Noah Henry | From ICMP to PhD

Our BA Creative Musicianship graduate charts his journey from undergraduate to PhD...


ICMP undergraduates take various different career paths once they have completed their studies. 

Some opt to head straight into the industry, either as an artist, musician or working in some part of the business side of the industry.

Others decide further study is for them, with one such ICMP success story being our BA Creative Musicianship alumnus, Noah Henry. He pursued music education further with a Masters at York University and has now been accepted to take on further research for a PhD. 

With such an exciting opportunity ahead of him, we asked Noah to share his insights into the PhD process, how he applied and what he's hoping to get out of it in our new interview... 

What led you to ICMP? And how did you find your time with us? 

What I liked about ICMP was how the atmosphere encouraged experimentation and innovation. I felt there was a happy balance between being able to express and experiment in the way you wanted to, while maintaining a professional focus. Everything was well placed at facilitating students in achieving their musical aims, but with an open and friendly collaborative dynamic.

ICMP is effective at mitigating the fun, creative process and converting that into a strategy by which students improve both musically and professionally."

What have been the key things you've learned? 

The skills required to be both dynamic and flexible, while also being precise and professional.

Some of the most important skills were academic. Being able to gather sources and filter has been very relevant to me subsequently and I think it shows the extent to which a variety of skills are developed at ICMP to give students the tools to focus on their own interests.

What motivated you to look to take your studies further and undertake a PhD? 

After completing my ICMP studies, I decided I wanted to pursue a Masters in Music Psychology. This was encouraged by my tutors Shane Beale and Jonathan Whiskerd. They gave me the confidence to pursue further study and I felt I was capable of achieving this aim due to the skills I had developed over the last three years. Since studying for the MA, I have realised that there is so much more I would like to research and decided to apply for a PhD based on an interest I have in listening behaviour and music choice. 

How did you focus on your topic? 

I'm interested in what informs listening decisions among individuals. I'm also interested in music media and the roles technology have in developing our relationships with music. So from the perspective of both music and media choice, I began to think about methods by which these two components integrated. My supervisor informed me of a project he had worked on whereby keywords/semantics were attributed to pieces of music with the intention of applying this to branding to allow businesses to have playlists according to the perception they wish their customers to have of them (e.g modern, luxury or cool).

My idea stemmed from this, whereby keywords can be attributed to musical parameters and listening scenarios in order to develop music recommendations according to the context or activity undertaken by the listener. 


Could you talk a little about the process of applying? How does this work? 

The PhD application process consists of a research proposal, which you submit to a department. In my case, this was the music department at the University of York, where I have also been studying for my MA. 

The proposal consists of background information about your topic and what you feel is missing/you can contribute through your research. Within the proposal, you also identify why you believe the department you are applying to is an appropriate fit for your research, as well as a proposed methodology and a realistic timeline. Your proposal does not have to be the finished article, but rather an approximation of your topic and an idea of how to go about doing it.

Once submitted, you will get an interview with your proposed supervisor and another academic within the department, whereby you discuss your idea, viability and the research’s scope. They will challenge you on key concepts and ideas to gauge how much you know about your topic. They then make a recommendation to the department about whether you should get an offer.

The other thing to consider here is funding. This is often gained through research scholarships, industry backing or self-funding. Scholarships are very competitive due to the limited space so take the time to ensure your scholarship application is the best it can be! Of course, self-funding is a large financial decision to make but is an option.

What support did ICMP offer you? 

ICMP supported me at postgraduate level with staff acting as academic references along with general encouragement and interest in my studies. Gaining references is an important part of your application process as it gives you credit for the previous study.

What would you advise any other students looking to apply for a PhD? 

Perspective is very important in terms of approaching projects such as this.

Be really passionate about your topic. It is a large and advanced investment of time, however, if it is something you care about, then you'll be able to frame it in a way that is more exciting than daunting (although of course, it is still a bit scary!)"

Do not rush decisions and be aware you can take your time. Make sure your topic or focus is well defined and you have thought about the process. Be aware you will have options in the way of deferrals for instance so that you can take the time to make these important decisions.

Also, be aware that those you are applying to are also likely to be passionate about your field, and that they also want to see the field contributed to. So they're on your side, which I found to be an encouraging thought when applying! 

What career routes are you hoping undertaking this further study will open up for you? 

One is to contribute further at academic level through post-doctoral work for instance. Further to this, I would also like to be able to contribute more to the music science and technology sphere within the industry. Developments based on my PhD research or data analysis of listening habits with streaming services, for instance, would be an engaging and exciting topic to look into.

What does your musical future have in store? 

Good question! My honest answer is that my aim has largely shifted from musician to music researcher, and as such my primary focus is now in academia. 

Having said that, I still write and record music at home and intend to collaborate with other musicians moving forwards, using performance, writing and production skills I learned at ICMP. This is just me personally, however, I feel that I have evolved over the last couple of years into areas that I find most engaging. This is what I was talking about earlier, in how ICMP was effective in allowing me to focus on the areas that engaged me the most and to pursue this to the best of my ability and have the confidence to think about my future in an expansive, rather than limited way.

Find out more about Noah and his research

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

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 ICMP staff writer
July 30, 2020
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