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Career Options in Culture, Music & Performing Arts: School Leaver

Though you can apply for, and therefore technically win, The X Factor from the age of 14 (!), the culture, music and performing arts industry is a competitive one but also bursting with options. It’s not all about being on stage as a musician, or being on cinema screens worldwide as a leading lad or lady in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. There’s plenty of stuff to get involved with backstage – perhaps you fancy yourself as a theatre set designer or as the next Steven Spielberg. Or you might be a bit more out there and see yourself performing as an acrobat in the circus. You could even surprise your parents and friends by following a career as a magician. The industry has loads of sectors you can get started in.

The industry is definitely one you can break into without studying the chosen subject beforehand. Let’s face it, if you’ve got the voice of an angel, the chances of you making some pennies from showcasing your skills is pretty high. However, if you want to work backstage as a key cog in the overall machine, qualifications, work experience and a very detailed and intricate understanding of the industry and your role is paramount.

What opportunities are available to me?

It’s generally the case that further education is a must in the culture, music and performing arts industry. After you’ve ripped open your GSCE results and wept in joy over the A* results in drama and music, there are plenty of options and different routes you can take through further education:

- BTEC Diplomas

- Apprenticeships

- A Levels.

BTEC Diplomas are available in a wide range of culture, music and performing arts subsectors, such as music production and technology, performing arts and technical theatre and musical theatre. BTECs are work related qualifications taught by specialist staff, designed to provide a practical approach to learning as well as providing key theoretical background. BTECs can lead to higher education at university but are also well respected in the eyes of employers. The types of BTEC available to 16 year old school leavers with GCSEs are the BTEC National Diploma (equivalent to three A Levels), the BTEC National Certificate (equivalents to two A Levels) and the BTEC National Award (equivalent to one A Level).

Apprenticeships are also available in some disciplines, but are not as widespread as BTECs. You could undertake an Intermediate or Advanced Apprenticeship in theatre management or costume and wardrobe management for example. You will work with an employer whilst learning and developing the skills required. You also get paid, which is a great bonus. Ka-ching!

Another route to a career in the culture, music and performing arts industry is by taking relevant A Level courses. There are a range of courses available including music, music technology, drama, performing arts and dance. You should also consider getting involved with sixth form or college drama or play productions, if your school hosts them. They’re great experience and allow you to showcase your skills and build up your confidence.

Setting the school leaver record straight

You may not have heard about BTECs or Apprenticeships before now, or you may not know as much about those as you do A Level courses and the option of university. But fear not! These options are in no way inferior to A Levels when it comes to getting qualifications to launch your career in the culture, music and performing arts industry. In fact, because BTECs and Apprenticeships take a work based approach to education, the skills you gain from undertaking such programmes are highly valued and allow you to specialise in an area of the industry.

Formal education: should I stay or should I go?

Even if you have an abundance of natural talent, you can’t just stroll into a music studio or on to a film set and start making money. Further and higher education is often necessary and the courses mentioned above alongside drama school attendance or an undergraduate degree will give you a solid education about the industry and allow you to specialise in a field of your choice.

The route to a career in the culture, music and performing arts industry is competitive and you will need to display your experience and skills throughout the application process to further and higher education. You may have to undergo numerous auditions for a place on a course or may need to send in examples of your work. Though the industry is competitive, the potential career development is huge; Hollywood may seem like a world away, but why shouldn’t you dream big? 

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