Music academy graduate on how practicality of becoming a musician in todays economy

By Laurel Beech

28 May 2024

The first Musicians Census released in 2023 revealed that nearly half of working musicians in the UK earn less than £14k a year. Despite high levels of professional training and education over half of the respondents admitted that they had to work multiple jobs to sustain a living wage. 44% admitted that these financial struggles were holding them back in their career. 

I spoke to recently graduated musician Peafloom about how she has found the transition into London’s music scene and whether her own financial burdens have changed her mind about a career in music. 

Tell me a bit about yourself and the music you like to create?

I’m Olivia Stevens but my artist name is Peafloom. I make what I’d call indie/jazz music inspired by the likes of Tom Misch, Eloise and Olivia Dean. It’s quite guitar heavy despite the fact I don’t play myself. I have a five piece band and we’ve done a few gigs together but I’m currently trying to get some music out there. I write all my own songs and I’m hoping to release a couple of singles and an EP soon.

Did you attend University or train professionally in music?

Yeah, I’ve got a Bachelors in song-writing from ACM (The Academy of Contemporary Music). 

What was that experience like? Do you think it helped to prepare you for the music industry? 

As an experience overall it was decent. There were definitely some tutors who were more interested in just getting the modules done and out of the way. But there were also many who were very supportive and allowed you to bounce off of them and grow as a musician. I got to meet the majority of my band. Just by living in London with a student loan I was able to attend more gigs and networking events. If I hadn’t gone to ACM I wouldn’t have the same level of community that I have now. 

Do you work multiple jobs in order to pursue music? 

Yeah, it’s really tricky. To be able to make rent since the start of Uni I’ve been working 27 hours a week from home for a phone call answering service. It  pays my rent and my bills but my rent has recently gone up and it was getting to the point where after all the bills and food shopping etc i had no money left for myself. I was dipping into savings every month just to survive. So I’ve picked up a second job at a nightclub. It means I have a lot more money but it takes up so much more of my time. For example I worked 58 hours last week with no day off whilst still trying to make music. 

How has this affected your ability to create and play music? 

It’s just frustrating. Without my second job I was unable to attend any gigs or do any recording sessions. But now to have the money to put into music I have no time to do it. As a musician I do lots of session music where I’m a vocalist or a bassist for someone else so I have to make time for that as well. It does feel like you have to burn yourself out in order to make it all work. I think every musician has this struggle phase but it is what it is and you just have to get through it.

 Does it put you off continuing a career in music? 

No, not at all. It’s what I love. It doesn’t put me off. If I have to work all day and do a session all night I will. And I’d do it all again the next day. 

If anything I’m just thinking of ways to make it work. I’ve recently done a professional nail tech course to give me some of that creativity that I crave so much from music back. If I can hopefully drop one of my jobs and do that instead then I’d gain that creative outlet and more control over my time too. For example I’m working 8 hours at the nightclub this week but then 31 the next and I just can’t be that out of control with my life if I want to make music. 

Would you say that these struggles are a universal experience for new and upcoming artists in the UK?

Oh definitely. Even if money isn’t necessarily a problem for you or you have a decent job with decent hours you will always face the same issue of having to collaborate with other artists. Your schedules may never match up because everyone is doing a million things to make it work for them. So it’s always hard and you just have to really work and do the best you can. 

How would you describe the music industry in London as a whole? 

I would say it’s massive yet tiny at the same time. In a sense that there are so many people doing it but everyone knows everyone and there is definitely a community. If you want to see smaller artists there is something for everyone on every night especially in the East London area. 

Also there are always free networking events which are great for meeting more people. I’m currently in a group chat called the ‘indie avengers’ which is made up of all independent artists. It was put together by a guy on tiktok who followed us all and realised we all knew each other which is really fun.

Finally, do you have any advice for people currently studying music or wanting to get into creating music?

The main thing is to just do your research and get your contacts. I’ve got a document on my phone that has a list of playlist curators, journalists, photographers, magazines and radio stations so that when I’m ready to release music I’m as prepared as I can be.  The difference between those who get noticed and those who struggle too is how prepared they are. It’s something that has held me back a lot so far as I don’t know if I’m ready to release music but doing all the research I have definitely helps. 

I would also say that you just have to put yourself out there. Throw yourself in at the deep end and make those cringe TikToks, play those random gigs and just message producers to see if you can work with them. The more of that you do the more confident you will feel. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s hard to not worry about the streams and the numbers but as long as you do the most to promote yourself that’s all that matters. 

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