- by Gregory Burns -
If, like many others, you have just finished a three year stint at one of the UK’s many ~fine institutes of further education~ then you will no doubt have recently received your final degree classification.
And by now, you've probably already made plans to find the nearest dispensary of intoxicants either to celebrate your well-deserved grade (paid for with blood, sweat, tears, and your eventual three grand overdraft) or to attempt to erase the memory of which uni you even went to (let alone what grade you got) only to wake up in the morning with a dry brain and a looming sense of despair as to how you’re ever going to pay back your student loan now that you’re only qualified to work in Café Nero.
Or you’re like me, one of the in-betweens. The ones who thought they were probably going to do better than they did, but actually ended up with an okay grade, and now have pretty much given up giving a shit.
My post-college choice was to spend the next three years working my way through a music degree at a fairly respectable uni just north of London. And while I would be the first to agree that the words ‘music degree’ and ‘working’ are generally not uttered in the same sentence, I feel I genuinely did put in the hours, especially toward the end of my final year.
Now, I know they say, “if you want to study art, don’t do an art degree,” but I believe there is a flipside to this. While I don’t feel talent, imagination or intuition can be taught, I’d say there is some technical knowledge to be gained from taking any creative course, giving you the tools to make the process of realising your artistic endeavours, easier.
But, depending on what course you do, at some point you're going to realise you’ve gained enough of this knowledge to start to do your own thing, and do it well. You no longer want to be contained within the confines of university, craving some ‘real life’ merit for your work. Inevitably meaning University becomes nothing but a drag, anchoring you down from launching into the promising future you can almost taste. This moment came for me in the last semester of my final year, but I gritted my teeth, buckled down and saw it through, for better or worse.
Overall, I did enjoy the university experience. Thanks to that place, I met individuals that I know have shaped the course of my life forever, and I would definitely recommend my particular degree to anyone that asked.
However, I think I truly learnt more about university in the approximate 20 seconds it took to read over the feedback sheet of my final major project, than I did in three years of study.
For said final project, I wrote and produced an entire concept album; the soundtrack to a 1980’s action B-movie of my own invention. (Needless to say, the examiners should have counted themselves lucky, I could’ve easily gone far more meta.)
I won’t go into detail, but the marks and corresponding feedback that eventually made their way back gave me a pretty strong indication that whoever marked it had kinda missed the point, and had marked me down due to this confusion, consequently bringing my overall grade down quite considerably.
To a 68.
And an overall degree classification of a 2:1.
But you know what?
In my own mixed-up way that actually gave me a great sense of comfort.
Maybe I should have just played it safe and gone for a much simpler concept, or just gathered together a ramshackle collection of half-finished songs sitting on my hard drive and flung some nonsensical thematic jargon into a Comic Sans emblazoned printout to accompany it.
But I pushed the boat out because I'd had the passion to create something different... and was consequently chastised for it. And, as cliché as it sounds, that actually meant so much more to me than that grade on the paper staring back at me.
It made me feel like an artist.
I’d made something that people didn’t get, and was subsequently written off because of it, and while I am by no means comparing myself to the now revered artists and musicians considered “misunderstood” in their time, that idea did spark something that resonated within me, giving me a great sense of pride.
And so I thank you university, for showing me the true merit of my work means more than a number assigned to it, and for inspiring me to carry on making music and love what I’m doing.
And to all you frustrated recent-graduates out there, or anyone that just feels like they’ve been a bit shat on by their university; do not despair. At the end of the day you still have a degree, and if your future plans mean that that is required, the truth is they’re actually unlikely to be looking at the grade.
So, 2.1, 2.2, or even a uni dropout and proud, just know that a number by your name does not define you or the worth you have as a creator. What truly matters is what you're able to do, create, represent and stand for, completely independent of and in disregard of that number.
And, you know, if like me your plan is to become a nomadic musical mountain-man, living off the land and foraging for nuts and berries in the great wilderness, then I can’t really imagine a degree is going to count for much anyway.
Greg plays drums, guitar, bass, piano, harmonica, ukulele and synth in a handful of bands (of which I am in 3!), is a freelance producer and composer, and proud owner of a 2.1 degree in Music Composition and Technology from the University of Hertfordshire.
Find Greg's music on Soundcloud here.