New Voices 2018 – Reflections On Applicant Data

Followers of Sound and Music’s activity, artists and talent development work will know that, over the last year or so, we have been working on some quite major developments and changes in the way that we recruit composers. We’ve wanted to move away from the partnership-led opportunity model of our previous programmes, Embedded and Portfolio, and move towards a truly artists-first model, and an annual cycle of recruitment to a large and broad single programme, New Voices.

New Voices is an eighteen month bespoke programme of professional and artistic development and audience facing activity. Out of those who applied 26 composers have been selected for interview and 15 will go through to take part in the programme as our first cohort for 2018-19.

We have spoken previously about the need to make this change (see my post from 2016 here) and the benefits this revised model brings. New Voices essentially allows Sound and Music to be in control of its own selection process and criteria. We want this control so that we can choose to work with a broader, and more representative, range of talented artists. Our hope was that the 2017 New Voices application process would yield the most representative cohort of Sound and Music applicants to date. We also aim to continue to share our insight and some of the challenges we face throughout this change for wider sector learning.

You’ll read below about who applied to the programme, but before diving into that I’d like to, once again, take the opportunity to thank all of the composers, artists and creators that applied to be a part of New Voices. A vast amount of truly inspiring artistic work was submitted to us from a huge range of people from all over the UK, and we have been able to consider high quality work from genres that are quite new to our programme.
I know already, from the quality of work created by the people that we will be meeting at interview, that Sound and Music is going to be supporting some really amazing people this year, and that we are going to continue to learn a huge amount from and with them.

Where we are, Where we want to get to

Data on applications to New Voices

237 artists applied to New Voices, this was the largest application volume of any Sound and Music opportunity to date. It represents over half of the total applications to our programmes this financial year (2017-18).

We asked the applicants for some information about themselves during the application process so we could learn more about them. The applicants self-defined as follows:


Male: 58%
Female: 40%
Trans/Gender Fluid: 2%
Declined to answer: 1%

Susanna Eastburn wrote about our commitment to 50:50 by 2020 here. The commitment is that “by March 2020, at least 50% of the composers we work with will identify as women”. An important point to make here is that, from Sound and Music’s perspective, this commitment encompasses all of the artists that apply to our programme as well as those who go on to participate fully.

There is still some way to go towards 50:50, especially when considering that within the total number of applications to our programmes this financial year only 31% of applicants have identified as female. There is still a considerable amount of work for us to do here in order to reach our aspirations to be gender representative.

Disabled applicants to New Voices

Self-Define as Disabled: 12%
Do Not Self-Define As Disabled: 87%

Sound and Music has set itself the aspiration that, by the end of the 2017-18 financial year, 15% of the composers that we work will self-define as disabled. (According to official statistics, 16% of the adult population of the UK is disabled.) Whilst there is some way to go in reaching this aim, New Voices has been successful in increasing the percentage of disabled composers that we work with and that, more importantly, want to work with us and are applying to do so. The overall figures across all of our programmes so far (where data is available) suggest that previously, in total, only 7% of our applicants are disabled. This data also reveals that, between April and December 2017, not a single disabled composer made a successful application to one of our talent development programmes.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic applicants to New Voices

Whilst acknowledging the healthy debate around terms like BAME, Sound and Music is keen to measure the application rates to our programmes from non-white communities within the UK. Within the New Voices applicants the data broke down as follows:

White British: 63%
White, not British: 26%
BAME: 11%

Sound and Music is aiming for a 10% rate of composers from BAME backgrounds applying to our programmes and a 10% representation of BAME background artists being selected. (Around 12% of the UK population is BAME, although this varies widely across the country.) Whilst we are pleased with the New Voices application results in this regard, the overall picture is that only 8% of our total applicants across this financial year are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic populations.

The London bit…

Sound and Music is a national organisation and is committed to working with composers and artists from all across the country. Our intention is that at least 60% of the composers that we work with should be based outside of London.

In New Voices the geographical data on applications broke down as follows:

Composers based in London: 30%
Composers based outside London: 70%

This forms part of a healthy overall picture during 2017-18 where 68% of our total applicants to date were made by artists based outside of London.

A word on genre

New Voices is intended to welcome composers and artists into our programme that are creating work in genres that we have not yet engaged with fully. In terms of the applicants, New Voices was felt to be a great success in this regard. As well as a strong representation of artistic work from areas familiar to Sound and Music’s programme (such as modern notated composition, sound art and free improvisation) there were many strong applications from artists working in jazz, folk (I’m including the justly unloved label ‘world music’ within this definition) and from singer songwriters coming from jazz and soul backgrounds. One of the most exciting things for Sound and Music and with the New Voices programme is what happens when we bring together and foster relationships between a group of artists who cover such a wide range of work – and what this will sound like.

The team will be meeting the 26 shortlisted New Voices composers and artists at interviews in London and Manchester during February and March. Following this we will announce the New Voices 2018 cohort and Sound and Music will once again reflect on our learning about the shortlisting and selection process, and will share our findings.

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