Industry Idols – Professor Colin Lawson

Wednesday 8th December 2010

This week’s Industry Idol is the Director of the Royal College of Music. Read on to find out about his musical life!

What are the first, most important steps a young artist needs to take when they embark on their career as a performer?

The ability to take advice, become self-critical and learn from others is essential. Careers are about much more than simply being a performer/composer and so students deserve a great deal of support and counselling. Occasionally one comes across an individual with far too big an ego and at age 20 that can be a serious handicap. On the other hand, passion, conviction and ambition are essential; if you can imagine doing anything else, don’t become a performer! I’m ambitious for our students to understand the nature of music as an art and a science, comprehend the position of music in cultural and spiritual life and demonstrate a love of music that can be readily articulated. We offer them an interaction with some of the world’s greatest musicians and I’m a great believer in the power of inspiration.

What was your first job in the music industry?

I took two university degrees in music, having studied classics at school and played clarinet in the National Youth Orchestra. I then became a lecturer at Aberdeen University. It was great to live in another part of the UK and I began to be captivated by the relationship of musical theory and practice.

What skills do you think are needed to succeed in the music industry?

People skills are important, together with an ability to be versatile and distinctive. Like everyone else, musicians make their own luck – but instincts can be developed.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt during your career?

That music can remain a central part of one’s life for decades at a stretch and that there is something magical about helping the next generation to engage with it. And RCM alumna Sarah Connolly said something important to me a year or two back about the importance of a musician having their head in the right place at all times.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the music, the students and the challenge of driving forward a major institution and all the people who work within it – whether professors, administrators or management.

On a typical working day, what’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

Drink a strong coffee and contemplate communication strategies for the day – which often means emails!

Do you think there is anything in the classical music industry that needs to be changed? If yes, why?

The classical music industry has been traditionally rather poor at articulating its views and lobbying with one voice, despite the excellent work of such bodies as Conservatoires UK and the Association of British Orchestras.   And with such fierce competition among young artists around the world, it’s important that UK educational policies remain aspirational.   As with sport, we must encourage and support the most talented, in addition to providing opportunities for all.

Are there any young musicians, emerging venues, exciting companies, composers… etc that you are keeping your eye on?

It’s part of my job to keep an eye on the global scene. There’s a string of new talent leaving the RCM annually from within our 50+ nationalities of student.

Where do you read about classical music?

In particular, I keep an eye on book reviews and invest as appropriate.

Where is your favourite place in the world for classical music?

Within London I love Wigmore Hall and the Royal Opera House but there’s also something transformational about the Royal Albert Hall, especially during the BBC Proms season. I’m lucky enough to have a superb view of it through my office window.