Interview with Marcus O´Dair, Creative Tracks ambassador

Marcus is an English musician and Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University, London. He acts as a Creative Tracks Ambassador, ready to talk about music, creative industries and entrepreneurship.
- Marcus, you are a very dynamic and active person, can you tell us a bit of how your daily work is?
I spent three years as a journalist, and then the best part of a decade as a freelance musician, journalist and broadcaster. For the last five years or so, I’ve been working at Middlesex University in London, where I now co-lead the Popular Music programme. But a lot of that activity is ongoing. I’m still making music as one half of Grasscut, for instance, and my biography of the musician Robert Wyatt was published, in 2014, by a trade (rather than academic) publisher.
Academic careers are quite varied: just as when I was freelance, there is no typical day and I’m grateful for that fact. Teaching is obviously a core part of what I do, but I’m involved in various activities that inform the teaching and vice versa. In the last few weeks, say, we’ve had Imogen Heap and Daniel Miller at the university as guests; we also had a student performance at Camden Assembly, organised by students studying Music Business and Arts Management. We also have students working on a blockchain technology project with postgraduate students in the Business School, a project that was recently featured in Times Higher Education.
Grasscut played at the Royal Albert Hall recently too – admittedly only in the small room – and I put together a couple of panels for the Convergence festival. I’ve also recently been in Istanbul with the British Council, and in Copenhagen with Impala, who represent independent record labels in Europe. Before Christmas, I was in Nashville and in Bergen. Those are more related to my research, about the impact of blockchain technology on the creative industries, but they feed into teaching too. That research also informs open access reports like this one on the potential impact of blockchain technology on the music industries.
I’m still doing the odd bit of media work too, like this BBC Click interview and this Guardian article, although much less than I used to.
Marcus O'Dair - credit charlotte o'dair
- Would you describe yourself as a Creative entrepreneur? What would be a good definition for you?
The first time someone told me I was a creative entrepreneur, I told him he should tell that to my bank manager. That was a decade or so ago, and, at that point, I hadn’t thought of myself in that sense at all; for me, the term ‘entrepreneur’ was linked with the pursuit of profit. My view now is more nuanced, although ‘creative entrepreneur’ is still a slippery term. I don’t see entrepreneurship as necessarily about new venture creation: there can be entrepreneurship within larger corporations, though fostering it can present a management challenge. Neither do I see entrepreneurship as necessarily radically disruptive: innovation can be incremental.
For me, entrepreneurship is about three things: the role of organisation in the value creation process; alertness to opportunities; and the introduction of new ideas in the face of uncertainty.
As I say, some see ‘entrepreneur’ as allied to the pursuit of profit but I’m not keen on definitions based in economics. I don’t have any problems with the so-called ‘lifestyle entrepreneur’, which is sometimes used as a pejorative term, but which really just means trying to pay the bills doing something you enjoy. ‘Social entrepreneurs’ are very important too, and again a reminder that rewards for entrepreneurship are not necessarily material. I’m also a bit suspicious of the notion of entrepreneurial personality traits, because it suggests that entrepreneurship is only an option for so-called ‘born entrepreneurs’. So the model I tend to favour is that proposed by an academic called William Gartner, who argues that an entrepreneur is someone who acts entrepreneurially. That might sound very simple but the notion of rooting the definition in behaviour, rather than in personality traits or economics, is important because it is more open.
There’s also the thorny issue of what we mean by ‘creative’. Even if we agree that it means related to the creative industries, that’s a whole can of worms in itself in terms of which industries, and even which roles within those industries, are included, and to what extent the creative industries overlap with similar but not quite identical categories like the creative economy or the cultural industries. You can argue that all entrepreneurs are creative, but to me that makes the definition of a creative entrepreneur so broad as to be meaningless. There are all sorts of problems with the original DCMS definition of the creative industries from the 1998 mapping document, but it’s still a good place to start.
- At the University, you must meet a lot of young creative students, what are their main concerns and challenges regarding their passion and the wish to live from it?
I’m not sure I can speak for all of them, but there is one thing that does strike me. Quite a few students say that they aim to make a living out of what they love, which is usually playing music, and present that as a relatively modest aim: they’re aiming to make a living, not a fortune. Yet even that, I would argue, is very likely to require an entrepreneurial approach. Such an approach is arguably required now more than ever, although some people date the musician-as-entrepreneur back to abut the year 1700. We can’t blame everything on Napster.
- What advice would you give for creative entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Be realistic. Be resilient. Be wary of the whole concept of ‘making it’. And have fun.
- Do you have any new projects coming up you would like to share?
There are various things bubbling away but I’m particularly excited about the new Creative Entrepreneurship MA we’re launching (subject to validation) at Middlesex, with music and media pathways. That starts in the autumn, and adopts an innovative model, split between the Business School and the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries. I’m currently in the process of lining up some very strong industry guests.
By Aurélie Delater, Creative Tracks Manager, INOVA+.
To know more about Marcus: click here
To see the profile of all the Creative Tracks Ambassadors: click here
To know more about Creative Tracks Ambassadors: click here
Creative industries areas, Music

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