When Emily and I, embarked on Conductive Music, we had no idea of where we would have ended up. It was 2012, and I was ordering pizza for the delegates at a conference we curated in Belfast, and an e-mail with a grant popped through. We applied, failed – no feedback. Sounds familiar? We revamped it, liaised with more established collaborators, and got our first Grant for the Arts. Since then, we grew, nurtured our partnerships, diversified our offer, strengthened our business
and artistic skills.
The key travel companions for this wonderful trip, have been a team you can trust, supportive
partners, personal resilience and a strong vision. I would urge you to build your team as strong and
as diverse as you can. Different people, with different perspectives, knowledge, background. In our
case, Emily is the queen of writers, whilst I like to do the talking – I hope she agrees! We both enjoy
our angle, and work hard to improve ourselves. As we scaled up, we engaged with passionate
teachers, committed developers, knowledgeable fundraisers and trustworthy partners.
The learning curve is pretty steep, the setbacks are like clockwork. Buckle up, be patience, and
read through everything, carefully.
We started as sole traders, then incorporated as a Community Interest Company, after
investigating a few business models. Do not be put off by the legalese, you won’t need a BSc, it is
just English, and you can always change afterwards.
As we established our team, we also tried to expand our network of partners, who helped us by
match-funding. We approached them in an organic way, some e-mails, some introduction, but
mostly portfolio and by inviting them to the sessions. Flashy websites and sparkly brochures will
only take you thus far, it is an old game, and everybody knows it. We just needed a hook – I was
working for two music hubs – and that became the trampoline for the other partnerships. You may
want to look into bridge organisations in your area, to help you get the first connection.
As PhDs working outside academia, it has been quite difficult to be exposed to people different
from us. We had to learn how to present our angle, our Unique Selling Point in layman’s terms.
Different funders, partners and collaborators, will respond to different stimuli. They have their own
bosses to report to, and need to reach different targets, often incommensurable with yours. Spend
some time to learn their language, good communication is key to success.
For a few years, I was paying the bills through instrumental teaching, as the other business picked
up. I also embarked on a parallel career in Knowledge Exchange – still going- to make each day
different and exciting. Moreover, whilst initially disconnected, this second job provided me with a
completely renewed perspective on collaborative work, becoming key on the new Conductive
The buzzword for this is T-specialism. You certainly have a strong formation on a subject (the
vertical line), but you will also a horizontal understanding of many other disciplines. This will allow
you to communicate your needs, to share your vision with others and to embark on great
adventures with other motivated people.
Working with other people is probably one of the most stimulating things in existence. You will feed
off each other vision, passion, commitment, energy. Your work will take you to unexpected places,
travel with people you like, you trust, you are happy to share your experiences with.
I had a ‘moment’ the other day, during a Skype meeting. I suddenly realised that the screen was
filled with four other people, coming from four different continents, all working together, without
whom this would never be possible. This is why we started this venture. I wish for you the same.