How to succeed as a portfolio career percussionist in one of the world's most remote cities

Author Identifier

Madeline Colvin

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Music Honours


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Supervisor

Paul Tanner


The way in which modern careers are maintained, especially by performing artists, is no longer linear in its trajectory. Instead, to have a successful and sustainable income from music there is growing research articulating the prevalence of multiple roles and different amounts of work types (e.g. part-time, full-time and casual) across an artist’s career. The subsequent crafting of a non-linear career pathway is commonly referred to as a ‘portfolio career’. With an understanding grounded in pre-existing literature, this thesis aimed to explore the different approaches which classically trained percussionists in Perth (Australia) have undertaken when formulating their music career and their found benefits, with particular interest in what skills aid in their success. These skills were evaluated across four skill themes identified by Ruth Bridgstock and Greg Hearn.

Following semi-structured interviews and a theoretical thematic analysis approach across four themes of distinct skills (disciplinary agility, social networking capabilities, creative enterprise and career self-management), six classically trained Perth-based percussionists gave interview accounts of how their approaches to their successful portfolio career lifestyle showcases the breadth of their career skills. Results informed discussion of any commonalities of skills amongst local working Perth percussionists with disciplinary agility being the strongest. There were eleven skills coded across two themes of ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills’ which participants expressed were skills they felt underprepared for since their formal education. Furthermore, it was uncovered intrinsic motivation, work-life balance and community fulfilment were as important as career skills for a Perth percussionists career path beyond the four themes initially investigated.

This research offers suggestions into how to understand and better support the portfolio career approach of upcoming musicians with knowledge of the skills required for career success, for not only percussionists but also performing artists across different musical backgrounds and contexts (including instruments and genres).

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Access to this thesis is embargoed until 27th January 2025.

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