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TV Talent Competitions: A Route to Success?

TV talent shows have always made for gripping viewing. From programmes such as Opportunity Knocks and Stars in Their Eyes, the familiar format that takes ordinary people and thrusts them to stardom has long been popular.

These days many of the shows with highest ratings feature normal people being shown to excel at some task, whether that be cooking, baking or singing. Celebrity spin-offs abound, but always with the implication that the star is performing outside his or her comfort zone, on the level with the viewer.

There are criticisms that today’s highly produced talent shows are exploitative, but the lure of instant success along with the competitive thrill keeps us watching. Seeing the progress of a contestant from the first audition right through to the record deal gives a sense of, “I knew her back when,” as well as the intoxicating sense that anyone can obtain instant wealth, celebrity and status.

In the last two decades, the popularity of talent shows seems to have grown. Since Pop Idol in 2001, which launched the careers of Will Young, Gareth Gates and third-place runner-up Darius Danesh, and Pop Stars the Rivals which began Cheryl Tweedy’s career, programmes such as X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and various shows searching for the latest musical theatre star have dominated our screens. So much so, in fact, that comedian Peter Kay even created a spoof version called Britain’s Got the Pop Factor… and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice, a title which sums up the extent of TV coverage of these shows.

The process of manufacturing successful pop groups and artists is not new. The band The Monkees whose music is still popular today was created for a TV series, as, more recently, was S Club 7. And the Spice Girls was formed after an audition process advertised in The Stage:

WANTED: R.U. 18–23 with the ability to sing/dance? R.U. streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, and dedicated? Heart Management Ltd. are a widely successful music industry management consortium currently forming a choreographed, singing/dancing, all-female pop act for a recording deal. Open audition. Danceworks, 16 Balderton Street. Friday 4 March. 11 am-5:30 pm. Please bring sheet music or backing cassette.


In January 2017, having lost the rights to its popular singing competition, The Voice, the BBC launched yet another vocal contest. Let it Shine, the brainchild of Take That’s Gary Barlow, will feature a search to find performers for a new musical. The winner will be offered a job rather than a transient record contract, and will tour the UK in a musical based on the songs of Take That for a whole year. Despite Barlow’s assurance that his show will be different, avoiding the negativity and mocking criticism popular in some high-ratings competitions, Let it Shine has already run into problems. There have been accusations that the result is rigged after it became known that several of the participants are already professional musical theatre actors. The media has expressed outrage that people who have already trained to sing should deign to enter a competition that might bag them a job.

Despite the obvious issue that the winner will be expected to perform one or two shows a day for twelve months and will obviously require stamina and a significant level of vocal training to do so, it was apparently expected by the public that only completely untrained singers should enter in order not to dispel the myth that this kind of success is available to everybody.

It’s the other end of the spectrum from shows such as I’d Do Anything, a search to cast the role of Nancy in Oliver! which drew resentment and criticism from theatre professionals for denying a job to working actors.

So are these talent shows a good way to launch a performing career? 


Leona Lewis

Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that many of those who have succeeded in these competitions and gone on to have careers with any longevity already had some training. X Factor winner, Leona Lewis, attended the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Susan Boyle, who won second place in Britain’s Got Talent but has gone on to sell over 19 million albums and win two Grammy Awards had taken years of singing lessons before the surprising audition that rocketed her to overnight fame.

It could be suggested that elements of the pop industry are, to some extent, manufactured. Many successful artists at the moment are either the result of Industry-formed groups or talent shows, and this has always been the case. In this sense, the TV talent show simply becomes an extension of the way the pop moguls create successful artists, developing the process for viewers’ pleasure.

These shows give another route to a career for a few singers. Many will fade back into obscurity. The competition is tough and the criticism offered by judges on screen is rarely constructive – one-time X Factor judge Tulisa’s “You smashed it,” not really in the realms of useful feedback, and because it makes good viewing, the negative comments are often brutal.

For those unprepared for the ensuing career there are pitfalls. Contestants are generally required to sign a contract with the show that may tie them in with a label or management company that may not be interested in promoting them, and that may involve poor fee and royalty terms. And the pressures of life in the spotlight can cause public difficulty on a personal level. Kerry Katona of Atomic Kitten, a band that was created by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey, is a prime example of a normal person who has struggled to cope in the public eye, and Susan Boyle has well-documented mental health issues that have caused long breaks from performing.

However, despite the criticisms and temporary setbacks, music has always been a competitive business. Many runners up have ended up with more successful careers than the winner of their show. Interviews with competitors who didn’t win focus on the experience, contacts and opportunities that came from the show.

Aoife Mulholland  was eliminated from How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria in week 5 immediately went onto the West End Stage as Roxy in Chicago. In an interview with the Radio Times in 2012, Mulholland said,

I let myself wallow for about 24 hours, then I picked myself up and realised what an amazing opportunity I had. I had training, contacts, Saturday night TV exposure so I got on the phone and set up a few meetings with different agents.

Talent show winners:

Little Mix – X Factor, 2011

Kelly Clarkson – American Idol, 2002

Leona Lewis – X Factor, 2006

Paul Potts – BGT 2007

Alexandra Burke – X Factor, 2008

Joe McElldery – X Factor, 2009

Jodie Prenger – winner of I’d do Anything now has a TV and acting career including appearances on Loose Women and Celebrity Bargain Hunt

Talent show runners up:

Beyoncé – 2nd place with her group Girls Tyme, later Destiny’s Child on Star Search 1992

Susan Boyle – 2nd place, Britain’s Got Talent, 2009

Jennifer Hudson – 7th place, American Idol, 2004

One Direction – 3rd place, X Factor, 2010

Olly Murs – 2nd place, X Factor, 2009

Stacey Soloman – 3rd place, X Factor, 2009, subsequent winner of I’m a Celebrity

Rebecca Ferguson – 2nd place, X Factor, 2009

Cher Lloyd – 4th place, X Factor, 2010

Samantha Barks – 3rd place I’d do Anything. Later the same year she won the lead as Sally Bowles in a touring production of Cabaret, opposite Wayne Sleep. She went on to play Eponine in the film version of Les Miserables.


Jennifer Hudson performs to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

Tell us what do you think! Are TV Talent competitions are a good way to launch a performing career? Comment below to let us know your opinion, advice and experience.



The Music Industry Management Degree and the Industry of Today

Music, with all of the business, technical, managerial, legal, marketing and organisational elements that go on behind the scenes, has always offered a huge range of career opportunities. It has nonetheless been frequently overlooked as a career path as students are steered more towards traditional white-collar jobs.

Many of today’s leading music industry top brass talk of moving up through the ranks, starting in the mailroom of a record label and gradually developing the expertise, knowledge and contacts to make it to the top. That traditional route is still available, but increasingly, today’s industry is looking for people who bring skills and understanding right from the start. The business is much more complex than it was back in the ‘60s, and team members need to be able to adapt to a highly dynamic environment.

Specialist qualifications have become increasingly relevant to the job market, and to the music industry of the future. Degree courses have developed to prepare students for roles in the music industry.

Maria Thomas, Artistic Director and Founder of the Music Workshop Company, is a Senior Lecturer teaching business modules on the Music Industry Management degree at the University of Hertfordshire.

Maria_Thomas-300x247I’m very proud of the work we do on the Music Industry Management degree at the University of Hertfordshire. Our alumni are working in a wide range of areas of the music industry; performing, producing, music publishing, live music and record labels. We give our students a solid understanding of the industry as a whole. We take a maximum of 40 students a year, so we get to know them well and can help them make informed decisions about which area they want to work in, and then help them to prepare for that role.

The University of Hertfordshire Music Industry Management (MIM) degree course investigates all aspects of the contemporary music industry by bringing together the study of music, law and business studies. The course is delivered by an industry renowned team of lecturers, all of whom combine successful backgrounds as music business professionals alongside wide-ranging academic expertise and experience.


The principle aim of the programme is to develop the successful music industry managers, entrepreneurs and executives of the future and to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge base. As well as championing the importance of academic achievement, the University places great emphasis on developing the students’ personal confidence. Students are encouraged to apply their skills in practical environments through work experience placements and internships.

The course programme is led by Senior Lecturer, Dennis Collopy. Dennis’s career in the music industry so far spans four decades. He’s worked at Chrysalis Music, RCA Records, Riva Music – signing the Clash, Rod Stewart and John Mellencamp and spending 5 years running the USA companies – BMG Music Publishing, EG Group and Big Life Music. In 1992 he established his own firm, Menace Music, which has not only worked with many artists and producers, representing eminent USA and UK songwriters, it has held a worldwide co-venture agreement with Universal Music Publishing since 2003.

Dennis has served on the board of a number of music industry bodies including the Performing Rights Society and the Music Publishers Association and brings a strong research focus to his work. In 2009 he co-founded the Music and Entertainment Industries Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire, and in 2011 co-founded the European Music Business Research Association. He is co-editor of the International Journal of Music Business Research and completed a comprehensive research study for the Intellectual Property Office in 2013.

Teachers on the MIM course include Andy Saunders, Sharon Farquhar and Fred Bolza. Andy started at a small independent record company soon after graduating. This job kick-started a career that would see him working for almost 25 years at a senior level in the British music industry. After a 10-year stint as Director of Communications at Creation Records, where he worked with Oasis, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and many others, Andy launched Velocity Communications, one of the UK’s leading corporate PR and marketing companies specialising in music industry work.

Sharon is the MIM programme’s law specialist. She qualified as a solicitor in 1988, initially working in litigation, but soon moved to entertainment and media law firm, Sheridans, where she became a partner. Her specialisms in practice revolve around litigation in the music and computer and video games industry, with particular emphasis on copyright and contractual issues, defamation, Press Complaints Commission and anti-competition disputes.  High profile clients have included Pink Floyd and Sir Paul McCartney.

Fred is Vice President, Strategic Development, Sony Music UK. He is responsible for the development of Sony Music’s strategy in the UK and runs an in-house marketing services agency that helps labels connect artists with the widest possible audiences. He is considered one of the leading ‘thought leaders’ in the UK music industry and teaches music industry marketing to the students on the MIM course.

In this video, the University of Hertfordshire teaching team explain the benefit of a course delivered by practitioner-academics.

The University regularly welcomes guest industry speakers, including:

  • John Webster – CEO, Music Managers Forum
  • Lynne McDowell – Communications Director, BPI
  • Vick Bain – CEO, BASCA
  • Steve Levine – Chairman, Music Producers Guild
  • Craig David – Artist
  • Alan McGee – Founder, Creation Records
  • Geoff Taylor – CEO, The BPI
  • Rob Challice – Founding Partner , CODA Music Agency

And the University of Hertfordshire’s alumni work throughout the industry:

  • UK Music House: MPA, PRS, MMF, UKMusic, BASCA
  • Record Companies – UMG, Domino, Wichita, Sony
  • Music Publishers – UMPG, Kobalt, Peer,
  • The Live Music Industry – Coda, Live Nation
  • Digital Music Companies – Shazam
  • Artist Management – Rocket Music


The programme is well recognised throughout the industry:

tonyThe University of Hertfordshire’s music and creative arts faculty has become a key producer of graduates with appropriate skills for the growing creative industries sector – Tony Wadsworth, Chairman of the BPI

Tim ClarkI have an excellent relationship with the University of Hertfordshire both as a guest speaker and advisor and strongly believe that the music courses they run set the standard for others to follow –  Tim Clark, Managing Director, ie:music and Manager of Robbie Williams


The University of Hertfordshire Faculty of Music and Creative Arts is consistently delivering high calibre graduates into the entertainment business. We continue to work with the tutors and students across a number of initiatives and projects, which we believe contribute to a strong a vibrant part of the UK economy  – Lohan Presencer, CEO, Ministry of Sound Group


And former students are vocal about its role in their success:

Luke ArmitageThe MEIM course at UH was the perfect head start into a career in the music business. The course not only combines the theory and structure behind the marketing, legal, and financial aspects to the industry, but also nurtures your interests and encourages the practical side through internships and external opportunities. Without partnership initiatives like the Richard Toeman Music Publishing scholarship (which led to my internship at UMPG), I wouldn’t have had the early success I’ve had in my career, and also be in current my position in International Marketing at Universal Music Group – Alumnus Luke Armitage, now working for Universal Music Group

AyeshaFrom pan-European licensing to 360 recording agreements to international markets, the MEIM programme covered everything that I could possibly want to know prior to embarking on a career in the music industry. Thanks to the influence of the programme leaders and the teaching of each lecturer, I was able to begin my career with a strong, unique awareness and analytical approach that younger people trying to enter the business do not always possess. This has enabled me to stand out in many settings and to ultimately thrive professionally. Almost three years later, the knowledge and skills that I acquired have not become even remotely irrelevant – Ayeasha Johnson, former student

Holly DibdenThe MEIM course has equipped me with the fundamental knowledge and skills required to pursue a career within today’s music industry, thus, allowing me to begin my career in music publishing with a sound understanding of the landscape of the industry on a global scale. This has enabled me to begin my career in music publishing at Kobalt Music Group; a company that is changing the face of music publishing, directly after having completed the course.  MEIM provided me with skillsets that were directly transferable into a role within the current, evolving, music industry –Alumna Holly Dibden, now working for Kobalt Music Group

Rob DelmonteFor me, the most beneficial aspect about the MIM course is that it is constantly updated to include current music industry debate and economic argument. This means it goes further than just supplying students the theoretical knowledge needed succeed in the music industry, instilling a way of thinking that is vital in a business environment constantly being revolutionised by digital technology – being dynamic. This, combined with the wealth of expertise, experience and contacts lecturers offer, creates a powerful educational experience that grants students the crucial edge needed to enter an industry that is notoriously hard to enter – Robert Delmonte, former student,  now working for Audiencenet  


logoFor more information about entrance requirements and study routes in Music Industry Management, visit http://www.herts.ac.uk/courses/

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