Guest blog: Delaina Sepko on hip-hop, women and gender-balance in radio

Guest blog: Delaina Sepko on hip-hop, women and gender-balance in radio

We invited Delaina Sepko to write a very special guest blog for us on women and hip-hop – part of a series of features we’re running focused on hip-hop, to mark the start of our new HND hip-hop and rap module. Delaina is a music researcher, with her own show on the Scottish radio station Sunny G called ‘Breaks and Beats‘. She writes for us about how her passion for hip-hop often conflicts with the sexism engrained in some of it’s content, and how this motivated her to start a gender-balanced hip-hop radio show.

And she’s even curated a hip-hop guest playlist for us too! It’s an eclectic mix packed with Scottish hip-hop, and classic bangers from some of the best female rappers and MC’s of the past and present – all in the same place. Nice.

In May 2020, while the UK was deep into the first COVID lockdown, I started a hip-hop radio show at Sunny G Radio in Glasgow called ‘Beats & Breaks‘. The show is a mix of 90s American hip-hop, modern tracks that have that vibe, a wide range of Scottish hip-hop artists and a lot of discographical information. Every week, I put on all my hats – sound engineer, hip-hop head, broadcaster and music researcher – to make what I have come to think of as another part of my life-long love letter to hip-hop. The first cassette tape I bought with my own money was Ice T’s O.G. Original Gangster. I was 11 years old and ever since then, most of my jobs or hobbies have included hip-hop in some way. 30 years later, I’m still writing that letter every week with Beats & Breaks. But as a woman, hip-hop hasn’t always loved me back.

While it is not the only genre with misogynistic elements, hip-hop has (arguably more than) its fair share. As a teenager in the 90s, it was common to hear male artists and even a few women rapping about violence against females, sexually using or abusing women, and reducing them to victims, subjects or trash. Dr Dre partly built his career off the back of a “bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks” image. The artwork for Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle graphically depicts the fuck ‘em and leave ‘em attitude that runs through every track on the album. Eminen even rapped about killing the mother of his child and riding around in the car with her body propped up in the front seat. All this was hard to hear as a young woman, and while I didn’t automatically discredit these rappers or others like them for their lyrics – Dre was and still is one of my favourite producers – it felt almost impossible to reconcile what I was hearing with my love of the music. Granted, these are some of the more extreme examples from an era of hip-hop when a lot of male rappers asserted their authority through violence and sexual dominance. Not every artist took this route and if they did, it wasn’t always so extreme or degrading but it was always there. 

More recently, that overt rhetoric has quieted down and changed to a less violent but equally harmful narrative: ‘she’s good for a female MC/DJ/Engineer/Producer/etc’. Women have always been active in hip-hop and helped build it up from the very beginning. From the late 80s, women like Roxanne Shante, DJ Jazzy Joyce and Baby Love were rapping, DJing and breakdancing alongside and against men and although there were far fewer women taking part, the comparisons were more or less equal. Now there’s a divide between men and women with females working in hip-hop getting paid less, promoted less, praised less and these practices perpetuate the idea that women have less value to the genre. The scales are still tipped in favour of men and after all these years, I still can’t reconcile this imbalance with my love of hip-hop.

Radio airplay is one area where there’s a pretty big imbalance. In August 2020, Linda Coogan Bryne and Womxn In CTRL published Gender Disparity Report: UK Radio that in part surveyed UK airplay of the top 20 songs by domestic artists on commercial stations between 1 June 2019 and 1 June 2020. The report broke down the results by male, female and collaborations and showed that every station assessed gave male artists more airplay than women and some stations were heavily, if not entirely, favouring men. Kerrang! and Absolute Radio, we see you. For example, BBC Radio 1 and BBC 1 Xtra – the two stations in the BBC network you’d be most likely to hear hip-hop – favoured songs by male artists 85% and 76.2% respectively. The effects this imbalance has on female artists are many and profound, with two of the most important being less exposure and less PRS or PPL payments for airplay. Add hip hop’s less than favourable attitude towards women to the general practice of giving women less radio airtime and you’ll find that there aren’t many hip hop shows that play female artists, fewer fronted by female presenters and almost none that present a gender-balanced track list. 

At points during the last 30 years, I thought it would be better for me – particularly my peace of mind and self-esteem – to just give up on hip-hop. Why continue to love the music and to work in the industry when I had to put in 3 or 4 times the effort just to sit at the table and get paid less? Some of the worst experiences I had as a sound engineer came from male hip-hop artists that simply couldn’t stomach the fact there was a woman behind the board for their sessions. Sometimes it was awkward when I was mistaken for the studio’s receptionist. Other times it was demeaning. And only once was the name calling accompanied by physical threats. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the bushel – as my gran used to say – and I agree but it sure does give you the boke when you bite into it. 

Beats & Breaks is a way for me to stop fretting about all the things I feel are off about hip hop and focus on one thing I could do to help put some of it right: even out radio airplay. At first, I thought I’d just programme a gender-balanced track list and that would be good enough. Normalise it, and not make a fuss. But once I saw the Report’s results, I knew I’d have to be more open about what I was doing. I wasn’t just playing music; I was also giving all hip-hop artists an equal footing on the same platform. As far as I can tell, I host the only female-fronted hip hop show in Scotland and Beats & Breaks is the only one with a gender-balanced track list. I want to be wrong about this. I want there to be other shows I haven’t heard about because I don’t want to hold on to this title. 

I understand not every radio presenter has the luxury of playing whatever she or he wants. Commercial stations have much stricter and tighter constraints on what songs their presenters can choose from but as a community radio presenter, I have no such obligations. Beats & Breaks is my opportunity to not just settle the discomfort in my own heart and soul but also to encourage other women to present hip-hop radio shows and generally raise awareness about the airplay imbalance. I realised early on that wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t share what I was doing with Beats & Breaks. I want more women in Scotland involved in hip-hop as MCs, DJs, producers, promoters, sound engineers, radio presenters, event organisers and managers and part of seeing that happen – at least my part – is to reach out to anyone considering those roles and let them know that Beats & Breaks and Sunny G are spaces where the you’ll never be called “good for a female.” 


About the Author

Delaina Sepko is a music researcher, radio presenter and life-long hip hop head living in Glasgow, Scotland. She trained as a sound engineer at Sarm West under Trevor Horn, Tim Weidner and Robert Orton and was a finalist for the 2005 Music Week Woman of The Year award for being Sarm’s first female assistant engineer. After working with the Pet Shop Boys, Seal, Tinchy Stryder, Transglobal Underground and Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly., she earned an MSc and PhD in Information Studies and audio preservation from University of Glasgow. Now she is a contributor to the long form blog Hip Hop Scotland, presents Beats & Breaks on Sunny G Radio every Wednesday from 8-10 PM and uses the show to promote gender equality and showcase Scottish hip-hop.



Twitter: @delainasepko

Listen to Beats & Breaks archived shows on Mixcloud.

karen dunbar interview academy of music and sound ams hip hop workshops online

Karen Dunbar on Hip Hop Workshops, the arts, and why she gave up watching the news

Back in November we held a Hip Hop and Rap online workshop with a very special guest in attendance – Scottish legend Karen Dunbar. We were thrilled to find out what a great experience she had on the course, and fascinated to discover about the new community Hip Hop workshops she’s been hosting online since the first lockdown. So we boldly asked her for an interview! 

We chatted in depth about her Hip Hop workshops, which are currently mostly being held online via Zoom. Although it’s been an idea and a passion of hers for a while – the spread the power and positivity and Hip Hop and its empowering spoken word aspect – it was the conditions of lockdown which made it happen. Karen has been working with different community groups, from refugees to venerable young people, to a community theatre group, helping them to devise and create meaningful and personal rap stanzas. She even hopes to one day get their tracks played on the radio, and host a concert to showcase their work.

It was also a chance for us to catch up with Karen about how her lockdown(s) have been. 2020 was a trying year, not least of all for actors and comedians, with gigs and shows ripped from under them. But Karen is admirably optimistic, throwing herself into her new project and happy to face all the changes in our world with a headstrong, grin-and-bear-it attitude. She’s also stopped watching the news, which helps…

So why hip-hop then Karen? How did you get into that?

I love hip-hop! I’ve always loved it. It’s not as if I’ve been a huge hip-hop effiiardo for decades so I’m not gonna claim that, but I’ve always enjoyed rap music and been intrigued by it – the history, the culture. I was into a wee bit of Scottish rap music but the last couple of months it’s really took off for me. Just enjoying listening to it, discovering.  And it’s because rap is essentially spoken word – it’s performance spoken word – and I’m an actor so that’s a big part of what I do!

[It] just kinda exploded! To almost an unmanageable point, which is just lovely in some ways but it’s a bit hectic. I’m working on a track now actually. But I am really enjoying it, really enjoying it.

Has music always been an interest?

There was a social club round the corner from where I grew up, and my big sister and my dad used to take me round, and I’d go up on stage and sing sometimes – I must have been about 4 year old. I mean this was in the mid 70s so you were allowed to take 4 year olds into a big pub and let them sing at the time! Full of smoke and everything. And you know I’ve got two sisters, and my mum and dad, and their influences – they’ve very different influences you know! One of them was prog rock – one of my sisters – the other was Motown, my mum and dad were much older so they were the classic references… 

I always had a kind of musical ear. I don’t play any instruments – apart from the mouth organ and I only play ‘Oh Suzanne’ on the mouth organ! But when I was in primary, I was able to pick at tunes on a keyboard or on a xylophone – so if someone said ‘doe a deer’ I could play it. And I thought everybody could do that! A bit like seeing and hearing you know, that everybody could jus’ do that, but it wasnae until years later that I was like, oh that’s a thing not everybody has… So aye, music obsessed, obsessed!

There’s an old 70s song called ‘Music..’ by John… I can’t remember who sings it, there you go! John somebody! Anyway, he says, the first line has a big dramatic, big piano behind it, and he sings ‘music is my first love and it will be last‘ – and it always makes me laugh, because it’s true, it’s true for me.


What do the workshops involve?

Well, I’m saying they’re basic right now but it feels like there’s an awful lot in them! [laughs] I’ve been doing most of them on Zoom. They’re 2 hour sessions which are great, people are really enthusiastic, and they’re up for it, and they’re open minded, and they’re creative! The idea is to get a group of people, maybe 6 or 8, and give them a topic and ask them to write a short paragraph up about that topic and then to take each of their paragraphs and help them write it up into a rap stanza. Then, help them develop that and help them rap it and perform it – you know, [it’s] on Zoom, but we’re doing it!

I’ve been recording them and then taking the recordings. I’m doing some of them acapella, sometimes I give them a beat behind it, but obviously with Zoom it’s very limited. Then I’ll go and make the music up for the track on GarageBand, and edit their voices into the song. So I’ve just finished one about 15 minutes ago! I think I’m finished – I’m no sure! I might go back and faff about with it for another 5 hours! [laughs] But I’m hopefully finished with it. I’m really having a ball with it.

“There’s a strange mix of resignation and gratitude.
We’ve gotta do it like this, but at least we can.”

What has the response been like to the workshops?

Well, it’s so strange how it came about and, I’m not too arty farty or airy fairy [laughs] but it just seemed to happen and it just seemed to flow very easily, and usually that’s a good sign!  I’ve done 5 workshops with 5 different groups over 3 week periods for each of them, I’ve got another 3 to do, and that’s intentional that I don’t have any more to do at the moment, because I could’nae handle any! [laughs] 

When I started off, one of my friends – he’s a business advisor but a pal you know, I was talking to him about it, and he says, ‘so what are you charging for it?’ I’m nae charging anything for it! And he said you gotta charge something! I say – you know, typical artist – I don’t want tae make money, I want tae make music! And I meant that, I really meant it. That does’nae mean I don’t need to pay my rent and things… But I don’t want to attach money to this because it starts to sully things. SO, all that being said it gave me a really good place to come from, because the inference wasnae, ‘oh let’s see how much I can get financially out of this’. It was more, ‘lets see what we can do together.’  I think that’s been helpful in creating a useful atmosphere for it. 

Who can get involved?

I had a group of refugees who live in Glasgow, that was my first group – fantastic! I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm and creativity, just brilliant. Then I was out at the Good Shepherd Centre out in Bishopton with some teens – and I was out there because they could still operate because it was a closed school environment. Again overwhelming, just wasnae expecting what I got from them at all. I thought it would be good but I didn’t realise it would be so moving! 

I’ve just a couple of groups with the Citizens Theatre, they have a thing called the Community Collective, and that’s one of the songs I’m working on just now. That was so different as well! They’ve all been so different and I think that’s what’s making me so excited about it and quite purposeful, because every-single session is different, with a different mix of people and different backgrounds. And I think In fact, 4 of them – or 3 different groups – have asked me to come back and do it again, which is great because I’ve only just finished! So that’s heartening as well. And then another 3 groups coming up in the next month.

It’s just these groups that have come to me at the moment – and I haven’t even advertised it! I haven’t put it out anywhere, I’m just testing the ground right now – but the ground seems pretty fertile!

Are attendees new to hip-hop or do they have an interest already?

Yep, some of the students out at the Good Shepherd were fantastic MCs! I’m learning all the time… I didn’t know the difference between an MC and a rapper.. So they were educating me on that! But mostly, I mean the group I was working with yesterday I would say they were at the ages of 40 upwards, a couple of them in their 60s, which is brilliant! Each individual in that group, their attitudes to rap, what they liked and what they didnae like, and what they thought could be done – that’s so interesting as well. 

Each group at the end has come out of it with a formed, structured rap song. I think that’s surprising to a few of the participants, I didnae see how this could work and yet here it is and it’s brilliant and it flows! And I’m LOVING that! I’m actually In love with it now! I’ve got all the chemicals of being in love, I’m off my face on dopamine! It’s all fleeing through me – adrenaline – I cannae wait to get back into it!

And the tracks they create – will they be available for people to listen to?

I’ve been talking to Steg G at Sunny G Radio, who’s one of your tutors, I said to him, what I’d like to do is, I’ve not had the chance to do it yet (you know, Zoom novice) but what I’d like to do is get the recordings together, and mix them as best I can. I’ve actually signed up to your sound engineering course, because I don’t really know what I’m doing with it. I just recently got back into Garageband, so I’m just learning that now. The quality of them is pretty dubious right now but what I’d like to do, and Steg has agreed, is make individual shows for each group and put them on Sunny G. Along with different music as well, but play that and play interviews with the group. 

Essentially what I’d like to do is make an album of it and put it out. Then if the world ever opens back up do a concert at the Royal Concert Hall with each group – I would love that! But if its never anything more than what it is now, it’s fantastic. And I mean that, because if I keep it within that realm, I don’t project too much and I don’t try to force things like; ‘we need to do this better, because I want it to be recorded and who knows who might be listening…’ Pardon the expression – but f* all that! I just want the experience of being in the room – or being on Zoom – with participants. Anything else is a bonus. 

Do you know much about the Scottish Hip Hop scene? 

Nooo, this time 3 months ago all I knew was Stanley Odd and Loki! I didn’t even know Steg G did hip-hop. So there’s my ignorance level on it, but I’m getting more familiar with it now. 

I’m also watching the Rap Game, which I had actually watched last year, without any thoughts on watching it because I was doing a workshop, and I don’t really watch a lot of reality show type competitions, but I was really interested in that, and I watched Hip Hop Evolution when it came out. So I’m watching Shogun on the Rap Game right now, and I’m very interested in his stuff. So aye, getting into it more – and I’m intrigued! 


Some people have a negative perception of hip-hop – how it sometimes is sexist, homophonic or violent. It’s good that it’s being seen more as a positive tool for learning and expression. Because as you said, it’s spoken word and poetry! 

Yeah, most things when they become so commercial turn… You know the two main sources of power are sex and money. And if you look at anything really, well most things, you’ll see that element when it gets to a certain degree. And as you said there, that’s now how it started off and that’s not what it needs to be. There’s other channels of hip hop as well – or there’s other ways to channel it. 

“Each group has come out of it with a formed, structured rap song. I think that’s surprising to a few of the participants. I didnae see how this could work and yet here it is, and it’s brilliant and it flows!”

What about 2020, how has it gone for you? I saw you were set to play Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest in Perth in March, did that go ahead?

We did yeah! We got so far into it. It was only a 3 week run, so we got 2 weeks out of the 3 weeks in the end. I’m really glad we got that but that was disappointing because I felt it was a huge role… One of the hardest in terms of muscularity– the vocal muscularity! The annunciation, the breath work I had to do, never mind any emotional stuff I had to do! You know so much of it was technique. And that sounds like I know what I’m doing – I’m not trained in anything, my training has kinda been on the job, so I made it up as I went along, and that… I felt I was just getting into the part and we lost the last week! 

So yeah, that was disappointing. It was a lovely wee theatre in Perth, a great director, fantastic cast, the set, what they’d done, because it was a very low budget, and what they’d done with the set and the costumes, it was such a good job that we all pulled together, and we only had 3 weeks rehearsal! There were 5 cast members and the 4 were all playing other roles! So it was a huge undertaking. So aye, it was disappointing, it would be lovely if that was remounted, but god knows where and how and when now! 

How was lockdown?  Was the workshop something that came from lockdown or had you thought about it before?

Well, to answer the hip-hop question; a bit of both. I’d spoken a bit at the beginning of the year [2020] to a friend, it might have been even at the end of last year [2019]… Before I even knew what COVID-19 was! So it wisnae a thing that I wanted to do because of lockdown, but I had nae time! I had been wanting to do something like that for a long time and was just too busy… So yeah it did come from the lockdown in terms of how I could do it, because obviously I couldn’t have go into rooms with people, so the majority of it’s been done on Zoom, which I very hesitant to do, but if it was between that and nothing, then I was doing that, and actually that [is] working out. 

I’m a Zoom novice but I seem to be getting better at it every 2 hour session! It’s just practice like anything. But I’m limited to what I can actually do, because if I was in the actual room with people I would be sitting working with them you know, you can get the energy of people as well, especially when it’s creative and it’s musical and it’s rhythmic and you’re picking that up off people… But we’re nae doing a bad job on it, and I think [the participants] are – I cannae speak for everybody– but I think there’s a strange mix of resignation and gratitude. We’ve gotta do it like this, but at least we can. 

It’s strange to say this, I try to be very mindful of the suffering that’s happening… I’ve had my own stuff to deal with and that as well, it’s not as if it’s not touched me – ‘cos all my work was cancelled, and that’s a big thing! There’s nae furlough for me! There’s naebody paying me anything! But I hardly did anything. I couldn’t see anybody, but at the same time there was an awful lot less money spent. It was readdressing a balance personally for me in how I spent money, how I spent time – because that busyness! You know it’s funny, there’s kind of a perpetual motion that’s going on and then, coming into lockdown, was left panting! Almost like… [she mimics breathing fast]… 

Left catching our breath!

Yeah. There’s some part of my brain mechanism that’s still running and looking to attach to the busyness, the level of energy it was used to. And that eventually ran out you know, with enough episodes of the Gilmore Girls [laughs] – that ran out! It was quite scary because I’m used to being very busy….. And then I went into the inertia period of, what the f*ck am I doing… What can I do? What do I want to do? What do I need to do? So all those questions on a small level.. and on a – micro and macro, because those sort of existential, ‘who am i, what is this’… 

I hav’nae watched the news or read a newspaper for 20 years. Now in saying that, I was still on Twitter quite a lot – funny I came off Twitter a couple of years ago, and then I reinstalled [it]… I wasnae tweeting anything but I was reading you know so much, so I was infused completely with all sides of everything! Then the arse fell out of that.. I know I jus’ thought I cannae look at this anymore, so a couple of months ago jus’ deleted Twitter again. So I don’t have any news that I look at. My mates keep me posted on what I need to know. And that’s been really, really conducive to my creativity. I cannae stress that enough!

We’re aching for the arts industry right now! What advice would give those still interested in pursuing a career in the arts?

Well this might sound a bit strange – and I hope it does’nae come across as patronising in any way – but do not worry about it. Not because, in that kind of ‘everything’s gonna be alright’ way, but we must create, as the creatures we are ya know. I don’t mean us as artists, I mean the species – we must create. So whatever that creativity is inside each person, whether it’s about creating a good soup, creating a wee baby, creating music – we’re driven to do it. 

There’s a surface level to me that’s like ‘oh my god, the theatre is shut, live events are shut, the bulk of my work is in that, what’s gonna happen’.. One of the ways that I’m able to calm down is to come back to what my needs are. And I’ve got a kind of mantra of, ok what are my needs? Food, water, air, shelter, love – sleep potentially! But even if I don’t get that I’ll probably still live for quite a bit. Food, water, air, shelter, love – that’s what I need. And I’ve never been without that! So I know that’s maybe no advice to an artist because I don’t really know how to give it other than; Don’t worry, we will find a way to create – we cannae not!

If we’re gonna live online then we will create online and that will take off… It’s already taken off but that will take off more – and I know that’s not the same and I know there’s a huge loss in that but.. There’s an old bumper sticker that says ‘change = loss + gain’ so there’s gotta be gain in it too.


It’s human nature isn’t it, to create?

And when I’m questioning and doubting everything myself creatively, that’s why for a few months of lockdown, my go-to place would’ve been – write a monologue, write something that you can do online – but I just was’nae there, there was a huge block! And I know a lot of creative people had that, but it was nurturing that belief, which is a core belief that as a species we’ve got to create, you know. This isn’t just about me being a suffering artist or something, that’s what we do as humans. Knowing that that was true, and thinking – ok leave it alone and it will come. And when it did it was a bit tsunami-like! It was like – ‘I’m going to do hip-hop! That’s it!!! HIP-HOP!’ So, it’ll come. And I think stressing about it can create a barrier to it. Sometimes it’s good to have a wee bit of stress to give us some umph, but there’s levels to it.

How are you feeling about the current lockdown?

I mean it’s a terrible thing that we’ve got to go into any level of it again. I feel so lucky, so lucky to be doing what I’m doing right now. I feel… it’s unfair to say this but to a certain degree I’m not really thinking about the lockdown too much. I’m waking up in the morning right now and thinking I’ve gotta find a baseline for that hip hop track! And I’ve gotta find a way to splice that.. And put a beat into this and I cannae mix yet, so I’m gonna Google that and watch a tutorial [laughs]! That’s what I’m thinking about just now. 

Are you feeling more positive for 2021?

Next year? Nae idea! Don’t know, don’t care! Because it’s too far, it’s too far. Tomorrow’s a wee bit too far for me. What I manage is what’s happening right now. And that’s.. I was going to say a coping mechanism, but it’s not, it’s a dealing with life mechanism. An awful lot of the time –not in any kind of bhuddist-zen-medative kind of way– but I actually try to check in with my body; ‘Are ye in any pain?!’ Are ya hungry? Tired? Thirsty?’ Because this is reality what is happening here and now. And everything else, past or future, it’s all in my head! And that sort of brings me back into the room if you like. Which is good, that’s been a really useful tool over the years. Never mind tomorrow, never mind yesterday, what’s happening in the now.

And it’s not easy because we live in a society that’s so led towards we must try harder, better, higher, faster… bikini-body ready, blah blah… Oh man, we’re so immersed in it, just to come out of it for a while and think I’m gonna try this GarageBand loop, because my ears can hear it and that’s reality… 

There’s me saying I don’t think about 2021! I am looking to expand [the workshops] next year, so if you know any groups that would be interested in that, then please put that out there. But we’ll see, we’ll see what happens today! 

Read more about Karen on her website.

Check out more news and blogs from us here.


Words & Interview: Isobel Trott

Many Hats with Chloe Heatlie, producer at Adelphoi Music

Many Hats with Chloe Heatlie, producer at Adelphoi Music

Welcome back to Many Hats. This week our Edinburgh centre manager Alyssa got to sit down and catch up with her old pal Chloe Heatlie, producer at Adelphoi Music, a Music Agency based in Central London. Chloe has a set of impressive music qualifications including a Masters in Musical Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music and since joining Adelphoi, she has worked with a range of high profile clients including Nike, Armani x Hypebeast, Zara, Walkers Max, and Google Cloud.

Their conversation spans all things music production, as Alyssa gets all the details on what Chloe’s fascinating role involves, and her commitment to music beyond her day-job including her lockdown-inspired Podcast ‘A Little More Conversation’. Alyssa and Chloe also chat lockdown tips and the impact of this ‘toxic productivity’ we’re all feeling just a little bit right now. Read on and discover all…

Hi Chloe! Tell me a bit about yourself! What do you do and how did you get where you are today?

I live in London and I work as a producer at a music agency [Adelphoi Music].  Before that, I studied musical theatre in Glasgow at Motherwell College and then moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music. After that I worked as a performer before I decided I wanted to work in the music industry. When I decided that, I started to work hard to gain experience, so temped on reception at places like Universal Music, I volunteered for Sofar Sounds, read a ton of books, wrote a music blog and eventually (after a couple of years) I got a job at Adelphoi. And that’s where I am now!


Tell us a bit more about your role at Adelphoi?

I’m a producer – we work with creative agencies, production companies and brands to either find or create music and/or sounds for advertising campaigns. We have a team of composers who work for us but we also work with freelance composers, musicians and artists to create compositions! We work with record labels and publishers to brief out searches if we’re looking for a specific type of track for a project, we’ll work with them to find tracks that are in-line with what we want and are licence-able for the budget we have.

We also do audio branding, so that’s working directly with brands to find a specific sound to represent them. For example we worked with Norwegian Air to create a sonic identity for them and they use it on board all of their planes, we also revived Gillette’s existing audio identity for use globally across their advertising. We also do sound design to picture too.

What’s a typical day in the office for you? – Pre-covid!

A typical day pre-COVID! [laughs] Our office is in Covent Garden, there we have studios and we have a production room where we all sit and work together. We usually have production meetings, so all the producers get together and we talk about projects we have. We also talk about sales a lot, part of our role is new business. So we’re reaching out to producers, creatives and creative directors, to tell them about the company and try to get them to think of us when they next need music on a project.  We have sales catch-ups in the morning, then during the day we’ll just be working on whatever projects take priority. A lot of the time our projects are a very quick turn around, 1-2 days to make a composition for an advert, so that’s doing demos, working on them and then delivering, so getting them mixed as well! [We’re] sometimes in-and-out of the office for industry events too.


And how have things changed with COVID this year?

It’s quite different yeah… So all of the ‘nice’ bits of the job – getting to meet people and socialise and attend events and screenings – are all non-existent! [laughs] There are a lot of online events which we are trying to attend more and more. But yeah the sad thing is not being able to meet people and chat face-to-face and do all those things which are the big perks of the job really! But yeah we’ve been working remotely since March, everybody, all our composers and producers.

Has your job been effected by the impact of COVID on the music industry?

We’ve noticed [it] in terms of the types of projects that we’re getting. We’re getting a lot smaller budgets this year, so brands just don’t have as much money, or they’re choosing not to spend as much money on music so we’re getting a lot of back catalog searches and library music searches. Rather than brands spending £50k on a composition job, they’ll spend £10k on a piece of library music that maybe isn’t as special but is cheaper and does the job. So we’ve definitely noticed some budgets being slashed, but there’s definitely still work out there so we’re still working which is nice!


That’s good – it’s a bit doom and gloom and we’re having to adapt! But musicians are used to being versatile?

I think that’s true. Most people I work with have some kind of ‘side hustle’ whether that is DJing or being part of some sort of collaborative group, or volunteering, they do have things they do on the side. Definitely agree.


When you graduated from RAM, how did your degree help you to get where you are today?

My degrees did help me in terms of the musical knowledge you need to get my job. Everyone that works for the company is a musician or a DJ or is totally involved in music in some way, shape or form. So it’s really important. And also to be able to give feedback to performers, if you don’t understand music you’re not really able to give that feedback. It’s something that adds value to companies like us. You get agencies coming to us and saying things like… ‘I want music that’s happy’. Okay, what kind of music are we talking about here? So it needs to be happy, is that all you can give us? [laughs] So it’s kinda like translating what people want into music – which is essential. 

“For my job I have to have an understanding of a range of genres. Our briefs can be anything from opera to 80s disco! It could be anything.”

I also think, with my degree in musical theatre… It wasn’t all about the music, it was more about your confidence and your character.  I think it was those things that really helped me in terms of getting up and being able to talk to people or being able to approach somebody you don’t know and say, hey look at what we’re doing over here, do you wanna hear more about it? It’s also those skills that are really valuable!


So from graduating from RAM to where you are today, what experience did you gather along the way?

I had to have passion for music to get my job, you had to have experience in music. You have to have an understanding of a range of genres – our briefs can be anything from opera to 80s disco, you know! It could be anything. So you have to kinda understand a lot of different styles, or at least have an awareness of it. 

I was also doing loads of voluntary work at the time too.  In those 2 years where I was looking for a job in music, I was applying for jobs like mad! There’s paid internships down in London but they don’t really pay you enough for you to actually do them, unless you’re living with someone and not really paying any rent or student loans or bills. I didn’t do an internship, I just needed to get a job! And I think Adelphoi did take a bit of a risk.

I think it’s important to note I didn’t have experience in the job, I just had passion and I had degrees and I had knowledge. I was teaching myself, I read so many books all about the music industry and I was volunteering at live events, doing all sorts of things from artist liaison to making sure people at the events were safe and comfortable. And I was blogging as well!  I was constantly looking online to find artists that weren’t signed and I was blogging about them, just writing ‘check out this song, this is really cool, and she’s from here, and she’s this old, and this is the kind of music she does or he does.’ So yeah, a big part of me getting the job was the company taking a chance, but also proving I was passionate.

What about the best thing about working in music?

The best thing I think is the people. We get to meet so many people, not only is our team so nice, we have a good family feel! But there’s just so many interesting people. As I said before, aside from the day-to-day projects we might be working on, you might not be really passionate about making an advert, or what the advert is about, but a lot of the people have things that they believe in and they’re part of things outside of work they get involved in. That might be charity projects… The other night we went to an online… What do you call it when it’s like naked drawing? [laughs]

Anyway! It was an online naked drawing [life drawing] event for Breast Cancer Awareness and these girls from an agency were like, we’re gonna do an event with naked drawing and you pay £8 for a ticket, all the money goes towards Breast Cancer Awareness and you have a bit of fun! And there’s loads of those sort of initiatives which I really like. So definitely the people. 


What’s the most challenging aspect of your job or working in the industry?

One of the challenges actually is getting through all the music! So everyday we each get 10s and 10s of emails from sync companies, publishers, record labels, freelance composers and artists – we just get sent so much music! And we’d love to listen to it, and we do try to go through as much as we can but we can’t sit and listen to music all day, so that’s the sad thing, we get a sent a lot of great stuff that we might miss because we just don’t have the hours in the day. But we do always try to reply, especially if it’s someone new that we haven’t heard from before just to say thanks, I’ll take a look, and we’ll keep you in mind and if something comes up maybe we can work together. But yeah, that’s the day-to-day trouble for sure.


What advice would you give students or graduates who want to get into your line of work?

Yeah, passion! If you’re not, why are you in the music industry really! That’s a given. But for this year obviously it’s really challenging for everyone in terms of working, there’s been a ton of redundancies all over the place especially in the live sector, I think just don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t happen straight away. It took me a few years to get a job in music, and I think just do your research! 

If you’re passionate about something, just learn. Watch YouTube videos, read books, email people, add them on LinkedIn, just say hey, I’m really interested in your career, would you be up for having a coffee or a zoom and just chatting. Maybe find a mentor as well, somebody that’s willing to give you advice or check over your CV. But I think passion will definitely help you on the way!


And what’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received? 

I think for me I’ve always been quite driven to the point where I just want to get things done and get to the finish line. It can be a really good thing, but it’s important to take your time sometimes and enjoy the moments… And not always be pushing for the next thing. Just taking it a bit slower sometimes would probably be the best advice I’ve had. Not that I always listen to it! [laughs]

Especially during the pandemic…

There was that saying which was like, if you’ve got out of bed in the morning and made your bed, then you’ve done something, you’ve achieved something.


That’s a good way to look at it. There’s so much pressure on achieving stuff during this time – I’m not in the mood to do anything creative, just trying to get through it.

I think it’s totally common. Obviously everybody is different and everybody is dealing with it differently and has different situations, but I don’t think it’s a time to be putting pressure on yourself and stressing out about it. You know, do what you can do. If you can make 10 albums this year then go for it – it doesn’t really matter, but just make sure when you come out of it you’re in a good place. 


That takes me to my next question… You’re working on a podcast that covers mental health in the industry, is that right?

Yeah sure, so the podcast is called ‘A Little More Conversation‘ and it basically came up during coronavirus. Me and a colleague Lacyn were thinking how hard all this was, and we bet there’s other people out there who are really struggling, but there’s actually nothing for people – in advertising especially – to turn to. There’s a charity that provides counselling but that’s all really. So we decided to start a podcast that talks about mental health in the advertising industry. It’s been really popular so far. We’re going to talk about things like the pressures of sales, the pressures of creativity, job sharing, working from home, returning to work after paternity or maternity leave, things like that. Anything that might be presenting challenges for people in the industry and openly talking about it. It will hopefully give people in the industry somewhere to go and listen to other people’s problems, which they can probably relate to!

It’s good to feel you’re not alone in the way you’re feeling. A lot of what we’re seeing is the highlights of people’s lives on social media.

Yeah it’s true – it’s not real what you see on social media – but it’s the same in the industry, you might have a company saying ‘we’re really busy, we have so many projects on..’ but they don’t! They’re just saying it because they want people to think that they’re busy, which is their prerogative really. But actually I think this year especially it’s fine to say, we’ve had a hard year, you’ve probably too, is there anything we can do to help each other out?

How would a budding artist go about approaching you to get their tracks featured in one of your projects?

So there’s a couple of ways. If you have a publisher, the publisher should be pushing out your music to people like us, not just for advertising but for film and TV as well. But not everybody has a publisher, so if you’re doing it yourself, just research companies – companies like us, music production companies. You’ll also find on LinkedIn lots of freelance music supervisors. They want to be sent music, you know, we want to be sent stuff, we need to know what’s current, what’s cool.  And also if you’re an artist, there’s some really interesting reasons for a company to work with you, one it’s supporting up-and-coming talent, which is huge, hugely important. And 2, it’ll give you good money for you to go and make more music! 

Also it often works well for lower budget projects, or projects that are maybe more creative. So I think there’s definitely good opportunities. Our emails are on the website, just go around, do some research, send some emails. Make sure that when you present your music you do it in a good way. So don’t send too much, maybe send a couple of tracks and just explain who you are and what kind of music you’re making – and that’s it!


And one last question – what’s the most exciting project you’ve been involved in at work?

Oooo… I’m actually working on one at the minute, I actually can’t tell you what who brand is, it’s a luxury fashion brand, but we’re basically mixing an old out-of-copyright classical piece of music with very modern, ugly sounds, an so it’s going to be a total mash up of beautiful classical music and really ugly, industrial sounds! And the film is really cool, it’s got loads of dancers in it and the people are beautiful and hopefully it’s going to come together in the end!

Sounds interesting!

Yeah it’s bold definitely! I’ll send it ya!

You can read Chloe’s blog here, and listen to her podcast A Little More Conversation on Spotify.

Find out more about Adelphoi on their website


Interview: Alyssa Renwick
Photos: © Adelphoi Music

women in music short course free scotland female artists kate mccabe

Meet 9 incredible Scottish artists from the AMS Women In Music course

Our latest Women In Music (Empowerment and Employability) short course took place online a couple of weeks ago, and was a roaring success. The free online event saw a huge number of passionate female artists and women in music, come together, network and share their knowledge.

Hosted by our own Karlyn King and Melisa Kelly, the event saw female-identifying artists currently based in Scotland come together to share knowledge and skills in a welcoming and inclusive environment.  Some of our wonderful attendees have been kind enough to share with us some of their work and music. Take a look below for a short bio on each artist, and links to some of their music.

Our next WIM event will take place over 2 weekends from 21 November to 29 November – oh, and it’s completely free! Follow the link to book your place now.

Kate McCabe

Kate McCabe is a 23 year old singer songwriter from, and based in Scotland. She’s been writing songs since she was 10 and in 2014 released her debut E.P ‘Fault’ at 15 years old. Most recently in 2018 she released she second E.P ‘WOMAN’. Kate said that music has always been her passion and she hope that her work will “emotionally engage people with melodies and lyrics not only make you stop and listen, but make you stop and think”. Check out her music on her Bandcamp artist page and get updates on her music on her Facebook.

Jeri Foreman

Jeri is a big name in Australian folk music – now residing in Scotland! A fiddle player from Adelaide (South Australia), Jeri’s debut in the Australian folk scene was winning back-to-back Young Traditionalist’s Awards at the Victor Harbour Folk Festival, age 11 and 12. Sh’e won plenty of awards since then, including Most Outstanding New or Emerging Artist/Group in the Folk Federation of SA Folk Awards in 2007 and 2008, and in 2009, her performances with Adelaide band, Garida, won the inaugural Peter Daly Award for the finest performance of Celtic music at the National Folk Festival.

She’s also gone onto being awarded music scholarships 2010 to study with many of the world’s top fiddle players, and in 2014, she won the Best Composition Golden Fiddle Award for her tune, “No Bigger Than an Envelope”.  She is a multifaceted fiddler, fascinated by finding similarities in fiddle traditions. Jeri holds a Bachelor of Music with Honours (majoring in violin performance) from the Elder Conservatorium. She has released two albums of compositions in the Celtic style, in 2013 and 2017. She continues to play with a variety of musicians in multiple genres. Check out her LP The Blue Album on Spotify now.

Amy Ross (Baby Taylah)

Scotland based Amy Ross (artist name Baby Taylah) is know for her fusion of dark electronica with distorted, breathy vocals, which flicker relentlessly between angelic and ominous tones.

“Combining dark electro pop with a classic Celtic sound, Baby Taylah’s music is fuelled by a sense of empowerment. Born Amy Louise Ross, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter had been active in the Glasgow music scene since the late aughts before she decided to take a three-year break from songwriting. More confident than ever, she returned late last year having signed to Swedish label Icons Creating Evil Art with a bold new single called ‘Reclaim’, a track whose power lies in its minimal yet effective production, presenting Taylah as a force to be reckoned with. There’s a lot to be excited about in Baby Taylah’s future, and we can’t wait to hear more….”

Listen to Baby Taylah on Spotify now.

Alison McNeill 

Alison is 1/3 of Reely Jiggered – “a Scottish folk rock band with a twist”, who’s recent album Tricky Terrain is cone to check out. Alison has performed as a soloist all over the UK, Holland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Japan, Pakistan, America and Mexico and has been broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio nan Gaidheal and Spanish, Pakistani and Mexican TV.

As a freelance portfolio musician, Alison enjoys a busy and varied career as a Classical lyric soprano performing as a soloist in top venues including Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Minami Aizu Concert Hall (Japan) and the National Auditorium of Galicia (Spain). As gifted recitalist, Alison formed the McNeill Savaloni Duo with Classical guitarist Sasha Savaloni which has seen the pair broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland’s Classics Unwrapped and become the 2015-2017 Artists in Residence for Enterprise Music Scotland‘s Chamber Music Project.

Ellie Morrison

Ellie is an Artist Manager and Musician. After receiving a first class honours degree in music business at SAE Institute, I decided to set up my own artist management company called Ellie Morrison Artist Management. Since then, she has been working with singer/songwriter Megan Black for around a year, in which time they have released two singles and organised a series of independent events and gigs.

“Not every day is the same,” she said in an interview with SAE. “Most of the time I am updating her social media, depending on what event is coming up next, and then making sure everything is organised for whatever we are working on at the time. Right now we are working on an EP, so over the next few weeks I will be making sure the songs are finalised, uploading them to a distribution company, creating an EPK (Electronic Press Kit), which includes the tracks, music videos, promotional photographs and press release statement, which I will then send out to different press outlets.”

Get updates on her Facebook page.

Sonia Duignan

Based in Scotland, Sonia D is an Irish singer-songwriter whose fingerstyle picking and melodies take their influence from Folk and Indie Folk music. Sonia’s acoustic based music contains thought provoking lyrics and emotive vocals intertwined with hints of piano and strings. With her haunting tones and honest expression she sings about her life experiences and hopes that her music resonates as a form of escapism or therapy to any who listen.

Growing up in Galway, Sonia started writing songs at the age of 10 immersed in the influence of artists such as Nina Simone, Pete Yorn, Fiona Apple, Glen Hansard, Jeff Buckley, Heather Nova and Chantal Kreviazuk. Today’s influences number the likes of James Vincent McMorrow, Wallis Bird, Dodie, and Dermot Kennedy, whose music has inspired her to be brave in baring her soul through her art form. Sonia loves live streams and plans to gig both locally and abroad. Currently focused on releasing singles, an E.P. and an Album are also in the pipeline.

Jen Athan

Jen Athan is a songwriter, composer, producer and multi- instrumentalist from Aberdeen.  She found her passion for music after learning to play the violin, piano, guitar and drums throughout her youth. Whilst studying music at North East Scotland College, she found herself becoming more involved in music production and sound design and decided to pursue a career in writing and producing music.

In 2018, Jen released her solo piano EP Vinter Allée with one of the pieces ‘For Sebastien’ featuring in the sold-out performance of Kid Astronaut –  an early years theatre show which she also co-wrote. She has worked with Scottish Youth Theatre, Tron Theatre Young Company, Ipdip theatre, Glasgow Life and BBC The Social.

Listen & learn more on her website.

Emma Milligan

Emma is 22 year old singer songwriter based in Edinburgh. On her artist page, she says her influences are the likes of artists such as Fleetwood Mac, and Ed Sheeran. She plays guitar and ukulele. Find out more about Emma on her Artist Facebook Page.

Emmy Leishman

Otherwise known as Big Girl’s Blouse, Emmy Leishman is a Glasgow based artist. Listen to her radiant music on Soundcloud now.

november playlist

Brighten your day with our November playlist

Take your mind off the impending lockdown, and give your ears a well deserved treat with our carefully curated November playlist.

It's been another superb month for releases in Scotland, and our Glasgow team have put together a compilation of tracks that does mighty justice to the incredible local scene at the moment.

A playlist diverse as always, check out notable releases from Taz And The Maniacs, Tommy McGuire, Paul Mullen Music, Rigid Soul, Chris Greig & The Merchants, Lucia & The Best Boys, Ceiti and Quiche.

susan montgomery resonate confernece many hats interview glasgow scotland

Many Hats with Resonate's Susan Montgomery

For the next instalment of Many Hats we sit down with Susan Montgomery, Project Manager at Glasgow’s annual Resonate Music Conference, and Senior Music Publicist at Publishing Company 23 Precinct.

Susan has been working on producing Resonate for 4 years now which usually happens in Glasgow each year. This year, like everyone, Susan and her team are having to adapt to the strange new conditions we find ourselves in, so this year, Resonate 2020 will be taking place virtually in November. Susan talks us through her experience – from starting a biochemistry degree to following her passion for music by going back to college to study music, and subsequently kick-starting the impressive career she holds today! See below for wise words, hot tips and some impressive anecdotes…

What are your current roles? What do they involve?

Right now I work as the Senior Music Publisher at 23rd Precinct Music, which is first and foremost a publishing company, so we represent songwriters, composers and music creators, and we also have 2 in-house record labels – so I wear many hats in that role!

I also Project-Manage Resonate which is a music industry conference, which normally happens physically, but this year it’s happening digitally. It happens in November every year in Glasgow, and we host a series of panel discussions, one to one sessions, workshops, seminars – a whole bunch of things! We’ve really worked to grow that over the past 4/3 years to be a sort of calendar – staple – event in a lot of Scottish music-people’s lives I think now, and that’s really where we’re at!


Amazing! What key skills do you use in each role?

At 23rd Prescient as a Publisher I have to be great at communicating. I have to be really forthcoming with ideas, pitching to labels and management companies. So if I’ve got a writer that writes a song I have to find a home for that song, so I directly pitch to management companies, not just here in the UK, but all over the world. 

I do a lot of pitching for Sync as well – Sync is when you put music to a moving image, so that could be a game or trailer, advert, whatever else. Basically I organise all the catalogs, all the new music that our writers are writing. I have to then process it on a platform – so being organised is a really important skill. Being able to self-motivate is really important and being able to prioritise your tasks. You know, if I get a briefing for a Sync and it’s urgent I have to drop everything I’m doing and respond to that. 

And in terms of Resonate, I think being a good team leader – hopefully I am a good team leader I don’t know, I’ve not had any bad feedback so far! [laughs] – but being able to manage and delegate tasks is really hard, especially if you’re a control-freak, but it’s just about overcoming those challenges that you face with just growing up I guess!

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job/s? 

From a publishing perspective, that’s really where my passion lies.  I really love songwriting and just think it’s such a magical thing. Seeing someone get a track picked up by a big label, or maybe I’m working with a vocalist who’s just produced an acapella and I get a producer to bring that track to life, I love that. And if you manage to sign it to a big label, or it doesn’t even have to be a ‘big’ label, but just the feeling of accomplishment, and knowing that you’ve helped that writer or vocalist [is great]. 

We’ve work on a long term basis, so when we sign people we sign them for at least 18 months, maybe 2 years, so it’s really rewarding seeing those writers progress and develop and grow in confidence. Being able to say, “I’m going to go into this session, and I’m going to smash this” or “I’m not going to feel overwhelmed in a studio with people with 20 years experience” – I think we can all suffer from that anxiety sometimes– so that’s definitely one of the most rewarding parts. 

And on the conference side, the rewards are just seeing people learn and talk to each other. I think a lot can be said for people communicating and networking, there’s no better feeling! Making friends… Remember when we used to go out and meet friends! [laughs] I think on an employment level, it really is just seeing people develop and grow – that’s really rewarding. 


What experience did you need for the role/s you’re currently in?

Well I started out studying Biochemistry – I dropped out of that because I realised I didn’t want to be a scientist and really I just went to college – that can seem like a bit of a step back sometimes, or society has a dim view if you change your mind or your career… But I went back to college, and my lecturer was actually signed to the company that I work for now, so basically it came to fruition that he suggested me for an opening at the company. So in that sense going into higher education did benefit me.

Was it a music course?

Yeah yeah, a HND in Music Business!  I went from cutting up rats at uni to learning about something I had always been really, really passionate about [laughs] – but maybe skeptical, about a career there. And I think this series will probably point out that there’s so many avenues that you can open your eyes to – music publishing, record label management, being an artist, working in the live sector, working in sync, – there’s such a handful. There’s industry bodies, there’s so many opportunities out there, which I really opened my eyes to when I was at college.

And from there, I was just doing the crappy jobs like working the door and doing the cloakroom at gigs, and just really getting my face out there. I happened to meet the manager of a band [from that] and then I was a tour manager for a little bit – I don’t think I really qualified to be tour manager [at the time] but it it was definitely about learning on the job. it was really cool, I got to travel to all parts of the world, and it was a really cool experience. 


What was the most challenging aspect of first starting out in the industry? 

I think it was just overcoming that anxiety that I think you have when you’re surrounded by people who know a lot more than you – or that you think know a lot more than you. You can feel a bit sheepish sometimes, asking questions. And I think because I was a little older, I was maybe 20/21 when I was first getting into this, I was just thinking ‘it’s now or never’ (even though it wasn’t) but you’ve just got to have that confidence. And if you have a question, just ask. I think for a long time I was sort of like, oh man I can’t ask that person, they’ll think I’m dumb… But really you never experience anything like that, it was always that everyone was really up for helping. 

I’ve actually ended up speaking at Academy of Music and Sound classes, and reflect that onto the students there too – just don’t be afraid to ask questions. Its challenging getting your foot in the door, but definitely it’s important to believe in yourself. And there are gaps in the market, so start a company that fits that gap! I would recommend people do that, just being innovative and inquisitive – innovative and inquisitive! There you go [laughs]


Was your current job always something you wanted to do?

I found out about [music publishing] at college, and music publishing is basically just looking after songwriters and producers, and pitching tracks to labels… So not everyone that writes music is going to perform it, so those that are writing the tracks, I’m going to try and get those placed with labels or management companies or in advents. That really pricked my interest when I was at college, I did my own research on it… But up until that point I had no idea that job existed! It’s a sort of mythical area of the music industry that not a lot of people seem to delve into. But I thought it was really interesting!

In terms of the event side of things, I used to put on events and gigs myself a lot, so had a tiny bit of experience with that – nothing on the scale of a conference. But still, it goes back to having that ground knowledge of a lot of different areas. I think is really what the pertinent benefits are from going into music and studying music – you get a piece of every sector. Its a good time because you sort of find ‘your crowd’ as well – I hate that phrase actually [laughs] – but finding out what it is you want to do with your life. When people ask 14 and 16 year olds what they want to do with the rest of their life, they don’t know – and of course they don’t know! So I think going to college and finding that time where you can discover what you’re interested in… Whether that’s a sound engineer or a songwriter. That’s the time to find out.

What about your music education? How has that informed your skills and experience?

For sure! I went to Glasgow Kelvin College and one of my lecturers was in the band The Bluebells, which were a really big band in Scotland in the 80s. And he was really good at getting the best out of people in his class, getting people to come out of their shell and creating opportunities. Like, we went and saw Stereophonics at The Hyrdo in Glasgow and being there and physically witnessing what was happening… Those physical elements to the course where you weren’t just sitting and looking at a computer screen I found really valuable. I was able to talk to people and we were able to network.. And nobody likes networking! Anybody that says they like networking are lying! [laughs] But you just have to find your own way of dealing with it and making it comfortable for you. That was a good experience being at college, and sort of learning those tricks. And don’t always hard sell yourself – have an actual interest in the person you’re talking too. 

I did that course for 2 years, and actually moved down to London to complete a degree at the University of West London, but that fell through and I moved back to Glasgow and just stumbled into this job! So I was really, really fortunate. But definitely having that bit of paper that says you have a qualification in music helps, it’s really valuable in terms of getting your foot in the door and it just lets people know that you have a steady and ground knowledge of music and the music industry, so it’s really beneficial. 


Even networking through music education itself can be really helpful as well? 

And I know through the Glasgow (AMS) branch, they have a lot of guest speakers come through as well. So myself, but they also bring people from all over the UK, and it’s just about going up to that person at the end and saying ‘thanks for your time’ or making yourself memorable in some way, or just letting that person know, if you’re a manager or artist or whatever, just going up and telling them. And if you need to email them 6 months later, they’ll remember you asked the person who thanked them for their time.  Just little things like that, they can seem so menial, but they really are important.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received throughout your career?

It’s quite hard to pick out one valuable bit of information… But I think just knowing that you’re doing what you’re passionate about. I think if you’re not passionate about it, maybe you should reconsider? I think I’ve always known that music is my passion and I feel like I’ve got a connection to music… I always sort of felt like I’d end up here. I don’t really believe in all that sort of stuff, but I think, just know that you’re following your passion. And know that it’s going to be hard working in the music industry. There’s quite a lot of people fighting for very few jobs – it can be that case in a lot of sectors – but you have to be committed and you have to be driven. I think that would be the takeaway quotes – driven and committed!


And finally, what advice would you give to current students starting out in the industry right now?

I think just spend as much time as you can learning… I think if I was to try and think of one positive thing that’s come out of the COVID thing – which obviously there isn’t much – but the opportunity for e-learning as improved, there’s lots of things going online. Following things like BPI which is a governmental body for UK music and they have lots of programmes available for free. And we have a conference obviously – shameless plug here! [laughs] – and we’ll have lots of events on throughout the day, so really take the opportunity to expand your knowledge! 

And in terms of employability, after this whole thing ends, particularly the live sector is decimated right now, but we’re all working together as a community and there’s lots of great campaigns to get involved in like #LetTheMusicPlay and #WeMakeEvents – even societal things like Pride and Black Lives Matter – music has had a huge impact on all those movements (and vice versa), so it’s still a really good time to get involved in music. Maybe not in the way you would hope to right now, but there’s still lots of things happening in society and with movements that hopefully once this is all over, will set you in good stead for getting a job – setting yourself apart from others applying for a position for instance. 

My best bit of advice would be to just be yourself, don’t try to be anyone else, and be committed to whatever it is you’re passionate about, if it’s events then be committed to that, if you’re passionate about being a [sound] engineer be committed to that! I know how hard it is to get your foot in the door, I would definitely just say get out there, don’t be afraid to email don’t be afraid to message on social media – whatever medium you see fit! And don’t be afraid!

Resonate Conference 2020 will be held virtually on 26 November. You can purchase tickets here.

Resonate is an annual music conference held in Glasgow’s east end. Now in its 4th year, we’ve built the event from humble beginnings and now is considered a staple in the Scottish music calendar [we think!].

This year we’re making the move online and hosting our event via Hopin. You can expect the same top quality panels, 1-2-1s, workshops, demonstrations and more all from the comfort of your home. Tickets are on sale now!

We’ve build our event upon 4 key pillars; collaboration, creativity, accessibility and development. These are key objectives that we try to apply to all the activities within the programme. We’ve worked with local venues and event spaces to open up our programme to accommodate technology workshops, one-one advice sessions, group activities, presentations and panel events. Although we won’t be able to utilise  those physical spaces for the same purposes this year we’re still as keen as ever to have a diverse range of learning and networking activities for all our virtual attendees.


Follow Resonate for updates:
@resonatescotland | Facebook | Twitter



Words & Interview: Isobel Trott
Photos: © Resonate 2019

becky grinham many hats interview exeter academy of music

Many Hats with Becky Grinham

This week on Many Hats we’re joined by the lovely Becky Grinham, who, after leaving the Academy of Music and Sound Exeter at 18, has developed her name in the local music network as an aspiring session vocalist and keen-bean in the events scene. Having crossed over into a range of dicipines and roles since she started her course including performance, PR, marketing and writing for publications such as GROW Magazine, she’s now establishing herself as an impressive session vocalist. Basically she’s turned her hand to an impressive range of roles since school – and we wanted to hear all about it!

We chat tips of the trade as Becky tells us how she cultivated experience and skills in the Exeter scene. While it’s taken her some trial and error to find the area of the industry that suits her best right now, she’s also refreshingly open minded – she tells us how she discovered her current passion for session vocals, but also how she’d be up for trying new roles in the future. A DJ perhaps, or songwriter. But moreover, Becky gets to the bottom of how important it is to cultivate your own path – and create your own job. Read on to unravel these such pearls of wisdom…


What are you up to at the moment then Becky?

Well there’s never just one job! [laughs] So at the moment I’m working in a cafe to keep funds up, which is good transferable skills. But mostly right now, I am just a musician – I’m a singer and bassist. I would usually perform in a couple of bands, but I’ve had loads of recording work over lockdown, which has been amazing! I’ve learnt loads of new skills with that, so I’m doing a lot of remote recording at the moment. 

And then I help occasionally – less so now – with a bit of writing, marketing and press stuff too. I recently wrote for a magazine called GROW, which is an East Devon/Exeter based, positive news magazine. And I did a GROW Playlist for them each month – the lovely Hannah O’Brien (founder of Exeter Uncovered) has now taken that over. But I’m still regularly proofing stuff and helping my partner with his press kits and stuff like that. At the moment that’s kind of it, but I’m hoping to get out performing live again soon!

Yeah, hopefully things pick up again soon! And you’re Academy alumni, is that right? 

Yeah that’s right! I did the BTEC in Music performance, when I was 16-18!


What skills do you use in your current roles on a day-to-day basis? 

Having an outgoing personality definitely helps! I’ve spent a lot of time building connections and friends – it doesn’t always have to be solely work related. But just wanting to be that person who is approachable but also wants to approach people, so a lot of my work has come through word of mouth and meeting people. Definitely being somewhat social – I know that some people would disagree with that sometimes, but I find that in my line of work it’s a lot of that.  And generally just being reliable, turning up on time and having everything ready to go.

And then I guess – I don’t know if having flair is a skill –but maybe trying to think outside the box and be creative with it. Obviously it’s a creative role, so thinking  ‘what are you going to do that stands you apart?’ There’s quite a lot of skills involved! But I think that’s it in a nutshell! And being confident as well, that really helps.

What experience did you need to have prior to your current roles to help you within them?

Being outgoing was one of the main things that contributed towards getting more experience – I studied music in school and at college, but the majority of it has come from being thrown in the deep-end and just wanting to do it as well! For instance, I was doing a bit of writing at the time when I was 18, and a friend of mine just said to me; hey I’ve got some friends who are going on tour and they need someone to basically keep their sh**t together, manage the overall logistics of it -some PA stuff and deal with some of the financial stuff like invoicing – and they just asked if I wanted to do it!

I had no experience in that whatsoever, besides a bit of admin.  So I got stuck in, but made them aware that I didn’t have the strict experience so they knew what they were buying into. But you know it worked really well, and they were really happy to have someone younger, and give it a new lease of life. A lot of trust was needed but it definitely worked for the better. My experience has generally come from being recommended a lot of the time, and just rolling with it, being really confident, doing my research, preparing as much as I can, and then hopefully just pulling it off!


A lot of learning on the job?

Yeah totally, and I’ve tinkered with a lot of different parts of the industry. Events work too, and again there’s a lot of passion behind that work – I really love doing all that stuff. I’ve done a lot of work for free just because I love doing it.  I guess that’s maybe why now people come to me as a person they can trust and recommend for jobs. Yeah, it’s taken a lot of hard work and free work to get here!


I hear you! And is this how you fell into the marketing and writing side of things? The necessity for bands and artists to promote themselves? And for you to promote yourself as an artist too?

Yeah, so I would always do my own socials and stuff anyway and help my partner with his too. And I really enjoyed doing that, seeing the end product and its reach. Then I met the Co-Founder of GROW at an event, and I basically just went up and had a chat! I just said I loved the magazine. I knew a lot of young people who read it, and I suggested it would be good to see more creative stuff in there – like music. There’s so much going on in Devon. And [I said] if they ever needed someone to help contribute, I’d love to do it. So pretty much just put myself straight back in there. And the next month, he got back asking when I could send in my submission!

Amazing stuff.  It must have been hard first starting out working in music though – and trying to first find out what you wanted to do? What was it like?

[When] I finished college I was really happy and I didn’t think at the time that I wanted to go and do a degree – it wasn’t really something that interested me. I thought ‘I have plenty of time to decide if I did want to go back’. I knew lots of people who had done degrees and I wouldn’t doubt it for a second, but I just didn’t feel it was right at the time. So I started working over the next year, doing all kinds of jobs –bar work and events, stuff like that – and creative projects alongside. Then I got into writing and then the Tour Manager job came up.  I put gigs on hold for a couple of years, but then – I’m very indecisive! [laughs] – I started working on events.  

I suppose the tour stuff really inspired me to see behind the scenes – seeing how front-of-stage all comes together. Then seeing everyone’s reaction to a gig, all the passion that goes into it.  I started working at a few little events and festivals – a bit of stage managing, with Academy at Bearded Theory for instance.  I put performing on the back burner for a bit until the end of last year. I had a bit of a downward spiral, I was struggling a bit with mental health, so I thought lets strip everything back and see what exactly it is I enjoy doing, and what I’m good at.  It’s taken me all this time really to find that performance is exactly what I want to do! And I recently discovered session work (being a session vocalist) and I think now that’s the route I want to take. Obviously I still really enjoy all the event work, but as a supplement now to performing – hopefully!

So it’s taken me quite a while to get to this point – and performance isn’t the only job, no way!  I would definitely recommend a process of elimination and seeing what works for you, what you’ll feel happy in. I don’t like being in the limelight, I prefer being part of the ‘big thing’ and contributing towards the making of something – I prefer being in the background.  I couldn’t imagine being like, I don’t know, Dua Lipa or someone – centre stage! I’m not like that [laughs] – but I love working with musicians and with the technicians and working behind the scenes. But who knows! In 5 years time… Who knows! We’ll see.

Exactly – there’s plenty of time to try different stuff and find out what suits you. As well as the benefit for being freelance – to try lots of different stuff. That’s great.

I would just say don’t ever not do anything because you’re worried about something or it doesn’t pay – you have to put in the hard work and the hours, so just do it, get on with it, you never know you might just want to keep it as a hobby or you might want to pursue it.


What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of working in music? 

Definitely from a performance point of view, seeing people connect with your music. Maybe that’s a generic answer, but it is just something that you can’t really describe! It’s really fulfilling and you just feel that your hard work is really paying off… I know I said I don’t like being centre stage, but people do notice your worth and what you’re doing still which is really fulfilling. 

And I guess [also] having people reach out to you. I’ve had people reach out to me via Instagram and stuff for recording. It’s really nice to know that people have been out there watching and listening to you!  Yeah it’s really fulfilling to know that people are there listening and they’re like, ‘yeah, cool yeah get her on board’!


How about the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received?

A few years ago I was in London at a family party and there was someone there I spoke to who had an array of clients that seemed massive to me! So I just struck up a conversation with him and basically asked him the same thing – what would your advice be?  He said that I should just always be energetic – give it energy and passion and you’ll never not be in work. He said you can have a degree or not… But basically passion and energy always wins over skillset or anything else. If you have the whole package then brilliant! But if you just go for it and have genuine passion, then you can’t lose. It might be quite a long return, but someone will hear you! That’s probably the best bit of advice I’ve received.

I [also] did a roundtable with the Academy for the 25th Anniversary (at Exeter Phoenix).  I was part of the roundtable with a great bunch of people; John Waddell, Sadie Horler, Emma Twamley (GlasDenbury Festival), Laura Wright, Ben Green (Pattern Pusher) and Kate Graham. We were all just firing great advice off each other! John has such a wealth of experience, and then there’s Emma who’s been running events and a festival or as long as she can remember! And then Sadie who’s just on the scene constantly. All those different walks of life in once place, and having great advice from them was amazing.

How did your music qualification help you get to where you are today, or help you in past roles?

I chose The Academy when I was at school because my music teacher was strongly recommending it! And knew one of the tutors, and told me he thought I’d really click there, and [the local] college was maybe a little… Less performance based let’s say. I’m not the most academic person, and with theory and stuff like that, I did want to tighten up and improve that side of things, but I didn’t want it to rob my performance experience, and the fun for me. So it was that good balance of theory, and performance. And the LPW (Live Performance Workshop on the AMS curriculum) was my absolutely favourite part of the week, of course!  I loved learning all the new tunes and performing with a bunch of new people. But I think the best thing to come out of it was my vocal health and technique. 

Lianna Carnell was my teacher at the time and I can’t praise my teacher enough. She was witty, outgoing, reliable, and the most amazing vocalist! She gave me the confidence I needed. If something wasn’t quite right she wouldn’t shy away from telling me – and I kinda needed that. She’d just be like – ‘why don’t we try this, I don’t think it’s working for.. X Y Z’ – that kind of thing. And I really needed that push – the reassurance.

I can’t complain at all, everyone [was] lovely and supportive. Even now I can bump into people and they’re all still here for me which is really nice. It’s nice that you can move on from education but keep that support network. Which usually you wouldn’t get from larger education places, because it’s more formal.  I think there’s an abundance of opportunities outside of college now too, which is really what we all want to be getting out of education! You want the backbone and the theory side, but you always want to explore it literally! And I think that’s really paying off now.

Yes, having a college that’s connected locally is important! It helps bridge the gap between education and experience. On that note, what advice would you give current students starting out in the industry? 

I would just say don’t not do it. Try everything – if someone asks for a favour and it’s related, even in a small way to what you want to do, in music or arts or events, just go and do it. If you don’t enjoy it, at least you’ll have tried it and you can eliminate that thing, but you’ve done a mate a favour and you’ve hopefully had a fun day out, and met new people. 

Try and be an extrovert and meet new people and involve yourself. People aren’t going to come to you – if you want a gig at The Cavern they’re not going to come and find you! You have to go out there and ask – you have to be in there and chattin’ to them, you wanna be meeting all the people that go there, and the musicians that have had experience there.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help as well. There’s no harm in asking! Whether it’s a bit of advice, or if it’s to hop on or shadow someone on a job, or anything… I’ve only ever learnt things through the job, and I’ve only ever got on the job from meeting people. It’s as simple as that really…! Oh, and I’d also recommend anyone starting out to read the book Don’t Get A Job…Make A Job: How To Make It As a Creative Graduate, by Gem Barton. It’s fab!


Right – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Yeah yeah totally! I’ve always kind of had that mindset anyway. I’ve always been quite independent and known if I want this i have to go and do this, this and this!  I actually had a really interesting conversation with John Waddell about this, because he’s quite London[-centric] I guess. He really celebrates it and the opportunities there, and he is right, but I also want to be able to…. rather than fit my career into a place, be able to fit my place into my career. It would be really nice to see people in Devon create and have more opportunities for themselves, and now that a pandemic has hit, it’s a good time to jump on that. If you’re out of work then that’s really shit, but what can you do in the meantime? Try and make opportunities for yourself, don’t just sit around and do nothing.


So true! That was my next question actually – what do you make of the current situation, and what advice would you give people in the current climate?

It is hard. It’s difficult because you might not have equipment at home. Places like AMS have got it all and at the moment it’s not accessible, so if you’re fortunate enough to have equipment at home, learn to use it and make the most of it. And just – I don’t know scroll through YouTube, watch tutorials on how to use Logic and Ableton and things like that! But if you don’t, then it could be a really good time to reach out to new people online a bit more, if you’re a writer try and take inspiration from the situation – I bet there’s going to be a bunch of ‘pandemic’ songs that we didn’t realise are about that in 5 years time! 

“I don’t like being in the limelight, I prefer being part of the ‘big thing’ and contributing towards the making of something. I prefer being in the background”

True! The art will reflect the times won’t it…

One hundred percent! And of course at the moment with everything going on with the Arts Industry, it’s all really soul-destroying but at the end of the day, you can’t just dwell on it too much, because we’d all just be sat here crying constantly! And I am definitely someone who can be emotionally affected – it’s had its toll on my mental wellbeing for sure. Being in Lockdown, hearing everything on the news… My goal this year was to have loads of gigs under my belt and become completely self-employed, but that’s all gone! It’s really rubbish, and lots of people aren’t fans of working from home, but we’ve just got to do what we can and make the best of it. 

And yeah, just reaching out to people, spending time working on ourselves is also really important! I’ve been so much better vocally now. I had my first rehearsal since march last night, and I just felt so on form because I’d had the time to work on myself! Whether it’s eating habits, or exercise, or just being out in the fresh air even. I know it sounds so cliche but it really has helped.


Absolutely – just looking after ourselves during these times is super important. 

Yeah, really important. I hope students aren’t too affected by it at the moment – I hope they’ve found a way to work on themselves and take from it – and the tutors – everyone! 


I guess it’s even more important now too for musicians to be able to promote themselves digitally through social media. Now could be a good chance to tighten those skills? 

Yeah I’ve done loads of webinars, about marketing tips or about the music industry as a whole – and no one had the time for that usually! It’s really good that that’s happening, there’s so many – The Roundhouse are doing stuff – loads of places. People should definitely utilise that too, one hundred percent.

One positive thing from all this! What about for you, are there any other roles in music that you’d maybe like to try one day further down the line?

I would love to sharpen up my songwriting skills. I always shyed away from writing songs when I was younger because I was embarrassed and super unconfident, but now I love it! A handful of songs I’ve written are set to be released over the coming months, that’ll all be revealed on my socials. Also I have always had an interest in DJ’ing too! When I was little I’d throw bedroom discos and play a bunch of songs (on CD’s, obvs) that I thought would really bring the house down (Britney Spears is a dancefloor filler, prove me wrong…). Still now I’m obsessed with finding new music, collecting vinyl, discovering samples is so much fun for me – I’m a big fan of Disco and House/Dance music – and sharing feel-good tunes with people. So who knows, maybe I’ll find a way of becoming a vocalist, bassist and DJ live haha, I do love a challenge! 


Sounds amazing! Gotta love some good disco. Any final words of wisdom? 

I just think with stuff like education – the thing is, you can always come back to it. And utilise online education platforms too. I think that a lot of people who have gone to Uni, do have some more opportunities in a way, because they’ve utilised that network and social circle.


And finally, what’s next for you?

So before COVID I actually had a couple of students – I never used to have an interest in it all, but after a few workshops in schools and stuff I really enjoyed it, so I started picking up a few students and teaching them vocals. And recently – last week – I was offered a trainee role as a music leader through Daisi which is an arts charity – that’s Devon based as well.

And I wouldn’t have gotten that if I didn’t have a range of experience, like teaching but also confidence and experience in performing, having a passion for community and an existing network of people – I think that really stood out for them. But yeah, I’m really excited to see how the next year pans out!


Yes, hopefully positive things for 2021!

We can only hope!

Follow Becky on socials for updates:
@BeckyGrinham2 | Facebook | YouTube | Spotify 

Words & Interview: Isobel Trott
Photos: © Rhodri Cooper (2019) + Benjamin Conibear (2020)

eddie van halen interview shaun baxter

Eddie Van Halen in conversation with Shaun Baxter, 1995

Eddie Van Halen, who passed away last week (6 October 2020) was a pioneering and hugely influential rock guitarist. For many he re-invented the rock style and it was never same again. His career was eclectic and powerful, he played the solo on ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson and was notable for the techniques he brought to the masses like pinched harmonics, left and right hand tapping, legato (hammer-ons and pull-offs) and fast picking. His flamboyant and exciting style captivated the 80’s scene and his band Van Halen, reached immense heights.

Academy director Shaun Baxter was a teacher at the Guitar Institute in 1995, and had the opportunity to interview his guitar hero for his first ever interview as a journalist, at the Park Lane Hotel in London. What follows is that very conversation. The interview has been edited for this platform – you can download the complete, unabridged transcript here.

On a train to our rendezvous at a hotel in Marble Arch, I couldn’t help wonder what it was going to be like to finally meet Eddie Van Halen.
Van Halen are very powerful these days, having gone from strength to strength over their impressive 15-year career, with the last two albums going straight to the top of the American charts. I entered the foyer of the impressive Park Lane hotel only to wonder how long it would take before I was being carried back out by one of Mr Van Halen’s burly minders after exception had been taken to one of my questions…

I was met by Amanda, Van Halen’s ultra-efficient personal assistant, who ushered me to the interview suite where the photographer and his assistant were setting up. I introduced myself and admitted to being a little nervous as the photographer returned my sweaty palm. I picked up a copy of Metal Hammer from the coffee table and my buttocks clenched tighter at the sight of the recently-bearded, short-haired and totally unrecognisable face of my interviewee staring menacingly out at me from the cover. It was my first ever interview and I couldn’t possibly start any higher up the ladder. Edward Van Halen, easily the most influential rock guitar player since Jimi Hendrix

Just as I was wondering how we were going to cram an interview, a lesson and a photo session with the great man into the space of an hour, he entered. I knew he’d be small, but he was a lot sturdier than I expected. The new beard, which was now trimmed to the chin, and short spiky hair were in direct contrast to the long-haired, clean-shaven and elfin-grinned look I’d always come to associate with the hero of my formative guitar years. 


As we shook hands, I realised that although I’d probably read every interview that Eddie Van Halen had ever done, nothing could have prepared me for his voice. His penchant for cigarettes and alcohol are almost as legendary as his guitar playing, and his broad West Coast accent has been fermented by well over a decade of indulgence to produce a heady brew somewhere between Dennis Leary, Leslie West and Edward G Robinson; however, the most remarkable thing of all was his total lack of pretention. Within minutes, I’d forgotten my earlier worries and, by the time Eddie grabbed his guitar and joined me on the sofa, I had completely relaxed.

I started telling Eddie how at the Guitar Institute, our Rock programme is split into two areas – pre and post Van Halen. Such is the magnitude of his influence. I also told him that a lot of young guitarists today are listening to third-generation Van Halen copyists and yet have never heard any of his earlier albums. Therefore, I wanted to devote the bulk of this interview to the origins and development of his unique style, the influence that he’s had on rock guitar and then bring things right up to date by talking about his new album Balance

To resort to conventional punctuation when transcribing a conversation with Eddie Van Halen would only serve to betray the enormity of his personality. When I listen back to the tape, it’s as though I could be in conversation with a loveable cartoon character. The cadence of Eddie’s voice demands that certain words are written in CAPITALS if you are to get a proper sense, not only of the rise and fall of the sentences, but also the animated way in which he communicates. He does it with patience, enthusiasm and always with good humour.

Full interview here.


One noticeable aspect of Eddie Van Halen’s style, when he first burst on the scene, was that it seemed geared towards catering for a low boredom threshold. Every solo a balanced mixture of new and ear-catching techniques. I asked him how calculated he’d been in putting together a style that was so stunningly different from anyone else:

“It really wasn’t calculated at all. Meaning, I just stumbled onto this shit. I’m telling you man, it’s all a coupla beers and wingin’ it. I’m serious,” he laughed. I told him that most guitarists wanted to emulate their heroes, and yet he sounded different. “Yes, ‘cause I grew up on [Eric] Clapton and ended up not playing like him at all, so it’s weird to me too.”

It seemed one negative aspect to Van Halen’s influence was that a lot of players started producing horribly formulated solos in an effort to dish up the same wide range of musical ingredients. “They used the techniques that I used as a TRICK.” (I understood his use of the word ‘trick’ to mean using a technique more as a cosmetic effect, rather than a vehicle for expression). I agreed and pointed out that, suddenly, players started approaching a solo as though they were baking a cake: “a hand-full of whammy bar histrionics, a touch of tapping and a pinch of harmonics and ‘voila’ a successful solo.” To me, the results always sounded stiff and contrived.

“Exactly! Very stiff!” Whereas he never sounded like that? “No, because I played that way for YEARS before we even had a record out. So like, for ME, it wasn’t a trick. For me, it was just the way I played.”

Obviously, thinking that my use of the word ‘formulated’ was curiously at odds with my profession, Eddie continued, “Yeah, I think the main reason behind that is because [leaning forward, he gives me a reassuring touch on the knee] and I don’t mean to say that you’re part of the problem, but YOU’RE TEACHING THESE PEOPLE.”

I felt like pointing out that actually I was also completely self-taught and I always stress to my students the need to be both expressive
and different, but time was short and, besides, I was too busy laughing. “No-one taught me. I stumbled onto this shit.” He paused. “I guess my point is – and I don’t mean to say [he puts on an important-sounding voice]: ‘Hey, well I’m bitchin’ because I never took a lesson.’ What I mean is NOBODY I knew played guitar. I was very isolated.”

Eddie explained how his original style developed from trying to figure out how people played certain things and, because he didn’t know any better – he discovered his own way of doing them. “If I had something in my head, I would figure out some way to do it. I’d hear Segovia’s stuff and go [whispering]: “No… I can’t fingerpick, so I CHEATED… And it worked [demonstrates pseudo-flamenco beginning to ‘Little Guitars’ from the ‘Diver Down’ album]…. [What with] playing classical piano – you know, doing arpeggios – I’d go like: ‘How can I do that?’ [demonstrates right-hand tapping]… ’Cause I sure as hell couldn’t do it any other way so I had to cheat. You know. I’m actually a good cheater” he laughed.

I assumed then Eddie spent hours and hours experimenting just to explore the potential of each separate technique. Like harmonics? “Yes!…and they just CAME! I just stumbled across those….[he demonstrates fret-tapped harmonics] and I found out later what the ‘correct’ way to do it is. You see people [demonstrates the ‘orthodox’ method of creating artificial harmonics]… Picking them out like that. You know what I mean? I CAN’T DO THAT!”

He couldn’t.

“It’s a fuck! So I just cheat and go…
[demonstrating the Intro to ‘Women in Love’ from Van Halen II]… And it works.”

Not only that, but it sounds different. I put it to Eddie that his celebrated experimentations on guitar were more akin to Avant Garde ‘art’ guitarists, like Fred Frith, who hang paper clips from the strings of the guitar and then beat it with a hammer. “Actually, THAT I do more on piano. I don’t know if you’ve heard the new record?” 

I told him I had and asked him to tell me the story behind the piece in question, Strung Out. “Back in 83/84, my wife and I ran into [Marvin Hamlisch]. We went to rent his beach house and he had this beautiful white Yamaha Baldwin and I, you know, proceeded to cop a buzz and destroyed his piano. For three days in a row, I used forks and knives on the strings and, I don’t know, if you asked me: ‘What possessed you to do that?’ [lowering his voice] I’m fucked if I know. I just felt like playing around. I would hit notes and do harmonics on the strings and stuff and I’d just have a lot of fun doing it… And wasted his piano while doing it.”

“No-one taught me. I stumbled onto this shit. I don’t mean to say ‘Hey, well I’m bitchin’ because I never took a lesson,’ what I mean is NOBODY I knew played guitar. I was very isolated.”

Legend has it that an extremely irate Hamlisch presented Van Halen with a bill for $15,000 upon his return.

“….And then I found out that he was coming back home and I said: ‘Oh Shit! What am I going to do?’ There were cigarette burns on it and everything. You know, I had to buy him a new piano.”   I added that it was probably the piano on which he wrote The Way We Were – the guilt became too exquisite and he threw his head back and laughed out loud.

I reminded Eddie that he’d also trashed a few guitars in his time while subjecting them to the same investigative torture. The fact is that Eddie Van Halen’s creativity and thirst for adventure go far beyond the average guitar player when left to their own devices. He’s always maintained that most of his ideas came as a result of practising while watching television. But I told him that I frequently had problems teaching his stuff to a classroom of unamplified guitarists as a lot of the techniques that he uses are inaudible when the guitar is not plugged into a distorted amp.

“Yeah, for years what I’d do is I’d have a Marshall cabinet with an old Fender Bandmaster [like an old light tweed head] and, on a Fender, if you take the speaker output to the cabinet you get full volume. If you plug it into the external output [whispering] it’s really quiet. It’s no good for the amp. Yeah, you’ll fry the amp after a while, but I used to play for years, you know, we would live in a small house and my mom would go: ‘Why do you have to make that high crying noise?'” he laughed. “The distortion and the characteristics of the amp were EXACTLY like it would be if it was plugged in normally, except it was really quiet – like a Rockman or something –you know what I mean? It was great. All the harmonics and all the shit came out that way. I probably saved myself a lot of hearing by that too.”

“The left is kinda shot,” he said after I asked about his hearing. “When I had it checked to see…at 10k I have the hearing of a seventy year-old.” The photographer and I looked at each other with a mixture of amusement and horror.

I brought up his domination of rock guitar in the ’80s, but was cut off mid-stream. “That sounds so funny,” he retorted, “I just feel like I’m this punk kid. I don’t know what the fuck I’ve done. It’s almost like it’s not me. I really don’t feel like I’ve done Jack shit, because I would love to be someone like Steve Lukather who is a TOP studio musician who can play you anything you ask him to play, whatever you ask him to play. I CAN’T DO THAT. It used to drive me crazy when we used to play clubs and we’d have to learn other people’s songs and it would NEVER sound the way it was supposed to.”

I’d always been curious as to how somebody with such an inquisitive mind and strong creative drive should still claim to be in the dark when it comes to music theory: especially as he’s so enamoured by the playing of people like Allan Holdsworth. Doesn’t he find it restrictive as to what progressions he can function over?’

“Yeah, I CAN’T DO THAT. It’s very confusing to me. I mean, I’ve tried, believe it or not. I took piano lessons from the age of six to twelve and I fooled my teacher. I would play something and it was my EARS… I would REMEMBER. Granted, it was simple stuff, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to fool him, but I never learned to read.”

I told Eddie I was referring more to the way that harmony functions rather than knowing how to read; after all, Allan Holdsworth can’t read. I suggested that the reason that he had never actually got round to learning theory was because he never has to play outside Van Halen. Most musicians, who learn theory, do so in order to be able to function over any chord progression that may be thrown their way when playing with somebody else; whereas, in his case, he only ever has to play over Van Halen’s stuff, so he’d have time to work something out beforehand if he found a passage difficult.

“EXACTLY! I’ve always been in, kinda like, my own little world, so I can do whatever I want,” he chuckled.

So that doesn’t leave him feeling restricted? “WELL, what I’m saying is I wish I COULD DO. I guess I do feel… limited… as a musician. That’s why it’s hard for me to get up on stage and play like say… uh… Branford Marsalis, the sax guy on ‘The Tonight Show’, you know, he’s playing for Sting. He calls me all the time. He wants to JAM! I feel like an IDIOT! I’m scared to death because I CAN’T KEEP UP WITH PEOPLE LIKE THAT.”

I couldn’t help but think all the ‘schooled’ musicians I knew who
were versatile enough to play with most people, but would never make any lasting contribution to music and, yet, whatever he chooses to do in the future, the contributions that a completely self-taught Eddie Van Halen has made to rock guitar will live forever.

“I can only do what I do. You know what I mean? So, in that respect, I wish that, earlier on, that I would’ve learned how to do things in the ‘correct’ way, but, if I HAD done that, I don’t know if I’d be who I am.” I told him that a lot of guys felt the same way about taking lessons. They’re afraid that, by having to view music from a common perspective, they’ll lose their own personal ‘vision’ of what music is, and so loose their identity in the process.

“Yeah, but with me, I didn’t have a choice” He lowered his tone, “meaning it’s too late for me now to be taking lessons. Then I’d feel like a REAL idiot!… ‘Cause, in hindsight, I wish I would’ve, but, at the same time, I don’t know whether I’d have ended up doing the stuff that I’ve done had I take lessons.”

I was starting to think that, in Eddie’s case, he was probably right. If, as he maintains, his uniqueness came, not by design but as a result of having to work things out himself then, presumably, he would have ended up sounding like everybody else had there been someone available to teach him the ‘correct’ way to do things; however, as Eddie had been keen to point out, learning in isolation also has its limitations.

I told him that I’d learned all my theory from books – “Once I’d learned [plays up and down A minor blues scale shape #1] it’s all from there” he said.

I agreed that, for Rock, it was. “Yeah, THAT’S what I play! Every now and then when you make a mistake, hey, it’s a passing note right?”

“It was obvious that Eddie found it farcical to talk about music in these terms. Where I used a scale name, he would use an adjective. He doesn’t recognise a note as a word or number, it’s an intention or an emotion. As with most passions, where the magic seems to be directly proportional to the mystery, Edward Van Halen seems to have sustained his enduring romance with the instrument by refusing to demystify it. To him, music is a purely spiritual thing and so any attempts to quantify or label a ‘feeling’ are seen as both clinically and comically academic.”

Part of the interview was dedicated to a lesson. Click here to read more from Eddie on improvisation, and his relationship with the world of guitar theory.


After being at the top for nearly a decade, the standard of guitar playing shot up as the first wave of copyists emerged offering refried Van Halen at twice the speed and half the style. I was interested as to what was going through Eddie’s mind right then.

“Well, first, when I saw people going like that [whispering, he imitates right-hand tapping action] I’m going, ‘COME ON’. I could just tell that they were doing it like ‘Hey, Mom and Dad, look! I got a new trick’, but I swear it doesn’t bother me at all, because I can see that nobody really UNDERSTOOD.”

At the photographer’s request, Eddie shifts from the sofa to a chair in front of the camera for the shots of his hands.

“In the beginning I guess it bothered me” – I told him that I sensed that he was more competitive then? “NOT competitive, it was more… Because I played like that in the clubs and Richie Blackmore used to come by and these guys from a band called Angel and my brother used to say, “Don’t show them how you’re doing it until we get a record out, you know, so I used to turn around.”

I was amazed. “Yeah, well it really pissed them off, because they tried to cop my stuff before we had a record out.” I wondered if he ever felt pressure once his reputation had grown, at the prospect of having to come up with yet another load of amazing licks, flicks and tricks each time they did an album… “Well, you see, I don’t know, to me, that just comes along with being in a rock band and being the guitarist. In fact, it was more competitive in the club days.”

One of Van Halen’s major strengths was that he seemed to have an innate ability to know what non guitarists would find flash. He was fast, but he never overdid it. His fast licks were never longer than a bar; however, towards the end of the ‘80s, rock guitar playing had become an Olympic sport and it seemed ironic that the one player responsible for spawning a generation of technique-hungry guitarists was going to have to start to play too many notes if he was to compete or lose his crown. On the face of it, it looked as though Van Halen refused to get involved and, instead, stood aside to let the newcomers fight it out while he concentrated on taking the band to greater heights.

“You know it’s really funny, and I don’t know whether you believe me or not” he whispered, “but I’ve never listened to them, I’ve never heard a record by them, you know, NOTHING. Even Steve Vai or… uh… Satriani. The only thing I heard by Satriani is the damned Sony commercial. How does that song go [starting to hum]? …And it’s not because I’m a prick about it, it’s just that, for some reason, I’ve always kinda lived in my own little thing and played with my brother.”

I told him that I was interested to know whether his current shift of emphasis from lead guitar playing to song-writing and solid rhythm parts (a trend never more apparent than on the new album, Balance) was because he’d become tired of competing? “It’s actually always BEEN that though, I’ve always been into writing… trying to do a song.”

I pressed my point and said that ‘Balance’ was the first Van Halen album that hasn’t got a lead guitar break on the opening track. “I guess that comes from in the old days. Alex and I grew up with Cream and it would be one verse and then fucking solo for twenty minutes and the come back and finish the song. We’d play five songs and it would be a two-hour set” [laughs] “You know, we’d just jam.”

From an outsider’s point of view, it seemed like it was from the time that vocalists Sammy Hager joined the band (replacing Dave Lee Roth) that they started to focus on a more general market (a market that they wanted to cater for and Dave Lee Roth didn’t).

“It wasn’t a matter of catering. It was more a matter of… I play keyboards and I’d written ‘Jump’ an album or two before it was allowed to be on the record and I’m going, ‘Hey, fuck this shit! It’s another instrument I play’. He’s going [impersonating Roth]: ‘Hey, nobody wants to see you play keyboards’. That was Roth’s trip. He was adamant about it. In fact, I built my own studio. I said, ‘Fuck you!’ and [beaming with delight] he quit.”

“I don’t care if people consider me to be a guitar hero or whatever, if I play TUBA well, and I write a song, I’m going fuckin’ play it. ‘Jump’ was the first song that we recorded in my studio ‘cause I’m going ‘I like the song.’  It wasn’t like I changed my thing; it was that, finally, he couldn’t stop me anymore, you know, and when Sammy joined the band, I was free to do what I wanted. I didn’t have anyone saying, ‘No, you can’t do that.’”

I asked Eddie what his thoughts were when, having left Van Halen, Dave Lee Roth unveiled Steve Vai. “I’m going: ‘this guy is better at what I do than I AM’, you know, but [whispering] he lacked the vibe… the feel. He was technically VERY proficient, but stiff. It always made me feel bad in a way, because it made me feel like, ‘Wow, is that how people perceive ME?’, ‘cause, to me, listening to him it didn’t SOUND like me, but he took my chops, so to speak, and made them very robotic… and did them twice as fast.”

I pointed to the sentence in my pre interview notes that read, “…offering refried Van Halen at twice the speed but half the class of the original”. “Yeah! Yeah! It didn’t seem natural, the way THEY did it.” I remarked that, today, a lot of players sound as though all their solos are written down. “Well, [Vai] used to transcribe my stuff for magazines. That’s how, I guess, he started learning it.”



Recently I’d read Eddie saying that he was becoming “more bluesy and traditional” in his guitar playing. In fact, he’d gone as far as to confess to feeling slightly embarrassed for being associated with techniques such as right-hand tapping. I was curious as to why he would want to move away from the very thing(s) that had set him aside from the competition in the first place and made him a star? “I guess because there isn’t a whole lotta sillier shit you can do with the guitar. What else can you DO? At the same time, I guess I don’t want to have to keep coming up with tricks in order to be respected as a player.” He continued, “I pull out the tricks – if you want to call them that – all the time.”

I wondered how much Eddie was interested in keeping up with new developments and trends in guitar playing. I remarked that I’d noticed that he doesn’t seem to sweep pick much. What did he think of it as a technique? “What does THAT sound like? Like Country?” Reluctantly, I quickly showed him how some players use it with arpeggios. “That sounds more like an Yngwie thing.” I agreed and said that it was also associated with players like Frank Gambale.

“Who?” I told Eddie that he was a fusion player and showed how he applied the technique to scales. “So THAT’S how they do it so fucking fast!” The photographer and his assistant started laughing– so does Eddie.

“WELL, I DON’T KNOW! I’ve heard stuff where people are kinda just goin’ [gestures with his hands on the guitar in time with his voice], “RAAGROO! RAAGROO!… and I’m going, ‘What the fuck?… I ain’t playing like that’. See, to me, I’m TOO OLD to start taking lessons and figure that shit out. It’s just for years that I’ve been doin’ my own thing, you know, and I’m quite happy doing it.”

It was another testimony to Eddie’s modesty and TOTAL lack of pretention that we were able to talk like this without him getting the least bit defensive. He doesn’t seem to entertain ANY competitive thoughts, but then why should he? He’s got nothing to prove. “Yeah! I was NEVER out to prove anything in the first place. You know? To me music isn’t a competitive thing. It’s very personal, It’s ME, it’s MY emotions, MY vibe and NOBODY can copy that.”

Eddie Van Halen is an incredible paradox. I’ve never met a player who’s less competitive and, yet, no one is more responsible for making guitar playing more competitive than him. The legacy, it seems, is completely at odds with the man.  “But it’s ALWAYS guitarists! What’s the fuckin’ deal? I don’t get it.”

I told him that it was because they are all influenced by him. He changed it. “Yeah, but I’M not like that,” he laughed. “See that’s the WHOLE POINT. They missed the WHOLE DAMN POINT. It’s not about who’s FASTER or BETTER or whatever. It’s what’s INSIDE of you. What makes YOU want to play guitar, you know? Do you want GIRLS? What do you WANT? I did it because I’ve got nothing better to do, you know, and I LOVE DOING IT. It’s something that nobody can take away. It’s a way to express myself ‘cause I’m actually kind of a SHY, QUIET GUY, believe it or not, and it was a way for me to express myself.”

The photographer asked Eddie to get into position for the main cover shot. I started opening another cassette. In the background I can hear Eddie practising his sweeps (Raagroo, Raagroo), he calls over to me: “I couldn’t THINK that fast!”

“If you play rock guitar, you are influenced by Eddie Van Halen.  His earlier works will need no introduction, but if you’ve only ever listened to guys playing pale imitations of what Van Halen was doing 16 years ago, why settle for second best when you can listen to the real thing?”

He had me laughing again. I found it amazing to think that Eddie seemed to have remained so cocooned from other guitarists. For some reason I’d imagined that he would have his ear to the ground for new developments in guitar. Instead, I learned that he’s
content to continue as he is. In fact, being around somebody of Eddie’s stature and modesty was starting to make me feel guilty for ever having entertained any competitive thoughts as a guitarist, but the truth is that most guitarists have to be competitive in order to get anywhere near the standard that Eddie has set, furthermore, the music business is fiercely competitive for any young guitarist and only a few survive. If we were all as free and easy as Eddie, we’d probably still be in our bedrooms strumming a few open chords.

Amanda reappeared. She stood there and pointed at her watch as the cameraman took the final few shots. Eddie talked to me throughout (unwittingly frustrating the photographer by not looking into the camera).

Just before he left, I handed Eddie a copy of my CD (Jazz Metal) and assured him that I sounded as much like him as he did to his hero, Eric Clapton… “Yeah, Cool! I might have to steal some chops,” he laughed.

I told him I’d felt a bit nervous before meeting him, but now realised that I needn’t have been. “Oh shit no! I’m just an old fuckin’ Joe, you know. Yeah, I find it really amusing, it’s like you find some guys are just COMPLETE pricks and it’s like, ‘Hey buddy! All you do is play the GUITAR’, you know what I mean?”

As I was leaving, I met bassist Mike Anthony in the doorway. We chatted and, like Eddie, I couldn’t help but think what a friendly and unaffected guy he was. In producing two successful players who seem so at ease with themselves, the close-knit environment of Van Halen seems to have produced a true rarity.

If you play rock guitar, you are influenced by Edward Van Halen. If you are influenced directly, Eddie’s earlier works will need no introduction; however, if you’ve only ever listened to guys playing pale imitations of what Edward Van Halen was doing 16 years ago, why settle for second best when you can listen to the real thing? 

The king is Ed. Long live the king.

Words: Shaun Baxter, 1995. 

Shaun is director at the Academy of Music and Sound and a self-described huge fan of Eddie Van Halen. 

Read more from the AMS blog here.

karlyn king academic many hats blog scottish women inventing music

Many Hats with Karlyn King, pop music academic & lecturer

Welcome back to Many Hats. Round three of our blog series features the immensely knowledgeable and all-round pop music guru Karlyn King. Whilst also being a performing artist, Karlyn is a lecturer here at AMS, and a dedicated music academic and researcher in her own right. Currently working towards her PhD in popular music, her specialism lies in Vinyl and Record culture, making her the go-to voice on everything rock and pop music related.

Why ‘Many Hats’ you ask? Well, we thought it fitting as it was a term that cropped up in almost every interview we did for the project. People working in the biz we call music often adopt ‘many hats’ during their careers, balancing and trying out a range of jobs and skills whilst also crafting their passion – we think that’s fab and totally under-appreciated in the wider world of work!

In today’s competitive world, it’s vital to have a range of skills under your belt.  Academia is a popular option for many musicians, and can open up a whole set of new opportunities! Especially in today’s crazy world.  Keep reading to find out exactly how and why Karlyn King’s passion for music led her down the research path, and get some tips along the way…

Thank you for joining us for our career blog series! Can you introduce yourself and what you do? 

I’m a freelance popular music academic and researcher, my current role involves mainly lecturing, teaching, assessing and curriculum and course design, across various independent music colleges and universities. I have a specialism in genre and culture, artist development, PR and vinyl record culture as well. I mainly roll that out from diploma level right up to Masters level.


Cool, and you’re currently doing a PhD is that right?

Yeah, that’s right! So I’m getting into the final hurdle of my PhD now… It focuses on vinyl records culture, in terms of how it went away and came back and why that is. I’m asking questions like, “How do we consume music?”, “How do we purchase and put a value on records over things like streaming and tapes?”

Interesting! So, what’s the best thing about working in the music industry? 

I would say – and it’s not an easy gig that’s for sure – but finding stuff that you love, whether it’s an artist, track, performance, some sort of meaning behind music… Finding something that really resonates with you and has meaning for you individually, is definitely the best part. 

And that can be something from way back! Some of the stuff I teach is about the 60s and 70s and the evolution of rock and roll for instance, and there’s things within that that people have never thought about, in terms of how we look at music now. So yeah, looking at how it all links together, and discovering brand new artists that are doing something new and interesting and that has a really good message for today. 

How did your music degree help you get to where you are today?

For this type of job, having a degree and postgraduate education is really, really vital. I actually did a Masters in Music and that helped me by giving me a real focus in terms of realising that this is the industry I want to be in, so you commit to it full time! 

But also the network you make – and I would say that is true of any music course – the people on your course, your peers, classmates, they’re your best asset.  I still communicate with my Masters class now and again in terms of opportunities and research, asking them if they can tell me about this-and-that. We still help each other out now! Forming a network in your class is vital at any level!


And what did you study before a Masters? 

So my honours and Undergraduate degree was actually in psychology! But all the time I was doing that I was playing in bands, even the night before my finals I was out playing gigs in Glasgow [laughs] – probably quite naughty, but yeah I always knew that was what I wanted to be doing more than anything. I was really interested in psychology, but it wasn’t the path for me. 


Do you think your degree in psychology has helped in your career today? 

Oh definitely. In terms of my PhD stuff, and also looking at genre and culture, I do like to look at it from quite a psychological angle. And Music Psychology is such a large area of research now, it’s a really interesting developing area, so I definitely try to bring that into what I study and teach now.

What experience did you need in order for you to do your current job?

They will always, always ask for some sort of level of degree study, so that was essential. Whether that’s a Masters, or more commonly now PhDs. 

Another pretty big factor is actually knowing people that can get you a foot in the door.  It was literally by chance that I got my foot in the door through someone that I know who needed a lecturer on a module, because the person who was doing it had decided to move to Berlin! Knowing people who make the decisions on who gets to teach on what, and having the academic background to back it up is really important.


What advice would you give current students or graduates wanting to get into your line of work?

Definitely stick with your studying, even if there’s modules that you’re not that interested in, you still have to do them, you still have to engage and try to do well. You might not use them afterwards, but make sure that you stick with it and you get the most out of it, because it will help you further down the line. 

The reality is you need to have so many strings to your bow now that it’s no longer a straight-forward, ‘oh i’m going to be a singer, and that’s what I’ll do til I die’, it’s not like that anymore. So you need to be able to do all aspects of the music industry, and all the things that it demands. So my advice would be to get as many things under your belt as possible, and just engage with as much as you can!


What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Something that’s really stuck with me is from waaay back… I was actually doing my Highers in Scotland at the time, and one of my lecturers told me simply that, “there is nothing to be scared of”. He was actually a psychology lecturer, and he said being scared is just something we create, it’s an illusion, that goes all the way back to biology and our survival instincts. 

He said never be afraid to put yourself out there and take risks – and I definitely did that when I switched from an undergrad in psychology to a masters in music! It’s not really a common thing and it was a big step. But yeah, I was able to take that risk and it paid off! So definitely take risks and don’t be scared. 


What’s your favourite aspect of your job?

I think I enjoy working with the students the most, and the students getting something out of my teaching is always great. I had a hilarious bit of feedback last year from some students saying, thanks for introducing us to the music of Rage Against the Machine! [laughs] We were looking at the evolution of Rock music and they really enjoyed that, and that’s a band that they’re really super fans of now, who got this new resonance now in this world we live in.

So yeah, introducing them to things that could be life-changing in some ways, and getting them to rethink music and see it in a different way is really enjoyable!

And how about the most challenging?

The most challenging aspect is sometimes if students just aren’t that engaged or can’t see the value in what they’re doing, and they maybe just don’t have that initial passion for it, that’s difficult because you can only do so much in that case. 

For some people it’s just not for them, they’ll do a course and they’ll realise that actually, they don’t want anything to do with music – and that’s fine, but it’s always a bit of a tough nut to crack in terms of what’s holding them back – is it just fear or lack of confidence, or are they genuinely just not interested?  That’s always challenging, but once you get to the root of it, yeah you can work with it.


What advice would you give to those working in the industry today, with all the changes and challenges the pandemic has brought about? 

Now more than ever, we need people who can do everything [laughs]! We need people who are willing to act at the drop of a hat to do different types of roles and take on different responsibilities. You might have your heart set on being a songwriter, which is great, but actually in terms of surviving, you might also need to look at production, and PR and teaching and all different aspects. 

Definitely being adaptable and being an innovator as well is a huge benefit. We’ve seen some really interesting innovations in terms of how artists have adapted and reacted to the COVID situation – they’ve done things like live-streams, specialised merchandise, and even writing about the situation and putting into the actual content of their art is really interesting – and using technology in ways that maybe we didn’t before. Being able to think outside the box and adapt and be open to it, I think is vital for today!

Find out more about Karlyn King and her experience on her website and on socials: Twitter.

Words: Isobel Trott
Interview: Alyssa Renwick
Photos: © Karlyn King / SWIM

More Many Hats…

Read our first feature with SAMA’s Richy Muirhead here, and last week’s edition with Melisa Kelly.

richy muirhead scottish alternative music awards samas interview

Many Hats with Richy Muirhead, Creative Director & founder of SAMAs

Welcome to “Many Hats”! Our career blog series that explores the various tricks and trades of the music industry. First up, we had to chance to chat to Richy Muirhead, Creative Director and Founder of the Scottish Alternative Music Awards – or SAMAs as you might know it – for a the low down on how he’s crafted his career, how a music education has helped him along the way, and the ‘many hats’ he’s adorned over the years.

SAMAs has been supporting underground Scottish music talent for a number of years now, including the likes of an up-and-coming Lewis Capaldi, with its 2019 edition even awarding some of our own talented students! But it’s not been a clear-cut path for its founder, with a varied career under his belt, Richy reflects on how he’s got to where he is today.

Why ‘Many Hats’ you ask? Well, we thought it fitting because it was a term that cropped up in almost every interview we did for the project. People working in the biz we call music often adopt ‘many hats’ during their careers, balancing and trying out a range of jobs and skills whilst also crafting their passion – we think that’s fab and totally under-appreciated in the wider world of work! There’s so much to be gained from a career in music. But don’t let us do all the talking…

Hey Richy! Can you tell us a bit about the organisations you work with, and what your role involves?

Currently I am Creative Director of the Scottish Alternative Music Awards and an Advisory Board Member for the Scottish Music Industry Association. The SAMAs are an annual music awards based here in Scotland. We celebrate multiple genres like hip hop and rock, plus live and newcomer categories. It’s always a diverse shortlist of artists featured and we work with a range of creative organisations – from Creative Scotland to Academy of Music & Sound and Drygate Brewery. The whole purpose is to identify artists that do amazing work and shouting about that through events, social media and marketing. We also host events with Liverpool Sound City and we have our own music festival in Paisley – a two day music bash and really good fun!

Some award winning artists you might be familiar with from SAMAs include Lewis Capaldi through to The Ninth Wave, Be Charlotte, The Dunts, VanIves and many more. This year we’re moving into the virtual space which is going to be interesting! It’s an opportunity to attract a larger audience – a global audience – and we’re working with some great partners to make sure it’s delivered to a high standard. It’s a chance to learn about different genres bubbling in Scotland, a little bit about what’s going on up north, and to embrace a new challenge.


What is day-to-day work like at the moment?

Day-to-day I typically look after the majority of things! Because it’s all virtual at the moment, it’s a lot of meeting with partners via Zoom/Teams and ensuring our social media campaign is in place and going to be effective, as well as looking at new issues that could arise because of corona. 

We’re planning stuff for next March and it involves a lot of careful monitoring of what’s happening right now and how to mitigate possible risks. It’s also about making sure the event is as strong as it can be. So, talking to people in the industry to get feedback and generate some ideas that might separate SAMAs from other music awards and develop its identity and tone. Yeah, there’s a lot going on! And it’ll be so nice to get back into venues, begin recording and work with a large team again. We’ve been having so many great conversations with people, even in the current climate, but it’s still relatively lonely on the ground! Usually the role involves socialising, going to gigs, checking out new music and so on.

Great! So loads of responsibility then. When did you first launch SAMAs? It must have been an exciting new challenge!

When I was in education, about 11 years ago now – I’m getting old! [laughs] – I went to the MTV Music Awards in Berlin. I was lucky enough to be invited in some way or another and came back feeling really motivated and inspired about how great it was that music could bring people together from different backgrounds and cultures. I had to do a creative module in university, so I decided to create a national music award! A lot of people laughed at the time, and I completely understand why. We started things slowly, we worked it into the module, with outcomes, a lot of bullet points… And gradually we improved it every year. I started hosting other events and grew confidence, learnt who our audience were and developed it ever since!

Many artists are celebrated at the SAMAs and it gives them that platform and boost of confidence to grow. Whether that’s touring nationally or locally, collaborating with other artists or reaching new listeners, there’s that sense of achievement or award and community offered by being involved in SAMAs that I’m so proud of. I think I landed quite lucky with that university project!


Amazing! Has it always been a full time role?

I’d say in the last 4 years it’s really started to become full time which is nice. In the past I was juggling all sorts. As someone who currently works freelance across the music and events world, I do still find myself wearing a range of different hats and offering your skills to do a range of different things. And that’s a really important thing to be able to work with other groups of people and share skill sets – to learn from other people and teach others.

Recently I’ve worked on a  project with BBC Scotland producing content which was really good fun, but mainly the focus has been on SAMAs and it’s been fun and challenging to turn that into a full time job. Because for that we had to grow, so we had to think about showcasing outside of Scotland and hosting events we hadn’t done before, being ambitious with funding, and just upping our game that little bit every year – so far so good! Hopefully we can continue growing and hopefully when it’s safe, we can return to live events, because that’s really where we thrive!


One of my questions was going to be ‘what experience did you need to get the role you’re in now?’ – I guess you crafted your own experience as you grew SAMAs rather than go through the usual interview process?

Yeah, exactly. When I was in education we were always encouraged to try new stuff and given time where we were allowed to make mistakes and be adventurous.  The module project was a big part of how I began to hone my experience. But I also began to run smaller club nights, so I was learning the basics of how to run an event and what people’s expectations were  (from artists to the public) and getting an understanding of the various aspects of what needs to come together for an event – from ticketing, to what catering is needed for events and what a technical rider is.

Some things I enjoyed, other things I didn’t perhaps love so much. I learnt pretty early that I’d have to hire people who can do [the stuff I didn’t understand]. Things like web design are essential for marketing an event but I’d need someone to create it in the beginning and do all the technical stuff. But having the time and freedom during education to try stuff, and take internships when I could afford to, that was really important. 


What is the most rewarding aspect of your job – or working in the music industry?

I really enjoy the fact that everyday, listening to music is such a big part of the job. Whether that’s programming or curating an event, having to listen to a playlist – I could do that from here, I could do it on a train, out running or cycling – there’s no limitations. Always being immersed in listening to music is my favourite thing about the role.

Obviously, when we put on events there’s that extra wow-factor and it’s a memory and a really good moment for a lot of people. For me, how I like to operate being self employed and organising my hours and when I want to do things, choosing who we work with and how we do things, I really enjoy that responsibility. Plus the amount of streaming via Soundcloud and Spotify is outrageous! And it’s great when people send me music, I always try to get back to people – they don’t always expect it [laughs] so it’s always nice feedback! 

What was the most challenging bit of starting out in the industry?

It was – and still is sometimes – a lot of self doubt. Sometimes I don’t put enough value on what I do and I kinda imagine that other people think what I do is terrible – but it’s all just in my head! I think you can overthink things and that was one of the hardest barriers to overcome. It still can be! What I do tend to find is that when one door closes another one opens and more opportunities will come. But when you’re starting out you have to really go that extra mile, so it’s tough. And if you start to lose those skill sets doors can start to close as well, so if you want a career in music I think you really have to commit yourself, embrace it, go to events…

With many events moving into the digital space, now is a great time to visit other international events. Last week I went to Tallin Music Week virtually, which was cool! With events online they’re easier to attend and often cheaper. Plus the amount of people you can meet in a Zoom chat box is pretty cool! And if you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to be doing, you can spark up a connection pretty quick. There are opportunities, and it’s very difficult at the moment, however it’s always been difficult, it’s always been about your attitude and skill set and finding out exactly what you want to be doing.


Tell us a little more about your music education – what made you want to pursue a music degree? What did you learn?

Music was always part of me and my family, it was always on in the house so from an early age it was always what I wanted to do in some way. My parents weren’t fully committed to that – they wanted me to do something a bit more ‘secure’ maybe. However I wanted to really give it a bash. Going into education and having the opportunities from learning and meeting people in class who were like-minded, and then applying for voluntary internships allowed me to grow though that. 

And I even ended up wanting to study more! So I went from a HND in Sound Production, through to a BA in Commercial Music, which was more of an open book. You could decide if you wanted to work in the industry or if you wanted to be a performer. By that time I’d kinda figured out I wasn’t that great as a music player, so events were where I began to really find my feet.

Then there was a new Masters coming out about music entrepreneurship, so I wanted to jump on that. At that point it was great because there was more business development and more chance to look a bit more 360 at what you do instead of project to project. It was great to spend a year immersed in that working with some amazing people in the classroom and the lecturers too. I think there was a lot of important education, and it was so vital for  me to be doing what I was doing, but I was also very lucky to have gone to that music event in Germany. I realised how special it could be if a music award was delivered well, and had the right mentality.

So there was a lot of luck, and there always has to be luck, but there was a lot of patience too while going through education, when a lot of my friends had jobs and were earning a lot more than me and I was working part time in bars and so on… But if you want the career you’ll find a way to make it work. It taught me a lot of great skills and helped me find the opportunities I needed to get me to where I am today.

What advice do you have to give current music students, or those just starting out in the industry? 

I think my advice has to change a little now because of corona. I think there’s some generally essential skill sets that are gonna be here for a long time, stuff like social media and digital marketing, which don’t on the outside sound like ‘music jobs’, however they absolutely are! Whether it’s for a creative law firm that needs music for campaigns, or musicians and artists who need this support. So my advice would be to look at the current situation, think about which skill sets you can bring to the party and what could you begin to learn that could increase your visibility and increase your skill set. There’s  a load of digital tools out there for you to learn from. 

And if it’s events that you really want to get into, head along to stuff like Focus Wales, Wide Days, Resonate, Tallin Music Week, because you never know who you’re going to bump into in the chat box and it might just open up some opportunities. We’re now in a world where we can work from home, it’s certainly a lot more acceptable than it was 12 months ago, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it if you can be disciplined and still deliver your work to a high level. A lot of the businesses in the creative industry have a much more lenient approach. But it all comes back to reliability and being able to deliver on the goods, you need to be the real deal I think! 


Great advice! Now finally, what’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received during your career?

Not sure if I have one specific piece of advice… But I think the importance of building networks and relationships is something that’s stayed with me. Someone who supports what you do, whether it’s a peer, or a sponsor or another artist, you can build a relationship and pat each other on the back and watch each other grow. I think that’s a really good thing and a way to get ongoing advice and lift each other up.

There are people and organisations who have been involved in the SAMA’s from the beginning and share the same passion, and that is something really special!  And we’ve worked with some great, dedicated partners along the way.  That respect goes a long way and gives you the confidence that you can really deliver. It fights away that imposter syndrome. I think everyone has a sense of that in one small shape or another… And that’s definitely heightened by social media mentality too. In truth, it’s all totally fine, just get on with it! [laughs].

SAMAs will take place virtually this year.
Check out the festival on their socials for updates:
@officialsamas | Facebook | Twitter 

Words: Isobel Trott
Photos: © SAMAs 2019.

Edinburgh Virtual Open Day why study at edinburgh scotland music school college university catton hill hnc ba hons hnd

Why Study in Edinburgh?

September is on the horizon, and we’re still very much open for applications for the new academic year. Edinburgh is one of our 2 AMS centres in Scotland, and could prove to be an excellent choice if you’re looking for an exciting, buzzing city to take your musical study to the next level. From free short courses which we change and mix up each semester, to our hugely popular HNC/HND in Music and our BA Hons in Music and Sound, AMS Edinburgh have a great range of courses for you to sink your musical teeth into.


So, whats the city’s appeal?


The Scottish capital has a long-established reputation in the international festival circuit, offering a fantastic fusion of culture, art and performance. Most notably, Edinburgh annually hosts the incredible Edinburgh Fringe Festival and their famous 3-day New Year party. With festivals and cultural events scheduled all year around, Edinburgh has countless entertainment and opportunities for musicians, as well as infinite eating out options, theatres and comedy nights. The Edinburgh Centre is certainly the the best place to be to gain your start in the Music Industry!

The city is home to some fantastic venues like, Sneaky Pete’s, The Queens Hall, Leith Folk Club, Bannermans,  The Caves, and Stramash. And of course cultural structures and iconic places to visit like the famous Edinburgh Castle, Catton Hill and Authur’s Seat.

And it’s not far from some stunning beauty spots either – you can truly get the best of both worlds here.

What courses are available at AMS Edinburgh?


Free Short Courses | Each semester we update an exciting programme of free short courses. Most recently we’ve had some really fascinating courses on Women in Music, Sound Production, Hip-hop and Rap, and Working in the Music Industry. Most recently we adapted all our short courses – which are usually held in our studio and performance facilities in-centre – for online purposes due to the pandemic, and had some great responses from attendees! Keep your eyes peeled for next semester’s programme.


HNC/HND in Music | This specialist course for modern musicians is available at both our city centre facilities in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Our unique selling point has always been supporting students with their chosen pathway – this year we are thrilled to announce that we are now offering Hip-Hop & Rap as a pathway on our HND Music course. Accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), our HND is written in partnership with education professionals and industry experts, reflecting the current music industry and allows for further progression onto higher levels of study, expanding career opportunities and personal development. If you’re serious about your music, and want to take your creativity to the next level whilst studying an accredited undergraduate pathway then the HNC in Music could be for you.


BA Hons in Music and Sound – Equivalent to the 3rd year of a degree, this flexible top-up year is designed to follow on from our Foundation Degree in Music & Sound, but would also suit any applicants studying a music related HND, Foundation Degree or indeed those with recognised industry experience backed up with qualifications. Validated by the University of West London, the course has been developed to mirror the modern music industry, allowing students to learn the skills to become independent, multi-skilled music practitioners, fluent with various forms of multi-media. We provide the time, space and the opportunity to develop your own sound and work on your material alongside gaining valuable vocational skills.


Our Edinburgh centre boasts teaching rooms, rehearsal rooms, mac suites, recording studios and a team of professional music tutors.

Learn from the pros
All our tutors and staff are working in music, and our courses are both delivered by and written by musicians. With that comes a great community, common goals and an immediate industry focus that you won’t get at your run of the mill college.

Many of our past students are now working in music, check out our alumni page to find out more.

Who will I be learning from?

Our dedicated and passionate teaching team are all professional musicians with several years experience both in teaching and the music industry. You’ll be learning and working with a range of musical professionals, mostly have well established links with the Edinburgh and Glasgow music scenes and all have a wealth of knowledge.

On our singer-songwriter team, we’ve got Zac Scott a performer and artists with experience facilitating creative songwriting sessions across Scotland. He trained at Lincoln Center Education, New York and graduated with BA (Hons) in Contemporary Performance Practice at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. There’s also Georgia Smith our songwriting tutor – Georgia has a whole host of accolades from the likes of Scottish Jazz Awards, BBC Scotland and Society Magazine. In our vocals department is the wonderful Susanna Klayman, specialising in soul music she has over 12 years experience. Michael Mackay is one of our guitar tutors, an artist part of several local bands with a loyal following, and Ewan Gibson is our bass tutor, also part of many local projects.

If sound production is your thing, you’ll be learning first hand from Archie Biard. While Karyln King is our BA Course Coordinator, Music Business and Women in Music Tutor. Born in Glasgow, Karlyn is a prolific Popular Music academic, lecturer and researcher who regularly presents at industry conferences all over the UK, specialising in Rock n Roll history, Artist Development and Research. She is completing a PhD at University of Birmingham on vinyl record culture, and freelances in Artist Management.

What’s the deal with Coronavirus?


Of course, coronavirus has sadly impacted many of our local venues and arts centres, but with several of them having recently received Creative Scotland funding, and Edinburgh will surely be quick to get back on its feet.

Online learning: Since March we’ve swapped the studio for home and come September we’re confident we’ll be in a great position to offer flexible, online learning to students should we need to. We’re also spreading out, finding new spaces for learning so classrooms can be bigger and class sizes smaller. We were quick to adapt to the changes back in the Spring, and received some hugely positive feedback from our students.

Come September we’re readily adapting, in a great position to provide optional online learning and small class sizes should we need to. There’s still space on many of our courses for 2020/21 and we really look forward to hearing from you!

Group tutor sessions and live online performances have kept me feeling involved and uplifted during these crazy times
– Ella Crossland, Exeter student, April 2020.

How do I apply?

It’s simple. Just fill out a short online form, and we will get back to you in the following few days.

Take me to the application form.


And if you have any more questions or queries, feel free to to in touch with our friendly team!  We’ll get back to you as soon as possible, and we really look forward to hearing from you, about your musical experience and your musical interests.


Contact us 

exeter diploma music course rsl level 3 why study at exeter music exeter exeter university college music and sound ams uk

Why Study in Exeter?

September is on the horizon, and we’re still very much open for applications for the new academic year. Exeter would be a great place to decide to study with AMS – with course options in RSL Level 3, Foundation Degree in Music and Sound, BA Hons in Music and Sound, and of course our hugely popular M.MUS in Popular Music Performance, it’s also a great dynamic, interesting, student oriented city in its own right.


So, whats the city’s appeal?


Exeter is such a dynamic cultural hub, which is steadily and surely getting back on its feet after coronavirus. In terms of music, it’s got much to offer with independent venues like Exeter Phoenix & Old Firehouse Exeter, Northcott Theatre , Lemon Grove, the Corn Echange, and home to lots of incredible independent shops and the unique and quirky Gandy Street. Exeter has also has its share of music related enterprises including the famous Manson Guitar Works, who make guitars for the likes of Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Mikey Demus (Skindred)!

Exeter has always been a historic and cultural hub, but in 2019 the Cathedral City truly came into its own. New, quirky bars and cafes opening left, right and centre make Exeter a fun and vibrant city to explore throughout the year. Being so close to the countryside also gives Exeter a special appeal – you’re just a short hop one way to the stunning South West Coastline, and a hop in the other direction to the picturesque beauty spot that is Dartmoor National Park. Best of both worlds!

It also means that proper muddy festivals are not far away either; Beautiful Days (run by the Levellers) happens every year (well, apart from 2020…..) as well as the cheerful Chagstock Music Festival in the heart of the moors – plus you’re only a short hop on the train to Glastonbury, home to the most famous festival of all.

What courses are available at AMS Exeter?


RSL Extended Diploma Music Practitioners Level 3This popular course internationally recognised qualification with regular updates to mirror the developments within the music industry. It is written and developed by industry specialists with education professionals. Fully-accredited by OfQual and DfES, it is the equivalent to 3 A-levels with an outcome of up to 168 UCAS points.


Foundation Degree in Music & Sound – Our bespoke Foundation Degree is developed to mirror the modern music industry, helping students gain the skills to be independent, multi-skilled music practitioners, fluent with various forms of multimedia. The Foundation Degree in Music & Sound is fully validated by the University of West London, which encompasses the London College of Music. A Foundation Degree is a combined academic and vocational qualification, equivalent to two thirds of an honours degree, it is anticipated that those who complete the Foundation Degree in Music & Sound will progress to the BA (Hons) top-up in Music & Sound.


BA Hons in Music and Sound – Equivalent to the 3rd year of a degree, this flexible top-up year is designed to follow on from our Foundation Degree in Music & Sound, but would also suit any applicants studying a music related HND, Foundation Degree or indeed those with recognised industry experience backed up with qualifications (Fast-Track). Validated by the University of West London, the course has been developed to mirror the modern music industry, allowing students to learn the skills to become independent, multi-skilled music practitioners, fluent with various forms of multi-media. We provide the time, space and the opportunity to develop your own sound and work on your material alongside gaining valuable vocational skills.


M.Mus Popular Music Performance – In partnership with the London College of Music and University of West London, this qualification has been developed to address the needs of contemporary musicians on a practical, academic and professional basis delivered by highly qualified professionals active in the music industry. Explore in-depth an area of musicianship that interests you, combine practical and academic study with extensive ensemble work and individual tuition to expand and develop your competitive edge, and gain academic recognition to explore theories and ideas.

Who will I be learning from?

Our dedicated and passionate teaching team are all professional musicians with several years experience both in teaching and the music industry. You’ve got the likes of Ben Green our Foundation course coordinator + RSL production tutor – a talented guitarist and frontman for Exeter band Pattern Pusher, as well as a hard working sound production engineer and producer, recording for many local acts. Emma Waston, our BA course Coordinator, RSL and Foundation degree vocal tutor – an experienced professional musician, namely a vocalist and music teacher, specialising in music performance, music event management and the music industry.

Another member of our Foundation team is Steve Down, who’s been teaching guitar and music theory for over a decade, as well as being an active professional musician. He graduated with a 1st Class degree in Music from Southampton University and Masters in Jazz from LCM, and has since worked live and in the studio with many artists including Joss Stone, Jeff Beck and Beverley Knight, having also performed at prestigious venues and events worldwide like Wembley Stadium, and The Royal Albert Hall. Over in the office we’ve got Laura Wright who heads up our centre management, but also a professional and talented musician in her won right. And that’s to name but a few of our great staff!


Meet the tutors on our Exeter Staff Spotlight page.

What’s the deal with Coronavirus?


Of course, coronavirus has sadly impacted many of our local venues and arts centres, but with several of them having recently received Arts Council England funding, we think Exeter will be quick to get back on its feet.

Online learning: Since March we’ve swapped the studio for home and come September we’re confident we’ll be in a great position to offer flexible, online learning to students should we need to. We’re also spreading out, finding new spaces for learning so classrooms can be bigger and class sizes smaller. We were quick to adapt to the changes back in the Spring, and received some hugely positive feedback from our students.

Come September we’re readily adapting, in a great position to provide optional online learning and small class sizes should we need to. There’s still space on many of our courses for 2020/21 and we really look forward to hearing from you!

Group tutor sessions and live online performances have kept me feeling involved and uplifted during these crazy times
– Ella Crossland, Exeter student, April 2020.

Attend an open event

Want to learn more and chat to our team one-on-one? Lucky you, we’ve got a virtual open day coming up and there’s plenty of places left! Join us on Zoom on 13th August to meet some of our team, including our foundation tutor Ben Green, and get an in-depth, comprehensive look at our courses and get all your burning questions answered. Applications for AMS are generally ongoing and there is no official closing date.  We can’t wait to (virtually) meet you all!

Book your place now.

How do I apply?

It’s simple. Just fill out a short online form, and we will get back to you in the following few days.

Take me to the application form.


And if you have any more questions or queries, feel free to to in touch with our friendly team!  We’ll get back to you as soon as possible, and we really look forward to hearing from you, about your musical experience and your musical interests.


Contact us