24.10.2022: To mark National Care Leavers Week, award-winning recording engineer and MPG Executive Director Matt Taylor, discusses making the music industry a visible career path for those leaving care.
This week is National Care Leavers Week, a week designed to celebrate the achievements of those who have lived in the care system but also to educate and shift attitudes.
In June this year, I stood blinded by stage lights because the music production community – my industry, my vocation and avocation, the passion that has captivated my entire adult life – decided to present me with the 2022 MPG Rising Star Award.
But for all the applause, all the adulation, the validation, I suddenly became aware of the thousand cuts I had suffered to break that glass ceiling. A care leaver had never won a Music Producer’s Guild Award before, and I am a care leaver.
For a long time, those words felt like foreign objects in my mouth. It’s not my identity, but it is an inescapable part of who I am. Although we may embody the ‘keep calm and carry on’ spirit, the grim reality is that the care system’s scars leave a lifetime of feeling ignored, overlooked, and demeaned.
I love my industry. It’s unique because once you’re in, your lack of connections, money, intelligence, or even nepotistic relatives becomes irrelevant. All that matters is your passion, commitment, and work ethic.
But, of course, to showcase these traits, you must first get your feet in the door. This is the biggest obstacle for care leavers. Unlike any other young person starting out in the music industry, we have to do it with ZERO support – no family, no money, no stability, nothing. Just suitcases full of horrific trauma that were expected to anaesthetise. And trying to clear these barriers can feel like playing snooker with a rope.
A lot can be revealed about an organisation by the statistics they keep. This is because they only track the data on the things they care about, the things they want to change.
After all, numbers don’t lie! When UK Music asked me to do this blog for NCLW, I enquired about any numbers on care leavers in the music industry to write about these barriers and how to demolish them. But I found there were none. The truth is it had never crossed anyone’s mind to collect them before. It was difficult not to allow these old wounds to reopen, but it’s not their fault.
I suspect the only reason why this has never been given any attention is that there has never been anyone within the structures of UK Music with care experience.
A friend told me the other day, ‘you have to be the change you want to make’. Something I’ve always known instinctively but never been able to articulate in such a great way. My presence and persistence to raise awareness and keep reminding people we exist have meant some positive changes are happening.
The remarkable thing about UK Music is when their attention is drawn to an important issue, they jump in with both feet. Ultimately, this will be a success when groups like the UK Music Diversity Taskforce start including care leavers in their diversity campaigns. In the future, I hope that data will start to be collected on their survey too. Because until the music industry is an accessible place for us, it will never achieve its goal of an equal, diverse, and inclusive workforce.
When I accepted the award, I said: “I may be the first care leaver to win, but I’ll make sure I won’t be the last’. I don’t know how I’ll achieve this, but it’s not about getting another care leaver to win an MPG Award. It’s about making the industry a viable career path for those from my background. Not just removing barriers, because some can’t be removed, but understanding them.
Helping those scars of feeling ignored, overlooked, and demeaned begin to fade. The response from everyone after that speech was moving, so I know my industry wants to make this change. So for now, I will continue on like a broken Elvis Presley record telling people, ‘a little less conversion, a little more action please’.
- Matt Taylor is a recording engineer and executive director of the MPG.