2015 has been my first successful attempt at making a living out of working freelance, sometimes being my own boss, and sometimes having several. When people ask me what I do, there’s no short answer, working in the creative and cultural industries for over 13 years has meant I’ve had to learn a lot of different skills. So far in these first four months of being self-employed, I’ve worked in some really interesting roles with some truly amazing people. I’ve also learned a lot from each experience.
In late 2014 I was delighted to be asked to teach the Event & Exhibition Planning module at Birmingham City University, although I’ve been a guest lecturer there in Music Industry and PR & Promotion for about six years now, this was my first contracted role. So far it’s been both a very challenging and rewarding experience. Not only has it been exciting working with the students but it’s also helped with my own self-development, reflecting on and analysing how I plan and manage my events, and realising the breadth of my experience is far wider than I’d given myself credit for. The students are full of amazing ideas and interpretations which has made the experience all the more enjoyable.
Overall being a lecturer has given me the opportunity to do two of my favourite things: 1) Help people and 2) Learn and improve. I highly recommend it to anyone, particularly Birmingham City University with its amazing facilities and nurturing environment.
The Big Music Project
A friend of mine was working on the very exciting Big Music Project and asked me to get involved. The project aims to support budding musicians and performers aged 14-24 and also organises a competition in which acts compete in live rounds. The prize for winning is a young Brit award, the chance for a song to appear on the following year’s Brit award CD and to record this song at Abbey Road studios. Unlike some other similar competitions, the idea is to nurture and support the acts, no one is ridiculed and only the very best talent get through to the final. The finalists had to battle it out at the O2 Arena in London in front of a panel of successful artists and industry experts.
I was asked to judge the Birmingham round and was very impressed by an act who performed there called ‘Jump The Shark‘, I was then asked to be their mentor, all of this was voluntary and the motivation for the mentors to be involved was to support young talent and try to help steer them in the right direction. I was so taken with them that I soon became their manager and was absolutely delighted when they won. Despite studying for A-Levels they’ve managed to fit in some great live shows and are working on new material over the summer.
In late January I was contracted to work on the PR, social media and community engagement for an Arts Council England funded project called for-Wards.
The project was the brain-child of local composer Bobbie-Jane Gardner and is a hyper-local pilot music project. The project is a smaller version of a larger ambition in creating new music inspired by Birmingham’s 40 electoral wards. This appealed to me greatly as I am passionate about promoting culture and creativity in Birmingham and encouraging the sense of community between its residents.
Bobbie-Jane Gardner was joined by a team of professional musicians, to lead a series of workshops focused on discovering sounds and other sonic material that represent three Birmingham neighbourhoods (in three wards). These sounds and other input from the workshops were used to write original musical compositions, and were performed in the libraries communities where they originated, as well as in the Library of Birmingham.
It was my first time working on community engagement at this level and I found interacting with local communities a very rewarding experience. It was initially challenging getting press coverage for what at first sounded like quite a complex idea but this was soon overcome and all the events ran smoothly and were well attended.
This year I’ve been doing a lot of writing for various local magazines and blogs. This has included live and EP reviews, interviews and features. When I first started my DJ and promotions brand Chicks Dig Jerks in 2002 I also created an accompanying fanzine which included interviews with bands such as Franz Ferdinand, LCD Soundsystem, Blood Brothers, Tom Vek and more, and of course, plenty of local acts. It’s been nice to return to this after a long break and without the responsibilty of editing, I’ve had freedom to do as little or as much as I want. I rarely write on my own blog, and aim to change this after receiving an overwhelming response to a recent blog about female musicians in Birmingham, you can read it here.
I’ve really enjoyed getting stuck into the live music scene again, promoting upcoming talent both locally and nationally. You can find examples of my writing on Counteract Magazine, Fused Magazine and Midlands Rocks. I am pleased to have recently been asked to submit a monthly music column for Grapevine Birmingham and very excited to have been asked to submit a piece for a national in-print magazine which I’ll be shouting about very soon.
For the past three months I have been working on the PR and social media for Swingamajig Festival. Swingamajig is the UK’s first one day urban festival dedicated to Electro Swing, Gypsy Folk and Vintage Mayhem. It mixes the decadence of 1920s glamour with the urban setting of the iconic Custard Factory complex. Organised by Tom Hyland of Electric Swing Circus and Kambe Events, the brains behind Shambala, Boomtown and more.
This appealed to me, not only because of the uniqueness of the event, but also because one of the aims was to be the best run and most sustainable event in the city. Swingamajig uses renewable energy where possible (solar and waste vegetable bio-diesel), and in another first for Birmingham, they implemented a reusable cup scheme that all but eradicated litter and massively reduced waste.
The fantastic team soon made me feel at home, and I had two brilliant interns who were helping me and the team in general.
It was a very enjoyable experience which culminated in attending the packed out event on Sunday. This year was the third year of the festival, in the past two years I had held my own events and so had never previously attended. It was a truly incredible day, the crowd were the friendliest and nicest I’ve encountered at a festival and the diverse array of acts and curiosities was amazing. Numerous people I encountered who had not been before had really underestimated quite how fabulous it would be! I’ve already been asked to work on it again next year and quite frankly I can’t wait!
I’m currently working on several new projects and clients which I’ll no doubt write about on completion and of course you’ll see things popping up on this blog as I go. I hope to do more lecturing at Birmingham City University, and was delighted to get asked by University of Birmingham to do some guest lectures recently. I feel very lucky to be very busy with work at the moment, I am also helping out a few charity projects and events which is very rewarding.
With freelancing you never know when you will be quiet so it sometimes can be difficult to say no to work. I try to avoid taking work that I would not enjoy at all as I think it’s important to really be behind your projects, especially with PR and would advise other freelancers to do the same. Obviously not everything can be working on your favourite type of project but you should have some interest and be able to relate.
One thing I have learnt over the years, and continue to stand by, is that whatever you do, treat people as you would like to be treated. Try to help people, recommend and connect people, your reputation as a professional is built not only on the quality of your work, but also on how you work with others. What goes around comes around, even if it does take a while sometimes.