Harnessing creativity with BTEC Music

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BTEC Music

Katie Tarrant always loved music and knew it would be the focus of her career. Katie knew studying a BTEC in Advanced Music Performance would set her on the right path, and she now works as a Sound Designer and Musician in the video game industry.

Find out more about her experience studying a BTEC in Music and how it has helped her in her dream job.

Why did you choose to do a BTEC?

A few of my friends started the BTEC in Advanced Music Performance a year before I did, but I decided to pursue my AS levels instead as I thought that was the wiser choice in terms of career potential. But I didn’t have a great experience in that first year of A levels and, ultimately, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I felt like that was the nudge I needed to go and try the BTEC. I saw my friends doing something they loved, and my family were incredibly supportive of me doing the same. It was the first point in my life where I decided to take a leap of faith and, after a lot of hard work, it paid off.

I chose to do a BTEC as my first step into a career in music. Up until that point, music had only ever been a hobby that I was passionate about, and I had never thought about studying it academically. Although the BTEC course was still an academic course, it never felt focused on academic objectives. It was more about harnessing your creativity and the structured development of your ability as a musician, while achieving the academic objectives along the way. It was the first curriculum I had seen that covered all the aspects of music that I was interested in and allowed me the support and freedom to learn exactly what I needed to work towards my career goals.

"For me, doing the BTEC was my first step into a successful career as a sound designer for games."

"Although the BTEC course was still an academic course, it never felt focused on academic objectives. It was more about harnessing your creativity..."

Katie now works as a Sound Designer and Musician in the video game industry

Tell us more about your job and the video game industry.

The video game industry is a hugely diverse industry, where most of the people I meet come from totally different backgrounds and their career paths vary wildly. I think it’s important for all of us to share where we started from, because sometimes it inspires someone in a similar position who has never thought about pursuing a career in audio before.

For me, doing the BTEC was my first step into a successful career as a sound designer for games. My path into my current job has been an incredible journey: going from someone who just enjoyed playing guitar, to a paid performing musician, to a producer and composer, and now to a sound designer.

Did you always know what kind of job you wanted to do?

I’ve always loved music and I decided I wanted to do something with music for my career, be it performance, teaching, composing, or something similar. I never thought I would end up in audio for games, but I’m so glad I did.

The great thing about the BTEC was that it gave me a strong foundation for any of those career paths, because we learned about all aspects of the music process. We formed bands, we learned songs and played gigs. We performed in pit bands for theatre shows, we learned how to use a recording studio, studied music theory, composition and much more. That structure allows you to explore all areas of music in a free and creative environment and discover what you really gravitate towards.

Going to university as my next step certainly built on that knowledge, but I couldn’t have attended the university I did without doing my BTEC course and working hard to get a good grade. The fact that I had such a varied education on the BTEC course also prepared me well for university, as I already had some experience in everything I continued to study throughout my degree.

"The structure allows you to explore all areas of music in a free and creative environment and discover what you really gravitate towards."

What was the best thing about your BTEC course?

I think the best thing about the BTEC was the environment. My teachers were brilliant – incredibly supportive and there to help me with absolutely anything. They were encouraging and really helped me to build some much-needed confidence. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of my own abilities, but they were there to prove to me that I could achieve so much more than I initially believed. 

The course took me out of my comfort zone a lot, but that was such a valuable experience because I wouldn’t have achieved half of the things I have if it wasn’t for that. I was always supported with working towards whatever goals I set for myself.

One example being that I joined the course as a guitarist, but said to my tutors I’d love to perform a show as a drummer, so they immediately set about giving me the time and finding some songs I could play drums for – and I later went on to perform those songs to a live audience, which was a huge step for me.


What was the most challenging thing about your BTEC course?

I think the most challenging thing was my lack of confidence. To thrive in that environment, you need to build some confidence in yourself as you’re frequently performing on stage and in front of your peers. Up until I joined the course, music had been a very personal thing for me and I didn’t have much gigging experience, so to take that into a very public setting was definitely a challenge. But most of us were in the same boat, so we were all supportive of each other and encouraged each other to be the best we could be.

All those instances where I felt nervous were essential character-building moments for me and enabled me to thrive from then on. Every time I fought past those nerves helped to strengthen my self-esteem, which later led to me being able to perform shows in front of hundreds of people, which is something I never thought I would do.

Doing the BTEC also brought me into a world of other musicians and gave me a collaborative environment, that helped me to grow and improve much faster than I ever would have just trying to teach myself. That environment was paramount in teaching me about collaborating and performing with other musicians, which I went on to do a lot of in the years following.

When I started the course, I had no intentions of going to university afterwards, but I later changed my mind. I ended up applying and being accepted by one of the most prestigious music universities in the UK, and I would not have been able to do that without both the qualifications and experience that I gained with the BTEC.

What was the most interesting thing you learnt in your BTEC course?

The most interesting thing was probably learning music theory. I spent several weeks in a pit band for West Side Story – a score riddled with extended chords and interesting harmony. My teacher, Marc, was phenomenal at guiding us through that performance, even though it was my first time performing in a pit band. I loved every minute of it and a lot of that knowledge formed my future years of music composition and enabled me to do the music theory test I later had for my degree at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA).

Would you recommend a BTEC to other students, and if so, why?

Absolutely. The one piece of advice I will give is that you will get out what you put in. No one is going to hold your hand in the music industry, but they will lend you a hand to get over any hurdles you face. The BTEC gives you all the support, education and advice you need, and the tutors are great at helping you understand what your goals are and how to reach them. But, ultimately, you can only reach those goals if you’re willing to put the work in.

Take advantage of the time you have there, use the facilities, form some bands, get to know people and learn as much as you can. Doing those things and working hard was essential for me, getting the knowledge and experience I needed to carry on to university and eventually get my dream job.

"The BTEC gives you all the support, education, and advice you need..."