Popular and Commercial Music student James O’Neill has just graduated from the University of South Wales (USW) and is already working on the Brecon Jazz Festival – one of the most successful international music festivals hosted in Wales.
James, who is from Pontypool and now lives in Cardiff, secured an internship with the Festival shortly before finishing his studies.
Earlier this year he was part of the organising team for Immersed! Festival, USW’s annual event hosted by Music students, which was held as a multimedia online experience, showcasing local talent while raising money for Teenage Cancer Trust.
Following on from the success of Immersed! James jumped at the chance to help the Brecon Jazz Festival curators with the 2021 event.
Since starting the role he has gained experience in communications and scouring the technological capabilities of venues given the current restrictions, and will also be involved in the production side of the event with its live performances, technical management and post-production.
“This has been a wonderful experience to be involved in the Festival as it’s such a highly renowned event,” said James, who also performs as a musician in his spare time.
“The degree course has given me an insight into the industry that I would never have had as a wannabe rockstar from the valleys. I’ve learned a lot about different musical law practices; how to develop a sustainable portfolio career, and so many different skillsets relevant to various sectors of the industry – from performance to production, songwriting to business, events management and everything in between.”
James said that USW was the obvious choice for him to study Music: “The course offers a fantastic mix of learning opportunities and module variation, and USW’s facilities are brand new and up to industry standard. It also meant I would have links to local venues in and around Cardiff, and I love the city as a whole so I took the opportunity to move here.
“When I was doing my GCSEs I was torn between Music and Maths. Although Maths came naturally, I knew I wanted to become a teacher from a young age, so a degree was the natural progression for me. Then, once I was working through my Maths A levels, I realised that my interest in Music vastly outweighed my interest in Maths, and that the reason Music theory was interesting to me was because it’s so mathematical - linking the two things I’m good at.”
James is currently working on various musical projects, and taking a year out from study to focus on his Music career. He then hopes to apply for a PGCE to realise his dream of becoming a teacher.
In terms of advice for budding musicians, he said: “Get to know people – go to gigs, speak to people, make contacts, and make yourself useful. It’s one thing to be polite and helpful, but if you’re the go-to person, and people remember who you are because of it, they’ll come back again. Ask people if they want any help, learn from people who know better, and, most importantly, do not assume you know more than anyone. You can always learn, even if it’s learning how not to go about something. Always just learn from everyone you can, and get stuck in.”
Lucy Squire, Head of Music & Sound at USW, added: “Fantastic advice from James who is simply an outstanding example of all we hope our students can achieve. By throwing himself into every opportunity at university, he has gained the skills and experience to fast-track a career in the Creative Industries. We are thrilled at what the future holds for James!”
Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon, organisers of Brecon Jazz Festival, added: “We’ve been incredibly impressed with James. He’s intelligent, quick, responsive and proactive – very engaged, able to work autonomously and to add creative ideas into the overall team. He has adapted really well to our network, with a partner based in France, technical providers in South Wales and a dedicated Festival team, all benefiting from having James on board.
“James is gaining real-time experience and is able to confidently share his expertise and explore ideas in what we aim to create as an open working environment. We can also see potential for future collaboration with the University, thanks to working together on the Festival.”
For more details on the Brecon Jazz Festival, visit the event website.