In September 2020, the Young Classical Artists’ Trust (YCAT) launched the 21st Century Musician Toolkit, a range of online events and resources aimed at early-career musicians looking for inspiration and advice.

Project Manager Dr Kate Blackstoner talks about the development of the Toolkit:

“In September 2020, musicians of all career stages were very much in the cold due to the pandemic, and although many were enjoying pub visits and other social events (with varying levels of restriction), live music-making was at a low ebb.  The toolkit therefore evolved from what used to be called YCAT Sounding Board, which was the Trust’s programme of in-person career events, founded in 2016. 

The online format has presented an incredible range of opportunity, firstly for us to be able to recruit contributors from across the world, and also for musicians from across the world to participate. Since its birth, the Toolkit has now reached over 75000 freelance musicians, whether through online events, website blogs, YouTube videos or Instagram posts, and we hope to continue this success through the 2021 to 2022 season.

I joined in August 2021, and since then YCAT has had a dedicated member of staff to oversee the Toolkit. I’d describe it as something of a labour of love: after spending four years researching classical musicians’ career transitions I felt very sure of graduating musicians’ struggles and knowledge gaps, however, creating events and resources that inspire these musicians to address those is another matter! I know thorough my own research and links with music colleges, universities and careers coaches that career development programmes are not always well-received, yet, regardless, the plucky idealist inside me couldn’t wait to see hundreds of young musicians instantly flock towards my content. This didn’t happen. I was brought back down to earth when I realised that maintaining the Toolkit was going to be a lot more of a slow burn, consisting of quietly building the website whilst trying out multiple formats and subject areas. Ironically this is not dissimilar to the way a music career is created: slowly but surely with a few near-misses along the way! At the end of 2021 we also held a focus group, as there were questions that I needed answering, including ‘why is everyone so interested in artist managers and promoters?’ I had assumed that this was because YCAT’s primary activity was the career development offered to the selected artists, however, I was wrong! It was instead because this was a subject area that had not been touched upon in any detail during musicians’ training. This turned my expectations on their head a little, helping me realise that some people aren’t looking to find out more about a subject, they’re looking for anything about that subject. Since then I have felt less wary about sharing resources that seem more basic, in order that the Toolkit can meet the needs of musicians wherever they are at. Providing basic resources, but in a wider range of areas, has broadened the reach of the toolkit in other ways. In January, Maddy Shaw Roberts, Head of Digital at Classic FM ran an SEO session, which was attended by 40 people from across the arts. Although YCAT’s primary audience is early career classical musicians, the session was attended by non-performers and more established musicians alike. This shows that up-to-date digital skills are a concern for musicians beyond our primary remit.

The 21st Century Musician Toolkit is a completely open access resource. All events are free to attend and interested parties only need to sign up to the event online for the Zoom link. Because most events take place online, these opportunities are open to all AEC members and their students. One thing that I’m continually reminded of in my research and in my work at YCAT is that music students and graduates value impartial advice. This is not to take away from any of the fantastic career development work that our conservatoires and universities do, but some students want to make decisions without the watchful eye of their tutors or institutions. I think it’s because career paths are so deeply personal, yet still quite judged. Many musicians have spent years of their lives developing fixed ideas about the ‘true meaning of artistry,’ perhaps as a result of their own biases, but also likely due to influences around them. The opportunity to explore options and take advice from a neutral source is therefore immensely valuable. To find out more about the 21st Century Musician Toolkit, you can visit the website here and sign up to the newsletter via this link. Each month has a different focus: we are looking ahead to a technology-focused March, which will include recording setup advice from Air Studios and Project Coaching from Chad Goodman. We hope to see you at an event soon!”

Learn more about the 21st Century Musician Toolkit on the YCAT’s page.