This week we welcome back Caleb James.

This week on A Voice and Beyond we continue delving into the world of Popular Music education in academia, as we release part two of our two-part interview with our guest, Caleb James who is a Senior Lecturer in the Bachelor of Music at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University and is the Course Convenor of the Popular Music Program.

In Part 1, Caleb shared his career pathway from a highly successful career in the music industry as an award-winning touring performer, international songwriter and music producer, working at a high level with Record Labels, and Distribution Labels,

and how he transitioned into an academic career in a supervisory role. In this episode, Caleb discusses how he has developed and continues updating the course content for the popular music program, which is growing in demand every year.

Although QCGU has adopted such an innovative popular music program, Caleb understands that not all academic institutions are so receptive or progressive when it comes to change. Caleb describes some of the roadblocks that teachers, educators and the institutions themselves may encounter while trying to update and create new curricula. He tells us quite candidly that when developing new academic music programs, it requires a commitment to controlled chaos. He believes that students who do arts’ degrees don’t want to go down traditional learning pathways and it takes steady calculated risks to create an environment where students are excited to be there to learn.

Remember this is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Caleb James and Part 1 of this interview, is episode number 102. Once again, I am really thrilled to be sharing another episode with Caleb, my boss from QCGU.

In this Episode

1:06 – Welcome back Caleb James

4:24 – The origin of the popular music programme at QCGU

15:17 – The Popular Music Program today

23:20 – Writing 20 songs in 1 day

30:37 – What Caleb looks for during auditions

36:27 – Self Care

50:03 – Caleb’s one piece of advice

Find Caleb Online


Dr Marisa Lee Naismith is excited to announce the release of her new book “Singing Contemporary Commercial Music Styles: A Pedagogical Framework” published by Compton Publications UK. Marisa offers this book as a starting point and as CCM markets continue to evolve, she encourages that we, as a voice community, continue to evolve, debate and communally add to this framework.



Visit the A Voice and Beyond Youtube channel to watch back the video replay of this guest interview or to see my welcome video.

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  00:00

Hi it’s Marissa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include healthcare practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialised fields to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for a voice and beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  01:16

This week, on voice and beyond, we continue delving into the world of popular music education in academia, as we release part two of our two part interview with our guest, Caleb James, who is a senior lecturer in the Bachelor of Music programme at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, and he is also the course convener of the popular music programme. In part one, Caleb shared his career pathway from his highly successful career in the music industry as an award winning touring performer, international songwriter, and music producer, working at a high level with record labels and distribution labels, and how he transitioned into an academic career in a supervisory role. In this episode, Caleb discusses how he has developed and continues updating the course content for the popular music programme which is growing in demand every year. Although Q CGU has adopted such an innovative popular music programme, Caleb understands that not all academic institutions are so receptive or progressive when it comes to change. Caleb describes some of the roadblocks that teachers, educators and the institutions themselves may encounter while trying to update and create new curricula. He believes that students who do arts degrees don’t want to go down a traditional learning pathway and it takes steady calculated risks to create an environment where students are excited to be there to learn. He tells us quite candidly that when developing new academic music programmes, it requires commitment to controlled chaos. Remember, this is part two of a two part interview with Caleb James, and part one of this interview is episode number 102. Once again, I’m really thrilled to be sharing another episode with Caleb, my boss at QC Gu. So, without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  04:00

You know, we have a really unique programme that we teach in popular music programmes don’t really exist too much in academia, especially in the US. So how did our programme come to be? Was it based on another model from somewhere else? And like, was it a hard sell to the university?

Caleb James  04:24

Well, yes, because it was a lot of it was before my time. So there’s only there’s only so much detail that I know about the origins but essentially, there was a guy called Gary Tamblyn, who founded the got the popular music programme at the Gold Coast. What’s amazing like looking, looking back now with with the situation we’re in now, Gary managed to the whole idea with the programme again, this is alongside Donald Miller, who a lot of his research is on collaborative learning and PLN and peer feedback. So the whole design of this Gold Coast programme was students learn off each other as much as they learn off the staff every thing as much as possible is collaborative. You know, it’s a group work collaborative stuff, the students are assessing each other and providing peer feedback for each other at the end of every trimester for their major study. And that was the kind of the spine through the entire bachelor of popular music. And on top of that, I don’t know how Gary did this, but can go to Cravo for a custom built facility at the golf prize, which you’ve taught in, it’s amazing, like, you know, there’s 1234 studio recording studios, one of which could fit a small orchestra and no problem. It’s huge. And then there’s a bunch of post production rooms, a bunch of teaching rooms, all of it was just for us, we didn’t have to share those spaces with anyone else, which now is almost unheard of. I know. So the fact that he got approval for that, and also credit to Griffith University for whoever signed off on that I don’t I wasn’t around. And so I don’t know, but whoever signed off on that. There’s a lot of faith and trust they put in Gary to build that up. Donna came on along with Gary and a bunch of other teaching stuff, then Brendan, as well. And so Gary kind of built that up into its own, fully fledged bachelor. And we went from taking, I think in the early days, they took less than 20 students per year. And it eventually got up to about 55 students coming in every first year, which was actually too many to be honest. Yes, but it was just because the programme was so profitable. The uni just kept increasing the numbers coming in, because there was no shortage of people that wanted to do it. Yeah. So now at Southbank, obviously, our numbers are back down, kind of in between that and I think way more sustainable, at least for the kind of programme that we run, and for the resources that we have, and allows me to do what I want to do, which is actually have impact on pretty much every student in our cohort. So we don’t have so many students like other schools, which I again, my hat’s off to them, I forgot. Griffith business might have 801st years come in or more, you can get to know 800 students. But that’s the nature of those courses, but the arts, what a privilege that we get to actually know our students and have a direct hand in and helping them shape who they want to be. That’s yeah, well beyond just the course content. You know, it’s actually absolutely the who they are.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  07:25

Exactly, because student centred learning is so important in what we do. And so how many are there in the programme at the moment?

Caleb James  07:35

60 maybe just under?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  07:43

Yes. And okay, I know this year, the application numbers were significantly high. Yeah. So can you tell me how many we had and how many

Caleb James  08:00

were still getting people wanting to apply. So that just keeps going. So for the people that we audition, I think we have 230, and we only take 20 students, and that’s been even, I mean, this year was a little, little higher than previous, but generally, there’s always a couple of 100. So we only we only take 10% of the of the students that apply. So it means the we absolutely get the cream of the crop. Other cohorts are very strong because of that. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  08:26

They are they are very strong. But it’s because I mean, it’s because we’re offering what students want. I know that in the US at present, enrollments into music programmes have dropped by 33%. So and that’s because they’re not offering what students want and what they need. They’re still stuck within that Western Eurocentric teaching model. Why do you think that other institutions are so insistent on on keeping those traditions going through their education programmes?

Caleb James  09:09

This is just my 20 cents. And I’m, you know, I’m no expert on international education. I’m, I’m well aware of what’s happening in other places, but you know, I’m just before I say anything, I’m not going to put my name forward as someone who’s the, you know, the be all and end all of this stuff. But I do have some thoughts. And I think the firt the first one for me is that I think there’s actually a lot of fear in an opening up programme designs to a level where you give the students the amount of ownership that we do, because if you’re historically not used to that, it seems absolutely chaotic. So, universities are essentially administrative corporations, and funded administrative cooperations and structure and policy has become bloated but it is necessary when you’ve got corporate governance Yeah, countability like that you do need all those things. And they’re important. And I’m thankful that we have all those policies. But like, the second is almost like some of the tertiary institutions are going more towards the kind of lockdown nature of secondary school, which Secondary School is actually not working. It’s not working the way it’s supposed to work, it’s actually quite broken across the board, not because of the teachers, the teachers actually don’t get to teach in terms of what when I say teach, I mean, in the spirit of teaching, which is I want to mould and have impact on the lives of the students that are in front of me and every student is different. And sure, we’ve got a collective thing that we need to cover this term in class. But you know, I’m going to adjust my language, a few different ways for different students to help their learning approach. I can’t do that now, because there’s so jam to the walls with all this administrative and bureaucratic kind of structure that sort of hold tight a bit, and can’t really get out of that. And I University. Yes, there’s funding requirements from the federal government. And like in Australia, we have TxA. And we have to know we’re going through a full programme review at the moment to make sure that we’re aligned, and continue to stay aligned before their goals and values and requirements. But University also has an amazing amount of freedom in terms of the course convener designs, the curriculum, the programme, Director, helps to moderate and collate all those design ideas and make sure they serve an overarching goal. And then the University Executive, basically make sure that lines up with the federal requirements for funding so but never, I’ve never had thankfully, because Donna is has been an amazing boss, I’ve never had her say, here’s the restrictions, here’s the requirements, what kind of course you want to build with those requirements, she just says, do something that’s powerful for the students and and make sure they’re exploring and touching these particular things. And that when they meet these graduate outcomes, basically, so I designed my course. And then I, you know, the early days, I’d have to go and sit with her and go through the nuts and bolts of the administrative stuff. But now because I understand all that, I can absolutely work within the system to give everything that the government needs everything that university needs to them, but create really inspiring experiences for the students where they’re truly learning and engaging and stepping into more holistic development of who they are. But it takes a certain commitment to a controlled, that’s kind of kind of controlled chaos. But that’s only how it seems on the surface. It’s actually very repeatable year on year, like, as you might, you know, you’ve been working during the vocal stuff for me for years now. And yes, every cohort can be different, but the outcomes are generally repeatable. Because even though I’ve got some controlled chaos in there, it’s controlled and repeatable and safe and secure in terms of the learning environment. And pedagogically, I just make sure that we line up with anything that evolves with the university. And that’s, that’s what they pay me to do. But you can do it. So it’s interesting, some of the other peers that I talked to, there’s a few that I absolutely think get it and they’re doing their thing, but a lot of them are scared of, you know, like, in their mind, it’s like, you’re just you’re knocking over the whole dam and you’re gonna flood the whole village, you know, the University Village is just gonna flood, everything’s gonna flood, it’s gonna be terrible. But the truth is, if students don’t have agency or they don’t have ownership, at least enough ownership, over their learning journeys, they’re going to stop coming, or they’re going to drop out or they’re not going to be interested in those programmes. The kids that come into arts degrees don’t want to go do traditional pathway. So why frame them, like a traditional pathway? Because they’re not the industry doesn’t work like that. It’s massively uninspiring and not helpful for the students. Does that mean it’s easy? No. But is it worthwhile not only for the students and the staff, but also for the university’s bottom line? I think so.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  14:11

Mm hmm. abso

Caleb James  14:12

I think there’s a way to deal with all those things. It just takes again, a bit of bravery and a bit of a bit of spine to give stuff a go. And if you’re smart, you can do it in a way where it doesn’t cripple any part of your school or your, your element or your university. You kind of the way I’ve done it with the songwriting in the performance courses is controlled experimentation over the years. You know, okay, this, this is working, I’m gonna lock that down for this next year. But this bit, I’m going to try this brave new thing, and it’s going to try this crazy idea and see if it works. Okay, that you know, 80% of it work that 20% That’s it, I’m not doing that. Again, that’s a bad way of doing it. Let’s revisit or, you know, but then the next time that 80% gets locked down, so that becomes you know, 50% of the next course, is locked down. I could be braver with 50% Because I know more what I’m doing with that course. I No, I know what the costs are I know how to respond academically or administratively. Yeah. So that’s it’s kind of like you just do you take calculated study risks, to create an environment where the students just are excited to be there and want to be there. So in

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  15:17

terms of course, content and what may be the point of difference between our programme and other programmes out there, what are some of the things that we offer?

Caleb James  15:28

Again, this is where we get back to the self directed nature of a lot of what we do. One of the things that has changed with students in general is, you know, back in the day when we all went through high school, there was no way to check the information that you’re being taught other than if your family happened to own an encyclopaedia set, which I remember the day my dad bought it, the guy had come to the door, remember, be like, Oh, yes, yes, world book.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  15:55

and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Caleb James  15:59

Britannica was the one I sort of like the rich people have, for some reason. But yes. So we had, we had World Book. And, you know, sometimes I would go in there and read about some of the stuff that we’re doing at school. But that was the only way now, all our students can jump online and hear 10 different contrasting opinions about the thing we talked about that day in a lecture, some of which are really, you know, misinformed, and some of them which are really great, but just a different viewpoint. They’ve got all this different stuff in front of them. So if you’re building your programme or your ideas around for your courses on and content around, come and I will be the purveyor of knowledge and experience and expertise, I, the first thing I say to my first is coming in is I’m going to share as much as I can with you, but you would be foolish not to have a look out there and see what else is around and learn as much as possible. If any of it feels weird, or you want to talk about it, bring it to class, we’ll talk about it together. But I do have a lot of lived experience of I’ve also done all the research and those things that you’re about to start exploring online. And I’m more than happy to talk about any of it, I’ve basically had to curate the things I think are the most impactful for you in my class. So that’s what we’re going to do. But if you want to take tangents at any time, again, control chaos, you know, I always build that 20% Tangent time into my lectures on my tutorials, if you want to go on a tangent, and we can swing 10 minutes to do that, you know, five minutes or whatever is needed. Absolutely. Let’s do it. So and then, once they realised that’s actually okay, and not only just like, hey, that encouraged, they get really excited, because they’re like, ah, that’s the thing I want to talk about. And what you just said, maybe remember this YouTube video that I saw this, you know, I used to I had this guy say this thing wants Is that true or, um, so it’s more like, so because the students have access to so much information, that what I’m finding the most powerful for an arts degree, it’s not necessarily achievable when you’ve got, you know, 100 kids or whatever and the lecture, but I know maybe there’s ways to do that as well. But for us, say let’s take songwriting as an example. So they have a 50 minute lecture with me, I generally show some examples, which isn’t anything revolutionary, and I get into some really chunky stuff, I always share some personal examples, and including the failures, luck wins and fails from my own career to do with that particular technique, or approach or concept. And then they go have a coffee. And immediately after that, they have a tutorial where the tutorial activities are a practical exploration of what we just talked about in the lecture. But I need to first kind of three weeks of first year I prescriptive. And that’s on purpose just to test personalities, and to see who’s who and the cohort and help me customise my class for them. But then beyond that, they basically have way an increasingly increased ownership and self directed decision making permission, basically. But every single week, they’re physically practically creatively exploring what we just talked about. So that the thing that they’re learning isn’t just me saying, blah, blah, blah. The thing is, they hear someone suggest this idea may play some examples, they may get to explore it. And then they show that to each other as a group every week, including the failures. And we celebrate the failures as much as we celebrate the wins. So everyone, if someone tries big and fails, big bad actually get a bigger clap and people that just do something that’s good. Yeah, they kind of already knew how to do. And that culture gets built in really, really soon. So rather than it being about how much content can I squeeze into this class, it’s what’s the most important content at this particular stage in their journey? And how much free space can I leave for them to actually explore it and ingest it and deeply understand it or understand that to whatever level is expected at first or second and third year? That space is where a lot of teachers get nervous because they feel like it’s either laziness or it’s inefficient or it’s Um, you know, the students won’t do anything, I’ll just sit on their butts, I can tell you, at least in a creative sense, and within arts kind of degrees, if students have freedom to explore something that you’ve just excited them about, they love it. They absolutely love it. And then the next week, they want to come because like, ah, every single week, they feel like they’re being empowered and that they’re learning something just every single week. And that that becomes addictive for them. Just like, you know, I know you’re a lifelong learner, too. And so am I. And that addiction that’s in me, I want to instil in as many of my kids as possible. I’m saying kids, but you know, young adults, 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  20:36

I call them my babies. I call them my babies, especially my first is called My first year babies.

Caleb James  20:45

Yeah, totally. So I mean, because essentially, they are basically the age of my kids anyway. But yeah, they’re young adults absolutely about I love, I love the idea of not just telling them to be self directed, but actually mentoring and supervising and supporting them, particularly in that first year with a structure that lets them explore it safely. And if they need anything, I’m there. I’m wandering around all the different songwriting rooms, I’m sticking my head and constantly I’m okay, gone. Oh, that sounds cool. Hey, don’t forget to include such and such in the corner. Just because they’re quiet personality doesn’t mean that you know, or that’s that kind of grassroots stuff is just as important as the content I just talked about. Because without that they don’t, they don’t understand the context that they don’t know what that information means to them. And if students don’t have that kind of context or purpose, they will disengage really quickly, and then it’s really hard to get them back. So I think a lot of university programmes are kind of stuck at that point where there’s a level of disengagement or what what they’re doing, not because they’re bad people or bad educators, but maybe because universities move slowly, maybe their programme doesn’t have the flexibility that that we do, or the leadership that is brave enough to to give the staff you know, the stuff that Donna has, let me explore I don’t even know if that would get approved and other universities I’m not not because there’s anything wrong or dodgy with what I’m doing. But some of that’s actually quite okay, so for one of our advanced I’m running courses at the Gold Coast, I started a there’s a thing called the immersion composition society, which was started by two American guys in New York. And they were essentially having beers, musicians that are playing in bands, and they were frustrated with not finding the time to write songs. You know, even though they’re in bands, I work in jobs to pay for to be in the bands and writing songs. So they started this thing started as a dare to say, well, let’s see who can write the most songs in a day. And then that became formalised down the track and called the immersion composition, society and immersion. Composition is basically depending on which chapter you’re a part of around the world, I started the Australian chapter not because, again, on the bill and and or just there wasn’t one in Australia. So I started it. And some of my friends were already doing this anyway. So my peers already doing this by themselves. The the one I used around the Gold Coast, I said to Donna, I want to run an immersion composition. As part of my third year advanced songwriting, their final assessment is they have to do they have to write 20 songs in a day, fully demoed.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  23:30


Caleb James  23:33

which is crazy, like if you if you say that to someone, yeah, if you say that to someone, you go, I’m going to get an undergrad to write 20 songs in a day and they all need to be demoed, you know, not not fully produced, like caught commercial level, but demoed, you know, like, maybe like a drum, lead and guitar and a vocal, you know, so we can all listen back later. And she was like, sounds great. This just find a way to make it work. And so I found a way to make it work in the middle of the learning app. Well, more than that, the learning outcomes. And so there’s, I, you know, there’s a bunch of students from the Gold Coast who have completed this immersion day, which is a rite of passage for songwriters. So most songwriters don’t do motion composition, because it’s terrifying. And to be honest, I’d generally for the for those students to do that day, which was about two weeks of prep for just that day, which included, you know, how you’re sleeping, how you’re eating, exercising, because it’s so mentally and emotionally taxing that day. But you can’t just go in and, you know, with no planning or preparation, you actually have to prepare like it’s an extreme sport. But every student that did that completed it only had one student ever, right 19 instead of 20 songs, and that didn’t mean they failed. It has nothing to do with that. They did great. The targets 20 But I mean, if you if you even write 12 songs in a day, that’s amazing.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  24:55

I’d be I’d be lucky to write one. Yeah.

Caleb James  25:00

And obviously, you know, to build up to that we have to do these little speed writing and kind of chunk writing sessions to get them skilled up and moving towards that. So some of those people now I’m like, I’m still getting emails from them, because they write music for a living, that’s what they do. But that’s a direct result of learning some of those core skills in a really advanced way, which I can’t see many programmes getting super excited about that from an administrative point of view, or you want to do what actually, you know, I’ve just done tonnes of things like that, but had Donna’s blessing always, always with a pedagogical framework in mind, and making sure that, you know, we’re meeting the Learning and Teaching outcomes, the programme level outcomes, the graduate outcomes for the university. But that’s what I’m saying. Like, you can still meet all those things and be really creative and inspiring with how you put together content and delivery and assessment for your students. You know, like most of the ideas that I’ve come up with, to be honest, when I pitched them to people, you know, on the surface that might appear like, I just have all these ideas, and they’re just spontaneous. Maybe the initial kernel of the ideas are spontaneous, but then I spend months in my, in my own head, working through scenarios and how things will function and work. And then I pitched the idea. So I like being an ideas person that actually gets it done. So I’m not one of those people that has an idea and then just get someone excited then leaves. I can’t I have to, you know, if I if I verbalise something, like do it. So the coolest thing with having support from you know, my senior team and the executive team is there’s the more experienced you get at trying brave things and making them making sure they meet all the requirements are been involved, the more efficient that process actually becomes, and the less scary it becomes. It’s almost like taking calculated risks becomes part of the pedagogical practice.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  26:58

Well, that’s what keeps it evolving. Yeah, you have to you have to evolve, as music markets evolve as as the industry evolves. And we have to keep evolving as well as teachers as institutions. Otherwise, we’re not going to serve not only the needs of the students, but the needs of music markets, and what the population wants to listen to. Yes, and that is my my whole argument with these institutions that are hell bent on staying stuck in a in a model that’s not serving anybody but themselves, you know, and essentially, you’re going to put people out of work, because they’re going to be updated. And what I love about our programme, there’s a couple of things that I think that are really important is that we’re creating artists, and not just singers, and not just guitarists, you know, so they’re not just vocalists and instrumentalists. By the time they leave, they’re after third year. They are then artists, they can perform on stage and they’re brilliant performances, stage craft, everything, all those skills have all

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  28:16

been worked on. And also to I love our Teaching Cohort,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  28:25

I feel I shouldn’t say but I love being in the programme I’m in because I love the people I work with. And one of those things, we are all passionate, but it’s because we’ve all been at the roots of the music, we’ve played the music, we love the music, we immerse ourselves in that music. We get excited by that

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  28:51

music. And we had that passion, but also that performance

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  28:57

background that we can then guide our students in a way that’s very different. It’s like an accountant that’s never been in private practice. Yeah, yeah. You know, we’re, we’re people that have walked the walk and talk the talk. We’ve been in the gutter, we’ve been at the at the bottom, you know, we come through school of hard knocks. So we know we’ve been through everything those kids are going to be through go through as it as part of their journey. And I think that’s really important. And the other thing that I love, so I’m just calling these out, because I know this is important, too, for our listeners, is that when students come in Audition,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:46

that some of them have never

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:47

had any formal training. I know. In that first year, I’ll have a singer walk in and you know, ask them all the questions, you know, so what kind of training You’d be had none. Yeah, you’ve never had a singing lesson no no singing lesson. And can I tell you, they’re the ones I get most excited about? Yeah. Because the ones that have been overtrained a lot of the time, you’ve got to undo some of that training, but also to their way too formal. For the kind of music, it’s not organic enough, they’re not organic. And also, too, it’s not it’s so it’s not about their technical skills.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  30:34

But to me, it seems full. There’s something about this person that’s marketable, they’re employable, they’re going to be a team player, they’re going to bring something valuable to the course. Is that how you look at it when you’re auditioning somebody?

Caleb James  30:51

Oh, absolutely. We, we, I mean, they, because it’s basically the cons of school of excellence, obviously, they have to be, they have to be more than competent on their instrument. But yes, you know, that, like, as an example, you know, out of that 230, there would have been, what 100 And maybe 150, vocalists? You know, so and we’re taking what are we ended up taking five, I think five vocalists out of 150. You know, if you’re just looking for great singers, there’s plenty of great singers in that 150. But if you’re looking for a great singer, who’s maybe engaged with some songwriting, even if they haven’t been a primary songwriter that they’ve been collaborating, they’ve got some live experience, or even if they, they’re, you know, they have been proactively busking and getting out there and doing some of the grind, you know, even at 1617, or 15. And they’ve got this kind of holistic view about they’re already hungry, to learn in a proactive that, that counts for a lot, because, as you said before the industry is It’s tough. It’s not an easy industry. So there’s almost a a duty of care in terms of the students that we let in, sometimes we have people that are mind blowing as a performer, so they might be just a particularly great singer, and they’re singing in front of you. But they’re deer in the headlights to the point where you’re where, you know, it’s much more like an amazing singer. But I think you need a year of just going and doing some gigs, putting yourself out in public saying some stuff, writing a couple of songs, just putting them up on streaming, just actually doing some things and getting used to the idea of putting yourself out there just a bit because, yes, you’re a great singer. But I think it really potentially drown a bit when you come into the programme because you’re not ready in almost any other area. So there’s a duty of care in terms of making sure students are at a great, a really useful place for them to come into university, that they’ll survive the university workload, which is a big one, but also that they can contribute across more than just one area where, wherever possible, we do have, there’s always some exceptions, where you get a performer, you know, that’s that like drum is a good example is not all drummers can play a bunch of other instruments. But we had some drummers in the last audition group that were absolutely mind blowing as just drummers like just I’m a drummer drummer, that’s what I do. And drums is one of those things like vocals, it takes a lot of very dedicated specific energy just on that instrument. You know, guitarists, yes, you can do, you’ve got to do the same thing. Same thing could be argued, but they are more likely to be able to jump onto a bass at a quicker lots of guitarists and how to dabble on keyboard, they can play a basic chord progression, you know. And same with some of the cable players get bad Basic guitar progression. But yeah, it’s we had some dramas come in, then, you know, we offered them places because they were just so outstanding on their instrument. That’s, that’s what they needed. But in other situations where we’ve got a whole bunch of different people auditioning for the one or two or three spots, it really becomes a holistic view, like okay, these, you know, these 25 or 30 singers are all basically sitting at a similar level, how do we get those down to five people, we’re going to offer a place. And that’s where you start including things like their songwriting, man, have they worked with any technology? Have they gig much? What’s their experience with collaboration? What’s the academic history like? Not because it’s a prerequisite but kind of demonstrates a certain work ethic or? Yeah, and a bit of leases to survive academic requirements now, which is part of Unix. So yeah, we are looking far more at the whole person than just the single attribute like, oh, you’re a singer. So that’s all we’re paying attention to.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  34:34

Yes, it’s more not just about beauty of tone. And you can read dots on paper.

Caleb James  34:42

Yeah. Like I said before, you know, with a vocalist, lots of them haven’t had lessons, the majority of Popkins coming in. I have no theory knowledge. Hmm. So which has I mean, it’s kind of mostly been the case, but I think that’s actually gotten worse over of recent years, not because theory, again is the be all and end all of being able to do something great. That’s musical. But I think a lot of kids are being disengaged from doing music at school because it’s become more prescriptive. So they’re not learning those skills, because they’re not doing music. But they’re passionate about music.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  35:16

Yes, I bet you those kids have got great ears. Mostly, because they have to, because that’s, that’s the thing in our industry, you have to have excellent oral skills. Yes. You know, more so than reading music, you have to have those ears turned on all the time, listening for nuance and everything else? And how can I make this different? And, yeah, it I know, for me that my ears are my best friend in when it comes to, to teaching but also in performance. Now you’re in a leadership role. You are an extremely busy person, you’re teaching and you’re still really passionate about teaching. And I know, like, for me, you’re the person I go to, whenever I feel oh, my gosh, I need to talk to somebody here. Or there might be a student that I’m a bit concerned about. And then all the students come to you with essentially they call us mum and dad, you know, like we’re the pop mum and dads for the kids in our programme. But how do you survive that? What do you do for self care? And do you have to check in on yourself from time to time?

Caleb James  36:34

From time to time, I think there’s a couple of things at play with the way I approach it. When I was a kid, my dad was one of the engineers on the New Zealand natural gas pipeline. So we lived in the North Island, we started the bottom of the North Island and the pipeline went all the way at the top. So semi regularly, you know, as I’d finished a certain stage of the pipeline would move to the next town and which means I’d go to a new school. So as stressful as that was having to start new schools, a lot like I went to a lot of different schools, by the age of 10. It also meant that I developed very rapidly the skills of how to engage with a whole diverse set of people, but also how to moderate the depth of, you know, sympathy versus empathy, which is, you know, to Oh, yes, for people that haven’t dug into that, that’s definitely worth exploring. But it’s important to, for people to be heard, but it doesn’t mean you have to take everything on. If I take on everything. Yes, it’s every student that came to see me which a lot of them do, I do. And if I took on everything, literally or explicitly that they emotionally dump in the in the office, sometimes I’d be, you know, a sobbing mess and in the corner. And in fact, that’s not actually useful. As a leader, it’s not actually useful. I’m letting them know they’re heard. And then included include staff, any staff that are working for me or alongside me. For me, the number one priority is that people feel heard and acknowledged. And with that comes an amazing sense of self worth. So you didn’t you don’t even have to say to someone, you should have self worth, you just listen to them. And if they feel heard, yes, that comes with a sense of self worth, right. So therefore, most of my job is not taking on board what they say it’s actually the opposite. It’s about, I’m going to give you some time to tell me what’s going on. And then I’m going to have a little quick think about it in my brain. And I’m not going to tell you what to do. If I’m just going to give you some thoughts, and I want you to go away. And I’m going to see you next week, you know, in the hallway, we’re not going to do another meeting necessarily. When I see you in the hallway, I’m going to ask you because I remember or, you know, if I haven’t asked you, you just come up to me on the phone and go, Hey, I just want to let you know, blah, blah, blah, I want you to keep me in the loop with whether any of those ideas worked? Or if if any of the ideas didn’t work, which one was it? Because that will then help me understand what you need moving forward. So rather than it being you know, arcade, there’s all this time packed in and I’m time poor, and I’ve got to take on all this stuff. I don’t actually see it like that at all. I just see it is okay, there’s a little bit of time here, we can talk about this stuff. I want you to feel heard, I want you to feel acknowledged, I want you to feel valued. But at the same time, I’m not going to you know, continue to encourage any behaviour that’s contributing to you feeling that way. I’m not going to give you easy answers because that’s what you came in for. Because that’s not my job. You can go to your friends for that. So I always, always keep, which I think is why the students come to me to be honest, is they get the truth. I’m never rude. I’m never prescriptive. Like I said, my whole career my whole life has been about being able to adjust in the moment and not being afraid of that. So therefore my most stable state is being adaptive. The minute I feel like I’m being prescriptive, it’s really uncomfortable because it’s an I’d actually very useful in most situations is not useful. And you’ll end up in a position where you either suggest something, that’s what you do not what’s actually good for the person. Or you end up in a position where they reject what you said, and you feel defensive. And either one of those positions is not helpful for you or for the other person, no one’s know. So that that idea of being adaptable and flexible in the moment and backing yourself to lean on your experience and your skill set to have something for them. And if you don’t say, I don’t have anything for you, I’m really sorry, I hear you, I acknowledge you, I don’t actually have a solution for you. But you know, I’ll, I’ll run this over in my mind. And if I think of something, I’ll let you know. But you know what, maybe go and talk to this person, I know that they recently had to go through, you know, this particular thing, you know,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  40:49

as good teachers to irrespective of being in your leadership role. But as teachers, we need to refer out when we don’t know something anyway, if someone comes to us, not so much, I mean, we have to teach who’s in front of us, but in our jobs within that institution, but in private studio, or in situations where you can refer out if you don’t know something, or if it’s a style you don’t have empathy for if it’s a piece of knowledge that they’re wanting from you that you don’t understand, you do need to do that. You can’t take on everything, you have to know what your boundaries are you and you have to know your limitations.

Caleb James  41:40

And the limitations don’t make you less of a teacher or make you weak, every single person on the planet has limitations. And those limitations are either because you’ve prioritised other things. So therefore, let someone else cover those limitations, who’s happened to prioritise that particular thing. Or if you if you want to, you might go oh, that’s actually a limitation that the students revealed to me or this person, I’m going to spend next couple of months, filling in that gap in my knowledge, because I’m hungry to learn. And either ones, fine, but you don’t have to, if that’s not something that’s a burning passion, and you’ve got time to spend on other stuff, delegate it, someone else is definitely more of an expert than you there’s nothing wrong, or develop also set aside develop this this cool technique, partly because of my dad, I think but also, there’s a couple of people in my life early on, I had this maths teacher at school, I hated math. But he was a genius. No, he was he was incredible. But Matt sucked. I just didn’t. Now I can. That’s fine, though. It didn’t dimensionalize Yeah. But he he would do this thing where students might pose a tricky question, because we had some really, incredibly smart kids in a particular class this year. And some of them, you know, would like maths awards winners, but you know, national competitions and stuff. So I might ask some questions. And one thing I remember him doing, and my dad does is to and I, I, I’m assuming have taken it on because I’ve seen it, or maybe it’s hardwired into me. But if someone says something, or that triggers a thought in my head, or ask me a question that I don’t know, I don’t respond straightaway. Because either you tend to respond from a place where you feel you should know. So you’re a bit embarrassed or awkward. So you just kind of bumble through it, which is human nature doesn’t that’s not doesn’t make anyone bad for doing that. It’s just human nature. Or the other thing is that you, you tend to dismiss too quickly the fact that you don’t know anything, but that might not be true, either. So because I remember that Mr. Martin was his name. And she might ask something, and he paused fatigue, and a B, you know, maybe 10 seconds, but that feels like two minutes, you know, when you’re in a class and the silence salutely. And you can see him the wheels spinning. And then he’d respond in a really measured way and was always okay, I don’t know this part of it. But you know, what, you’ve made me think that the first part of your question actually has something to do with this. So we could explore that. But the second part, I actually haven’t encountered yet. So there might be something for you to do next over the week. And then next week, come in and let us all know, you know, that kind of response.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  44:19

Yes, yes,

Caleb James  44:20

I that’s how I, you know, I have days where I’m not as effective as other days. But for the most part, I’ve ingrained that as a habitual response. If something if someone suggests something that’s different to what my plan was, or if a student brings up something that’s a tangent that might not align exactly with what my content delivery is for that class, but is incredibly valuable, and that they happen to be particularly passionate about it as a group that day. Rather than just dismiss it and say, Let’s go we’ll get to that next week. I just give myself a pause, take 10 seconds and I’m like, okay, you know what, I can actually move some of this content next week. This is more important in the moment right now they’re going to learn a lot. This is going to improve engagement. Okay? But I might say, okay, look, we’ve got five minutes, I can’t go more on that we’ve got five minutes explore that. If it goes any deeper, I’m happy to stay outside of class or I can actually make some room over the next few weeks for it. But you know what I mean that 10 seconds. Yes. Yes, open environment is actually that demonstrates to your students in real time that you’re being as adaptable as you tell them they should be.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  45:28

Exactly. Yeah, if a student brings something in, and they want my opinion on it, or I need to give an opinion or advice, and I’m not sure. I often sit there and I take, and they’re used to it that I take a big breath. This is usually how it goes. It’s like, Huh. And it’s dead. So yes, yeah. And I did that to someone the other day via zoom. We were having a conversation about structuring a presentation and I went deadly quiet. And I did the whole hmm. Yeah. And he said to you, all right. Are you okay with this? Like, is everything fine?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  46:15

I said, I’m thinking, yep. And I don’t think he’s ever

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  46:21

encountered anyone that thinks about anything before before giving an answer. But I wasn’t going to respond for the sake of making noise. Like, I wanted to make sure that when I responded, I was going to offer something valuable, and not something that was just contrived in that in that spontaneous dead silent moment. But anyway, we’re gonna, we’re going to wrap this up, because we’ve been talking for a long time.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  46:50

When it comes to your legacy, you’ve done so much. What do you think your legacy will be?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  46:58

Or what would you like it to be? 

Caleb James  47:00

Yeah, I think because you can’t control that necessarily. But I was actually talking to my wife about this only a couple of weeks ago. And because we’re having a chat, we often when we have our, you know, we have a hot drink, after our days to debrief and maybe a coffee or something. And we talk about our days and go through stuff, but we’re talking for whatever reason, we’re talking about legacy. She She’s lost both parents over recent years, and her mom in particular has left a mark a really positive mark on me, she was an amazing lady. And I was saying, you know, for me, when I was younger, I thought my I want my legacy to be about the art, you know about the things I’ve created. But honestly, the truth is, I just want, I wanted my legacy to be that I contributed in some way to enriching as many people’s lives as possible. So, and being a teacher is one of those rare positions where I have a fresh batch of people coming through every single year. And if I’m doing my job, right, they leave stronger and more informed and more educated and more empowered than they did when they came in. And additionally, if I’m doing my job, well, most of that feels like their own discovery. And most of it is their ownership over their own journeys. And that idea that there’s hundreds or probably 1000s now of our students out there in the world, and at least a chunk of those, I’d like to think that I’ve had an impact in some way on in their lives being better off particularly them being more holistically developed as people. That’s what I want my legacy to be. There’s no way of quantifying that. Because you know what, after you’ve gone, I don’t know what my legacy is going to be nine, nine, but the idea of, for me, it’s all about people. So yes, I’ve got plenty of music out there and my my kids love, they can listen to Dad years after I have passed on, they still be able to listen to me sing songs to them and stuff on recording. So that’s beautiful, and that’s a privilege. But honestly, the impact on people, including my wife and my kids, that’s that’s what I want my legacy to be.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  49:12

You You and I are kindred spirits in so many ways. We often end up circling around and always end up at the same place. When we have discussions, I’m 100% like you it’s about empowering others. For me, it’s it’s about helping my students discover their authentic voice, not not just as singers, but to find their voice in life through singing, if possible, through their through their craft and, and empowering others to believe that anything is possible. You can do anything you put your mind to. You really can. Yeah, I think it’s yes, so important. Wouldn’t one last question?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  50:03

If you had to give a piece of advice, I was going to say to emerging artists, I’m not going to give us that question. Because there’s going to probably be a lot of teachers listening to this or people who are educators or in leadership roles. But if you had to give one piece of advice to our teaching community, what would that be?

Caleb James  50:27

One piece. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  50:31

That is a pause and breathe.

Caleb James  50:33

Yeah, there’s, there’s a few things that popped to mind. But I think I’ll go with this one. And I’ll try and be as articulate as I can. One of the things that struck me talking to peers and people from the teaching and education community is, particularly in academia, but this this is true for secondary school as well. I think my advice would be that you aren’t, what your your academic identity is, or that your teaching identity is you aren’t just that, and part two would be that your identity can be changed, you can change any of that at any point. Because the idea is that I I’ve talked to so many academics and pedagogues, where, because of the way it’s structured, they, they invest in a certain trajectory, and they go down that trajectory, and then they become that person, or this is the person that does this particular thing. And the advice is, you know, for early researchers, that’s what you should do, because it’s a way of building a name for yourself. But it’s also a recipe for getting lost and narrowing who you are, and your impact potential impact on the broader world. And the opportunities to grow from all these other things and narrowing it down to this particular pursuit. And a lot of the people I’ve talked to, it actually becomes a point of sadness and disillusionment for them. So yeah, my advice would be, there’s nothing wrong with with investing energy and time into pursuing a particular trajectory in your life. And there’s chapters we will go through where you have to do that, you don’t have to scale up, you’ve got to understand how this thing works. You need to dedicate three years or five years or whatever to it. But if that’s at the expense of growing in other areas of your life, then that’s dangerous to me. And we are far, far deeper and wider and bigger and more expansive as human beings than just the thing that people want to put on us as a label. So whether it’s a vocal teacher that’s listening, or, you know, course convener, or, you know, a high school teacher that’s frustrated at the curriculum I’ve got to teach within, that isn’t all you are, you aren’t that thing, stay hungry, to learn about other stuff, even things that have nothing to do with your teaching, stay passionate about learning. And then they happen to come back, they always come back. And in fact, you’re teaching in a good way. Anyway. I know people tried to label me early on as the songwriting guy. And I’m like, you can follow me that if you want. That’s not me. I happen to know a lot about songwriting. But that’s not me.

Caleb James  53:06

I do a lot of things.

Caleb James  53:09

I’m not going to do just the songwriting, and you can call me what you want. Yeah, that’s absolutely diminishing my potential to really see myself as this more holistic person that’s, that’s wants to explore as much of the world as possible, you know. So yeah, people can call you what they want, they can pigeonhole you academically or pedagogically how they want to. The trick is, don’t buy into that yourself, be okay with being, you know, investing energy into that community, that’s great. But don’t switch off the other parts of your learning from the rest of what’s around you. It’s incredibly enriching. And it’s a way of staying passionate. Through decades of your life. I’m probably more passionate now than I was in my 20s. Because that’s been the way I’ve approached my life.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  53:51

I’d have to agree with my teaching. Yeah, I feel like that. And I think it’s because I have invested in other areas, but it’s all fed back in some weird way.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  54:03

If you’re working on yourself, even if you’re, if you’re investing in learning about yourself, you are a far better person as a teacher

Caleb James  54:17

than what you just said, You know what you just said before about, you know, your vocal students, you’re not just teaching them to be sing as you’re teaching them about, who are you? What’s your authentic voice? What’s going to come from them as a person and coming up through their voice? We aren’t. We can’t say that to students, and then not do that, as teachers know, we need to keep enriching who we are as a person, and not get too lost in just the activity of teaching or being defined as a teacher. That’s just one part of who we are. Exactly why that’s probably a bit long winded. But

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  54:47

anyway, no, no, no at that one. One comment to that. That’s pedagogy to Yes, because people only take one part of what pedagogy really is. They figure About it’s the art and science of teaching. It’s more than just process. I agree. 100% Yeah,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  55:08

yeah. Anyway, Caleb, we’re going to finish up. And I’m going to share your links with everybody. So if they want to listen to some of your music, you have some amazing music that you share on your website. People want to learn more about this brilliant programme that we have the privilege of working in. Thank you so much for everything. Thank you for your time. And thank you for being an amazing boss. You really are. And you’re still my go to person. You’re like my, my voice of reason. At times. It’s like, I must feel so much better after I’ve seen. I wish I mean I’m a little bit passionate about times, and that can overshadow things but that’s okay. It all comes from a good place but matters so much. Thank you for your time.

Caleb James  56:08

Absolutely. We’ll do it all over again. Go into great.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  56:11

Take care. Thank you. Bye. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of a voice and beyond. I hope you enjoyed it as now is an important time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow so you can show up feeling empowered and ready to live your best life. If you know someone who will also be inspired by this episode, please be sure to copy and paste the link and share it with them. Or share it on social media and use the hashtag a voice and beyond. I promise you I am committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one every week. And if you would like to help me please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple podcast right now. I would also love to know what it is that you most enjoyed about this episode and what was your biggest takeaway? Please take care and I look forward to your company next time on the next episode of a voice and beyond.

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