New Music Biennial: Top tips for composers

‘That’s the secret to it all? Just do it. Keep doing it beyond the point at which it feels reasonable to do it.’ Says composer Sam Eastwood.

Bekki Bemrose
  • By Bekki Bemrose
  • 30 Apr 2019
  • min read
‘That’s the secret to it all? Just do it. Keep doing it beyond the point at which it feels reasonable to do it.’ Says composer Sam Eastmond.

Sam will present his new work Brit-Ish at this year’s PRS Foundation-led initiative New Music Biennial.

The initiative is designed to support and provide a platform for organisations and creators across all genres to produce new music.

This year the New Music Biennial is presented in partnership with Absolutely Cultured (Hull), London’s Southbank Centre, BBC Radio 3 and NMC Recordings.

Over two weekends in July London's Southbank Centre and Absolutely Cultured, in venues throughout Hull, will host two free music festivals featuring 20 pieces of new music.

Acts like Gazelle Twin, Jessica Curry and Forest Swords will be presenting new work at the event.

Also joining Sam are London-based Iraqi oud player and composer Khyam Allami and the Liverpool-based Immix Ensemble.

Here Sam, Khyam, and Immix Ensemble’s manager Andrew Ellis offer their top tips for emerging composers…

Sam Eastmond: Write music, get people together, build communities. What I do is possible because of the people I know and because I’m a paid composer. I take that to a group of people who I love and trust, who love and trust me, and we find something.

It’s impossible to do in a vacuum. I didn’t come up through a system, I don’t know if I’m on a scene. For me it’s about finding people I love and having a conversation with them. That’s the secret to it all, just do it. Keep doing it beyond the point at which it feels reasonable to do it.

At some point in the next 20 years I’m hoping to be an overnight success.

Andrew Ellis: We formed because there was a bit of a lack of dialogue between the traditional classical world and the wealth of other music that was happening in Liverpool at the time.

It was set up as a scratch ensemble to collaborate with people who wouldn’t call themselves a composer and hadn’t considered working with an ensemble because of the cost, or whatever else.

I suppose what the ensemble has done for me, and it serves as quite a nice case study, is that it shows you can kind of do anything if you want to and you work on it.

We’ve done 25 commissions, we keep it to the DIY ethos. There’s support out there if you need it, we’ve been supported by PRS Foundation, Arts Council, and a few smaller funds. It’s not huge amounts of money that you need, just players pulling together and being unafraid to sound shit.

I think the more experimentation and collaboration the richer our communities will be for it. You don’t have to set up an ensemble or anything, you might know a double bass player from the string band in the pub, a fiddle player, a trumpet player who’s bored of doing the Salvation Army.

All these people are interested in music, interested in playing, that’s why they do it. Pull them together and the likelihood is people will want to be trying something new, so the best thing you can do is just ask.

Khyam Allami: All I would say is just try to be as independent as possible. Really read up on the legal aspects of things, look after your rights, make sure you’re in control of things and know what you’re doing on the business side because there is a lot of small print. We need to own our presence and we need to be more aware of who we are and what we’re worth regardless of whether any opportunity might come about.

The other thing I guess is to be realistic. Try and think about more small-scale works, rather than trying to be really ambitious about things. It’s great to be ambitious, it’s great to have the ideas, it’s great to note those ideas down and keep them aside. You should have a little bucket where you keep everything, so that if any opportunity comes up you can go, “ah well, I’ve got an idea for that.”

That’s what happened to me with this, for example, for a sound instillation using these old ouds. I had no idea what it would sound like, but I had an idea of what it would look like. I did a little sketch and put it aside and when I got the email from Opera North, I immediately knew what to say. What they were excited about was my readiness, there was an idea that was already formed.

But do think about more realistic things you can actually create and conceive and feel and hear, and use those experiences to better yourself as a musician, as a composer.

New Music Biennial 2019 takes place 5 - 7 July at Southbank Centre, London, and 12 - 14 July at various venues across Hull. For more information please visit,