Booking professional musicians: Part 2 – music college education

Tailor Made Music Agency’s artists studied at some of the most prestigious music colleges in the world, and in fact we only work with music college trained musicians. In part 2 of this blog mini-series, introducing you to the world of professional musicians, I explain what a music college education entails and ask some of our artists to tell us a bit about their experiences.

 
Catrin graduating from the Royal Academy of Music
 

What is a music college?

Music colleges, also known as conservatoires, are simply colleges for university-aged students specialising in music. Most offer full-time undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses, and many also run junior music schools on Saturdays for primary and high school aged students. In the UK there are nine major music colleges: in London we have the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Outside of London we have the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Royal Northern College of Music, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Leeds College of Music. As you can probably tell by all the ‘royals’ in the names, they are often very prestigious institutions. They all offer classical music training, and some also offer jazz, musical theatre, pop and folk music specialisms as well. There are many other famous music colleges around the world, for example The Julliard School in New York, Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Conservatoire national supérier de musique et de danse in Paris and the Moscow P. I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Russia.

What's the difference between a music college and university?

Students at university music departments might have some elements of performance in their course, but this will usually be optional, and their overall course will be primarily academic. I studied music at the University of Birmingham and spent most of my time writing essays! I left with a huge amount of knowledge and skills but wouldn’t have been prepared for a career as a professional performer! At music college there is only minimal academic work, as the focus is on performance. You do not usually need high academic grades to gain a place at a music college but you will already need to be performing at a very high level as entry is via audition and is extremely competitive. Most students will specialise in one instrument (or voice) and have intensive instrumental lessons, performance classes and projects, to perfect their technique, learn repertoire and develop their own musical voice ready for a career as a professional musician. Music colleges employ world-class teachers to train their students to the highest level, as well as inviting internationally renowned visiting artists to inspire the next generation of performers.

It is highly unusual for a first-rate professional musician to have not been to music college at some point in their studies, and Tailor Made Music Agency only uses musicians with those credentials as we can trust that they will be trained to the highest standard. Most undergraduate music college courses are four years long, and many students will go on to do a one or two year postgraduate course after that as well. Some may have studied for an academic degree at university for their undergraduate years, before going on to do a very intensive postgraduate music college course in order to move over from the academic to the performing world. Singers will often do four years at undergrad level, two years at postgrad and then another two years at opera school, in order to get to the level required to become a professional opera singer!

Jazz pianist, Albert
Harpist, Catrin

We asked two of our artists to tell us more about their experiences of music college

Can you tell us your name, instrument and where you studied?

A: I’m Albert Palau, a pianist specialising in jazz, and I studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

C: I’m Catrin Meek. I’m a harpist, and I studied at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, which are both in London.

What made you decide to go to music college, and why did you choose the one you studied at?

A: I decided to go to Berklee based on the advice of professional musician friends who studied there and the high level of the teachers and students there. Berklee also offers a really varied curriculum opening up a vast number of career options and directions you can take, and the environment there can help you to focus on study and research to develop your musicianship.

C: I always wanted to study in London, as I knew they had the best colleges. I chose the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music mainly because there were particular teachers I wanted to study with.

What, in your opinion are the best things about studying at music college?

A: Meeting other students and teachers from all over the world that you can network with and learn from, and that can become partners in future projects.

C: The performances, getting professional experiences and working with professional orchestras, the professors and building a community of musicians! Meeting many people, networking and playing together for a long time.

And the worst?

A: Having to take some courses at Berklee that were not related directly to music and that I had already studied previously, in order to complete the curriculum.

C: The competition, everyone is competing for the same thing.

How do you feel studying at music college benefitted your career?

A: All the things said in the second question, plus the personal growth that arises from meeting and integrating with musicians from across the world. This makes you see yourself from a different perspective; you build an openness to other opinions and cultures. Many politicians would benefit so much from something like this!

C: It has benefitted my career massively; I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been to music college! I have built my career from studying at music college and the connections I made there, and it has given me the experience to play in professional orchestras and other professional settings.

If you went to more than one college, how were they different to one another?

A: The Royal Academy of Music has around 50 jazz students, whereas in Berklee there might be around 3000 students doing jazz and other contemporary music styles. The smaller department at the Academy means you get to build a strong musical relationship with the students in your year.

C: They were very different, one harder than the other. But worth it! I feel like one had a broader harp department with more variety of classes, and the other had great orchestral projects and studio work and more of a chance to connect with the other musicians.

What was the highlight of your time at music college?

A: Getting to play in ensembles with musicians like Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Dave Santoro, Maria Schneider, Hal Crook, Greg Hopkins, and many more, plus with talented students who over time have become important colleagues and contacts on the jazz scene.

C: Doing my final recitals, performing in orchestras with great conductors, and meeting my best friends!

Thanks to Albert and Catrin for sharing their experience with us!

Look back at part 1 of this mini-series, which starts the discussion on why you might choose to book professional musicians.

Booking professional musicians: Part 1

Professional orchestra

Following on from my previous blog post: Why should you use an agency to book event musicians? I am going to write a selection of blogs on why you might choose to book professional musicians and how to make sure you're getting the very best in the business!

What makes a professional musician?

A professional musician is essentially someone who makes their living from music, rather than having it as a hobby. This might sound obvious, but the word 'professional' means so much more than that.

Being a professional musician is a tough career which on top of actual performances requires hours of rehearsals and personal practice to maintain the highest standards. It also involves enormous amounts of time and money spent on instrument maintenance, often a lot of travelling, and if the musician is self-employed (as most are), all the usual administrative tasks that come with that. It takes an incredible amount of dedication and discipline, which usually starts at an early age, continues through an intense music college education and is maintained for the musician’s entire life and career. How an excellent professional musician continually delights their audiences with each stunning performance reminds me of the old saying, about a swan being calm and beautiful on the surface but paddling frantically under water!

What else?

Being professional is also about how an artist presents themselves, how they behave, and how they react to different situations. A professional musician’s reputation is at stake every time they perform so you can expect that they will turn up on time and be fully prepared, well presented and well mannered. They will adapt their performance to suit the audience in front of them and won't allow nerves to affect them negatively. A professional musician will use all their many years of training and experience to handle any situation and to ensure the quality of their performance never slips.

 
professional jazz band
 

What is a portfolio career?

You might have seen the term 'portfolio career' mentioned here on the About Us page of our website, but what does that actually mean? Well, a portfolio career is one that encompasses many different aspects of musical performance and activity.

For example, one of our harpists spends some of her time performing and preparing for solo classical recitals at music festivals across Europe. At other times she will be found rehearsing and playing with professional orchestras. Occasionally she works with well-known pop music acts in concerts and on tours. These types of projects come and go, so she contrasts them with more regular and predictable work such as teaching and playing for weddings and events. Another of our harpists does less pop and solo work but spends a lot of time playing in the pit orchestras for West End shows. Some of our artists are also composers, whereas others do a lot of educational and community projects with groups such as primary school children, dementia patients or refugees. These are just a few examples!

Having a mixture of different types of work makes sure a musician is always busy and earning a steady income. More importantly, though, the variety provided by this type of career is what keeps a musician inspired and their performances vibrant and fresh!

What benefits does a portfolio career bring to musicians doing event bookings?

I have seen from my career working in the classical music industry that the best musicians are the ones that have a variety of projects on the go. Even when I worked for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, whose musicians are on a full-time salary, I noted that they were permitted to take occasional leave or to have flexible working arrangements which enabled them to pursue other artistic endeavours. This was because the orchestra’s musical directors recognised the benefits this brought to their musicianship and the skills they brought back to the orchestra.

This is particularly important for musicians who play for weddings and events. Although they do take requests and tailor their set to each individual event, these types of events do risk becoming repetitive, with the same pieces being played and requested over and over. A full-time event musician doing this night after night might struggle to maintain enthusiasm and passion for their music over time, and their performances might become stale. Imagine the difference between this and a musician who has played with a world-class orchestra the day before your wedding, coming back to Pachelbel’s Canon in D with a fresh perspective and a new vigour! Or a jazz saxophonist who gigged at Ronnie Scott’s the night before your Christmas party and is inspired to come up with an original, never-heard-before improvisation on Take the 'A' Train especially for your event!

This constant stimulation from working with different people, performing in different settings and in various styles and genres, is what keeps our artists at the top of their game.

 
professional composer
 

So, what should I look for when booking professional musicians?

If you are looking for the very best performers for your event, take a good look at their biography to see what other types of performances they have been involved with. Tailor Made Music Agency sends every client a selection of Artist Profiles to browse and to choose from based on the requirements of their event, each one containing a brief biography of the artist. The purpose of these Artist Profiles is not just so you can compare repertoire lists and prices, but so that you can get a feel for who that artist is and whether they would be a good fit for you. If you are a musical theatre enthusiast, perhaps you might choose someone who has played in the West End? If you are someone with social and ethical concerns, maybe you might want someone who has done a lot of charitable or community work? The choice is yours!

Enquire with us for your event to receive Artist Profiles personally recommended for you.

In Part 2 of this miniseries, I will be explaining all about what a music college education entails.

My Own Wedding Music

Wedding music

My husband and I got married shortly before I decided to set up Tailor Made Music Agency. Music has always been a hugely important part of my life so it was inevitable that it would play an important part in our wedding day! I thought what better way to give you a taste of what Tailor Made Music Agency can provide for your wedding, than by writing a blog post on the performers and the music that I chose, and why it was so special to me.

Walking down the aisle

I have sung in more wedding choirs than I can count and my favourite classical piece of music to sing is the ever-popular Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring by J.S. Bach. I didn’t want anything too unusual to walk down the aisle to and this piece is a popular choice for wedding ceremonies, so it would have sounded familiar to our guests. It is gentle, beautiful and poignant. The choir was made up of many of my old school and choir friends so although it wasn’t a professional choir, it was very personal to me. I did book a professional organist to accompany the choir, and to make it even more personal I booked oboist Eleanor Tinlin to play the beautiful soaring counter-melody that accompanies the choir in the original orchestral version of this piece. I have played the oboe since I was 13 years old, and I have known Eleanor for many years, so it was very special to me to have her play. Hearing the first few notes as I waited in the church porch was an emotional moment!

 
Wedding music hire
 

The wedding ceremony music

We spent months choosing hymns for our wedding, whittling down a shortlist until we had our top three. The service opened with the rousing Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, and concluded with a roof-raising rendition of Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven. We had the gentler Come Down, O Love Divine by Vaughan Williams (a favourite classical composer of mine) in the middle. The choir and organist supported our guests’ singing with gusto, but to add an extra something special I booked trumpeter Tom Freeman-Attwood, who played during the final verses of the opening and closing hymns. Guests said to me afterwards that this took them by surprise, and how fantastically uplifting it was to hear the penetrating sound of a trumpet carrying the melodies above the choir and organ.

Music during the signing of the register

The signing of the register can take a little while, especially if you are having photos taken at the same time, so it’s a good idea to have some music to entertain your guests. We made good use of the oboist and organist we had booked as they played the slow movement of Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in D minor. Again, this choice was very personal to me, as it was a piece I always loved to play myself. I first heard it shortly after I started playing the oboe when it was featured in the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla, and I instantly fell in love with it. We followed that with an unaccompanied choral piece, This Marriage by Eric Whitacre. The beautiful words in this piece have references from the Middle East, a little nod to my husband’s childhood growing up in that region. The choir sang it beautifully.

 
Musicians for your wedding
 

Leaving the church

We ended the service with our fantastic trumpeter and organist playing Stanley’s Trumpet Voluntary as we exited the church, giving it a suitably grand and regal finish! I was so happy and overwhelmed by this point that it is all a bit of a blur in my memory, but it was a wonderful end to a wonderful ceremony. So many of our guests complimented us on our choices of music – and as most of them knew my background was in music we had high expectations to live up to! Amongst all the excitement and the buzz of the reception and party later on, the ceremony remained the most special part of the day, and the music played a huge part in that.

 
Music for your wedding or event
 

Music for the wedding reception

On arrival at our reception venue (30 minutes late after our vintage car got a puncture en route!) we were greeted by the sound of jazz guitarist Greg Sanders, who was playing in the courtyard while our guests sipped gin and tonics and enjoyed a few canapés. I have worked with Greg for a few years and was delighted to book him for my own wedding. Solo jazz guitar, playing easy-listening jazz standards, was a lovely contrast to the very classical wedding ceremony. It was perfect for the relaxed atmosphere we wanted to create.

After a superb meal, speeches, photos, cutting the cake and a few games on the crazy golf course we had hired, we ended the night with a fantastic 5-piece function band playing all our pop favourites and getting everyone up on the dancefloor!

Visit our Brass page to find out about booking a Trumpet and Organ Duo.

Visit our Jazz page to find out about booking a Solo Jazz Guitarist.

An Oboe and Organ Duo is a bit more unusual so isn’t listed on the website, but we can do this for you through our Bespoke service.

Photos: Isobel Murphy
Venue: Mythe Barn
Flowers: The Garden Rose

What music are you hoping for in your dream wedding? Contact us to make it happen!

Why should you use an agency to book event musicians?

Use an agency to book musicians for your event

There are hundreds of classical and jazz musicians out there marketing themselves for weddings and events, and if you have personal contacts or you’re looking to save money you may choose to book with them directly. But if you have no idea where to start, or you want a more comprehensive service, here are a few reasons why you might consider using Tailor Made Music Agency to book musicians for your event.

Helpful tips and advice

When setting up Tailor Made Music Agency I decided to specialise in just classical and jazz, focusing on my key areas of expertise and ensuring that we offered the highest quality in those two areas. I didn’t want to spread the agency too thin by taking on other types of entertainment. As Tailor Made Music Agency’s bookings expert, I pride myself on offering clients tailored advice on what would best suit their event. So even if you have no idea what type of musician you want or where to even start, I can help you. Our service is entirely bespoke, and you will get personalised recommendations tailored to your individual requirements.

 
Tailor Made Music Agency
 

The highest quality

Even if you do know what type of musician you are looking for, searching online can be a challenge as there is so much choice available. How do you know if a musician is any good in real life? Are they qualified professionals or just keen amateurs? Will they know what they’re doing on the day? Many musicians promoting themselves have DIY websites and poor quality audio or video material, which is usually just down to cost and is not a reason in itself to suggest that they aren’t great musicians, but it does make it hard to distinguish between professionals and amateurs. This could be a worry for you if you don’t know them by reputation already.

I have handpicked full-time professional musicians of an exceptional calibre for Tailor Made Music Agency, so that you don’t have to worry about quality. My background working for prestigious organisations such as the Royal Academy of Music will hopefully put your mind at rest. I have also invested in high quality video recordings of many of our artists, which will give you a good idea of what to expect (this isn’t available for all our artists yet but hopefully will be eventually).

A secure contract

When you book through Tailor Made Music Agency you will receive a secure contract between yourself and the artist, which is legally binding. This is to assure both you and the artist that you are both on the same page and expecting the same things on the day of the booking. It also ensures that all eventualities are covered if something goes wrong. Tailor Made Music Agency will do everything within its power to mediate between you and the artist if there is any misunderstanding or if you need to make any changes to the booking. This peace of mind can be invaluable when you are dealing with the complexities of organising an event, whether it is a large scale corporate event and the stakes are high, or a very personal private event and you want everything to be perfect on your special day.

 
Tailor Made Music Agency
 

Easy communication

Years of working with musicians has taught me that sometimes the most talented performers are not that great at admin! The main reason most of our musicians use Tailor Made Music Agency is so that I can handle their emails and communication for them, meaning they have more time to spend on rehearsing, practising, learning new repertoire and performing. Not surprisingly, spending more time on these activities is what makes them such great musicians! On the other hand, when you are booking musicians for your event, you want quick and efficient responses to your queries.

You might be booking wedding musicians over a year in advance and need to know that the details will be dealt with at the appropriate time. Or you might be booking musicians for a corporate event at really short notice and want everything wrapped up within a couple of days. I have a list of FAQs from each artist so that I don’t have to trouble them with commonly asked questions, meaning when I do go to them with more unusual queries they can answer promptly as they’re not swamped by emails. This means everybody wins – the musicians can spend more time on their music and less time on admin, you get the efficient service you are looking for, and I get to do what I do best – organising musicians’ lives for them!

I should add that you will always get the opportunity to speak to the musicians directly a month before your event, just to give you peace of mind that everything is in place. This will be scheduled in as part of our service.

If this sounds like what you’re looking for, enquire now for your personalised service.

Welcome to the Tailor Made Music blog

Tailor Made Music - event musician agency

Hi! I’m Rosie, Tailor Made Music Agency’s Managing Director and bookings expert. I’m very excited to launch this brand new blog which will enable me to give you lots of extra insights into who we are and what we do, as well as hints and tips to help you when booking musicians for events.

I’ll start by giving you a little introduction to myself and to how Tailor Made Music Agency came about.

 
Rosie Loker, Managing Director of Tailor Made Music
 

Who am I?

I have been a self-confessed ‘music geek’ for as long as I can remember – I was given a toy drum at the age of 2 and I’ve never looked back. As a teenager I took grade exams in singing, piano and oboe and spent most of my free time performing in musical theatre shows, singing in choirs and playing in orchestras. I eventually went on to study music at the University of Birmingham. My course involved writing essays on the history of Western classical music from Monteverdi to Messiaen, learning about and experimenting with contemporary composition techniques and refining my skills on the oboe.

I soaked up every opportunity given to me, going to as many classical concerts and recitals as possible, taking full advantage of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s student ticket deals. Attending the university’s Jazz and Blues Society gigs and regular nights out at Jools Holland’s The Jam House, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, gave me my first taste of jazz, widening my horizons and expanding my musical tastes. In my second year I was elected Student President of the University Music Society, which involved managing a full programme of student concerts. I soon realised that as much as I loved performing and composing, my greatest talents lay in organising performances rather than being in them. Wanting to work in a field that reflected my life-long passion for music, I decided a career in concert management was the path for me!

 
Tailor Made Music agency
 

What came next?

My first job after university was a six-month internship with the Association of British Orchestras. The ABO are a membership organisation for all the professional orchestras in the UK, and those six months taught me everything a young graduate could possibly need to know about the UK orchestral scene. I went on to work at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, managing performance schedules and planning tours. My next step was a move down to London, where I had always dreamt of living and working. There I took on the role of Concert & Orchestra Manager at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, which is one of the world’s leading music colleges training young musicians for careers as professional performers, composers and educators.

I loved working with young musicians at the Academy and a few years in I jumped at the chance to move into the position of External Bookings Manager. My job was to provide performance opportunities for classical and jazz students outside of their studies, including playing for weddings, corporate events, private parties and concerts. I spent time helping the students develop into confident, business-minded professionals whilst they worked on becoming world-class performers. It was always bittersweet to see students I had enjoyed working with graduate and go off into the real world to fulfil their dreams of making music for a living. As I started to get itchy feet and to look for new challenges, I thought about how I could continue to help these brilliant musicians share their talents, connecting them to people who were looking for the very best performers for their events. Some time later and here we are! We have a website, a blog, lots of shiny new stationary and all the other administrative things that come with setting up a business. Most importantly though, we have a roster of exceptionally talented artists ready to make Tailor Made Music Agency the best place to book classical and jazz musicians!

Why not take a look at our About page to find out more about the ethos behind Tailor Made Music Agency?