Interview: Joe Edwards

Our multi-talented alumnus tells all on his career and tips for winning funding...


Enjoying a portfolio career is an option many of our students take once they've completed their studies. 

And few embody this creative spirit more than our BMus in Popular Music Performance alumnus, Joe Edwards. Joe has toured all over the world with his heavy rock band, Shields but is now focusing more on composing scores for live performances in the north east where he's based. 

A recent recipient of funding from music charity Help Musicians UK, we caught up with Joe to find out more about his myriad different projects and tips for being success when applying for support...

Congratulations on your Help Musicians UK Transmission Funding award. What led you to apply?  

Thank you very much! Operating as an artist within the north east arts sector means the opportunities are mostly created here through individuals who’ve made the decision to obtain funding, such as myself. The area is a fairly unrecognised area of the national arts community so there are less paid opportunities for professional creatives.

The only other option is to create work and opportunities for yourself and your peers to build your career upon. I believe this is a blessing in disguise as it’s a great starting point for building your business skills in application writing. 

While I lived in London and was studying and touring most of the time I barely knew funding applications existed. It was when I moved to Newcastle that I discovered their importance as a resource.  

Have you any tips for applying for funding for any of our students looking to follow in your footsteps?  

For anyone looking to achieve funding from non-profit organisations such as Arts Council England, Help Musicians or PRS Foundation etc the strongest applications are the ones with a solid outreach programme. This is an area of your application describing in detail how the funding they’d be granting the applicant will benefit others as well as you, such as children who are from low income families or people who might not have access to creative outlets.

While it’s important to list how an application is important for the development of your career, it’s also important to use funding to give back to deprived communities. Funders really like knowing their money is being put to good use."

Could you talk about ICMP? What led you to study with us? 

When I was in school all I wanted to do was play music. When I wasn’t playing music I was thinking about it. I spent all my break times in the music department to the point where I was asked to stop coming so much to focus on my studies, and as you can probably guess my academic grades suffered as a result. 

However, I heard about ICMP through a peer, so knowing that I could go and study music full time instead of doing A-Levels pushed me to apply for the Diploma and get the grades I needed in my GCSEs to attend. 

ICMP opened my eyes to a whole new world of discovering, playing and practising music, which is something I feel it does exceptionally well. Throughout my study there I was on the Diploma, Higher Diploma and eventually the BMus Popular Music Degree in guitar, and the faculty who coached me were such huge influences on not only the way I approach music but also my personality. 

Something I found at ICMP was the faculty are of the highest level. It’s hugely inspiring as a student to be among those who helped shape the industry I work in today. 

What has your musical life been like since you left ICMP? What projects have been keeping you busy?  

Music life for me has been super varied, which is exciting! I started off continuing to work on the band I was in, Shields, by releasing our album with the support of our label (Longbranch Records) and management (Scarim Management), with which we went on to continue our international touring schedule with some of my childhood favourite bands.

However, I’d left ICMP very enthusiastic about composition and production, so while Shields were working hard I was also developing my skillset in those areas, working with bands and also on my compositions. This lead to working with a north London based record label as arranger/composer and ghost writer. 


Not long after graduating I met my fiancé, who at the time was a studying circus performer. This opened my eyes to the world of composing for the live stage! This was an amazing discovery for myself, as it married everything I loved about music: composing, performing and producing. Through the world of the live arts my career moved swiftly into a stream that took me to Newcastle, where I now work with both regional and national circus theatre companies. Some names include: Let’s Circus, CIRC Motif, Filskit Theatre, Fluid Motion Theatre, Moving Parts, Alphabetti Theatre, Northern Stage, The D Project and the Durham Festival of Light. 

Although Shields came to end soon before my move up north, my childhood passion for being in a band never died so I recently started my new band, Smithereen. Being in a band was always one of my biggest passions, even since a young age, so there was no way I could go without it for too long! 

Could you talk a little about the challenges of composing music and scores for live shows? How do you go about doing this? And how does it compare to other work?  

It took a lot of observing how physical performers worked with sound - some haven’t got a clue! But some really get it. Once I was able to understand how multiple arts forms can’t work together without having a conversation with each other, all it took was to figure out what my art form was saying. Is it listening and reflecting what the performance is saying? Are the art forms having an argument with each other? Are they interested with each other? 

I find art in any form revolves around creating an intimate space for the viewer to connect with whatever it is they’ve experienced. I believe good art makes you feel something personal and intimate, and if art hasn’t made you feel anything you won’t enjoy it. 

For me, approaching the development of a score for the stage comes from a place of: What is my artistic voice talking about with the performance, and how does it make the audience feel?"

It’s always a new challenge every time I open my DAW and wonder how this show is going to sound. It’s like creating a new personality every time. But don’t get me wrong, this is also one of the most exciting aspects of the whole process! 

I think creating music in this way is arguably very similar to approaching any artistic collaboration. It’s all about the combining multidisciplinary art forms to become one glorious multifaceted body of art! 

What are the challenges of enjoying a portfolio musical career? And how do you maintain so many different musical projects?  

The challenges in any artistic career can arrive in many different shapes or forms, an obvious one being the financial instability of starting out. Being a freelancer is hard, but if you keep excited and practical about what it is you’re doing then there’s always ways around it. Suffering through a boring part time job isn’t so bad when you know that’s the kind of financial stability you’ll be able to support your early career with. 

Funnily enough, I think the key for keeping so many musical projects going is to have lots of projects on the go! If I just focused on one or two very specific projects then when I hit a creative block I’ve got nothing else in the pipeline; nothing to keep me excited. By having multiple creative career outlets I’m kept busy and inspired, so when one of them eventually slows down for a minute I’ve got other parts of my career I can turn to. 

This isn’t to say this works for everyone. I’ve met many people in music who work very hard on one thing they love and become recognised in a very positive way for it and they’ve built their career on that. It’s all about what works for the individual at the end of the day. 


Have you any advice for anyone about to launch their musical career?  

Music is hard, I can’t lie about that. It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of ‘what I’m doing is small and thousands of people doing it better’ or ‘I’ve still got so far to go to get where I want…’ etc.  Don’t worry, we ALL have those thoughts sometimes! It’s okay to feel low, you’re only human. 

What is important is to remember the way music makes you feel, reflect on what drives you, who supports you and why it is you want music to be your career! I find writing out positive messages to myself helps me remain positive and productive."

It’s important to embrace every emotion you feel, even if it’s not a pleasant experience, because how you feel is true to you and in being honest with yourself you open the opportunity for yourself to accept yourself for who you are. 

Making music for me is about honestly describing emotion in sound, so being true to myself helps me achieve that sonic reflection. 

And what's next for you?  

I’ve recently been granted some money (thanks Arts Council England!!) to develop material for a sound design based circus/theatre production I’m planning. The show is called ‘This Is Not a Dream’ and uses live sound design, surround sound speaker placement and circus theatre as a mechanism for comparing both the scientific and theoretical research of dreams. I’ve no timeline for this project yet due to the current pandemic, but I aim to have a full performance of the show in 2021! 

Other than that, my latest obsession is writing tracks for the upcoming recording sessions for Smithereen’s debut EP! We’re self producing and live tracking the whole thing in some very beautiful sounding rooms, so I’m enjoying the challenge of setting up studio and figuring all the ins and outs of how to make it work smoothly. 

I’ve also been writing a circus show with a local circus company about rock music. So that’s pretty cool seeing as I LOVE rock music. It was meant to tour nationally this summer but … well you know... 

Visit to find out more about Joe and his music.

Watch a live performance from Joe of his new band's Smithereen's song, 'God, Buddha and Me'.

Take the first steps in your music career with ICMP

We've been developing and delivering contemporary music education for over 30 years – longer than any other music school in the UK. With a proven track-record, countless music industry connections and unrivalled access to facilities, it's easy to see why hundreds of students choose ICMP each year. 

To completely immerse yourself in your music career, chat with our friendly Admissions Team via email or give them a call on 020 7328 0222.

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by Jim Ottewill
July 16, 2020
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