You don't need to be a singer to have a career in classical music

In part one of our feature, classical music professionals talk about their jobs, backgrounds and vital tips on how to get ahead

The most obvious routes for the majority of graduates who aspire to work in classical music are performance and education. But there are many industry careers available that fall outside of being a musician or academic. I spoke to an artist manager, a managing director and an orchestral manager to find out more about what the job entails and how to get your foot in the door.

The managing director

Abigail Pogson, Sage Gateshead
My role involves overseeing the strategic direction of Sage Gateshead and its many different facets, and taking responsibility for the way in which the charity chooses to pursue its mission. I read languages at university, but I spent most of my time producing music and theatre. It taught me how to manage myself, multitask and be entrepreneurial. I then did an masters degree in arts management at City University.

My first job was as English National Opera’s assistant company manager. It showed me that it takes the focus of many different specialists to pull a show together every night. Since then I’ve had quite general roles, which has allowed me to build up lots of different skills across producing, finance, fundraising, marketing and more.

Key to my role is being able to see the big picture and then moving on to something very specific in great detail. I must also think about what a very wide range of people – from toddler to elder, opera-goer to ukulele learner – might want from our work.

My advice? Search out opportunities to build your skills and experience. This can be very hard and as a sector we need to make it much easier, but if you spot an opportunity, grab it. What I love in my current role is that I’m constantly learning, from within the organisation and outside it.

The artist manager

Nicki Wenham, Ingpen & Williams
My job is to work alongside the artists and facilitate them in carving a career they want. I’m responsible for the management and careers of 20 international classical artists.

Every day is different. I speak to promoters, orchestras, festivals, opera houses and venues about their future plans and suggest artists where appropriate. I talk to publishers about commissioning a new composition for an artist; record labels about possible or current recordings; and PR companies about promoting certain projects. The job involves quite a lot of international travel, to go to see artists perform as well as have meetings with other promoters in that territory to build up a network.

I graduated from the University of Birmingham with a bachelor’s degree in music. After a six-month internship with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, I got my first job as an assistant artist manager for Sulivan Sweetland, a small boutique artist management company. It was fantastic to start out in a smaller set-up as I learned so much and covered a lot more ground than in a larger organisation.

A background in music isn’t essential, but knowledge of it is a must, especially for managing singers and talking about repertoire, and knowing what they should and (more importantly) shouldn’t do.

We’re often dealing with artist’s temperaments and emotions, so you need to be a good listener and patient at times. A relationship between an agent and artist is like a marriage. You need to have 100% trust and communication or it won’t work. Most of all, you have to believe in the artist.

The orchestral manager

Chris Lewis, The Hallé Orchestra
I’m responsible for the day to day management of the orchestra’s players, making sure we have the right number of people booked for each piece and that they know where and when they have to be for a rehearsal or concert.

I create the payroll sheet so the accounts department can pay each of the players. My job also involves going to new venues and seeing if they’re suitable for the Hallé to go and perform at. I also oversee the audition process. One of the treats of my position is ringing somebody to offer them a job.

I studied double bass at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
My first job was at college, where I worked with the operations team. I then worked for the Welsh National Opera as the pit/platform manager and assistant librarian and Birmingham Royal Ballet as the assistant orchestra manager. Before Hallé I was orchestra manager of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

For this job I feel you should have a background in music, so you can understand some of the demands put on the players in their working life. You also need to be a confidant and firm at times, as you may have to say to a player they can’t have some time off to go to a family occasion because we need them at work.

Get as much work experience as you can. Email or ring the orchestra manager of your local professional orchestra and ask to shadow them for a few days. Work experience students have helped me manage rehearsals and shows, as well as get through some of the required paperwork.

It’s a great job. I enjoy working as a member of a team and with other departments to produce a show. I also enjoy being the manager on duty at an out-of-town venue, responsible for everyone on the platform.

Read part two of this feature on Tuesday 16 February

Join our community of arts, culture and creative professionals by signing up free to the Guardian Culture Pros Network.

Harry White

The GuardianTramp

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