Fine tuning a career

Producing an album of your own songs is every young musician’s dream. Writing the lyrics, honing the melodies and perfecting the recording are all aspects that will make the heart of a budding Noel Gallagher or Gary Barlow soar.

But the job doesn’t finish there – the album has to be promoted and available on a suitable platform to be a success and, importantly, to make the musician money.

A group of students have been putting their musical skills to the test by producing a CD of their own work for a module focused on employability and enterprise. Tasked with creating ‘a happening’ of their choosing, the students chose to produce an album titled In The Hub, named after the University’s impressive performing arts centre, The Performance Hub.

The album features different genres of music, from acoustic to metal, and the third year students had their first taste of stardom when their story was featured on the front page of the Express and Star newspaper.

Dan Chandos-Hall explains: “We had to make something happen and produce a professional development portfolio to show what we’ve done and how we’ve grown. “It enabled us to look at the different skills you need to do things other than those related to performing, teaching or gigging, and I enjoyed the module more than I thought I would!”

Tammy King agrees: “When we started the module, I met different people and it has been a really good experience. It helped me to identify the skills I have and what I need to improve.”

Industry experts

Students complete the School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure module in their final semester at Wolverhampton. Delivered by industry experts, the module is designed to provide students with key employability skills for the world of work.

Working in teams towards creating ‘a happening’, students are encouraged to think freely about the aims of the project and their individual needs in terms of professional and personal development.

Professional musician and education consultant John Hart delivers the module alongside Head of Music, Kevin Stannard. Kevin explains they wanted the module to be a ‘live’ module, and to be community and industry facing, and with 24 years experience in the industry, John is well placed to advise and guide students hoping to carve their own career in this competitive business.

John says: “The module used to be about putting on an event but a lot of students had experience of that so it wasn’t challenging enough. Now they are challenged to develop the skills they are weaker at and encouraged to move out of their comfort zone. They identify their skills gaps and use the opportunity to develop these areas.

“Importantly they are assessed on the journey of the module – they set their own aims and assess how they have done against those aims. In the creative industries it is ok to fail, so the module allows them to develop by getting things wrong. They may also come up against conflict within their teams, which prepares them for the outside world.”

Make it happen

The groups have used the opportunity to host a live music quiz, where their band plays live music and people have to ‘name that tune’, created music for visuals such as adverts, a ‘dry run’ of a business idea and produced a daytime event featuring art and music in realtime.

Meanwhile some groups have put together workshops to go into schools and care homes, enabling them to interact with the community.

One such group is Music Mix, who went into a care home for elderly people and people with learning disabilities in Wednesbury in the West Midlands to deliver a performance and music workshop.

Student Jon Green explains: “I worked in a care home for two years and was asked to play a lot of music, and I realised there was a need for people to do workshops and get involved in interactive projects.

“We can sense that it means a lot to residents to have someone spend quality time with them.

“As a mature student, I’ve had a lot of jobs and finishing University I wanted to have a better job than I have had before. The module helps you to develop entrepreneurial skills that are really important in this industry. There are not many jobs so we have to carve out a niche for ourselves, and I feel confident that I can succeed when I graduate.”

Marie Kristin Dale adds: “The happening was good but that wasn’t the point, it is about the process we have been through. I’ve got to know myself and it has been one of my favourite modules.”

Eye-opening

It has also been an eye-opening experience for group member Celine Simers, who says: “It made me realise what being a musician involves. It doesn’t involve me standing on a stage or writing a song. I really needed to realise that. I remember the first three or four lessons – my heart was pounding and I was really excited.”

And this is really the point of the module, as Associate Dean of Research and Enterprise in the School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, Karen Bill, explains: “The intention is that the School’s new curriculum will enhance the employability of our graduates, fostering enthusiasm for, and expertise in, enterprise and entrepreneurship. These music students and the Employability and Enterprise in Music module are such a great example of this.”

The students have faced numerous obstacles along the way, reflecting what they could encounter in the real world, and have no doubt learned a lot about themselves, their peers and the industry they plan to enter.

For John Hart, their enthusiasm, dedication and creativity has been inspirational. “I’ve been impressed by their ideas. They have taken on the challenge. It would have been quite easy to take the easy route through this but they have pushed themselves to do things they wouldn’t normally do.”