Questions asked by Hannah McMonagle (on the 7th May 2009)

Currently studying for her Masters degree in Music Business Management at the University of Westminster.


1. In your capacity as a music educator (Founder of Brighton Singing Lessons), what do you think attracts people to music education institutes?

Some want to live the X-factor dream. This has been a major influencing factor to the level of singing students at entry level & their degree of musical knowledge is less now than say 10 years ago. The previous type of student used to be very well informed in areas such as music theory, choral & harmony singing, and yet have a lot less confidence. I find that music students (I taught at ACM for 8 years, founded Brighton Singing Lessons and currently teach at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music & Chichester University) like to feel that they will be able to network, so possibly business is also a deciding factor. Many of the Brighton singing students say that they move here as they see that there is much more gigging potential for them than in Guildford, and it is perhaps less competitive than in London.


2. Do you feel that there is a clear distinction between the ability of performers found at these schools and those found outside the music education system?

Some of my private students have natural talent, and they are not within the music education system as such. I do observe that the level of commitment to becoming a fully-fledged professional working musician is stronger when surrounded by other fellow musicians and it does become a breeding ground when students are given regular opportunities to develop. I recognise for example that those students who begin the year at ACM do develop enormously through weekly performances at the Electric Theatre. Many students would take years to develop as musicians through pure “life & gigging experience”.


3. What are the qualities you look for in a vocalist?

Good question

Musicality first and foremost, followed by an appealing or original sounding voice. A willingness to perform and get beyond one’s own worries about what others might think. A sensitivity to the lyric. Good vocal technique and a quick wittedness when performing in a band context.


Do you think music schools hinder creativity or originality in any way?

I can see that some students would complain that while they are singing other people’s songs and worry about losing originality. However, all the greatest songwriters from the Beatles to Amy Winehouse have taken reference from previous creative people, and regurgitated it in their own original way.

I think if someone truly has the gift of creativity and originality and is prepared to put in some old fashioned hard graft then they can turn their gift into something special at a music school.

I do think that models of education such as the BRIT school do a sterling job of bringing out the best in creative students. There is the whole debate (too huge to go into) about traditional education versus something like Steiner Schools where students remain with the same teacher throughout their whole time at school and are not taught to read until they are sometimes 8 years old, yet are encouraged to develop their own originality of thought. It would be good to see if this type of approach worked in a music school. As a Brighton based singing teacher, I do see a lot of very creative, groundbreakingly original people as this is that kind of a town.


4. Is there a noticeable longevity in the careers of performers who have attended these schools?

Those who are prepared to craft their musical career do seem to have the edge in songwriting, performance and hopefully have additional business knowledge to make savvy decisions concerning their musical career. Examples range from the Kooks (BIMM) to Newton Faulkner (ACM) to Adele (BRIT School). However, as none of them yet have a decade of being in the charts it is perhaps too early to say…


5. What are your benchmarks for the success of an artist? Critical acclaim, revenue, etc…

My benchmark would be; a true artist who captures the imaginations of thousands of listeners, and causes people to want to leave their homes on a cold, rainy evening to venture out to see them perform. This would indicate to me that this type of artist is onto something inspiring….

Personally I set little store by the latest hype, although I know when I mention having been a teacher of Newton Faulkners or Amelle from the Sugababes other singing students are inspired to raise their game.

As an aside, my keyboard player & I had a healthy debate about the fact that being able to live from your music after years is also a privileged position to be in.


Are the qualities needed for success to do with natural talent or can they be taught?

Both. I think that there is a certain mindset that goes alongside the great performers who will eventually pierce through the barriers to success. This can be encouraged in the student.

A quality student with talent will always require mentors in order to continue to grow and expand both their minds, talents and wisdom. Even as a teacher myself I have my own teachers who assist me in raising my standards all the time & I would hope that all teachers do the same! I think having talent is great, and constantly growing with assistance from others is a natural and rewarding process too.

Whether the learning is done in devotional practise in their own bedroom or with a group of other musicians/tutors both types of learnings are valuable and important.

A huge part of the music industry and its ups and downs is the ability to self-motivate and many students think that arriving at a music school is their guarantee of success. They give up their part of responsibility and blame the institution when something is not going well, when what they really need to do is move above the state of “making excuses” for the things that they don’t wish to tackle.


6. Finally, do you think music education institutes increase the chance of success for vocalists in the contemporary popular music business?

Yes. I have recommended students for paid work & I’m sure many opportunities are offered to this type of singer than would be normally. I think it also gives a balanced overview of the different components of what it is to be a working musician. The lessons on everything from tax (business studies) to law, to arrangement, band skills, handling band politics, session work, organising gigs etc are all vital to the business. You can go about things the long hard way or you can get knowledge & fast-track your progression.


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