Meet Dorset-based composer Grace Hancock. We recently caught up with Grace to talk about how she started out, successfully balancing a career in music, and the “absolutely addictive” nature of writing songs to be sung…
Did you always know you wanted to be a composer?
No. I spent the first 4 years after graduating from a music degree trying out different musical avenues such as private teaching, function bands, solo sets in care homes and day centres but none of them stuck. Then my old tutor from my Exeter College Performing Arts course asked if I would write the music for the Alice in Wonderland production. Seeing my songs being sung and danced to on stage was absolutely addictive.
Is it hard to kick start composing as a career?
Yes, you have to have enough time, contacts and access to funding and resources to do anything at all. I’m still working it out for myself. It’s not uncommon for musicians to have the day job and play music by night. Getting the balance right is very difficult.
What kinds of practice help did you find useful in getting started?
The workshops run by Culture+ at the Arts Development company seemed too good to be true; they were free, and they were geared towards helping freelance artists like myself make a business model, build a website and many other things that baffle you when starting out.
What would be your advice to anyone looking to start their own career in the music industry?
Everyone works differently, but I only started to see a difference in my progress when I decided to plan ahead on how to best use my time and balance work and play. I write a schedule for every month of what I’m going to spend my time on to achieve certain things. This month, it’s been all about creating a solo set on piano for a gig at the end of the month.
Also – talk to people. Networking is your best friend.
Download a free Culture+ Goal Planner here to get you started.
Do you draw on particular influences for your compositions?
Depending on what I’m composing for, I draw on different things. For scores or theatre pieces, I often refer to the songs from Disney films I watched as a kid; the older ones were often written by composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
When writing songs for myself, subconsciously, my main influences tend to be a mix of R&B (Justin Timberlake, Ray Charles, early Alicia Keys…) and theatrical rock/pop (Queen, Elton John, Prince…)
How do you get work? Is it mostly through word of mouth or do you promote yourself/pitch for work directly?
So far, it’s been through my existing contacts and from networking. I am working on getting better at actively promoting my work through my website and social media. My solo gigs are also part of my promotional plan.
You have recently composed the jingle for our podcast Women Know Your Place. In our latest episode we talked about the lack of diversity we still see in the music industry today.
Do you agree? Is there more that can be done to help elevate female composers in the UK and across the world?
Yes, most composers I hear of and see on the credits after films are male. This really does secretly get on my nerves but I’m not one to pull the ‘gender card’. I think part of it might come down to women’s attitude and perspective on these things.
Some musical women who have historically just written songs on a smaller scale might not even consider that they could be good at writing and producing with the ‘big dogs’ perhaps for a lack of self belief or confidence.
So, I say just run at it with the self-assurance and dogged determination that we associate with success and prove them – and yourself – wrong.
Do you have a favourite or least favourite jingle?
I can’t say I have a favourite but my least favourite would involve the selling out of a Queen song to promote a certain cleaning product of the same name…”Flash, Ah-ah, cleans up the impossible”…? *Facepalm*
That said, jingles are fun and I’m up for composing just about anything, but my dream would be to write scores for Disney or Dreamworks or songs for the West End.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Five years goes extraordinarily quickly, especially when you’re balancing music, day job and the rest of life. I would say, by then, the aim would be to have landed a regular job composing for a prestigious music licensing company. I hope to have created a following of some kind for my solo live sets as well by then.
Do you feel the need to move to a larger city area to help your career or does it not matter where you are based as a composer?
It would help to be in a city with regards to finding commissions in theatres etc. But a lot of my work can be done remotely. I am also wholeheartedly addicted to the beautiful Devon/Dorset countryside! I don’t think I will feel the need to move to a more urban setting for now.
If you are a Dorset based composer you can also join a new Facebook Group Dorset+ Composers here