Richard Whitelaw on Talent Development at Sound and Music

What Are We All Doing? Where Are We All Going?

If you are reading this then hopefully you know that talent development is central to Sound and Music’s work. We spend a lot of our time creating new opportunities and we devote a lot of attention to supporting the professional development of artists. We believe that composers (the broadest sense of this term is used throughout) should be central to any discussion of talent development, they should be paid for their input and that programmes should be co-designed with them to suit their individual needs. We hope to form long-term relationship with composers through which we can grow and learn together.

We have an agreed and published a set of design principles for our approach to talent development. Within these is the commitment to put the composer at the heart of our work. With this in mind we have recently embarked on some action research into our approach to Talent Development. This has involved consulting with the composers on our residency schemes, convening a Composer Conference, and talking to our partner organisations who are involved in Talent Development within the UK. Details of attendees and a summary of the discussions are published here.

Following this we have identified some next steps for Sound and Music, and some questions that we need to explore as part of the next stage of action research.

What does the music sector seek to achieve in the area of composer talent development?

What’s the goal here? Is it simply to create more composers and to support them in developing their skills? Is it for composers to be more self-sufficient? Are we being honest about the realities here for freelance composers working in new music and the resilience they will need? Are there assumed ways of working between organisations and composers? Can these be challenged?

What is Sound and Music’s role?

What is Sound and Music’s mandate? What is expected of us as an organisation? Where can we add most value? Can we trial new models of working with and supporting composers?

The following are a list of actions based on some of the themes that came out most clearly from our discussions with composers and organisations:

  1. There is a need for an overview of opportunities for composers.

Sound and Music will continue to develop the Opportunities page of our website, to create a site where composers can come to get an overview of opportunities for professional development as well as news of current opportunities.

  1. There is a clear and pressing need for more opportunities aimed at established composers.

Sound and Music will continue to develop these opportunities with our partners. Current examples of these programmes include our work with The British Council in Kuwait, our work with The Museum of London. International opportunities for UK composers, both to present work and extend networks are particularly important here.

  1. There is a desire among composers for more involvement in the shaping of schemes and opportunities.

Sound and Music is committed to ensuring that opportunities are shaped around composers not the other way round, as demonstrated by our published talent development principles. We will continue to trial new models of artist-led programmes, including touring, opportunities for international networking and the Composer-curator programme as well as more established approaches such as access to professional advice through the panel discussions and surgery-style sessions of the Sounding Out programme of events

 4.   There are issues around diversity.

At present, 25% of applicants to our programmes are female and 5% are from non-white backgrounds. This has to change. Sound and Music will:

  • Be inclusive and diverse in the range of partners we work with and music that we support
  • Be transparent and open in seeking proposals against published criteria
  • Have regularly rotating selection panels and be public about who they are
  • Seek partnerships with organisations who are better connected with under-represented demographics
  • Monitor and report progress
  • Raise the level of debate about the issues

5. Composers want to reach larger audiences with their work.

With programmes like Incubator and the Composer-curator programme Sound and Music work in partnership with composers to increase their audience base and their ability to develop it using social media and digital technology.

6.  There is a need for a sector-wide discussion around best practice in mentoring.

Many wonderful examples exist, but composers also report mentoring relationships where expectations are frustrated (on either side) or where, in retrospect, a better timescale could have been applied. Sound and Music will lead on taking forward this research. We intend to visit and observe other schemes and share our findings. We are developing our in-house mentoring and coaching capabilities and will further support the work of our contracted project mentors.

For Further information please see:

Frequently Asked Questions about Sound and Music’s open calls

List of Sound and Music’s independent panel members for programmes live in 2014









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