Mark Collins, musical director

 31 July 2012

Mark is a freelance musical director, with both TV and stage credits on his CV. He is also a musical arranger, composer, and vocal coach.

"Work really hard on your music theory."

Hometown?

I grew up in Weymouth, Dorset, and currently live in Bristol and London.

What job do you do?

I'm a self-employed musical director. I run my own company, newSense Music Productions.

I'm also a pianist, composer, arranger and vocal coach.

What previous jobs have you done?

I worked as a vocal coach for South Gloucestershire Music Service. I also composed music for some short films and an independent feature film

Then I was musical director for various amateur companies in Bristol. I made my West End debut playing piano onstage in a series of concerts at London's Donmar Warehouse.

"Being a good communicator is key."

Since then, I've been musical director a number of musicals and productions. I was musical director on Take That's musical, Never Forget.

In Herefordshire, at the Courtyard Centre for the Arts, I was musical director on Singin' In The Rain. 

I've worked as musical supervisor, arranger, or musical director for a variety of productions in the UK, New York and Europe. I've also done vocal coaching for the BBC. 

What qualifications do you have?

I have a music degree from Cardiff University, a BTEC national certificate in creative music, and an MA (a second, higher-level degree) in composing for film, television and theatre from University of Bristol. 

What do you do at work?

I talk to directors, producers or musical supervisors, either on the phone or in person. Once I'm on board with a project, I will read the script, study the score and assist in the casting of the production. I've known auditions to last for anything from one day to five weeks. 

Sometimes I have an assistant musical director. On larger scale productions, there will often also be an arranger, an orchestrator and an orchestra fixer. On smaller scale shows, I’ve done everything myself.

A typical rehearsal day for a musical director involves a number of things. There's warming up for, and accompanying, music and dance calls. There's also teaching, or cleaning up, solo/ensemble vocals.

"You need an ear for the smallest detail."

Then there's working through changes to the score and cues. In performance, there will also be rehearsals for understudies or clean-up calls.

The musical director takes the warm-up around an hour before the curtain goes up, and often conducts the performance. Sometimes I watch and note the show and my assistant musical director will conduct, as this keeps up high standards.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Working with talented singers and musicians, and the feeling that you've helped create something that people enjoy so much.

And the worst thing about the job?

The fact that the industry thinks that jukebox musicals – those that feature the greatest hits of acclaimed artists – are the only profitable way of creating new musical theatre.

Very few producers are investing in totally original musicals, and that’s a real shame.

How do I get into music? 

Here are my tips:

  1. Find a teacher who inspires you 
    To do this job, you need to know everything about music
     
  2. Work really hard on your music theory
    You need to have great sightreading. You should have knowledge of, and be able to conduct or arrange every instrument for orchestration.
     
  3. Pay attention to the little things
    You need to develop an ear for the smallest detail and mistake.
     
  4. Network
    Develop contacts. You need to know lots of great musicians.
     
  5. Think about how you communicate
    Develop the ability to be a leader as well as a team player.

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