Source girl sitting down writing her next song

BNU alumni reveal the key to getting into the music business in event for industry hopefuls

Buckinghamshire New University alumni Lara Baker, Dhanny Joshi, Robyn Elton, Shikayla Nadine and Oliver Sheppard returned to their university roots this week for a one-off panel event. The successful alum came together to share their experiences of life after BNU and impart their wisdom on the next generation of music business hopefuls.

The panel answered questions submitted from an audience of students, graduates and industry professionals and discussed a wide variety of industry-related topics with hosts Paul Fields, Senior Lecturer at BNU, and Dr Oli Morris, Director of Education and Skills at UK Music.

Paul Fields, Dr Oli Morris, Robyn Elton, Lara Baker, Shikayla Nadine, Oliver Sheppard and Dhanny Joshi

'MAPping! the Future – Building & Sustaining a Career in the Music Industry'

Networking was a significant theme from the outset of the discussion and was a topic that the panel circled back to throughout. The alumni were in resounding agreement that contact-building from the beginning of your career is the key to success in the music business.

Oliver Sheppard who graduated from BNU in 2012 and is now a Vice President at APG in Los Angeles said, “It’s hugely important to work and network while you’re at uni. Don’t wait until you’re a graduate.

“You don’t even have to have something to offer when you reach out to people. At the beginning, I think it’s just important that you approach people in a likeable way and show you’re willing to hustle.”

Robyn Elton, a 2013 BNU graduate and Founder of All My Friends Digital, pointed out how social media presents a leveller for people starting out in their careers: “When I left uni, I had no experience. So, I literally wrote ‘I have no experience’ in crisps and sent out a video of my dog eating it. A company reached out to me and said, “that was ridiculous,” and that’s how I got my first shot.”

Every time I mention I went to BNU in this industry, people light up.
Shikayla Nadine Radio Host and Artist Manager
Shikayla Nadine

Shikayla Nadine, daytime radio host and manager of music acts Rebecca Garton and Levelle London, and Dhanny Joshi, Founder of Big Deal Films, touched on how their careers have not always been profitable.

Shikayla said, “I couldn’t get a job after uni. I’m a black woman in a white, male-dominated industry and it was hard.”

Dhanny contributed, “I was working in a call centre throughout my twenties to sustain my career. I was managing Adam Deacon when he won the BAFTA, and 24 hours later, I was back in that call centre.”

Both professionals said that they used their networks to pave the way for themselves when their careers weren’t going in a traditional direction. Dhanny said, “Let go of the shame of asking and approaching people. Do what you’ve got to do to get noticed.”

Lara Baker, who is Head of Business Development at Songtrust and was this year named as one of Billboard’s International Power Players, commented that redundancies are also commonplace in the music business, but that they don’t always have to be considered a step backward. “Careers in this business aren’t linear. When I was made redundant from AIM, I received an overwhelming number of messages from people in my network congratulating me as they thought me leaving was some sort of power move.”

The BNU network is very strong and that will really help you get where you are going. My two uni housemates are both successful in the industry and I meet BNU alumni through my work all the time.
Lara Baker Head of Business Development at Songtrust
A head and shoulders shot of Lara Baker stood with her arms crossed wearing a black jumper and looking directly into the camera

On being a BNU graduate, Lara said, “The BNU network is very strong and that will really help you get where you are going. My two uni housemates are both successful in the industry and I meet BNU alumni through my work all the time.”

Shikayla shared Lara’s sentiments, “Every time I mention I went to BNU in this industry, people light up.

“I’d recommend building relationships with the lecturers at BNU too. They have amazing networks and experience and that’s been invaluable to me.”

Asked what one piece of advice they would give to music business graduates just beginning their career, the panel shared their thoughts:

Robyn said, “Keep learning.”

Lara said, “Start building your network now.”

Shikayla said, “Walk into every room with confidence. Don’t be afraid of rejection, because it’s going to happen. Be fearless.”

Dhanny said, “Say yes to every opportunity and bet on yourself.”

Oliver said, “If you find an ‘in’ then take it. Even if it’s not the ‘in’ you were looking for.”

BNU’s Paul Fields said, “It was such a pleasure having Lara, Robyn, Dhanny, Shikayla, and Oliver back at BNU and hearing about their successes since graduating. Their stories are an inspiration, not just to us as lecturing staff, but to the many current and future (and a few former) students in attendance, and it was great to hear their comments and questions.

“Last year BNU celebrated 25 years of delivering degrees in the music business. This event felt like a great way to kickstart the next 25 years. Things are different these days—the range of music degrees we offer is far broader, with new undergraduate degrees in Music Technology, Songwriting, and Sound Design, and master’s degrees in Music and Audio Production and Music Business.

Head and shoulders photo of a smiling Paul Fields wearing glasses with a coat and scarf on

"But the core of what we do is still the same: we deliver great courses with highly experienced teaching staff, fantastic students, and with a vast network of inspirational alumni working in music all over the world.

“I’d like to thank UK Music and Dr Oliver Morris for their tireless work, both for this event and in the continual work they put in to assist our students as part of their MAP network. Here’s to the next 25 years of music at BNU.”