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.
"Now more than ever, we need people who can do everything! We need people who are willing to do different roles and have different responsibilities. You might have your heart set on being a songwriter, but in terms of surviving, you might also need to look at production, PR or teaching..."
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.
"Introducing [students] to things that could be life changing and getting them to rethink music and see it in a different way is really enjoyable!"
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!