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Expert opinion from academics at the UCL Institute of Education


A brilliant career in music made just a bit easier

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 10 September 2012

James Russell
As a non-professionally trained musician (singer/songwriter), I’ve had to learn as I go along how to pursue a career in the industry.
Pop music is particularly without any clear structure or career path. Having pursued a more conventional academic route initially, my subsequent decision to follow my real passion has taken me on a long and winding journey and up a very steep learning curve.
Last year I managed to release my own album. This was a project that I funded myself and it was a real struggle to put it together and get it out there. It certainly did feel like a real achievement, particularly to have it without the backing of a record or management company.
But while it is enjoyable to feel the smug satisfaction of the survivor, I really could have used more sound, practical advice from those who know the world of music inside out.
In their new book, Preparing for Success: A practical guide for young musiciansSue Hallam and Helena Gaunt write about the new technologies and means of music consumption – downloading music, iTunes, social networking – that have made it possible for artists to release their own work. This brings new challenges with it, as they recognise, such as the need to promote and manage yourself.
Many of us musicians have never been taught these kinds of skills. We are not noted for our organisational skills or flair for planning. But in this day and age especially, it is vital to remember that our passion is also a business, and one that requires stamina, flexibility, and focus. Some of us have to learn this the hard way.
Preparing for Success offers excellent practical advice on how to go about building and managing a career as a musician, and I think would really help those training or just beginning to try and establish themselves as well as those that have been pursuing it for some time.
It emphasises that there is much more to establishing a career as a musician than simply technical and performing ability. Although written by academics (though they are both professional musicians) it places itself fully in the modern world – touching on the place of new technologies and ways of communicating.
There are case studies which give excellent examples of how a variety of musicians have incorporated the kinds of suggestions made in the book.
Preparing for Success emphasises the importance of personal skills, motivation, being determined and resilient. It advises on the use of effective publicity and promotional materials and engagement with the now all-important social media.
As a pop musician I am frequently asked to provide a biography with some background on my experience, and have also written my own press releases for the music I have released. The book also helps with preparing such things and discusses how it is vital for musicians to promote themselves professionally.
The book includes tips on health and well-being; such as the importance of trying to maintain a good diet on a budget, making sure you get adequate sleep, and exercising –  these may seem like common sense but they are all things that are easily ignored as part of the “artistic struggle”.
It is of course extremely hard to make a living from music and the book helpfully discusses how to build a “portfolio career” – diversifying and finding different ways to make an income from music ­– for example teaching, sound engineering and management.  Preparing for Success gives detailed information on the skills and qualifications required for various jobs and the types of opportunities available.
Although some of the book may appear to be aimed at classical musicians – and would clearly be a great aid to them – I found an awful lot of advice and guidance in there that pop musicians like me could benefit enormously from too.  I personally wish I could have come across a publication such as Preparing for Success much sooner.
James Russell is press assistant at the IOE and performs as James Leon.

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