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Changing Tunes – the rehabilitative power of music

We profile a charity that uses music to help people in the criminal justice system to turn their lives around

This is the tenth article in our occasional series on key independent organisations operating within the criminal justice sector which profiles the work of the charity Changing Tunes.

About the charity

Changing Tunes was formed in the early 1987 with the mission to use music to help people in contact with the criminal justice system to turn their lives around. The charity aims to help people unlock their creativity and individual potential via a wide range of music and mentoring programmes in prisons, secure children’s homes and the community. They support people to share their artistic work and lived experience with audiences, helping them to break free from the stigma of their past and to reframe their identities.

Distinctive features

Over the years, Changing Tunes has refined the way it works as all their musical interventions now share the common features described below.

Their music programmes are relational - they use music to build healthy relationships between the charity’s musicians and participants and between participants and the other people in their lives.

Their work is trauma-informed – the charity provides safe spaces for participants to experience the therapeutic benefits of music-making. A substantial number of participants have come to understand something important within themselves, by working on songs that resonate with them. These moments of self-discovery can be pivotal, contributing to better wellbeing and positive choices. Changing Tunes also helps participants to use music to self-sooth and channel emotions, building healthy coping mechanisms and creative outlets.

The music programmes are participant-centred – the charity’s musicians tailor each session to support the needs and potential of each participant. Programmes are designed to help participants express themselves, be it by working on existing songs that resonate with them personally, or by making their own music, drawing on musical and cultural influences that connect to their experience. Many participants become peer-mentors, helping to facilitate our sessions.

A growing charity

Over the last decade, Changing Tunes has developed the range and reach of its programmes with residencies in more than 15 prisons and three secure children’s homes as well as post-release programmes.

Throughout the pandemic, the charity developed a range of distant learning resources to give people in prison who were mainly restricted to their cells for months at a time something constructive and fulfilling with their time. The resources include:

Another recent initiative is the launch of the charity’s own record label and artist development scheme known as Red Tangent. Founded in 2021 with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, the label has been able to sign six artists in its first year, including singer-songwriter Ryan Kershaw, south London rapper Noble1BOF, and the hip-hop/metal collective Wak Therapists.

The aim of the label is to help people leaving prison to enter an industry, which as everyone knows, is hugely competitive in the first place. Having a criminal record is a barrier but so are all the other issues which people who have been in prison often have to contend with – relationships problems, debt, homelessness, drugs and mental health problems etc. The reality is that many talented artists with real potential are very unlikely to be signed by commercial labels and that’s where Red Tangent comes in.

Readers who are interested in finding out more about the work of Changing Tunes can visit their website and listen to the music made by some of the participants either here or the charity’s YouTube channel.

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