Top tips from The Midi Music Company founder and alumni

The Midi Music Company is a music education and artist development charity and the founder / executive director Wozzy Brewster, along with some of the artists that have benefitted from their services, give us some insight into a successful career in music.

Wozzy founded The Midi Music Company in 1995, which alongside running music education and talent development services also provides a creative industries careers advice service (CICAS®).

Through the initiative she has supported artists like The Noisettes, Kate Tempest and Katy B in their careers.

Award-winning composer and performer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, garage artist Oggie, and multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Ahnansé join Wozzy in sharing their experiences of the industry…

On starting out in music…

Wozzy Brewster (WB): Learn your craft; understand the music business itself, fine-tune your creative skills and capacity to create and compose new music – it will benefit you in the long-run to write your own songs and own your copyright. The biggest money earner in the business is in music publishing.

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (CHH): Everything has the potential to be useful and usable. You might feel like you’re constantly switching paths at first, even doing things which aren’t directly related to music. But creativity feeds on all sorts of things – from learning a language to meeting people from all walks of life.

At the same time, I find it helps me to have a trajectory in mind and know that I can stray. I can get fixated on detail, especially when learning something new, and forget to step back and see the landscape. Seeing your work in context can introduce new ideas, and feed creativity again.

You will need support in your social life and work life. Seek out people who you want to help, and who want to help you. Especially if you feel in the minority in your field. Being able to share your experiences and open doors for each other can keep you going. Who knows where it might lead.

On developing as an artist…

WB: It’s always good to spend time writing, rehearsing, networking and building your contacts so that when your music is ready market you have avenues to perform, record, release and hopefully, some ears and eyes within the industry. If you are a singer, it’s really useful to get yourself a vocal coach to maintain those sweet tones and look after your voice. Stay true to your music and the genres / styles that you love and have a passion for. Don’t worry if some people don’t like your music… music is personal taste, so everyone is not going to love what you create – believe in yourself!

Oggie (O): Once Uni was over, I was fortunate enough to have The Midi Music Company two minutes from my flat. I would write and produce there as much as possible, and I was head of their youth steering committee. I got the chance to do exchanges in Italy and Ireland which allowed me to first-hand experience how music is perceived by other cultures, along with the trip to Johannesburg as well, I started to think less about the charts and the competitive nature that the music business forced upon artist at the time. As corny as it sounds, I just wanted to make great songs, make people happy and perform them. I mentally committed to it – broke or rich music was my life.

On navigating a tough industry…

WB: Resilience, determination and persistence are the name of the game when it comes to the music biz. You have to accept the ‘nos’ with grace and recognise that eventually someone will realise your potential. Do not be a diva or be someone who is hard to work with…it’s a small business really with lots of people who know each other so word gets around quickly if you are difficult. Always be professional and remember, only the strong survive. (And I mean strong in mind and heart)

Ahnansé (A): The key word is industry and not music. I wish I had been told this sooner. Many of us musicians have no idea about business and how it works. Let alone the specifics of music contracts, managers, agents, touring, funding, taxes and the other structures with in the music industry. The first thing is always the music but it’s only 50% of what you need to know, The other side is understanding where you want to be placed within the industry, how you want people to engage with your work, how you can monetise this and what you need to do in order to make this sustainable as a career. I suggest self-study on the details of the music industry. Get on the internet learn it like it was yesterday.

On the essential skills for a career in music…

CHH: This point could be applied to any career, but I think it is essential: being a nice person to work with has a profoundly positive affect on a session, a tour, a project, a career. There are some people who I’d prioritise working with because, in addition to their expertise, they bring a wonderful attitude which lifts everyone up and encourages creativity.

This is a social career, and I think it’s an essential aim to bring out the best in each other, whether you’re writing for an orchestra or playing in a rhythm section.

Try to put your audience at ease too. I heard someone say this relating to auditions, but I think it’s such a nice way of thinking about how you have a social responsibility in any exchange.

O: Knowledge is power, it’s essential to study the business and get careers advice or do courses. It’s not going to get you signed (not that you need to be now) but it’s your armour and will protect you from dodgy, labels, promoters, and managers.

Study your craft, if you’re an artist perform as much as you can. In the beginning be open to diverse music projects as you always come away learning something that you can bring to your art. Try and be open minded musically and in life, keep inspiring yourself. I love to go to concerts, I come home feeling amped when I see other artist perform. I learn a lot from the way others perform and the energy they give. Don’t be one-dimensional either, although I’m a recording artist, I’ve diverted at times and been in musicals, bands, acting etc., there are so many different roads to your main goal.

On collaborating with others…

A: Collaboration is where you get to learn new things. Most people you’d want to work with have something unique you like and will influence your own music in a positive way. It is also a great way of expanding your audience from an industry perspective however you need to remain true to authentic collaborations. Forced creativity can always be felt.

CHH: Collaboration is a generous and generative process which requires sensitivity. I’d recommend studying conflict management. This may sound drastic, but conflict, when handled well, can be incredibly creative. It can result in something which is the sum of the strongest ideas.

Establish and manage your expectations across a collaboration. I’ve been surprised to find that, when collaborating across disciplines, we’ll all be using different systems even though they may look similar on the surface. It’s easy to take these things for granted, so it’s worth checking in, and putting agreements in writing.

O: It’s so much fun, and again, essential to collaborate with others. It opens you up to new ways of writing songs, you learn different skills, it also keeps the fire burning and opens up other opportunities. It was featuring on different genres that got me a name in the Garage Scene, I was more into R&B and House. Plus, fusing music can be born in collaborations and it’s always great to be part of the innovation of a new sound.

On making the most of making the most of Cre8tiv® short courses / MMC programme…

WB: The Midi Music Company has always provided opportunities for artists, creatives and anyone else who just wants to develop their music-making skills and sometimes other skills that relate to you getting your music out there. Current courses include; Music Production – all levels (we have Reason, Logic & Ableton software – thankfully, Ableton UK are one of our partners and they donated PUSH units for all of our systems and supported our lead tutors to participate at the LOOP conference in Berlin – cheers!); Cre8tiv® Choir – always a good way for singers to improve their aural skills, work on harmonising and generally improve their vocal techniques, as well as perform locally; Keyboards for Songwriting is a complimentary course to music production because it allows aspiring and established producers/songwriters/musicians/artists to think more melodically, focus on chord progressions and song structures; and lastly the amazing opportunity to grow your views/subscribers on our YouTube one-day course delivered by Laika Network – it really helps you to understand how best to organise your channel, tag videos and make money.

A: CICAS® is an amazing resource the supports your creativity. I’ve personally reaped the rewards of using this service with the successes I’ve had United Vibrations and presently with my project Steam Down. We rehearse, record and get advice through the program.

CHH: I began by saying that I recommend seeking support when you start out, and MMC is a great place for that. CICAS offers a chance to work with specialists from different backgrounds and draw from their perspectives on your work and the industry in general. They offer a wealth of experience and are generous with their time and suggestions.

I’ve found it so useful to speak to them about specific projects, especially helping me to communicate my ideas with fundraising and PR campaigns. There’s a nice community, and my friends’ careers have taken off there. I’ve been happy to contribute to other CICAS members’ projects, from albums to interviews. Get in touch with them… go for a coffee!

O: My favourite programme at The Midi Music Company is CICAS simply because it does the main thing every musician / artist wants, career advice on how to make it into music. Wozzy Brewster is an adviser of the upmost excellence! I know that sounds so extra, but she really is, she has over 4 decades of experience in the music/ entertainment industry and literally helps young people map their careers out, with a plan and great contacts. It’s the first thing I point any artist to when they ask for advice or feel lost.

To find out more about The Midi Music Company and the courses they offer, please visit themidimusiccompany.co.uk