Music student's magazine idea strikes a chord

Student Pauline Harding became so frustrated by the lack of information about careers in the music industry that she took matters into her own hands and launched a magazine. Sheena Hastings reports.

MUSIC student Pauline Harding has a lot on her plate. She is finishing off coursework towards her degree at York University, and four months of intensive revision and final exams lie ahead of her. It's not the ideal time to start a business venture.

However, Pauline, 20, felt compelled to do something when she began researching careers in the music industry and found very little information was to be had – either through the university's career service or elsewhere.

"You are pointed towards either performing, conducting or teaching," says Pauline, who plays the violin, oboe and piano. "But there are hundreds of jobs involved in the music industry one way or another, more than I ever imagined.

"There seems to be no source of proper insight into what many of those jobs entail and how to get into them."

So anyone who fancied becoming an electronic music wizard, a composer of feature film soundtracks, a guitarist with a flamenco troupe or a Classic FM producer was still left scratching their head as to how to proceed.... unless they were in the small band of students who manage to secure work experience in their field of interest.

"You can get whole magazines focusing on careers in other professions, with case histories of different people's path to their current job. I decided to do that for music graduates, and find people who would share their stories with those who are considering which way to go or know what they're interested in but don't yet know how to get there."

Pauline wrote hundreds of letters asking people working in all aspects of music to write articles about their work, and how they got into it.

When she spoke to her head of department at York University about the project, he said the only way she would have time to launch the magazine would be if she did it as a piece of coursework called "Solo", for which many other music students create an opera of a musical.

Pauline has launched the first edition of Leading Note with 1,600 out of her student loan. To help with the enterprise, she has been attending extra-curricular business training lectures run by the university.

She also found a helper and mentor in Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music magazine. He invited her to spend a week doing work experience with his team.

During that time she learned the rudiments of magazine production, and returned to have a go using her laptop. The end result was produced in her room in a student flat and printed by a local firm in York.

"I didn't sleep for three weeks and spent as much as 12 hours a day on the magazine, but was overwhelmed by how many of the people in the industry agreed to write for it."

The first 32-page edition is now out, and it includes pieces by James Jolly, editor of The Gramophone, a classical music magazine, Sam Jackson, a producer at Classic FM, contemporary composer Jonathan Harvey, and Simon Wright, conductor of the London Chamber Orchestra.

Pauline also persuaded her sister, Caroline Pearsall, to write about her work as a tango violinist in Paris.

The editor is planning two more editions before she leaves university this summer, and the next one will include features on braille music, jobs in music technology including sound production for films, and the ups and downs of being a musician working abroad.

"I can't believe how helpful people have been," says Pauline. "I looked upon the whole enterprise as work experience for me, as I have always been interested in music journalism. I can't afford to fund more than the three editions – I've spent my money on this rather than have a social life in the last few months."

Leading Note has been well-received by fellow students, staff and careers advisers, and Pauline says she gets a little thrill when she sees someone reading it. She sells the magazine at 5 to students and 8.99 to universities, colleges and careers offices. So far, careers staff at 30 universities in the UK have bought it, and she has made 800. She has entered her business plan into the White Rose Business Plan Competition, run annually for students at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. If she wins the 10,000 first prize, there could be further editions of Leading Note.

Pauline gave away advertising space for free in issue one, but is looking to sell to advertisers in future.

She is also applying for funding from The Prince's Trust. "There was such an obvious gap in careers information for musicians, and careers staff have said how pleased they are to have the magazine. Careers in music are much less structured than for other sectors, so it is important to learn the tricks of the trade from experienced and successful musicians."

And, as a piece of coursework, will the magazine earn her top marks? "Well, I've been told it should do well," says Pauline, coyly.

For information and ordering, go to www.leadingnotemagazine.