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.