The Graduate Interview: Listen to the Experts
The Royal College of Music’s Creative Careers Centre (formally known as the Woodhouse Centre), was founded in 1999 by Director Dame Janet Ritterman and Woodhouse Centre Manager - Sue Sturrock. Thanks to their supportive benefactor Peter Willan, Paul Woodhouse bequeathed funds towards career support for musicians, which established the groundbreaking Woodhouse Centre.
“The RCM’s renowned Creative Careers Centre provides an unparalleled service. For many students, the Creative Careers Centre helps pave the way to a successful lifelong career in music.”
- Royal College of Music’s website
Drawing inspiration from U.S. models of music-career support, the mission in 1999 was to help musicians bridge the gap between student and professional life. Now in their twentieth academic year, the mission remains the same: adaptation to the modern world for the modern musician.
So - get pen and paper ready - as Diana Roberts (Creative Careers Centre Manager and Entrepreneurship Tutor) and David Zucchi (Creative Careers Centre Administrator) take you through the essentials you’ll need, in order to succeed in your first year out of education.
(Please note: this interview was conducted just before the Covid-19 pandemic).
Can you explain to everyone what services are are offered to RCM students via the Creative Careers Centre?
Diana: I always say the best start to using our services is to engage with the range of specialist areas covered by our one-to-one offerings.
The one-to-ones we offer are: Career Support (with Diana), Self-Promotion (with David), Funding (with Laurence), and CV’s and application writing (with Ellie).
We cover many areas of essential focus for musicians. From myself, Career Support covers: brand, identity, strengths, weaknesses, and future goals.
These complement David’s self-promotion toolkit: website development, social media, and PR campaigns.
Alongside one-to-ones, there are weekly jobs bulletins, competition bulletins, and extensive online resources. Through these initiatives, students are able to benefit from further indirect support.
Extra resources in this regard include: factsheets, online videos, podcasts, key elements of tax and finance, health and wellbeing, career development, and much more besides.
Teaching Service and Professional Engagement Service
I’ll group these together on the basis that they both work as professional agencies, and they are both businesses within the team. With regards to the teaching service, people come to us to hire musicians to teach instrumental, vocal, composition, arrangement studies, and more. This is a fantastic scheme that helps students to build a teaching portfolio in London.
The Professional Engagement Service runs, again, on an agency basis. Members of the public contact us in order to hire musicians for their events. We have a loyal range of high-end corporate clients, who book musicians for private performances, dinners, and drinks receptions.
Furthermore, private-clients also hire musicians through our service for events such as weddings and parties. All fees are set above MU rates. Musicians are required to apply, audition, and interview for all of our schemes. Our aim is to mirror the external world. Our musicians gain real-world experience in order to know what it feels like to engage with other organisations and services.
All of our musicians are encouraged to be creative in their approach - for example: string quartets who offer standard material, but who are also entrepreneurial and diverse in their repertoire approach, harpists that play Bollywood, and saxophonists who work with DJ's.
In a competitive market, unique selling points are key.
The RCM Gateway scheme presents another opportunity for musicians to develop the artistic strand of their portfolios - thereby exploring programming, building an audience, constructing their marketing campaigns, and raising their profile as a soloist or chamber ensemble.
We have connections with over 30 venues - in London and beyond. We are passionate about community-based performances, as well as diversity, access, communication, and programming.
Creative Careers in the Curriculum
I (Diana), teach a range of entrepreneurial courses, focusing on essential business skills. For undergraduates, we provide two courses, entitled Creative Enterprise levels 1 & 2. Here, students develop business ideas, and are taken through basic business models, exploring marketing strategies, developing effective foundations, and writing business plans where necessary.
At Master’s level, I teach a course entitled Music Administration, a useful introduction for those seeking to develop administration skills and / or build a portfolio career in music / arts administration. A key feature of this course is where musicians undertake a work placement in an area of their choosing.
Our Creative Project Management course is similar to the Creative Enterprise courses, but a more advanced level of innovation and project-completion - with marketing, fundraising, and business proposals at the heart of the qualification. Musicians are required to fully execute their ideas. I’m delighted to say that this course has produced some fantastic ongoing projects, which have formed an important part of the musicians’ careers.
The groundbreaking Women in Music Course - currently led by Carola Darwin, has been running for three years, and has focused on gender imbalance in classical music, and the equality of opportunity therein.
My particular contribution to this course is to actively encourage students to think of a leading woman in the music industry who they consider to be inspirational. I then connect them with that person, and actively set up mentoring opportunities. I’m always overwhelmed by the positive response I receive from the people I approach for mentoring – which proves the genuine professional support for this course.
What is the most common mistake you find musicians make in their promotional material?
David: It seems like a small thing, but I would say not responding to emails as quickly as one could is the most common mistake I come across, in general. It is very easy to endear oneself to concert promoters and fixers by simply being very quick to respond! A pattern of either being slow to respond, or not responding at all will generally not be looked upon favourably.
Regarding promotional material, the most common mistakes I find are: Biographies that are littered with spelling mistakes, filled with out of date and superfluous information. CVs are often too long (1 page ideal, 2 pages maximum!), too messy, not nice to look at - it sounds very simple but it’s true that these things do impact the judgement of anyone - it’s not just us! The Creative Careers department is generally willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but that is a luxury the “real world” will likely not offer!
Additionally, poor quality videos or dated videos that don’t give an accurate reflection of your current standard. I highly recommend googling yourself on occasion to see what’s out there. You don’t want to put yourself forward for an opportunity and have the organiser look you up to find something you performed when you were six! As far as possible, your online presence should reflect your current standard of performance and your current activities. Additionally, be careful about the personal image you project online. As much we might believe that social media reflects real life, it doesn’t - It’s a curated image, so make sure it’s a good one!
Diana: We strongly advise there be a distinction between your professional and personal profiles online. It is very common for concert managers / your audience to search for you online – and important that you don’t allow the first thing that they see to be your personal Facebook page. Be sure to adjust profile settings, so as to establish boundaries when presenting professionalism.
What are the top three pieces of information a musician should have ready to give out at a moment’s notice?
The important message is to tailor what you need for whatever opportunity you are applying for.
Chamber and solo work: A website link together with your most up-to-date biography, promotional photograph, sample programmes, videos and recording links - all of high quality.
Orchestral work: Orchestral CV.
Composers: Ideally a website – importantly with audio / video sample clips.
Teachers / Workshop leaders: Teaching / Education CV.
Administrators: An Administration CV.
Have you noticed a big change in how musicians need to promote themselves in the past few years?
Diana: Recordings… agents and promoters are saying more and more that they are inundated with people contacting them for opportunities. The first thing they do is click on a recording and consider: are they a good artist / ensemble / composer? Have they presented themselves well? Is the recording of good enough quality to assure them of their answers to the first two? They make that decision within seconds… That’s it!
It wasn’t always this way. Forty years ago, agents would turn up to final recitals and cherry-pick young artists. But with advances in technology, people can now initially rely on digital promotional materials, and it’s often just a click: yes or no!
What is your advice for graduates in the first three years after graduation?
- Have a plan! Think about your goals, map them out, think strategically, think of where you want to be and why, and work out how you can get to your desired destination.
- Get your finances in order as early as possible.
- Look after your mental health and physical wellbeing.
- What fulfils you as a human being? Yes, music and your career, but what else is important to you? Ask yourself these questions, think strategically, make a plan, and execute it.
- Think about who you need to support you in order to deliver that plan. No one can build a career alone. No one. You have to have a support network around you. Identify them - and include them in your strategy.
- Incorporate more than music into your life.
- Draw inspiration from others, but avoid getting caught up in direct comparisons.
- It’s worth noting early on in your career that you cannot please everyone.
- Focus on what makes you happy, satisfied, what you need to do in life in order to succeed, and what you want your life to look like.
And finally, what is your top tip for new graduates?
David: Have a plan! Really stay out there. For me it was, don’t let go of your network, don’t let go of the people you’ve met. Go to their concerts, support your peers, support the work other people are doing. Don’t drop off the face of the earth. Stay out there and stay in the game, otherwise people will just forget about you.
Diana: Have a plan! (Same one - but it’s important!) But formulate the plan before you leave education. One thing I think few talk about is how lonely that first year can be. So, stay connected - and if you struggle, ask people for help.
So much help is available: Help Musicians UK, ISM, RCM, the Royal Society of Musicians, etc.
This interview was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. By way of support for musicians, the Creative Careers Centre is delighted to announce a series of 20+ digital career-focused events throughout the month of June 2020.
The Modern Musician: Past, Present, & Future - is designed to explore the music industry of today, and how its future might evolve. Through workshops, panel talks, and discussions with industry specialists and RCM graduates, the Creative Careers Centre will provide an inclusive platform for musicians to have an open dialogue with some of the industries most leading individuals. They also aim to equip upcoming graduates and recent graduates with essential skills for professional life, hear from those following alternative career paths, and take a look at the impact of COVID-19 on the industry.
Furthermore, the Creative Careers Centre is excited to launch two new schemes: RCM Pushfar, which is a career development mentor scheme that allows final-year students the opportunity to connect directly with graduates; as well as a worldwide Online Teaching Service.
If anyone is interested in attending any of these online events please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, there we have it. Thank you so much Diana and David, for taking the time to give such incredibly helpful advice. I hope this interview has given you a clearer idea of what this incredible department has to offer as well as an insight into what the modern musician needs in their arsenal.
If you’re a current RCM student, especially if you’re looking at graduating this summer, contact the Creative Careers Centre team - email@example.com - where you’ll find the team ready and waiting to help you out! Recent RCM graduates, make sure you’re on their mailing list for added support during this crazy year (you can be on for five years post-graduation). These next few years can be really tough but knowing that you’re supported can be a huge weight off your shoulders.
Graduates, we’ve got this!