September 11, 2022

Creating a Creative Career in the Music Industry

It goes without saying that to forge a successful career in the music industry you need to be technically and creatively competent. It’s difficult to develop a career as a guitarist, for example, if you can’t play the guitar! Similarly, if you are looking for a career as a live sound engineer, you need to know your way around a sound desk.

But being technically and creatively competent is not necessarily enough. Indeed, we likely all know of musicians that craft extraordinary songs in their bedroom, which no-one gets to hear. Or wannabe music producers that are technically masterful and yet unknown.

Increasingly, research has indicated that alongside technical capabilities and creative talent, musicians also need a raft of transferable skills to build a sustainable career. As the name suggests, transferable skills are those skills that can be easily transferred from one career to another. They largely deal with ‘the way we work’, ‘the way we interact with others’ and ‘our ability to self-reflect’. While you need to be good at your work, you also need to be good to work with.

SAE Creative Media Institute – a global network of over 50 campuses across some 23 countries – has explored the importance of transferable skills for the development of a sustainable creative career. Surveying the creative industries worldwide, including speaking directly to successful creative practitioners as well as organisations that employ creative graduates, revealed a list of 12 transferable skills that are key to creating a creative career.

In New Zealand, SAE has one campus – based in Parnell, Auckland. SAE Auckland is a degree granting institution and was graded as Category 1 by NZQA in their most recent External Evaluation and Review (EER) – the highest possible rating for a Tertiary institute. SAE Auckland offers Diploma and Degree qualifications in Music Production, Audio Production and Screen Production. Central to these degrees is the transferable skills that frame SAE qualifications worldwide. The SAE Transferable Skills Framework includes:

  1. Positive Attitude and Resilience: Developing a mindset that recognises opportunities, doesn’t focus on the negatives, and allows you to bounce back from and adapt to life’s challenges.
  2. Work Ethic: Demonstrating that you utilise time efficiently and show care for your work by committing to completing tasks to the best
    of your ability.
  3. Self-Reflection and Deliberate Practice: Reviewing your own experiences to gain insight and improve the way you work, paired with the conscious effort toward practising specific things in measurable ways to improve your skills.
  4. Working Under Pressure: The ability to maintain a level of resilience when adverse conditions arise, such as urgent situations, changes in plans, sudden time constraints or something unexpected that has happened outside of your control.
  5. Ability to Deal with and Learn from Criticism: To be critical is to find both the positive and negative aspects and communicate these objectively. You cannot control how other people may provide criticism, but you can control how you deal with it and learn from it.
  6. Ability to Collaborate: A strong collaborator is someone who works well as a member of a team or group, or as an effective component within
    a wider production.
  7. Critical Thinking: Addressing a problem or issues through use of a formal framework to form an objective opinion, enabling you to present evidence for your point of view, rather than relying on subjective reasoning.
  8. Flexibility and Adaptability: Having a professional and optimistic attitude towards change. If we accept that change is inevitable, we can also reframe our attitudes towards it.
  9. Self-Confidence: The ability to believe in yourself, your skills, your goals, and your ability to learn and succeed. It is about taking action and asking questions when you don’t know something, being willing to try new ideas, standing up for yourself and not being afraid to fail.
  10. Time Management: The ability to organize and plan the time spent on various activities. Time management involves skills such as planning, setting goals, meeting deadlines, and scheduling the time to improve your skills or performance.
  11. Problem Solving: The ability to identify problems or barriers that stand in the way of a certain goal, study these issues, then work through a process of observation, inspection, and fact-finding about the issues in order to identify potential solutions.
  12. Communication: The exchanging of information, ideas and meanings from one entity or group to another. Effective communication skills are fundamental to success in many aspects of life and are a core element of many of the other transferable skills.

These 12 transferable skills are not mutually exclusive. They are interrelated and collectively provide a useful framework for reflecting and analysing personal strengths and weaknesses; an important exercise to undertake periodically at all stages of a creative career.

The global SAE research that has been undertaken aligns with similar studies elsewhere, such as the often quoted Trilling and Fadel book 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, in which the 4Cs of Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking are cited as critical 21st century skills. Even the World Economic Forum recommends focusing on such competencies to help students develop skills needed to approach the complex challenges of this century. Lai and Viering (2012) similarly argue for the importance of transferable skills as educational outcomes.

So, while SAE Auckland is not unique in talking about Transferable Skills while developing music producers, audio engineers or filmmakers of tomorrow, we have recognised that these are not ‘nice to have’ subjects but rather central to creative media education. Our goal is to produce graduates who can launch their creative career in the music, audio or screen industries with confidence that they have the very skills needed to succeed. In the 30+ years that we’ve been operating, we’ve increasingly recognised, and now have global industry research to indicate that such success rests not only on the technical and creative merits of our graduates, but also on their ability to communicate, collaborate, think critically, self- reflect, problem solve, work under pressure, manage their time, be flexible, learn from criticism and to bring self-confidence, a strong work ethic and a positive attitude to their creative projects. And of course, it helps to have outstanding technical competencies and creative talent!

Written by: Dr Suzette Major and David Johnston


Lai, E & Viering, M. (2012). Assessing 21st Century Skills: Integrating Research Findings. Vancouver, BC: National Council on Measurement in Education.

Rotherham, A. & Willingham, D. (2010). “21st-Century” Skills: Not New, but a Worthy Challenge. US: American Educator (Spring).

Trilling and Fadel book 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, World Economic Forum (2022). 21st-century skills every student

Browse News

Browse Resources

Academic Areas


Upcoming Events

View all upcoming events