One: Music Education & Development

Music Education in Schools and Registered Training Organisations (RTOs)

Schools are an essential component to the development of a thriving music scene – through inspiring students to create their own works, encouraging music appreciation and offering a broad range of opportunities for relevant skills development.

A lack of regular music activities within schools was noted across all regions, including dedicated music teachers, the positioning of music within the overall curriculum and in some cases the type of activities that were included in courses. Whilst online support is available, primarily through The Song Room which contains great resources for teachers, this can’t be activated without teacher support. You can have great resources online but they’re of little use if there is no teacher. All groups noted that sport is provided throughout High School whereas different schools offer variable levels of music education.

The NT Sports Voucher Scheme which includes “recreation and cultural activities” has potential to add to music development activities, particularly in remote locations. Every school-enrolled student from preschool to year 12 is eligible for $200 per year. In urban areas parents or carers apply for vouchers whereas in remote communities the scheme is managed through Regional Councils who can select activities from a list of registered providers. As one participant said well, the name says it all – it only mentions sport, not music. As at Oct 2020, from a list of 23 providers, only 5 - or 21.7% - offered music related activities. As at 10/2/2021 the provider list had grown to 283 but only 10 - or 3.5% - offer music and a total of 30 - or 10.6% - provide creative arts activities.

Other concerns included a lowering of standards for beginner students at University level which was seen as contributing to the devaluing of arts and music education, a push away from contemporary to classical music which is not necessarily what industry wants or needs, and that there are very few women or older girls enrolled in Vocational Education and Training music and industry courses, especially in production skills.

Given the contribution of the live music scene to the NT economy, a strong case can be made that musicianship, songwriting and broader music industry skills such as event management, arts administration, event and venue management, and production skills be viewed as “genuine” employment or career paths and prioritised as such within the broader education system.

Availablity of and Coordination Between Remote Music Development Programs

Building a thriving music scene requires regular development activities and opportunities for structured growth including the chance to “have a go.” This is partly why jam sessions and open mic style events are such a critical part of the overall music community, along with music being valued more and better integrated within education curricula. Community choirs, brass bands and ensembles are also great ways to enjoy music, socialise with others and pick up more skills.

All groups commented on the lack of resources for women’s music development. This is not likely to change. What are our priorities? There’s a great need for partnerships, longevity and offering return visits or workshop series. Participants were particularly concerned by the lack of structured, regular music development opportunities, especially in remote regions and the continued reliance on FIFO hip hop or similar programs, often run by interstate providers.

Some participants think there are fewer resources going into regular music development activities now than there were some years ago. Most of the current resources are put into quick fix (mainly) interstate hip hop programs that visit for a week, pump out a video and song or two, leave and then post on their private social media. There’s nothing left with the community other than the video and there can be issues with copyright. These programs don’t provide skills development for locals. They cost lots and this could be put back into regular programs and mentoring programs for mentors.

MusicNT's Divas and Sista Sounds programs were consistently cited as being about the only ongoing music development opportunities for women and viewed as being useful and successful models, except that they lack the resources required to operate regularly enough, especially in remote locations. Nothing happens for women and girls in between Sista Sounds visits and current resourcing means these can only happen in 3 or 4 communities twice a year. Women in our community need a space to practice, consistency and experienced teachers.

Participants commented on the difficulty in engaging with teenage girls and keeping them involved in programs: Men and boys develop their music through all the other male role models and through being able to actively participate. And you run workshops and all the little kids come: the 15+ year old girls are all into TikTok. And we need to start opportunities early and before the girls get shy and too many messages around NOT engaging with music. Whilst this is true for most teenage girls, it is particularly so for Indigenous young women from remote communities. Along with generally being shy, not wanting to stand out from the crowd, and being subjected to harassment or jealousy from males if they do sing or play better, cultural norms and traditions support gender segregation within communities and are further entrenched by sexist beliefs or attitudes. Boys learn from fathers or uncles and whilst a few women might play keyboard or acoustic guitar they are most likely to play or sing with church-based choirs.

Additionally, spaces such as band or music rooms, recording and radio studios are almost invariably occupied by men and boys and therefore off limits for women and girls. Remote schools often have music rooms and equipment but it depends on the Principal and teaching staff how open they are to these resources being used by community or out of school hours. In fact, this is why MusicNT started the Sista Sounds remote music development program for girls and women a decade ago – to provide role models, music development activities and to advocate for community resources to be allocated to support women’s and girls’ music.

There are a growing number of exceptions to the above, the most notable currently being Ripple Effect Band from Maningrida. As band member and manager Jodie Kell said It’s hard not to get kicked off the stage - literally. This is changing in Maningrida as Ripple Effect are now running the PA for more gigs and have learned how to control the stage… When Ripple Effect started up, lots of fellas wanted to play the backing instruments and have female singers but the women wanted to learn how to play instruments themselves and to get their own band together.

Unsurprisingly, where suitably skilled women are employed by RIMOs (Remote Indigenous Media Organisations like PAW Media and TEABBA) or within youth, sport and recreation programs, women and girls are far more likely to participate in activities. The lack of women playing instruments and/or being able to create their own beats or do live electronic mixing was also raised constantly through this consultation and has been raised frequently throughout our Divas sessions which, to date, have mainly focussed on singing, songwriting and stagecraft. “Learn how to sing or play a musical instrument” was one of the most difficult things survey respondents saw for women and girls. For this to occur, women and girls need access to instruments and/or computer programs and to regular tuition. This is well beyond MusicNT's current capacity and arguably our current charter.

As with many industries servicing remote communities, there is little coordination between music development providers. There can be economies of scale when providing blocks of activities across a region and there could be better outcomes if various providers shared more about their objectives and these were better matched with community needs. Identifying and supporting key providers located within the NT rather than continually relying on Fly In Fly Out providers from interstate has clear benefits for musicians and songwriters in remote communities.

Phoebe Wear | Photograph by Steve Kelk for Foldback Media
Phoebe Wear | Photograph by Steve Kelk for Foldback Media

Availability of Local Mentors

We have transient populations across the NT and all groups noted that too often programs stop when the person driving them leaves, especially in smaller towns and communities. It would be great if we could get a musical couple to come and stay. It was great when Rachel was in town for a year – she was a great role model, instrumentalist and singer.

When you create spaces, you need people to manage them – they often fall over when key people leave and all the instruments are locked away. As with schools, there is often infrastructure from regional youth programs setting up equipment and computers with programs such as Garageband as part of remote service delivery, but these need ongoing maintenance and someone on the ground providing ongoing skills development AND ensuring that girls and women can access these.

Divas has been one of the few real development programs in our region, plus Bush Bands which is male dominated. MusicNT has brought in quality female mentors over the years and is continuing to focus on upskilling local mentors, especially Indigenous musicians, to run programs. This has included seeking funding to provide mentor camps which would bring NT and interstate mentors together to learn from one another and extend networks of support.

Supporting the development of local mentors is critical to remote music development, showing that it is possible for local women to lead as well as participate in music. There is a huge need to skill and empower local people to play, write songs, run workshops, produce or stage community concerts and to fix and maintain instruments and other gear.

Initiatives like MusicNT's Sista Sounds and RAMP (Regional Areas Music Program) and Barkly Regional Arts Winanjikarri Music Centre are essential in supporting this but are spread far too thinly. Such programs also need to have agreements and processes in place to support women’s access to instruments, tuition and other resources that are available. Programs need to work with potential female leaders, giving them every opportunity to hone their craft and develop leadership skills to be able to lead in two cultures.

A key aspect of effective mentoring is being able to give accurate yet encouraging feedback. As one respondent put it Be honest. Don’t over inflate ability if not there yet but always support and offer experiences that assist in growth and confidence. This in turn requires the opportunity for mentors and participants to develop trust and rapport with one another slowly and gradually through regular programs.

Desert Divas Showcase 2019 | Photograph by Desirae Grainer
Desert Divas Showcase 2019 | Photograph by Desirae Grainer

Opportunities to Learn Technical and Production Skills

There were many comments around the lack of women in the technical side of the music industry – as sound engineers, running recording studios and labels, live music production, mastering and so on. It can be really intimidating for anyone getting into self-production and recording. It’s hugely male dominated. The ability to get your music recorded maintaining your individual voice is hugely important.

In recognition of this, in 2019 MusicNT provided Production Skills 101 workshops in Alice Springs including designated sessions for female and nonbinary identifying participants. Pending COVID19 restrictions, MusicNT plans to reinstate these and investigate offering them in other locations along with continuing to promote opportunities for women to learn these skills through other courses or mentoring programs.


AIM 1.1

Schools, TAFEs and Higher Education institutions in the NT provide quality music education that teaches relevant industry skills


1.1.1 Lobby the NT Department of Education to provide music teachers in all primary and secondary public schools and for roving teachers through remote regions

1.1.2 Promote the music industry as a viable career option

1.1.3 Advocate for the establishment of a dedicated performing arts college for the NT

1.1.4 Lobby for curriculum overhaul at secondary, Vocational and Higher Education levels, ensuring music industry and development courses are relevant to industry needs and include women’s music in teaching resources


1. MusicNT to investigate developing a music education strategy and to action accordingly

2. MusicNT and industry to lobby the NT Creative Industries Representative Body to investigate the feasibility of a dedicated Performing Arts College in the NT

3. MusicNT and other relevant organisations and individuals to lobby the NT Department of Education to increase the focus on music education and to resource this accordingly

AIM 1.2

Increased enrolments and completions by women studying production, event management or other music industry skills at Vocational and Higher Education levels (see also Aim 1.8)


1.2.1 Collate statistics on music education providers, courses, enrolments and completions across the NT by gender and region over the past 5 years

1.2.2 Review music education statistics annually

1.2.3 Advocate for female identified places and scholarships in music education courses offered at Vocational and Higher Education levels


4. Lobby the NT Department of Education to release relevant annual statistics about NT based music industry and skills development providers, courses, enrolments and completions by gender and region

5. Data around course availability and enrolments is to be used to inform ongoing planning for music development opportunities for women and other marginalised groups

6. Lobby to increase the number of female identified places and scholarships in Vocational and Higher Education music and related courses

AIM 1.3

Increased uptake in the “Sports Voucher” Scheme being used to support music and performance activities in regional and remote NT schools


1.3.1 Promote the availability of the Sports Voucher Scheme to provide music activities

1.3.2 Promote the Sports Voucher Scheme to potential NT based music providers to register with

1.3.3 Annually review MusicNT's capacity to register as a provider with Sports Voucher Scheme

1.3.4 Lobby for the name of the Sports Voucher Scheme to be changed to reflect the inclusion of creative industries and the arts


7. Encourage more NT based music providers to register with the Sports Voucher Scheme, including annually investigating MusicNTs capacity to register as a provider

8. Advocate to change the name of the Sports Voucher Scheme to reflect that it may also be used for music and cultural activities

AIM 1.4

Sustainable, regular, progressive, culturally appropriate music development programs for women and girls, including in remote communities


1.4.1 Increase remote music development programs such as MusicNTs Sista Sounds for Indigenous women and girls

1.4.2 Provide specific workshops for female identifying participants which respond to current needs

1.4.3 Provide appropriate, comprehensive step by step resources for women and girls which can be used to support program delivery

1.4.4 Lobby the NT Education Department, funding bodies, LGANT and remote youth, health and/or community services to contract local or NT music activity providers and provide more regular and sustainable development programs


9. Continued provision of MusicNTs Indigenous Women’s Music Program (IWMP)

10. Extension of MusicNTs IWMP and other artist development programs to include specific workshops for female identifying participants

11. MusicNT to continue creating and sourcing foundational music videos and other resources and links to available materials which support women’s music development

12. Lobbying by MusicNT and others to advocate for the employment of musicians and mentors from the NT to provide regular, ongoing music development activities for women and girls

AIM 1.5

A more coordinated approach to the delivery of music activities in remote communities


1.5.1 Encourage and support the development of “hubs” or other measures which strengthen capacity for women and girls to regularly engage with music in remote communities

1.5.2 Investigate reviving and coordinating a network for remote Indigenous music program delivery


13. MusicNT to continue Sista Sounds and RAMP remote delivery, including implementing recommendations from program evaluations where possible

14. MusicNT to investigate restarting a network of providers of music related programs in remote communities to better coordinate and add value to all efforts

AIM 1.6

Strong, well maintained groups of local mentors with opportunities for ongoing skills development (see also Aim 4.1)


1.6.1 Hold regular mentor training camps for women

1.6.2 Provide opportunities for female mentors from different regions to come together to share skills, experiences and strategies

1.6.3 Provide tailored support for individual mentors within Indigenous and broader women’s music development programs


15. Continue seeking funding for women’s mentor mentoring programs

16. Develop a framework for a comprehensive foundational skills mentoring program with components that can be used to provide individual or tailored mentoring

17. Advocate for continued national mentoring programs for women

18. Continued promotions of mentoring opportunities available for female identifying individuals

AIM 1.7

Accessible, well maintained music spaces for women and girls in remote communities (bands, recording, radio)


1.7.1 Continue to advocate with key remote community and local government organisations and individuals to increase capacity for women and girls in remote communities to engage with music


19. MusicNT to continue Sista Sounds and RAMP remote delivery, including implementing recommendations from program evaluations where possible