Jon Clayden

Jon Clayden, MA Work Based Learning Studies

Vice President of Academic Affairs, Musicians Institute

MA Work Based Learning Studies (Music Business Management) 

What made you choose Middlesex University?

I was at a crossroads in my life in the transition between professional musicianship (living in the rock and roll tour bubble) and the real world.  In my life as a musician, I'd toured in 27 countries, been on the covers of magazines, and made records for major labels like Geffen, MCA and Universal as the vocalist for the band Pitchshifter

Stepping off of that crazy carousel, I knew that I wanted to be able to parley that experience into a new career and not simply have to throw it all away and start over (something that I felt would have been a waste as there were many areas of business and entrepreneurship that I had picked up on my travels). 

My brother (who was also the bass player in Pitchshifter) had just completed his Masters at Middlesex as a requisite of his tenure as College Manager at Bristol Institute of Modern Music (BIMM).  He and his classmates had very positive things to say about his experience and so I felt that my choice of institution was clear.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

I knew that I wanted my choice of program to be directly applicable to my current place of business, endeavours and career trajectory in general. The Master of Arts in Work-Based Learning program afforded me the latitude to simultaneously contextualize my prior experience and also apply new learning to my chosen field (I applied my thesis directly to an opportunity for development at work).

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

I love to research, brainstorm and write. As such, the thesis was the most enjoyable aspect of the program for me. Although some students seem to dread the volume, I felt like I could have gone on forever if there wasn't a word limit (or a limit to the amount of my writing that any human would be prepared to read, or be forced to endure).

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

By proxy of the largely independent nature of the study, my fondest memories are interactions with my advisor. After over a decade of hiatus from study, I greatly appreciated having someone "in my corner" on modules that were at first somewhat alien. I have remained in contact with my advisor to this day and consider myself fortunate to have added such a learned and generous associate to my post-graduate network—something that I advise all current students to do.

I also received a lot of support from my brother. To go from waking up at 12pm for sound check to working and studying full time was a radical shift for me. He kept me "on the rails", so to speak, whenever work and personal life started to be overwhelming. Being able to bounce ideas off/vent to someone who had gone through the same process from the student perspective was a great comfort and motivator. I recommend that all students identify (or cultivate) their support network as soon as possible.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

Consider your major carefully. Be sure that the area of study meets your end goal (try a reverse-engineering exercise to see whether you can get to the desired field/position/salary with your chosen academic award).

Also, examine your chosen industry carefully. We're currently in the era of the algorithm (big data, predictive/prescriptive analytics, artificial intelligence, etc.); but who knows what's next. Try to keep an eye on the multi-year horizon for your sector by closely following industry trends. As an example, for the higher education sector, subscribe to the daily email blasts from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Campus Technology Forum, EduCause, etc. and also tailor your iOS/Android news client (News360, Feedly, etc.) to trawl for sector-specific articles.

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you to get where you are professionally today?

I took a short stint in artist management after coming off the road. I quickly realised, for me at least, that artist management was the as-yet-undiscovered tenth circle of The Inferno—a locale from which I needed a swift exit in order to retain my sanity. I then took a job as a Career Development Advisor at the Los Angeles Recording School helping students; but I knew that I would never progress much beyond that position unless I sought a higher degree.

I feel that the completion of my Masters degree allowed me to legitimise my skills and experience in a form that others could understand and verify. Within the space of two years I was promoted to Manager and then Associate Director of Career Development. From there I took as position as Chair of the Vocal Department at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. I was then promoted to Director of the School of Industry Studies and finally onto my current role as Vice President of Academic Affairs.

It is my belief that the completion of my Masters degree was a pivotal moment in my post-music career. Post completion thereof, I have been fortunate enough to secure roles of increasing responsibility and scope, despite the on-going recession. Doing the math, I now earn over 100 per cent more than I did prior to the completion of my Masters degree, just six years ago.

What impact has studying in London had on your career?

I think that there is a certain provenance associated with study at a metropolitan capital (London, Paris, Tokyo, Madrid, etc.). People always want to hear more when you tell them that your alma mater is in London.

What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?

The music industry is largely freelance work so income streams, responsibilities and schedules are often in flux. I suppose as a reaction to that I wanted something less volatile, but still a field of endeavour that would allow me to continue to develop as an individual.  Education seemed like a natural choice.


  • Challenging 
  • For the common good 
  • Less corporate environment in which diversity is encouraged.


  • US Market is currently unsure as to which direction it should take 
  • US debt loads in higher education are problematic 
  • The world can move faster than higher education's governing bodies (slowing down progress by nature of institutionalisation).

How did you get your foot on the career ladder post university?

As an ex-pat with no friends or family in my immediate location, I didn't have the luxury of direct recommendations for employment. As such, I had to make my own luck. I joined a slew of associations relative to my field, kept my resume up to date daily (and always had it in my cloud account in PDF format ready to email at a moment's notice), and applied for all positions for which I was qualified (I used job search sites' direct email notifications to keep abreast of jobs the moment that they were posted).

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

I personally feel very fortunate to have been able to transition from one career to another and continue on a positive trajectory through what has proven to be a tough economy. As a professional musician, headlining two back-to-back nights at the London Astoria (RIP), playing main stage at Reading Festival, being drawn into the 2000AD comic (Judge Dredd shoots at the band), and being on the covers of multiple UK rock magazines (a mom-pleaser) were my favourite highlights.

In higher education, my current post as Vice President of Academic Affairs is a strong highlight. In this role I get to make positive, institution-wide change to the betterment of all.  It's challenging work, but the personal rewards are worth the effort.

What does the future hold for you?

Academically, I'd love to pursue a doctorate. I am a believer in the concept of life-long learning and also enjoy the process. My family have always been very supportive of my academic endeavours and hopefully I haven't worn out that welcome just yet.

In terms of work, remaining in higher education seems obvious; however, the working world is rapidly evolving to break free of established memes. As such, I feel that one has to "go with the flow" to some extent and keeps one's mind open to unconventional career paths.

What are the top three career tips you would give to current students and recent graduates?

Be proactive about networking: Without wishing to sound clich├ęd, a recommendation is worth a thousand interviews. We all look good on paper; having someone vouch for you to a hiring manager or committee is priceless.  As an example, the Executive Director of The Theatre of Arts in Los Angeles (just around the corner to Musicians Institute) is a Middlesex alumnus. I would never have known that if I wasn't checking my LinkedIn—he and I are now connected; he is a part of my network.

Never turn your nose up at any opportunity: There is an adage that states "If you keep doing what you've been doing then you'll keep getting what you've been getting."  Explore new opportunities, even if they seem initially fruitless. I now do consultancy work—something that wouldn't be in my repertoire unless I'd decided to try something new.

Think big, start small and deliver fast:  When you land a job, repeat this mantra.  Keeping an eye on the long-term goal whilst providing measurable gains in the short term is a solid "all-term" strategy.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

Listen to your mom when she tells you that college is important.

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