Blog: The Empowered Musician - Kirsty Devaney

I graduated from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2013 and have been working as a freelance composer and music-educator whilst completing my PhD in education research. I now work alongside many undergraduate and recent graduate composition students, which has highlighted a number of struggles, issues and challenges that they face coming out of the security of full-time education.

For many music graduates in the arts, a clear and obvious career path does not exist, especially in a time where funding for the arts is diminishing. Our education system is driven by clear linear milestones based on deadlines and measurable progression (e.g. GCSE – A-level – university – graduate). For many this route is clear and relatively easy to follow with the right resources and support available.

But what happens after the ‘graduate’ part? All of a sudden a terrifying black hole of possibilities opens up with nobody to guide you through. Before starting university, I expected that I would just somehow know what to do next, that I’d be an adult and things would just fall into place.

Like many other graduates, things did not just fall into place for me. As an undergraduate I worked as hard as I could, setting up external projects, running events, gaining work experience – all the things they tell you to do! But when I applied for work and composing opportunities I received rejection, after rejection, after rejection

I felt I was spending more time on applications than actually composing. So I decided to stop applying for external opportunities and made my own projects happen; carve out my own route. I set up the Young Composers Project, contacted people I had worked with in the past, and I asked for help. I invested my time into what I was truly passionate about, making my own opportunities happen.

The Young Composers Project now in its 5th year.

People in my network began to really support what I was doing and as a result, I began to gain more paid work and commissions.

Now I’m not suggesting that you should stop applying for jobs and opportunities, but I would encourage you to consider not wholly relying on conventional routes. Try not to assess your worth based on if a panel of people, who don’t know you. With the use of social media in the industry, it can be hard not to compare yourself to others who appear to be more ‘successful’. However, in person you may find that they are also facing many rejections and failures.

The ‘successful’ composers I’ve worked with tend to be very resilient and are able to keep going even after many setbacks.

Find what you are really passionate about and invest your time into that, rather than what you think you should be achieving. If you are struggling ask for help, use the networks and friends you have – in my experience people are always very willing to help. My final bit of advice to emerging composers and recent graduates is to give yourself a break! Life is not a race and no one is judging you other than yourself. Make the time to look after yourself, do what you enjoy and have fun!

I relax best by going for walks and being outside.

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