Ben Cottrell is a composer, bandleader and saxophonist, best known as the director of the award-winning Beats & Pieces Big Band. He also co-founded and manages rising independent label Efpi Records. An in-demand orchestral arranger, Ben has worked with and for a diverse range of artists including Laura Mvula, Esperanza Spalding, Goldie and Everything Everything, and his arrangements have been performed and recorded by world renowned orchestras such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Metropole Orkest (Netherlands) and The Heritage Orchestra.
We’re very excited to welcome Ben as a mentor on our brand new Young Composers Commission for 16-25’s. Here he shares his top tips for making it happen in music.
1) Work/practice hard – but don’t force things. Whether you’re a performer, composer or producer, you need to work and/or practice hard in order to keep improving and developing your career. Remember though that the important thing is the quality of this time, not quantity – work/practice time spent watching the clock whilst achieving nothing is time wasted! If you’re feeling uninspired go for a walk or eat something (healthy!), and if you’re anything like me you’ll feel in a much more creative mood when you return.
2) Learn a little about the industry. Many musicians and artists care little for the business side of things but it’s important that you arm yourself with at least basic knowledge of the industry. A little know-how puts you in a much stronger position when dealing with management, agents, publishers etc., and if you understand how things like copyright, partnership agreements and tax work, you can make sure that problems are less likely to arise in the first place.
3) Promote yourself. Remember that you’re essentially running your own business – your product is your music and your customers are your audience. As with any business, visibility and accessibility of your product is vital. Make sure you have a professional website with the ability for people to buy your music and contact you, and have an up to date and well written biography and photos ready to send out to promoters or journalists at a moment’s notice.
4) ‘Good enough’ isn’t good enough. If you’re not 100% happy with something you’ve created or have any niggling doubts about something, then its not ready to be released into the world… Spend a little more time practicing that difficult riff, tweaking that synth patch, or adjusting the mix until its perfect – you’ll only regret it later!
5) Be nice to people. Of course this is a good thing to follow for life generally! But specifically in this sense I’m talking about people you deal with in your musical career – promoters, sound engineers, bar staff and especially your audience. You never know who is in a position to help you out either right now or in the future, and people are more likely to go the extra mile for you if they like you.