A resource for a fairer music industry.






 Women  Who Built A Career In  The Music Industry Without Going To University




With the exorbitant cost of higher education and rising living costs across the country, going to University can be inaccessible and unappealing to many but how does that affect your career prospects?

Whether you’re getting into freelance photography or gig promotion, there are plenty of viable options available away from the more conventional educational paths towards your chosen field.

We spoke to six women who have built careers in music without a degree to hear how it worked out for them and to help you make an informed decision about whichever route you choose.


Jennifer Quan  :
Label Coordinator, WARP Records




How long have you worked in music and what’s your current role?


Since I was seventeen – so six years now. I currently hold the position of label coordinator in a team of three at Warp Records. We work across all the sub labels including On-U Sound, Black Focus, All Saints and LuckyMe.

What did you do after leaving college/school instead of going to university?


After my first year of college, I spent the summer interning as a web designer for an electric bike company I found on Gumtree, and went to some music festivals for the first time. I had no desire to go to university – it felt too expensive and complicated. Nobody in my family had done so and I really wasn't keen either.

Coming from an underclass background with neither of my separated parents being into the arts, I was pretty clueless about anything ‘cultural’ but I’d created enough time to research for myself.

I came across two french labels – Konbini and Because Music. I didn't look any further. Towards the end of college I tracked down the Because's general email address and reached out.I said something along the lines of “I love the artists you represent – I’m extremely done with school – please could I do a day of work experience with you”. I must have followed up on that email every month for a little while and one day Jane (the boss) wrote back and suggested I come in to meet the London office. I’m still a bit stunned that asking for a single day of work experience pretty much turned into doing a masters with Because. You can make stuff happen if you want to enough, just don’t expect it all to manifest in a day.

After graduating college, me and some mates also threw a party in South East London. We delivered a night of jungle, dnb, hip hop, garage and bassline, some rap cyphers and Amoss as the headliner. Novelist came with The Square! That event broke even and I managed to get offered a job at that pub as well, so I worked there for a few months before starting at the label. It was cash in hand and I spent it on developing analogue film, seeing live music and buying merch. A lot happened that summer. I’m super grateful things have worked out like they have.

Do you ever feel at a disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?


Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’m becoming interested in specialising in something outside of music, and would like to potentially get a degree in something that crosses art and tech but am cautious to become a proper student as I support my mother who is overseas. I’m adamant to achieve whatever level I want to be at in something without a qualification. It’s not the degree that appeals so much as the time to master something, so much as an opportunity for growth.

Many people use university as a chance to meet new people. How did you build connections in the music industry?


All but one of my friends went to university over the UK after that summer so I was rolling by myself to gigs and that. I’ve found going to workshops, panels and talks really nourishing and a perfect setting to meet like-minded people. Sometimes it was lonely and definitely took me a while to build connections but there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m super grateful to have a small support network of friends in my life now.

What prospects does going straight into work offer as opposed to going to university?


Honestly I'm not sure as I haven’t had the other experience. I guess you’re getting your foot in the door sooner and working out what it is you want to do with your life as you’re under more pressure to make ends meet. I think the kind of solitude really helped me to personally carve out a path that I was happy with.

What advice would you give to other women who are thinking of giving uni a miss?


Go for it. Uni will still be there if you change your mind won’t it. As long as you’re diligent and mindful of how you spend your time you’ll still meet people, learn, and read the same things (without the structure of the institution).

I didn’t have this at first but seeing as you’re on Route, I’d suggest reaching out to someone here that appeals to you and ask them for advice on how you can achieve whatever you want to. It’s crazy how the small steps turn in to checkpoints, lessons, destinations and can help you in forming your ideal lifestyle. Once I saw the glimmer of a prospect I could get down with, I put all of my energy into securing that thing. Even if it was a tiny gesture, I didn’t see a Plan B. 



Kelly Chard :
Live Music
Promoter,
We Can Do It




How long have you worked in music and what’s your current role?


I’ve been working in music for what’s coming up to 8 years now. Before coronavirus I was volunteering at DIY Space For London, helping with their diary and putting together fundraiser events. The only one that was able to go ahead was Squid which was amazing, but then a month or so later lockdown happened and unfortunately the venue didn’t survive. So I’m currently waiting to get back on the events ladder. I also have my own record label (We Can Do It) where I have a small roster, put on shows, have started my first festival and help with the booking for Rock Against Violence.



What did you do after leaving college/school instead of going to university?


After college I spent a year at BIMM to improve my music knowledge, completed the diploma and got my first job at Shepherds Bush Empire in the box office. At first I was still living at home and commuting and shortly after moved to London.

Do you ever feel at a disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?


There’s the occasional job spec where they state you need a degree but that’s pretty rare. It’s usually the experience they want. 

Many people use university as a chance to meet new people. How did you build connections in the music industry?


I started promoting my own shows which meant I met so many new people from the bands to the venue staff and the regular gig attendees. Once you do that you’re continuously meeting friends of friends etc.

What prospects does going straight into work offer as opposed to going to university?


I think getting hands on work experience is much more valuable as you learn how to work with lots of different types of people. The experience you have gives you more knowledge of how to handle tasks, or if anything goes wrong you usually know what to do as it’s happened before. Plus you obviously don’t get landed with the ridiculous debt.

What advice would you give to other women who are thinking of giving uni a miss?


Uni isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. I would say, try to give lots of different things a go so you have experience in different areas and if you’re able to, then work at some venues either on the door or behind the bar. It’ll help you feel so much closer to the music at an early stage in your career. Going straight for a full time admin job might be a bit disheartening although quite often a vital job to get you into the companies you want to work for.



Joanne Croxford :
Services Officer, 
Music Support  &
Music Rep,
Girls Rock London





How long have you worked in music and what’s your current role?


I have worked in music on and off for the last 18 years. I actually took a few years off to find myself, get clean/sober and come back to the industry to be on the ‘right’ side - the one that cares more about well being than wage. I am currently many things including: Services Officer at industry charity, Music Support, Music Industry/Sponsorship rep for Girls Rock London and I’m in the process of co-founding Symbiotic Music Management - a company focussed on managing artists who live a clean/sober lifestyle.

What did you do after leaving college/school instead of going to university?


I moved to England from Canada and got a job working at the Virgin Records shop in Reading. I’d known from my earliest memory that my life needed to be about music, and selling 12” vinyl at Virgin Megastores was my absolute gateway!

Do you ever feel at a disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?


Not for one minute! The beauty of this business is that you quickly learn that you are as strong as your network and once you begin helping others, you are also a part of it and can also ask for help from those you meet, too. Relationship management is key and networking with a loving motivation rather than a self-serving one is my motto!

Many people use university as a chance to meet new people.
How did you build connections in the music industry?


I was very lucky to have my first ‘industry job’ at an established music management company (ie:music), so I went along to events we were invited to and put my hand in other people’s. It also helped that I was a receptionist at ie:music for a few years so got to be the outward facing ambassador of the company and in turn, got to meet every single person that crossed the threshold. Never underestimate the importance of being the first and last person that people see when they enter a building. Make an impression and work it!

What prospects does going straight into work offer as opposed to going to university?


Integrity, adversity and the freedom to make your own rules. With all of these in a balanced dose, you can absolutely conquer the world.

What advice would you give to other women who are thinking of giving uni a miss?


See my answer above - do whatever you want to do. You make your destiny and need no permission. Make yourself indispensable in everything you do and look after yourself to be in this for the long haul. Self-love is key!



Holly Whitaker :
Music  Photographer,
Freelance




How long have you worked in music and what’s your current role?


I’ve been working in music for around 6 years now, and I’m a music photographer!

What did you do after leaving college/school instead of going to university?


I became quite disillusioned with school during sixth form, I just wasn’t getting the support I needed (apart from from a select few teachers; big up Mr. Francis) and I also already knew that I wanted to work in music, after I finished, I started working on the door at the Windmill in Brixton and documenting the bands I’d met during sixth form/at venues and photographing some musicians I went to school with.

Do you ever feel at a disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?


Honestly, no, because I just wasn’t ready to go, and the thought of writing another essay scared me. I just needed a break from the school system and there’s no shame in that. I think in the photography world if you have a passion and you love what you’re documenting or taking photos of, it shows in your work. I don’t think I’d have gained too much from university at the time really! The opportunity to go doesn’t expire either, and taking time to figure out what you’d want from it is really satisfying. Also uni is back-breakingly expensive, not for me thanks!!!

Many people use university as a chance to meet new people. How did you build connections in the music industry?


I was lucky enough to go to school with some incredible artists and musicians so I’d photograph them outside of school and when they started playing gigs, it’s a really nice way to meet people and share interests and find work, which then naturally didn’t feel like work! Tim Perry then kindly gave me the Windmill job and when you’re working on the door, you’re meeting new and interesting people every second and photographing them too. I think not being afraid to ask questions and start conversations was a useful way for me to make connections.



What prospects does going straight into work offer as opposed to going to university?


It really gave me an opportunity to really get to grips with my own interests and how I flourish and work well, and the ability to constantly meet new people, and I got to figure out my style too which was cool. Working in an environment connected to your interests and being able to organise shoots to increase your skill set for fun that aren’t under a deadline/isn’t going to be marked or judged by a stranger felt very freeing and gave me confidence to work back. It was good to have a break from education.

What advice would you give to other women who are thinking of giving uni a miss?


You are good enough! School isn’t everything! Education or lack thereof does not have to define you, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Learn in your own time and learn as you go. Go for jobs you don’t think you might be qualified for, and never be afraid to ask questions. Go and do it!!! 



Ellie Rumbold :
International Product Manager,
Partisan Records



How long have you worked in music and what’s your current role?


I have worked in music for six years now, and am currently the International Product Manager at Partisan Records in the London office, so executing campaigns across the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia/NZ from the likes of artists such as IDLES, Fontaines D.C., Laura Marling, and Fela Kuti.

What did you do after leaving college/school instead of going to university?


I left school at eighteen and worked at a film production company called Pulse Films for about eighteen months, as a runner and production assistant. From there, I applied for an apprenticeship as a record label assistant at Mute Records, which was a one year course with 4 days a week in the office and one day a week at college, studying a music business NVQ degree.


Do you ever feel at a disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?


Honestly, no. If anything, I felt like I had a really incredible head start at a young age and was able to climb a substantial part of my earlier career ladder all before I turned twenty five. Having said that, I do sometimes wonder if it's something that will affect me in a more senior position, but I always think that significant experience within a job is and should be considered just as valuable as a degree.

Many people use university as a chance to meet new people.   How did you build connections in the music industry?


I was lucky in that the first label I worked at, Mute, was just incredibly nurturing, and went out of their way to introduce me to as many people as possible that walked through the doors. I also used to go to a lot of gigs, and things like AIM socials and other training days, and through all of that, I was able to tap into this beautiful community of other young people, especially women, doing the same thing as me.

What prospects does going straight into work offer as opposed to going to university?


Going straight into work as opposed to university shows that you have a clear vision and a drive for both your future and your career. I think a lot of people end up going to university because they aren't sure of what else to do or aren't necessarily aware of alternative options, and as a consequence, I do think that going straight into the working world makes you stand out from the rest. Also, I was eighteen and completely financially independent which was so liberating, and you generally just get a three year head start in something that you probably would have ended up doing after university anyway. I considered reading English at University, but I was later in a position where I could read anything in the world I wanted, and was working in my dream job, so it was a no brainer.

What advice would you give to other women who are thinking of giving uni a miss?


The advice I would give is: research! Do all the research you can, and explore every possible alternative avenue. Apprenticeships, paid internships, talk to people who work in these fields, assess whether the field of work you want to go into requires an undergraduate degree (some of them do!), or whether you could start working and go to uni later (maybe an executive masters in five years time?).

Consider what a student loan will mean for you, and think about how your time could be better spent if you didn't have your heart set on a particular course or line of study. I cannot overstate how exciting and motivating diving straight into your career can be when you're young. So far, it's the best conscious decision I have ever made.



Lucinda Runham :
Music Venue Programmer,
Studio9294





How long have you worked in music and what’s your current role?


I’ve worked in music for twelve years. I’m currently the music programmer at Studio 9294 in Hackney Wick.

What did you do after leaving college/school instead of going to university?


After doing a few odd jobs to get by financially, I managed to secure an internship at a small DJ booking agency. They covered the cost of my train but nothing else which was hard but I lived with my mum at the time so it was do-able. Looking back I don’t really know how I managed it. Luckily I think internships are more regulated these days.

Do you ever feel at a disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?


I’ve never really felt disadvantaged per se. There are certain areas of music business that are very much about learning on the job and of course, contacts! Especially if you’re a booking agent or manager, there isn’t a degree for that. Sometimes I think about whether it would have made things easier for me, but on the job experience is very valuable and unless you intend to be a music lawyer or journalist I think university is not always necessary.

Many people use university as a chance to meet new people. How did you build connections in the music industry?


I just started from the bottom and hustled! There was never really any ‘plan b’ for me. I knew what I wanted to do and I did it with gusto. I think you just have to be very involved in whatever sector of the industry you care to work in. Go to every gig, every club night. Live and breathe it.

What prospects does going straight into work offer as opposed to going to university?


Again I think on the job experience can be very beneficial in terms of exposure to the type of role you may want to pursue. I didn’t know what sector of the industry I wanted to be involved in before I started my internship and then I just fell in love with live music. I think it really depends on the individual; studying a music business course is quite theory based but nothing will really prepare you for the kind of scenarios you’ll be faced with say, as an agent or manager or to the contacts you’ll cultivate starting in the industry early.

What advice would you give to other women who are thinking of giving uni a miss?


I would say try and do loads of research about the sector you’re interested in, Try and reach out to an industry mentor – the shesaid.so crew run some great programs and they will advise on internships or entry-level roles within companies that will ensure you’re looked after and paid properly.







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