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Projects - Mentoring - an effective tool for change
Projects | Commissioning Fund | Mentoring Scheme

By Clare Adams, WiM Projects Officer.

Ever felt like you've had to work it out all by yourself? That the music business is unfriendly, inaccessible to all but the chosen few? Well then read on because it might just be possible to make the world a better place!

Mentoring, say the experts, is a powerful tool for change. Certainly it's a buzz word with a lot of currency in the arts world at the moment. And the cynics among you might say that's because it's relatively inexpensive to deliver. Yet it does seem that, as a tool, it's amazingly effective at empowering people to take charge of their careers and fulfil their potential.

Typically, mentoring is used to described a one-to-one relationship is between more a experienced, established person, and someone less experienced who is a point of change or transition. The mentor acts as a trusted advisor, sharing their wisdom and helping the mentee to negotiate significant personal and/or professional development . It's is a balancing act: somewhere between coach and counsellor, leading or pushing only where appropriate, helping the mentee to find their own answers to life's knotty questions.

Of course, there's nothing new under the sun. Mentoring is an ancient and entirely natural form of life support found between apprentice and master, between new recruit and old hand. What's slightly newer is the use of formalised schemes in the business and education worlds where mentors and mentees were matched to support the individual as they needed, aside from any set curriculum or commercial need. A mentor is provided in addition to a tutor or line manager as someone who can be as objective as possible, and without direct interest in the career path or exam results of the mentee.

Well that's the theory, but how does it work out in practice? Recently I contacted members of both WiM and IAWM (International Alliance for Women in Music) to find out about your experiences of mentoring. Sadly, many of you with established careers had not ever had a mentor-type figure and had to go it alone in your chosen field. A general reflection, perhaps, of trying to establish oneself, a women, as a composer or academic. There were some cheering exceptions though:

Helen Reddington, now senior lecturer on pop music at the University of Westminster, emailed me about the amazing support she received early on: "I was greatly helped, as a punk rock bass player, by a woman called Frances (Vi Subversa), who encouraged me, lent equipment, gave gigs and so on. I know she did this for other people too."

Abbie Conant, solo trombonist, described how composer Pauline Oliveros had encouraged and supported her to try her hand at composition, and then direct the resulting music theatre pieces. She wrote: "I do not identify myself as a composer so as far as career development the effect was minimal but the personal and musical rewards great. I developed a deeper, stronger sense of self and felt a validation of my creative ideas."

Times are changing though. Those of you who said you had never had a mentor spoke of your efforts to support your students and of the formal schemes that are now in place at the institutions in which you work. Singer and composer Susie Self wrote: "I already do a lot of personal and professional development work with my singing students, I regard this as important as the voice work.

And there is now a greater range of opportunities to support young people as they leave education and start work. Musician Laura Reid wrote to me in very positive terms about a business mentor she had received from the Princes Trust. Her mentor, a woman lawyer, was there to support her as she started work as a self-employed musician and was able to help with previously unfamiliar territory such as negotiating contracts, legalities, accounts, formal letters, and general good business practice. Reid says: "Now I am self- employed, I am more confident and take a completely different approach to my career."

And here's where a formal mentoring relationship can really start to bear fruit. The Prince's Trust scheme is an example of that ideal whereby the mentor has nothing to lose or gain related to the success of their mentee, other than their satisfaction of doing well by the mentee and of having developed their own coaching and counselling skills. Reid describes her experience as an "excellent way of being self critical and maximising potential as you build up a degree of trust with someone who has no financial interest in your career, therefore very unique in the competitive music industry."

Also key to the success of the mentoring relationship is training. Recently, I attended a training day given by the Arts Marketing Association for both mentors and mentees on their scheme. Director Pam Henderson took us through the theory and background of mentoring and then led us in several role plays that explored good listening, communication and advisory skills. Just in the short time available, the practice of these skills created an atmosphere of trust and supportiveness.

The value of training for mentoring has also been recognised by the Musicians' Union. They have created Maestro: an online learning resource (which comes with an accreditation package if you're really keen) to support their members who act in a mentoring capacity to young people. The material, which is freely available on the MU web site, covers such aspects as managing a mentoring relationship, individual learning styles and resolving differences. Definitely well worth a look if you are, or would like to be, involved in a mentoring relationship.

And perhaps the final ingredient to a successful mentoring scheme is a degree of realism. No amount of mentoring is going to replace the talent, commitment and sheer hard work you need to succeed in music - male or female. Nor will having a mentor do much to advance your career if your problem is really a lack of a decent rehearsal venue. But as Self says: [speaking of her own experiences] "This has led me to believe that the level of unconditional personal support that an artist needs throughout their career cannot be underestimated." And mentoring, in an informal fortuitous relationship or as part of well managed scheme, can do just that.

(First published in Women in Music Now, Summer 2002 edition.)

Further information:

A good introduction:
Geof Alred, The Mentoring Pocketbook, Management Pocketbooks, 1998

The classic text:
David Clutterbuck, Everyone Needs a Mentor, IPM, 1985

Web sites
General information and advice:

For guidance on being a mentor:

An arts-perspective overview: