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Keeping your options open

I wanted to talk about keeping your options open. While I think this strategy is important for any industry, it is especially the case in music and the arts.

In recent years, I have spoken with a considerable number of students who have set ideas about what they want to do once they leave school. In some cases, it was a university they had set their heart on, in others, a sector / industry they wanted to enter. While such ambitions are fantastic, things don’t always go the way we expect.

It's always good to have a preferred plan, but I always feel it's important not to dismiss other possible routes. This could be as simple as checking out a different university, another course, different areas of the industry. This is important, if only in order to confirm your choice is the right one – but you never know, when you spread the net more widely, it may just spark your enthusiasm and interest in a different direction.

How many people do a degree in a subject suited to one sector, and end up working in a different sector? My brother took under- and post-graduate degrees in science and landed up working at EA Technology in the computer games industry. While the educational experience may be useful and valid, life took them in a new direction.

Performing in the arts as a musician is extremely rewarding, you get to work in an area which is your passion. But it’s very common for performing musicians to develop other income streams, such as writing songs for other artists. Even famous and financially successful musicians often write music for others to perform. Artists like Prince wrote songs that were hits for Sinead O’Conner, The Bangles, Chaka Khan, and many others. Ed Sheeran has written for Justin Bieber, Olly Murs, Taylor Swift – to name a few.

And, song writing is not the only option, publishing is another area where artists can exploit their music. The range of possibilities is large, including adverts, TV themes and background music, videos. Many see this as selling-out, but I feel it’s more of a case of making a robust portfolio to give you freedom enabling you to do what you love.

This takes me back to my last blog on resilience, none of this happens over-night and there are many ways to make things happen. You might diversify through collaboration, ghost writing, internships, having your own YouTube channel, production music, live music and social media. Any one of these routes is valid, but perhaps doing more than one will improve your chances even more.

When you get started, you may have to work part-time outside music, while you consider your options. Soon, you may find work in music retail, tuition, studio work, sound engineering, function bands, guitar tech. All of which are great jobs.

You may even find that such work may turn into a career that you are happy with. I’ve spoken to many people in these industries that started out wanting to be touring and recording as an artist, but their life journey took them in a different direction.

Walter, from Wolf-Tone spoke to us about the music business and how to run a record company. He spoke how this took him down the route of finding new bands and helping them succeed. He loves music as much as any artist but found his passion was in developing other peoples’ careers.

Vic from Dr-Um in Leamington, gigs around the world and loves to perform, but also runs a drum shop and teaches drums. Perhaps if he did just one of these, he wouldn’t enjoy it as much? This is something we can ask him in a future Podcast.

Students often tell me they are not writing music to make money, which is very admirable and the reason I think most people start an instrument and compose. It’s for the love of what we do. But I do feel it’s well worth researching all your options that may help you fund your passion. Take every opportunity that arises, Uni open days, talking to businesses, listening to podcasts, reading music business articles, PRS For Music is a great resource for artists.

With each option you try you will be networking – making connections that will help you there and then, but with a little effort last well into the future.

By having options and being open to new ideas, new ventures can arise, no one path is the correct one. With any career path there are many turns, challenges and changes. Try to not fear change, keep informed, make connections, grasp opportunities, focus, build resilience and enjoy what happens. 

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