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!
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