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Mainstream Music Course vs Artist Development Programme



Every year artists of a certain age group come to us and ask what the difference is between mainstream music education and an artist development program and it’s a great question. We appreciate the need to understand the difference between the two, because it can affect your future.

It’s important to understand that an artist development programme may not be right for you and mainstream music education may actually be the best option for you.

I’m going to talk about the benefits of mainstream music, education and compare them to the benefits of an artist development programme, so that you can decide which is the best option for your future.


teacher with students music

Going to university or performing arts schools is a big life decision.  It’s the first time for many young people when they will live away from home and it’s also the time when students get to decide what option to take through UCAS which will hopefully give them the skills and qualification to do the career of their choice.  But what if your career choice is to be a singer or a performing arts entertainer?

Then you will be thinking “are performing arts courses better than artist development?” Or even wondering “what’s the difference between artist development and university courses?”

Before thinking of applying for either you will of course need to ensure that you meet the entry requirements.   This could be a certain level of grades, or passing an audition.


When I went to college I wanted to take Music, Psychology, French and German.  I arrived at the college and they told me that if I wanted to be a sound engineer I had to take Maths and Physics and I changed my options because of it, only to find I hated both and dropped out to go back to most of what I’d wanted in the first place.

Since becoming a successful and award winning music production professional, I can honestly tell you that you do not need maths and physics qualifications to do the job!

Whether money, moving home, a focus of career training (over general syllabus training) or gaining a qualification is driving your thoughts to this blog post, I hope that you will get some benefit from weighing up the different options to make the right decision for you.


The Benefits of Mainstream Music Courses

student smiling with book

You might be looking for a performing arts course, or popular music diploma or similar and one of the best parts about a higher education music course is that you will be in a classroom environment with other musicians, learning alongside them.

This can be great for:

  • Making friends
  • Making Connections
  • Working with people
  • Experiencing the general buzz of being in that kind of environment
  • You may get the opportunity for work experience

Learning alongside your peers is a great part of college or university education and can set you up with friendships for life.

Other great parts of working in mainstream music education are:

  • The overall experience of being at a university or a college, such as things like freshers’ week and the ability to live somewhere else in the country and experience that ‘growing up’ part of life.
  • Getting a qualification at the end that may allow you to add letters to your name

You may have to do mainstream education up until the age of 18. In which case, you really have no choice and can therefore choose to do a music course or work on a development programme alongside it.


The Benefits of an Artist Development Programme

guitarist sat with amplifiers and guitars

Great considerations in relation to artist development programmes are that:

  • Everything is focused around you
  • You learn exactly what you need, to get you to be a professional artist as it is specifically designed around you
  • No more learning about topics that you’ll never use
  • It’s one-to-one training
  • You could take a programme and do a different subject at university as a backup

So you won’t get the friendships that you would if you were in a mainstream education setting, but you will get the training and impetus to succeed because it’s just about what you need and it’s pushing you forward for your career.

Also, consider that with a development programme:

  • You are working with a team of industry experts
  • Everyone is focussed on:
    • Working on your songs
    • Working on your recordings
    • Working on your promotion
    • Working on building your fanbase

The drawbacks of Mainstream Music Education

There are a number of aspects about college and university music courses that have a downside.  Some of the more obvious ones would be that:

  • Performing arts degrees / general university courses can cost upwards of £30,000 and you will end up having to pay that debt back over your lifetime
  • You have to study for 3 years
  • You are in competition with the other students who want the same thing
  • A lot of music industry jobs don’t actually require degrees in music subjects
  • You will not have a team specifically working on the management and development of your career

Let’s compare the above to the drawbacks of development programmes 

The drawbacks of Artist Development Programmes

  • You won’t get a certificate or any official educational recognition from the course
  • You aren’t involved in it full time, so if you need a structured, classroom based timetable to keep motivated this won’t be for you
  • You won’t necessarily live close to the development company, so will have to do more travel than if you lived close to university
  • You won’t be working with other musicians, so will not have the friendships that a mainstream course would bring you

Should I do a University Course or Artist Development?

Considering all of the above, you should be able to decide whether a development programme is right for you, of if mainstream education is a better option.  Perhaps you will choose to do both simultaneously?

  • Certainly either option will give you:
  • The performance skills you will need
  • Experience of live events
  • Teach you about a wide range of subjects, including the music business, artist management and record labels as a whole.

Either way, we wish you all the best with your future career.

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