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Book Review

Beyond Talent

Beyond Talent by Beeching

Creating a Successful Career in Music

Angela Myles Beeching
Oxford University Press, 2010 xvii + 372
ISBN-10: 0195382595
ISBN-13: 9780195382594
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Authoritative, informative and comprehensive books about the "classical" music industry are rare and to be prized when they appear. Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music by Angela Myles Beeching, published by Oxford University Press last year, is just such a book. And is consequently to be valued. Its 350 pages cover almost all aspects of making a career in music. They make the implicit distinction between the work you do in and of itself (recording, writing, performing), managing (more accurately, promoting) yourself and your success (social networking, working the media, projecting yourself and funding your projects).

Myles Beeching pauses for breath (the book goes at a fair clip) just before half way to ask five important questions on satisfactory answers to which the rest of the book seems to be predicated: Why music as a career? What is success for you? Could your thinking be an impediment? How are your partnerships defined? How meaningful is your work? And a further 21 short but telling questions (checklist style) for younger performers. At the end (although the book could be read in order of the topics that interest you most, or are the most relevant, it's suggested you read from start to finish) there is a short set of career counseling "secrets", really distillations of experience gathered by the author over her many years in the field.

Each of the 13 chapters is sensibly subdivided into from half a dozen to a dozen subsections making the topics easier to break up and assimilate. The material presented is supported at all points by profiles, quotes, miniature case-studies, narratives, examples, excerpts from relevant documents, bullet points, diagrams and lists. However highly motivated the aspiring (and/or improving, developing) musician may be, such a book is likely to be seen as an adjunct to music theory, scores, books on technique and the like. So to have made it as accessible and well laid-out as it is (there is also an excellent index 20 pages long) was really essential. This second edition has further streamlined the book's structure, design and ways to use it more effectively. Given the changing nature of the music world, not only has the author given emphasis to online resources as such, but also provided a website at OUP with thorough, relevant and updated material organized chapter by chapter.

Areas covered in Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music include: support networks, connections and community; image and promotional materials; presenting the best of yourself to the right people at the right time in the areas you're strongest in; building on success, growing your following; models of Management (capital 'M'); the attractions and pitfalls of freelancing; handling time and money; and relating your career to your life, and your life to your career. These themes extend from the very general (why bother? which advantages flow from a positive attitude?) to the very particular (tax returns, choosing a website host). So this is not only a book for the student or practitioner at the beginning of their career. There's useful material for almost anyone at almost any time.

Beeching has few illusions about the struggles which musicians face. Pragmatically, she suggests ways to make the most of situations that have gone wrong or are otherwise less than ideal. She's also honest about the gap between theory and practice: most usefully, her examples tend to come not from an isolated principle that's never been put into practice in competition with the hard realism of already successful musicians. Rather, she too draws her ideas, underlying recipes for success, anecdotes, examples and stories from "real" musicians, changing only the names to protect the innocent.

Beeching has a distinguished career in music career development herself: she co-hosts the Network of Music Career Development Officers which is the international organization dedicated to the field. Articles of hers have previously appeared in "Inside Arts", "Classical Singer", and "Chamber Music" magazines. Institutions at which she has presented, or now presents, career workshops include Eastman, Peabody, Colburn, and the Oberlin Conservatory. As a performer, Beeching was a cellist. It's obvious from the first page that she is well-qualified to write this book. Within a few more, you're eating out of her hand! This is probably also because of her light but very human touch… read the short passage on page x about wands, tiaras and how much the world needs musicians: she's very much on your side and aims to draw musicians in, not show them the hoops.

This book is for you if you want to make the most (or even make more) of a career in music basing your plans and progress on the ways that others have succeeded. The single most prominent distinguishing attributes of these successes are to rely on your own entrepreneurial spirit, believe in yourself and elevate what you, the individual musician, have to offer – rather than adapt yourself out of existence attempting to follow an amorphous plan. Be clear of your goals, long and short term, then take all the steps and substeps needed to achieve them, flexibly monitoring progress as you go based on a clear notion of what constitutes exactly the success(es) that count for you. There aren't many other books like this available. The tone, manner of delivery, layout, comprehensiveness, accuracy, appropriateness, common sense, wisdom and up-to-date nature of Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music, not to mention its very reasonable price, make this as near definitive a winner as there is.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Sealey.

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