Point Blank is probably the most well-known name when it comes to DJ and production schools
It began in London in 1994 and has grown to become the go-to place for creatives interested in electronic music and media. With a jam-packed roster of accomplished graduates a Los Angeles branch and a recently opened second London premises, we caught up with founder, Rob Cowan to get the inside story of Point Blank.
MoS: Talk us through the history of Point Blank, how and when did it come about?
Rob Cowan: Point Blank originally started as a recording studio in Greenwich in 1994. I had previously been a bass player with a band called Honeychile, signed to Sony, and then worked as a studio engineer for a large commercial studio called Matrix. I worked with acts including Sasha, D:Ream and Blur. It was the early 90s! I then set up the recording studio which quickly morphed into a school. Clients would come in to record their tracks and were interested to learn how the gear worked themselves. I would explain exactly what I was doing and that's how the courses got started. We developed music production and DJ courses out of these sessions and these still remain at the core of what we teach today. We soon ran out of space at Greenwich (I was using the vocal booth as my office!) so we moved to our current location in Hoxton where we built our first state-of-the-art training complex and developed a wider range of courses, including singing, songwriting, radio broadcasting, music business and live sound.
The London school has just undergone an expansion, what are some of the new additions?
We've just opened our second building in Hoxton which is a fantastic new facility for learning electronic music. We now have a total of 11 training rooms, 4 production studios plus practice rooms. All the studios in the new space open up into a large communal area called 'the Hub'. The students use this to chill out between classes and network with each other, and we also hold regular masterclasses there for up to 100 people – something we were not able to do before for space reasons. We've also got some very tasty new equipment for the students to learn on. It really is the best on the market. This includes an SSL 48 channel duality delta mixing console, and all the latest kit from Pioneer DJ, Native Instruments and Ableton. We also needed this space to allow us to run our newest course: the BA (Hons) Music Production and Sound Engineering degree. This is a very exiting step for us as now students will not only gain from the hands-on training we are known for but can earn a degree in the process validated by Middlesex University.
What sets Point Blank out from other music schools?
Apart from the building and the facilities, I would say two things are hugely important. The quality and experience of our instructors and our close links with the music industry.
All of our instructors have enjoyed their own successes in the music industry (Grammy and Ivor Novello award winners among them) and have worked with many massive artists such as Bjork, Pharrell Williams, Amy Winehouse, Swedish House Mafia to name a few! Just as importantly they are extremely passionate about what they do and love passing on their skills to the next generation. We also work very hard to ensure our links and opportunities for students in the real world are tangible. That's why you'll often see Point Blank masterclasses at Sonar, ADE, IMS Ibiza with artists such as Ritchie Hawtin, Pete Tong, Nile Rodgers - the list goes on! Every week we post work opportunities on our blog exclusively for students, including studio placements, DJ gigs, performance slots, industry internships and more. You can see them all here. Often 100% of our radio course students find work in the industry and we are very proud to have helped them on their way. Not only with the training but by putting opportunities in front of them which they can take advantage of.
We have our own record label, Point Blank Music. This gives our students the chance to get the music they make during the course actually signed and gaining exposure via our label channel. We also receive briefs from advertisers which our students can pitch for. Many students have kick-started their careers in this way including Jake Warren who created the soundtrack for a global Swatch / MTV campaign and now has a very successful career in the sound to picture industry.
Who are some of the success stories that have passed through your doors?
Ok. Where do I start? The highest profile ones are as follows. Claude VonStroke, Leona Lewis, Izzie Bizu, Goldie, Aluna Francis (AlunaGeorge), Nicole Moudaber, Gemma Cairney and quite a few more too. However, it's not all about the big names. I often meet students at events who tell me PB changed their life - which of course is lovely to hear! One chap came up to me at Sonar last year and said the course had inspired him to pack in his job in Texas, move to Berlin and become a professional DJ and producer. And he's making a success of it too. This is what it's all about.
You offer online and in person courses, how do the courses differ, what are the benefits of each?
The core content of our courses is very similar whether you are studying in London, our new school in Los Angeles, or online. You benefit from the same high level of expert course content, tuition and instructors. The online school is perfect for those that can't make it to London or LA, and is modelled around the intimate face-to-face learning we deliver in London and Los Angeles. We hold masterclasses with the whole group and instructor which are recorded so you can catch up if you miss a session, and we schedule one-on-one Skype tutorials with each student at a time convenient for them.
Students will come to the school in London in order to take a validated degree course but the facilities and training in both London and LA are of the same high, exacting standards – the best in the world. And the nightlife's not too bad in those cities either!
I’m a complete novice, I don’t know a crossfade from a cue button, can you teach me to DJ?
Absolutely! All our courses are designed for compete beginners upwards so you needn't have any prior knowledge at all. We can teach you all the skills you need to know including drop mixing (cueing up one record after another) and beat matching (where you blend in two records together at the same time). However, DJing is not just a technical pursuit! You have to know your music. We help you to understand how to build your set, what records to bring in and where, how to recognise and use musical phrases and keys. All of this is crucial if you want to be a great DJ.
If one of our readers is interested in learning a new skill, they’re interested by electronic music, but they’re not sure what aspect they’d be suited to, what course would you recommend for them?
To make a useful recommendation we’d first need to find out what makes your reader tick. For example, what music they listen to, what clubs they go to, what their aims and ambitions are and what are they like as people. It's vital to match the right course to the right person so there isn't a generic answer I could give you here, however we do have a team of Course Advisors who really enjoy speaking to prospective students and helping set them off on the right path for them.
How can our readers get involved?
That's easy. Visit our website to see the whole range of courses. You can also access free content including free online courses, free plug ins, templates and samples, and book a tour to visit the school and meet the team in person via the contact form. There's also really interesting digital content going up on our blog PB Plus on a daily basis, from artist masterclasses, to competitions, to job opportunities, gear reviews, the list is endless. You can also join our online community 'Plugged In'. It’s a global network of music-makers and listeners, where you can connect online and post your tracks for feedback from our instructors and the rest of the community. The best thing about all of the above is – it’s absolutely free!
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