Saturday, 14 May 2016

Visit to Salford University & Media City Manchester

(For pictures, scroll to the end of this post)

In the summer of 2012 I visited a few universities and colleges in the UK. I was looking at their music production and media programmes, while at Salford I also wanted to get an impression of both research opportunities and business studies. My Salford visit was during an open-day event, which turned out to be both a good and a bad thing. Good because I got to look around at will (and perhaps detected a lack of planning that I wouldn't otherwise?), and bad because the event didn’t run too smoothly as far as music and media was concerned. (The presentation of business studies ran very smoothly though!) As a result, this post will start off in the negative (taken in good humour on the reader’s part I hope)—but I will climb into the positive towards the end. The bottom of this post shows the Salford media facilities in pictures.

I arrived on campus and many things went wrong. The music teacher who was supposed to show us around did not produce his presence, and another man was unpreparedly pressed into service. We however, were unpreparedly pressed into an over-filled wizard’s archive in the dungeons of an old building where this poor man once had been placed. The next hour was spent listening to one or two really keen brass-players asking about brass-music education. The seating facilities were questionable. I didn’t see a single recording studio. At media city there were no media-teachers available who could talk about the programme nor its facilities. But I got a really friendly tour by an academic staffer from another department. Things picked up a bit! This post, hence, will not deal with music production (the closest I got was brass-music education), but rather media production. However, I did learn that through a private donation Salford University received a large amount of old recordings, memorabilia and I believe printed music—you guessed it; for brass bands! Jokes aside. If you’re a brass-player, or especially, a brass-music researcher, this sort of resources set Salford clearly apart!

The Media City story is impressive. A quick rendition from memory goes something like: BBC had been looking for new and more modern facilities than Broadcasting House in London. A property company wanted to build a facility in Manchester, but BBC was initially not interested. Then the company asked Salford University who said they might be interested if BBC joined. The company spoke to BBC again, who would upgrade their response to ‘potentially interested’ if Salford joined in. A lot of back and forth followed and finally BBC, ITV, Salford University and several smaller players ended up at Media City in Manchester. The area is a modern development with a waterfront, a large hotel, and places to eat and drink.

The media education at Salford has quickly sailed up as one of the most talked about media programmes internationally and I have been curious to visit them for a long time. Other higher education institutions are reportedly travelling from around the world to look at what Salford is doing and create ties with their programmes. Somewhat fiddly though, the music and media education is split across two campuses with media at Media City and the rest still at the old Adelphi Building. I understood there was very little collaboration between the people who held house in the two buildings. This would disappoint me if I was a student, and there is a great scope for very beneficial collaborations between the programmes. A new flagship building for the performing arts is being finished in 2017. Give it 6 months to a year after completion and I’ll believe all facilities will run smoothly.

Two things I have learned about facilities through my own educational journey are: Never judge an institute by the exterior of its buildings. I once attended a renown higher education institute with pristine buildings who didn’t deliver very well on the technical facilities inside the buildings. Salford should be elevated a many steps above that level in professionalism, but my advice is to visit the university yourself to evaluate the progress of any new buildings if they relate to your studies. Talking to current students is naturally a good thing also. The second is, don’t judge close geographical proximity to industry-giants as a sign of actual collaboration with the industry. My own number one alma mater, Leeds College of Music (who is an excellent college!) has a glass-covered bridge running from it’s own building to BBC Yorkshire. I have never collaborated with nor attended lectures by anyone from the BBC. But the first time I rocked up on campus it made my heart beat a little faster.

There are still three good things about having the BBC and other media-companies next door to Salford’s media programmes:
1. BBC and Salford University actually collaborates—but to know how it relates to your studies you should stay up to date on the news from the School of Arts & Media.
2. Thanks to collaborations and proximity it will be easier for BBC to hire graduates from a programme they have worked with. These are programmes where they will know some of the lecturers—lecturers who actually know you!
3. Studying a short walk from the BBC, ITV and the Greenhouse (where many smaller media-businesses reside), it would be easy (for a lucky few) to juggle internships with studies, make connections, or hand off CVs face-to-face.

Salford University has a strong name in media education. What their programmes do differently (apart from having a very favourable location and excellent facilities) I’ll have to wait till my next visit to really find out—when I hopefully get to meet the right people. I would love to tell you more! Meanwhile, I’m watching them with great interest as a university who is placing itself at the forefront of international media education. It’s not unthinkable that other universities may try to replicate the infrastructure Salford is a part of at Media City, and if they have the funding they really should! Even smaller collaborations between local media, education and other organisations would be beneficial for institutes of more modest sizes and means. For media courses at colleges around the world, Salford is positioning itself as an attractive course validator.

Since I didn’t get to meet any key people from music production or media I won’t have any conclusions about the programmes. Perhaps that’s just as well. Salford has got some big building-works going on and you should go there to visit if you consider enrolling. Having seen a college go through a transition from one campus to another once as a student, I remember it as potentially messy. But there is no rule that states this has to be the case. The New Adelphi Building was initially intended to be finished in 2016, but Salford’s webpage now states it will be in early 2017. If that goes to plan, the Autumn-intake for 2017 should have a pristine campus, and the last bugs and challenges should be sorted out by 2018. If it holds the same standard as Salford’s media campus, we have a lot to look forward to and the plans for the place look great. I would certainly love to come back for a visit!

Radio Studios


Standard set-up for radio-interviews and talk-shows. This is the traditional
way and looks just like it did when I first spoke on radio 25 years ago.
This set-up requires a separate control-room and many smaller radio stations
may not have this ability, in which case the show host is operating the
technical equipment themselves while talking.

Broadcasting Control Room

Several disciplines of production working together on the same desk.
Production, image, and sound

Where the producer can see and hear everything going on the air

Maybe image-people can tell me what's going on here, but as a
music producer I'll refrain from commenting :)

A simple audio set-up from a music producer's view. But a good
little set-up for controlling multiple lines of audio from, say, a TV-studio.
High quality audio equipment and close proximity to the rest of the team
(image, producer etc.) for seamless collaboration

 TV Studio

How many universities have their own news-desk?
This is an excellent facility for integration between those who are
in front of the cameras and those who are behind all the gear.
Here's a YouTube link where you can see the studio in use.

Left of the news-desk

Camera. Audio and visual monitoring for presenters. Control room
can be seen through the glass

Excellent connectivity

 Computer Labs

Computer lab with a view

Double screensets



Media Campus Library

Media Campus Library

My type of books :)

Rest of the Media City Area

Salford University, Media Campus

Salford University, Media Campus

The Greenhouse has offices for rent for small creative businesses,
right next door to Salford Uni, BBC and ITV. It is a great way of
facilitating new innovation close to the big media and education

Media City Area

BBC and Salford University at Media City
Photobomb by Andy Murray :)

View by the waterfront

View by the waterfront

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