It’s a Jungle Out There: The Life of Young Musicians

Tessa Marchington, Founder

Last week I sat on a panel at the Royal Academy of Music for 4th year and postgraduate students. At a time of transition for these students, who are all at the cusp of finishing their studies, we were sharing our experiences and trying to make the future sound less scary (gulp!).

The panel included British mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn Rogers who demystified the auditioning process; Peter Sheppard Skaerved who discussed amongst other things how to release your own music and the dos and don’ts of a session musician (do own up to any mistakes very quickly to save the producer hours of editing!); Sam Jackson (Global Radios Managing Director); Andrew Comben; (Brighton Festival CEO); Alyn Shipton; Alisdair Tait (Artistic Director of YCAT); George Chambers; Phillippa Cole (Associate Director at Askonas Holt); Tom Greenleaves; and John Hutchins, all discussing the different paths you can take to further your career as a musician.

I was struck by one question from a student which was “If I don’t want to be a soloist, have the last four years here at RAM been a waste of time?”

We were all quick to defend our positions (of course!) as portfolio musicians and wax lyrical about the relevance of musicians’ transferable skills but I would like to reiterate here… it’s TRUE! The discipline needed for practice, the necessity of listening, collaboration with others and learning to both lead and follow in ensembles becomes second nature – skills all vital for success in life as well as in business.

It is a jungle out there for musicians trying to establish their place in the professional world. Gone are the days when agents would sit at the back of the hall and sign you up (or not!) based on your final recital performance. Successful musicians today have to be resilient and creative in finding opportunities and carving out their goals. Do they have a message that is authentic to themselves? Are they passionate about performing, teaching, making music with others and creating concert opportunities? To ensure survival in this jungle, young musicians sometimes need a helping hand.

At my festival, the Investec International Music Festival, we give a performance opportunity each year to a student ensemble from RAM. This year it is the Connaught brass ensemble who will be playing on February 23rd. This is an invaluable opportunity for performance practice, networking and a platform at an internationally recognised music festival.

Many of our teachers at Music in Offices are recent graduates from top conservatoires. Our alumni of teachers include the jazz virtuoso Ivo Neame, soprano Anna Patalong, baritone Matthew Stiff, composer Laura Bowler and world harmonica champion Philip Achille…all now enjoying illustrious careers combining performing, teaching and composing whilst carving out their own niche.

So for 2018, my request is this: embrace music and support young musicians by going to concerts, becoming a patron, or creating opportunities for musicians in whatever way you can; please value this art form and those who endeavour to make it their life – they need your support now more than ever.

I’d love to hear your view on this: do you agree that it’s more challenging than ever for young musicians to make their way in the world? And do you think organisations hold responsibility for helping them?