Lauren Churchman (Spanish 2013)

Volunteer in the Spotlight - Lauren Churchman

Volunteer in the Spotlight is a regular feature that highlights the alumni that help current students achieve more. Lauren Churchman (Spanish 2013) works in the Music Team at 6 Music, the BBC's alternative music radio station.

Tell us about yourself and your career journey.

My career really began back in my first year at Exeter, where I studied Spanish from 2009-2013. As all freshers do, I signed up for a heap of societies, paid the joining fee, and never thought about them again – for all but one – Xpression FM, the campus radio station. I had been interested in radio for years and suddenly I had the chance to have a go myself! Xpression was brilliant – a real, 24/7 working radio station run by a dedicated student committee, giving members the chance to present their own shows, make jingles, write radio plays, review music, report the news, organise events, etc. I was and still am a music obsessive, and after a term presenting a show, I was elected Head of Music for the station. This basically meant being in charge of the musical output of the station – choosing the new music playlist, organising live sessions with bands, booking interviews, etc.

Over the next few years I tried out various roles at the station, and spent a year abroad working in events in Spain, during which I missed radio so much that I knew I had to pursue it after uni. Along with a great team, I was lucky to win a Gold Student Radio Award, with a prize of work experience at BBC Radio 1, and a few months after graduation I joined the station as a production freelancer – working behind the scenes on shows like Greg James, Zane Lowe and Nick Grimshaw. During this time I also interned in music management to learn the ropes of the music industry. After a year, I became an Assistant Producer at Radio 1, working on the shows and helping out on the Music Team.

In September 2015 I moved across to join the Music Team at 6 Music, the BBC’s alternative music radio station, where I work on the playlist and schedule music to be played on air – it’s a job that straddles both radio and the music industry. 6 Music is an incredible station, with an extremely broad and unique musical output and a growing listenership, and I’m very proud to work there.

What aspects of your working life have you enjoyed the most so far?

At Radio 1 I worked at some brilliant events – the Teen Awards, 1Xtra Live, Big Weekend – and at 6 Music I’ve worked at our festival, and on live gig-style sessions at the famous Maida Vale studios. One of the things I most enjoy about working in live radio is the team spirit – everyone contributes, everyone wants the shows to be a success. For me, it’s all about the team working together for the enjoyment of the audience. There is also nothing quite like the simple satisfaction of picking a song, hearing it on the radio and knowing that millions of people enjoyed it. Working in national radio, you really feel like you make a difference to people’s day.

 If you weren’t in this sector, what do you think you would be doing instead?

Art has always been on a par with music for me, in terms of passion – in fact I almost went to art school instead of choosing a languages degree, so I would most likely be a struggling painter! I would quite possibly be living as an artist somewhere far-flung like South America where I could use my Spanish. I am currently enrolled on a part-time art course in my spare time, so am happily pursuing my two biggest interests at once – and every year I make sure I travel somewhere Spanish-speaking to refresh my language skills.

What advice would you give to current students, and how can Exeter graduates get into your area of work?

Firstly, and this doesn’t just apply to the media, try lots of different things – whether you’re interested in a lot, or a little, the more you try the more you can find out what jobs are really out there; which you like and which you don’t, while picking up skills along the way.

Second, in terms of radio and the media, there is no set way in – everyone finds their own route, so don’t feel pressured into following someone else’s journey. The most important thing is to be enthusiastic and committed to putting the hours in. Unfortunately this may mean working for free (work experience, internships and hospital radio are examples) – but the three years I worked for free at Xpression are what got me into the BBC – and my intern role in music management taught me about the entire music industry. Furthermore, don’t be afraid of freelancing; it’s the most common starting position in the media. I freelanced for two years – for the first few months, I barely worked two days a week; however in the second year, I worked seven days a week. Freelancing also gives you the chance to work across a whole host of different content, meeting lots of people along the way and picking up a wide range of skills.

Lastly, stay positive; it can be a long, bumpy and confusing journey into the media, but persevere and you will be rewarded with some of the most creative, stimulating and fun work out there, working with brilliant people, with no two days ever the same.

And finally, what inspires you to volunteer so much of your time to help Exeter students?

I came down to Exeter recently along with fellow alumnus and former Xpression FM member Jack D’Arcy to give two talks to students about getting in to music and media. In general, there seems to me to be a huge lack of information and advice on media jobs out there – people don’t actually know what jobs exist, and this was one of the reasons Jack and I volunteered to come down and give a talk. The media can seem mysterious and daunting to try and get into, so I was glad to be able to give some advice to the students and show them that in just a few years, you can achieve anything – it doesn’t seem long ago that I was doing my finals and wondering if I’d ever get where I wanted to go. We wanted to be able to say, “there are jobs out there, and you can get them!” – I really hope we inspired some of the students to pursue a creative career in the media.

Date: 23 January 2017

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