Meet the team: Anna Neale

Anna Neale is a successful singer/songwriter, composer, producer, session vocalist, voice-over artist and champion of musicians’ rights. She lectures in song writing, music production and on a range of business-oriented modules.


How did you get into music and how did your career take the direction that it did?

I’ve been working in the music industry professionally for 20 years this year. I started at school, I had no musical experience and then at 14 I decided I wanted to pick up a guitar, and found that I could also sing. From there I did music at college, then managed to get involved with the touring agency for The Commitments, which is a film that was made in the 1990s about a soul band. I actually went on tour and sang with the band for a while, so that was my first professional experience. I went to university, did a music degree, and decided I wanted to be a singer songwriter. I’ve spent the last 15 years or so doing all the major music conferences, such as SXSW, Canadian Music Week, NXNE and Great Escape, as well as releasing albums, touring with bands as a solo artist, writing songs for other people, writing songs for TV and radio, stuff like that.

You’ve had a really multifaceted career?

Yes, you have to be now, you have to have a variety of skills in the music industry, because of the way the incomes work and the way the industry is diversifying – you’ve got to have as many skills and your fingers in as many pies as possible.

How did you come to be involved in higher education?

I wanted to diversify my skills and, for me, part of that is to give back. I wouldn’t be here without the help of other people, whether that be my university lecturers or my school teachers or mentors that have been involved in my life. A lot of my music industry colleagues go into academia, partly as another source of income but also as another way of giving back and being involved with up-and-coming artists

And how do you enjoy being a lecturer?

It’s actually really good fun. It’s like being on tour, but in daylight hours – it’s a bit like performing. But having said that, it’s not about me standing there and saying, this is how it is, this is what’s going on: I try to encourage discussion and debate. So the approach is more ‘OK, this is an issue in the music industry, how do you feel about that? How do you think that’s going to affect your career? How could this affect your income streams? What does this mean for the music industry? How is it changing, how are you going to adapt your business plan to the changing industry?’ I enjoy being able to get students to discuss these issues and understand them. The more knowledgeable everyone is, the easier it’s going to be for everyone in the industry.

I was interested to see that you teach on so many of the business-focused modules. Do you find that the students are sometimes surprised by the focus on business in a music course?

I teach song writing and music production as well as business-based modules, and I explain to students that you need to have a personality for the creation and a personality for the business, and balancing the two of them can be hard – I’ve always found it difficult. We all love music, we’re all in it because we’re music fans, but there’s a money-making side of this as well. I run my own record label and control my own music publishing. And I guess because I’ve been a solo artist, and I’ve had to self-manage and self-release, I know how the system works. I’m also involved in lots of music industry organisations. I’m on the Songwriting Committee for the Ivors Academy, which supports songwriters and composers, and I work with the Musicians’ Union to try and enforce musicians’ rights. I’ve also worked with some MPs too, advising them on issues within the music industry.

Can you tell me about the mentoring initiatives that you’re involved in?

I’m a mentor for the Musicians’ Union and She Said So, which aims to support women in music. Only 17% of people signed to the PRS [Performing Rights Society] are female composers and only 14% of those signed to music publishers are women. So the whole point of this scheme is to try to support up-and-coming women, or women already established in the industry who are suffering from impostor syndrome or experiencing discrimination because of their gender identity or perhaps because of a disability such as ADHD or Asperger’s. I have a mentee, and we check in with each other every two weeks and we have a plan of what she’s going to do with her career, avenues that she can take, ways that she can change her working practice to support her mental health, things like that. We’re doing it for six months. And then at the end of it, we’re going to come together and explore what steps we need to take to tackle the issues women in the music industry are experiencing.

Do you work on similar programmes with students here at Kent?

Not as such but we’re all friendly and approachable, and we’ll always try to make sure that students have the support they need. There’s no barrier in the sense of ‘We are the lecturers, you are the students’ – we have chats with them about our music industry life, what’s going on with our song writing and so on.

You are involved in so many different areas – production, song writing, the business side, lecturing, research. Which do you find most satisfying?

I actually enjoy all of them because they require using different parts of your brain, they require different skills. I love being in recording studios and creating music, that’s my real passion. I love doing production and although I’m teaching, I’m still learning too. We are learning from the students, they are learning from us. Song writing is my research discipline and I always enjoy introducing students to new music they may have never listened to before, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, even Alanis Morissette. Then the business side is completely different again but it’s challenging. Dealing with the music industry is like playing a game of chess and to be able to impart those skills to our students is a good thing.