A vocational course for original songwriters and musicians
Why study Commercial Music?
BA (Hons) Commercial Music
“While giving you a deep understanding of the workings of the industry from business to creativity, it also allows an individual to pursue their specific interests in detail. Thank you for giving me the best 3 years of my life.”
- Neil Martin, Broadcast Engineer, Abbey Road Live (Commercial Music Graduate 2007)
Why choose this course?
If you have a flair for original musical ideas, then Commercial Music can take you on a creative journey to inspire and define a lifelong career. You will write original material and songs, and around this we explore identity, promotion and the wider music business context for your creativity.
Some of our graduates are signed artists, and some work for record labels and in music publishing. Others are employed in the entertainment business, and across the digital sector. All share a passion for music, and all of our students are songwriters, lyricists and composers, and all perform regularly on the course. On campus, we encourage artistic collaboration across many genres.
Commercial Music at Bath Spa University is all about creation: songs, projects, bands and entrepreneurial ideas. In writing, designing, promoting, performing, researching, touring and launching your creative material you will acquire a range of skills with which to broaden your future career choices.
Commercial Music is unique in UK higher education with its focus on songwriting. Bath Spa University is host to the annual UK Songwriting Festival, and hosts the world's first Masters Degree in Songwriting. All of the teaching team are active musicians, producers, performers and writers with a portfolio of recorded and published work.
“When you start in the industry, most people want to see experience. Commercial Music allows you to say I worked with these bands, I promoted this album, we toured these territories and I designed this product. That’s the kind of experience you need in such a creative industry.”
- Simon Drake, Label Manager, Naim Edge (Commercial Music Graduate 2007)
Ratio of applications to places
No. of applicants (2012): 324
No. of places (2012): 35
National student survey results
Overall student satisfaction with teaching for courses in this subject area (2012): 79%
The course begins with original songs and projects and moves through marketing and management into entrepreneurialism. Your first year models the developmental stage of a record deal, with its focus on songwriting, performance and production: this is the raw material that will define the launch and release cycles of your second year.
You write songs, you write the journalistic and promotional material (Creative and Applied Writing) and you learn how to produce and develop your material in the recording studio (Audio Production and The Music Workstation).
Meanwhile you are working with instrumental and vocal tutors in original bands, acts and projects within the Performance module towards three live showcase events.
Second year’s Image and Product asks you to write, produce, and record your own original material in our recording studios. Looking at semiotics, marketing, cultural theory, photography and advertising, you will develop an understanding of branding in a crowded marketplace.
Music Business Skills introduces you to the £3.8 billion UK music business (2011 figures) and our yearly Music Think Tank series features keynote speakers from the music business who always deliver fresh insight into contemporary practice.
In Staging, Video and Live you will design and edit your own promotional video to showcase (with photographic and audio material) your internet presence for Promotion and Tour.
Using your website and audio-visual content as a promotional launch pad, you then set up your own national tour before you return for your third year.
The third year will develop your song writing ability (Portfolio) your academic engagement with research (Dissertation) and your entrepreneurial flair (Creative Enterprise).
Portfolio’s showcasing output of original material sees you deepening your songwriting studies from both the traditional, rock and acoustic model to the more contemporary R+B and chart-orientated approach to songwriting. In support of your own original identity, you will attend a mixture of production and/or performance lectures. Songwriting, performance and production all combine within our outward-facing Portfolio module which will showcase your skills on leaving University.
The Research module invites you to explore an aspect of music culture and ask a question which leads to a final dissertation. This will be an aspect of music culture that has always intrigued you, and this is your chance to explore that curiosity. You may go on to study a Masters Degree or a PhD, and this is where you begin to engage with research culture.
In Creative Enterprise students work in projects to design, fund and launch an innovative music product or service. All students write business plans and then implement their projects in the real world. Many graduates have taken successful business projects they started at university beyond graduation.
“The most helpful part of my degree was the entrepreneurial side, which I’m still running with today. During the third year I started a clothing company called Alphakin, and now my products are on sale in Harrods and Selfridges.”
- Adam Shabbo, (Commercial Music Graduate 2009)
- Bands, projects, singers, musicians, live music
- Performance (Double Module)
- Audio Production and The Studio
- The Music Workstation and the Studio
- Creative Writing (Songwriting and promotional writing)
- Applied Writing (Business and academic writing)
- Cultural studies
- Image and Product (Double Module)
- Performance, video and touring
- Staging, Video and Live
- Web, Promotion and Tour
- Industry, commerce and management
- Music Business Skills (Double Module)
- Songwriting, studio production and performance
- Entrepreneurialism, ideas and marketing
- Creative Enterprise
- Scholarly and intellectual discourse
Songs, live performances, audio productions, promotional material, website design, photographic output, video staging, video editing, critical thinking, tour management, dissertations, business plans, business diagnostics, presentations.
There are no formal examinations.
You have access to industry-standard equipment throughout your course – there are five high specification recording studios, running Pro Tools HD and Logic Pro on Apple Macs. We have a production lab (TN115) with 50 audio and multi media workstations running Logic Pro, Pro Tools and Adobe Creative Suite.
Each of our five band rehearsal spaces includes a PA system with microphones, drum kit, guitar and bass backline and performance keyboards. Throughout the course you will have access to the Asset store for loans of laptops, video cameras and microphones for off campus use.
TLAudio VTC console
ProTools HD Recording Hardware
Outboard from SSL, Avalon, Universal Audio, Focusrite, TC, Lexicon
Genelec 1037 Main Monitors
Logic Pro & ProTools HD software
Plug-Ins from Waves, McDSP, SoundToys, Lexicon
Neumann U87, AKG C414, Sennheiser MD421, Sontronics Sigma, Oktava 012
Instruments & Backline:
DW Drum Kit, Taylor Acoustic, Fender Stratocaster
Roland Juno60, Yamaha DX7, Roland System 100 Modular, Korg MS2000, Korg Z1 Synths
Ampeg, Mesa, Vox & Fender amplification, Rhodes Piano
From your tutors you will have a mix of formal lectures, seminars, tutorials, and workshops. Visiting speakers will provide current perspectives on the £3.8 billion UK music business.
All course resources are networked, so you can access on-line learning materials and the complete syllabus from any Internet link.
Teaching quality excellence
Subject Leader Nigel Beaham-Powell is an award-winning composer with 450 TV and film titles to his credit, including 85 dramas for BBC and ITV. Nigel has represented songwriters and composers on the Board of PRS for music, and he is currently Chair of the Ivor's Television Awards at BASCA. He is a specialist in music business and creative enterprise.
Richard J. Parfitt is a songwriter with a double-platinum album for his collaboration with Duffy. Richard is renowned for his Brat-award winning, critically and commercially successful 60ft Dolls and is a consultant to Rough Trade records. Richard specialises in Music Management, the Art and Craft of Songwriting, and Mythological Dimensions within Popular Music
Davey Ray Moor is a songwriter and producer of international renown with 300,000 album sales (with Cousteau, Carl Barat and Cristina Dona) and has a gold album and a BAFTA to his credit. Davey specialises in songwriting, song production, media production and semiotics.
Jim Dickinson achieved major chart success, including a number 1 album, with his band Little Angels. He then went on to form electronic pop act The Younger Younger 28’s (V2 records) and compose for the gaming and multi-media industries.
Dr Emma Hooper is an actively publishing and presenting researcher within the field of commercial music and cultural studies, as well as a professional session player, providing viola, violin, vocals for clients including BBC Films, Real World Studios, The Heavy, HBO Television, 2kgames, Peter Gabriel, Newton Faulkner. Emma's teaching specialisms at Bath Spa are research, writing and performance.
Chris Blanden spent 10 years as a performing musician and has worked at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios with Robert Plant, Billy Cobham and Stereophonics. At Bath Spa University he specialises in teaching video, audio and performance.
All full time applications are through UCAS
International students should visit our international pages for more information about our entry requirements, fees and scholarships, and student support.
Please contact the Admissions Team by email or phone +44 (0)1225 875690
Commercial Music requires 320 tariff points, and we will require 260 of those points to come from A level/equivalent (including one B grade, usually in a specific subject) – for example BCC, ACD:
Candidates without standard qualifications but with music industry experience considered.
You will also need: high level of performance or composing skill (assessed via MP3s of your three best original tracks); music technology experience; performance experience.
Shortlisted candidates will be auditioned.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When are the auditions?
If you are successful at the demo stage, we will write to you inviting you to attend an audition. There are usually three audition days from January to March. Email the admissions officer using the form below if you have any queries.
How soon after my audition will I get a decision?
This normally takes between 7 and 14 days; we will write to you with the decision, which will also be available to you electronically by logging in to the UCAS website.
What if I do not have a formal qualification on my chosen instrument?
This is fine - we simply want you to demonstrate a high standard of musicianship and versatility. As a guide, guitarists, keyboard players and bassists should be able to read any chord sheet and interpret it in a variety of musically appropriate ways; drummers should be able to play in any time signature at a consistent tempo with controlled dynamics; singers should have excellent breathing, tuning and projection, and be able to deliver a song to an audience.
I'm an experienced songwriter but I'm not a particularly experienced player - is the course for me?
Yes. Many applicants consider themselves composers, songwriters or producers rather than purely performers. The panel will review your demo on the basis of the way you describe yourself in your accompanying pro forma - so in your case this would be on the quality of your songs.
Can I work on my own songs as part of the course?
Yes. You are encouraged to create original material throughout your time as a CM student. Cover versions are rarely submitted as assessed items.
Do I need to be able to read music to apply for the course?
No. The course does not rely on, require, or have any compulsory involvement with treble-clef or bass-clef notation reading. Instead, we expect to see excellent chord/scale/arpeggio literacy from guitarists and bass players, and a high level of aural skills and improvisation.
Do you want cover versions or original material?
Generally, the panel prefers original material to cover versions. If you write as a part of a band or project then we are happy to hear the work to which you have contributed. You can choose as wide a definition of Popular Music as you like (dance, metal, acoustic, R&B, rock, blues, jazz, folk etc).
Can I submit a CD, DVD or other form of demo?
We only accept MP3's uploaded to the Bath Spa website on request after your application.
What are the demos used for?
The only function of the demo is to help the panel to ascertain whether you will be invited for interview.
What factors are the panel listening for?
The panel are looking for applicants who can demonstrate a sense of originality and flair in their writing and performance. We are hoping to hear the music of the future, so be sure to showcase your fresh new writing and performance identity. We are looking for original songwriters and performers.
I've submitted my demo. How soon will I hear whether I've been invited for audition?
This part of the process can take a while - up to 8 weeks - because the panel has an enormous number of demos to evaluate. Here are some demo tips based on reviewers’ comments:
1. Get to the point quickly; if you're a singer, for example, let's hear the vocal in the first 10 seconds.
2. If you write songs, get to the chorus as soon as you can. This advice applies to any demo you compile - remember, A&R people (and fans) often press 'stop' after less than 30 seconds!
3. Avoid accompaniment sections and long intros (i.e. 4 or 8-bar chunks where nothing melodic or vocal happens).
4. All instruments should be perfectly in tune throughout. Out-of-tune demos can mean a lack of aural skills or a lack of attention to detail - either can result in an unsuccessful application.
5. Instrumental performances should demonstrate phrasing, intonation and a solid tempo. Programmed compositions should demonstrate an ability to maintain the listener's interest throughout.
6. If you play lots of instruments, let's hear them all in the demo if possible.
7. If you sing and can work out vocal harmonies, please include some examples.
8. We'd rather hear a rough piano/voice version of a great song/performance than an expensive studio recording of a poor song/performance. Recording quality is rarely taken into account by the reviewing panel - every applicant has a different budget, so we do not discriminate against those who cannot afford expensive kit.
9. If you write a lot of music and you're not sure which three tracks to submit, don't go with your own choices alone - often your family, friends and tutors will have a more objective opinion of your best work.
10. If you're in a band, please don't submit a whole demo done by the band at a local studio where your only contribution was, for instance, the bass part. It's fine to include band material, but please put some other stuff on there too (e.g. rough demos, computer/workstation tracks, live recordings etc) to demonstrate your versatility.
Comments on previous demos
Here are some excerpts from the reviewing panel's comments for tracks from past applicants:
Applicant 1 - drummer. Intro too long, and the guitarist is out of tune, but the drumming is competent, albeit not working to click track. Clearly he's a physical player - can hold a very high tempo, presumably for the length of a gig! Question mark over tempo consistency, but there is some evidence of strong, solid playing here. Worth investigating further.
Applicant 2 - vocal and programmer. Long intro. Some contemporary R&B samples used, and a good grasp of the feel. The song has some meaning, but is a little stuck in the one idea. Still, a good attempt at a pop/Christian crossover. Programmed it all himself. Good voice, with lots of pentatonic ornaments and some strong projection, with solid tuning throughout. Audition.
Applicant 3 - guitar and voice/songwriter. Starts with 4s of silence. Weak guitar sound; weak out-of-tune voice. Self-produced but with very simple, basic ideas that have not been developed enough. Poorly worked-out backing vocals. Reject.
Applicant 4 - guitar, bass, composer. Django Reinhardt goes flamenco! Very eccentric and beautifully played, with wit and solid technical control. The player is responsible for all instruments on the demo. Excellent. Audition.
Applicant 5 - voice/guitar/songwriter. Obvious in the first 10 seconds that this is a strong applicant. Excellent voice, passionate and pyrotechnic. Competent guitar playing. Excellent songwriting. Fantastic. Audition.
Applicant 6 - guitar. Average cross-picking intro, with some duff notes. Lead part is unimaginative, repetitive and shows poor timing & phrasing. No melodic or scalic knowledge apparent. Reject.
Applicant 7 - voice/guitar/production. An excellent example of the power of getting the vocal straight in - I made a decision on this in the first 5 seconds. Emotional, powerful vocal, nicely produced (a little over-compressed, but when the performance is this good you can see why he's done it). A good song, nice fingerstyle playing, and a really strong singer. Audition.
Many graduates from Commercial Music go on to work either in the music business or related fields. Employers of graduates include Sony, Universal Music Group, PRS for music, Mercury Records, One Little Indian, Union Square Records, PIAS, Atlantic Records and many more. Signed artists include The Heavy and Kill It Kid.
Please click on the link below to see a range of career destinations of 40 of our graduates:
What students say...
“I am a professional songwriter and the lead singer for Kill It Kid, published by EMI and signed to Sire Records. I’ve toured the US, Europe and the UK, worked with major record producers, heard my songs played on the radio, been all over the television and even met some of my heroes along the way. Commercial Music gave me the platform to explore my own originality, meet like-minded musicians and the breathing-space to develop my own songs and the visual content that helps define my project. The business side of the course makes you well aware of the various machinations behind the music which prepares you for the tough negotiations that surround any act entering the industry. Commercial Music gave me the perspective and the resources to quickly focus and craft my identity into something that was valuable to the industry. Getting our first E.P. and tour together was the most exciting part of the journey so far – we had the time of our lives”
Chris Turpin, Songwriter and lead singer, Kill It Kid
“After finishing my degree, I went to work for a record label in New York. Without Commercial Music, I would never have done that”
Georgina Huitson/Sony Records (Commercial Music Graduate 2008)
"While giving you an in-depth understanding of the workings of the industry from business to creativity, it also allows an individual to pursue their specific interests in detail. The teaching staff are incredible and they do everything they can to help you become what you want. Thank you for giving me the best 3 years of my life."
Neil Martin, Engineer/Producer Abbey Road Live
"The tutors are always there for you"
Sam Dixon, Producer/Studio Manager, Arcadium Studios, London (Commercial Music Graduate 2009)
“At all stages of this course students are encouraged to produce work that reflects and engages with the commercial world and entertainment industries.”
"This is one of the best courses I have witnessed in terms of how it embeds the realistic music industry into its structure. The quality of practical work in particular is first rate, with students having an excellent chance of making a living in this competitive industry."
Dr Mark Pulman, External Examiner (University of Huddersfield) 2012