for that community, we’re also a sounding board and so we’re learning from each other as well. Which for me has been especially important as I was never taught how to run a business .. It’s something I’ve learned from talking to other people who are in the same boat.

What have you learned about how people learn best in a professional setting?

Different people learn in different ways. You can learn from reading, or observing, or discussing, or doing – probably all of those things in combination. Learning a language is different from understanding how to build a great marketing campaign.

There’s active learning, like sitting down to study, and also more passive knowledge building where you might also need to use intuition, stemming from general accumulated knowledge or assimilated wisdom. There are a lot of components and it’s definitely not prescriptive.

A big part of all that is trust, whether it’s reading or observing or listening or talking. Who do you trust to have sound advice?

We’ve had a lot of opinions fed into Music Ally over the years about things we should do as a business (Liter Ally was nearly a thing, for example) or people we should partner with, but are they good ideas? In the end it comes down to trust, not just personally but also is there wider trust in someone or an idea?

And time is the other thing. We’ve seen a lot of ideas come and go and so it’s probably wise not to jump on the first new hype that comes along. But if something or someone’s been around for a while then it’s got to be doing something right, or have a sound sense of what’s what.

So I tend to trust consensus and time. If those two things are in place then I’m open to learning from that source in whichever way works.

I should also give a nod to the CLOCK programme which we’ve been supporting and working with for years. Do check that out for something that’s potentially revolutionary – we’ve partnered with them on a DFE funded programme to develop music business skills for Londoners.

How are you approaching learning at Music Ally now?

We’re turning what was an editorial / words driven business into more of a content company that’s focused on information as a tool for learning rather than as a means to drive ad revenue. That’s an important part of our overall ethos. How information can be used by our community to help evolve this business 

There’s the wider-angle aspect of the modern business that’s important – copyright and ecosystem primarily. And then there’s the zoom-in to where things are moving fast – call it audience or digital marketing.

We’ve learned that where things move fast we need shorter and more agile content that can be updated and tagged so there’s corresponding material to give additional context.

The team needs to be on top of, if not ahead of, anything new that comes up so we’re constantly using tools, working with clients on marketing campaigns and where possible feeding all of this back into the learning content.

How are attitudes towards professional learning and development changing in the music industry?

I would say this, but I’m pretty sure that the music business is way behind where it ought to be in terms of L&D. We were the first industry to get really clobbered by digital transformation and have had to adapt and evolve without any comparable industry steer for guidance.

The classic canary in the coalmine, where other media businesses have been able to learn what not to do from the music business missteps.

And since money, success and growth have come back into the industry we’d expect to see a level of investment in sharing best practice, understanding trends, and building relevant staff training but we’re still not seeing that to any great degree.

But of course do get in touch if you’d like to chat about this!

How do you think professional learning could develop in the future? What technologies or trends are you excited about?

We’ve seen a boom in online learning with platforms like Coursera aggregating courses in all sorts of areas. It was huge a few years ago but was probably a bit overhyped.

Online courses have a place, but people want to learn in different ways, which is why we feel community learning is important alongside good relevant materials.

But going forward, the biggest change is going to come through an acknowledgement of the importance of lifelong learning alongside the development of micro credentials which can be built on for life.

Getting a degree doesn’t really prepare many people for work, but continual smaller accreditations that can be recognised, can help someone transfer skills, build confidence, connections and prepare you for whatever you choose to do next are going to be transformational.

We’re just at the start of that and it’s going to change the way we look at both education and – as portfolio careers become more important – work as well.

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