Want my job? With Ethan Kelly, Communications & Marketing Officer

"There are times when I do not feel like doing anything for a few days as the news is so sad. If you are feeling like this too, then that is normal… Be kind to yourself."

Want my job? With Ethan Kelly, Communications & Marketing Officer

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

I am a Communications & Marketing Officer at the Royal Academy of Music, working with journalists, promoting concerts, and celebrating student successes. In my spare time I write and record my own folk songs. 

What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?

A day might involve me working on an online story for the website about a new member of staff before editing together a clip of recent concert highlights for social media. Before the lockdown I assisted visiting film crews and photographers, but more recently I have been working on the Academy YouTube channel, introducing performers and responding to questions in the live chat feed.

What’s great about your job?

It is a privilege to promote the work of very talented students at the Academy and I love working with music every day. Even in lockdown there is a nice variety to what I do, be it writing for the website or editing content for social media.   

What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?

Strange for someone who has written lots of essays and press releases but something I have always struggled with is proofreading. I am a lot better than I was because I practice and read things over lots of times. I am constantly nervous about making spelling mistakes though, particularly on Twitter where there is (terrifyingly) no edit button.

What are the highlights of your career to date?

In my previous role at a music publishing company, I got to meet Alexander Bernstein – he gave me a baseball cap with his dad’s name on to celebrate the Leonard Bernstein centenary in 2018. I cannot wait for the new film of West Side Story which comes out next December (just 12 months to go!).

The Royal Academy of Music conservatoire has been organising a lot of livestreams during the pandemic. Can you tell us more about those?

Last term over 60 performances were livestreamed from the Academy – these were socially distanced and showcased a variety of styles including early music, jazz and contemporary classical. The beautiful buildings on the Marylebone Road in central London are currently closed to the public so we had to encourage people to watch online. Thanks to a big team effort, over 170,000 people tuned in last term, providing a huge audience for the students at a difficult time for young musicians.

Why do you think it’s so important for people to still experience these performances during times of lockdown?

It has been important to the student performers to have an audience for their music making, albeit online because of the restrictions. We have had lots of nice messages from viewers all over the world about how much they have enjoyed the streamed concerts. Nothing beats live music though – I think it is going to be quite an emotional experience when they open the concert halls again.

You already have a spring term of livestreams scheduled for January onwards. Can you give us a teaser of what people could expect?

We are offering another packed term of over 50 performances, all livestreamed for free on YouTube. Over six evenings from 1 March we have a Jazz Festival held in partnership with Jazzwise Magazine, with the first concert led by saxophonist Josephine Davies. For classical fans there are concerts of music by BachElgarLigeti and Steve Reich, plus many more.

Looking both retrospectively and prospectively, how do you think Covid-19 changed the creative sector? Did it have an impact on your own creative work, and do you think that change is permanent? 

At work, I have learnt a lot about setting up and promoting digital concerts, which has been useful to me and I am sure we will see more online performances after the pandemic. I think Covid-19 has had an overwhelmingly negative impact on the creative sector though. Not so much for me but for the professional artists, the constant rule changes and uncertainties have been very challenging. The quicker we can get back safely to live events, the better.

How did you get into an arts job?  Have you also worked outside the arts?
I am very lucky to have always worked in the arts. My first roles were interning at a music PR company and with a radio production team. My first full time position was at a music publisher. I learnt lots about contemporary music in my first job but, although this might sound silly, I think the most important thing I learnt was how to manage my time and work in an office.  

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

The Academy launched our new website during the first lockdown. I was quite new to the project and big tasks are just that bit more difficult when you are working remotely. I think the website is looking better than ever now. I got there with lots of strong coffee and many, many Zoom calls.

Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?

There are rightly more concerts now featuring music by women and minority ethnic composers. One of the best concerts I ever sung in was a celebration of contemporary choral music by women with The Queen’s College Choir – my choir at university. I was introduced to some incredible pieces by Roxanna Panufnik, Judith Weir and Judith Bingham. Similarly, there is a great festival at the Academy next term called Seen and Heard, which is held in partnership with the RAM Ethnic Diversity Society, RAM LGBTQ+ Society and RAM Feminist Society. The first concert on 25 February features music by Rebecca Clarke and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?

I do not think 16-year-old me would be that surprised by my career as, when I was that age, I did my work experience at another London music school, the Royal College of Music. But I would encourage my younger self to be more confident in my creative work and not to worry so much about what people think – and perhaps not to worry so much in general.  

Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?

For any students reading this, I would recommend you use your time at college or university to try things out. There is no such thing as a ‘failed’ project if you enjoy it and learn from it. For anyone interested in working in music publicity I would say read concert reviews in the newspapers and try to get along to performances when they open again – most of the major concert halls have generous young person ticket discount schemes. And finally, a boring advice point; LinkedIn is a great way to maintain your contacts – keep it updated and connect with people you meet. 

Outside of your job at RAM, you are also a musician yourself. Tell us about your practise – how did you first get started and what are your preferred genres?

I started by playing songs by other people. I am mostly a singer, but also play the harmonica and acoustic guitar. I started out at open mics covering Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. When I was about 20 years old, I wrote my first song in a similar style. It is called Statement Of Intent and is (fittingly) about finding a creative voice. I recorded it for a student songwriter channel called Vulture Sessions – you can find it on YouTube.

You’ve also just released a Christmas song, titled ‘Time Of Year’. Why did you choose to write it, and what were your inspirations?

I wrote it in October/November this year. I had just moved to a new home and was spending some time playing around with an old chord progression and thinking about what Christmas would be like this time. I did not have a TV then (probably a lesson there!) and with the lockdown I had lots of time on my hands. I played draft after draft to my housemate until I got the tone of the song right. 

What do you hope a listener might take away from it?

Christmas feels like a funny time, is it about spending money or spending time with people? You would like to say it is just about spending time with family, but there is something indescribably special when you give someone something that they love (that goosebump feeling of the John Lewis adverts). There is so much that is great and not so great about Christmas and sometimes they are one and the same thing. The wonderful graphics for the video are by Sam Perkins Design – these really help highlight the messages of the song.

Do you have other tracks people could listen to?

Another recent song I am proud of is There, There, which is about knowing (or not knowing) what to say when someone is grieving. I recorded this remotely in lockdown with my friends Alice and Lois. You can find this on my YouTube channel alongside a series of folk songs, recorded last summer, and some covers.

Where can people find you online?

My YouTube channel is the best place to listen to my music. I am also on TwitterInstagram and on Facebook as Batwillow, which is the name of the folk duo I play in with my friend Alice.

And is there anything else you would like to let people know about?

There are a lot of people being creative and trying to make the best out of a difficult situation at the moment (including me I suppose!) One thing I would like to say is that there are times when I do not feel like doing anything for a few days as the news is so sad. If you are feeling like this too, then that is normal… Be kind to yourself. 

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe..

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