Kate Dowman on How to Succeed in the Music Industry

Kate Dowman
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Photo courtsey of katedowman.com

Classical and Celtic Soprano, Kate Dowman has recently released her debut CD album, Whispering Tides. It features 14 Manx Gaelic folksongs rarely recorded and sung in an ethereal and otherworldly style.

Kate grew up on the Island and has gone on to sing all over the world at opera houses, private concerts, stadiums and supported Aled Jones on his Celtic Music Tour. Most notably she has performed for Madonna, the British Prime Minister and the Maharajah of Jodhpur.

We caught up with Kate on her recent visit to the island to talk about her new album and what it's like to sustain a career in the arts.

Tell us about yourself in your own words?

I grew up in Douglas on the Isle of Man, I went to Marown School and Mrs. Burgess taught us the Manx songs. She was brilliant and one of the few Manx speakers at the time. I always loved it and was always the one who would do the solos. I went on to do a music degree at Leeds University then I went off to Sydney for my Opera training.

My dad was a real academic, he said 'you should be a paediatrician or a dentist' or something sensible like a lawyer but when it came down to it I knew I just really wanted to sing and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. So my dad told me that I've got to do it properly. Go and do your degree, go and do all your training, so I did.

How easy is it to pursue a career in the arts?

I think if you want longevity you have to work hard. There are all these shows on TV where you're instantly promised a record contract and often you never hear from them again. Some go on to do really well but there isn't a guaranteed life long career in that. And also physically as a singer, (especially if you're singing a three hour opera every night for a couple of weeks) it's a muscle group and you can't just do that. You have to have the right technique and be doing it properly. So of course, you have to work at it properly and learn from a business point of view about how am I going to do this?

How did you get into the music industry after your degree?

It is difficult. I think one thing that a music degree is lacking (certainly when I was doing it) was that there was no marketing advice. No advice as to how you were going to take that forward. A lot of my friends from school, regardless of talent, just didn't go onto have careers in music because it was difficult to know what you want to do. I was really lucky because since school I've been getting little jobs. I sung at a football stadium when I was nineteen for a huge match and I sung at halftime with a really great tenor. I think there was about 80,000 people in that stadium and once you start getting things like that on your cv it does start to snowball.

After that I had a couple of appearances on Grenada television on their lunchtime shows and then I went out to do my opera training in Sydney and sung with a lot of opera companies out there, little choirs or soloist work, so I had a nice CV when I came back to London. I got a few good years work with Opera Holland Park which is a medium sized opera company who are well known in London.

Courtesy of katedowman.com

What would be your advice to anyone starting out in the music industry?

Think very sensibly about it and don't just have a glamourous image. It can't be all this 'I want to be famous' it has to be because you really really love it and because you do have a skill and are prepared to work really hard. I would never want to dissuade someone from doing anything that they want to do but I think you have to be realistic and prepared to work very hard because it's not a career that has a secure path within it like a vocational career.

Music is half luck. It's about being heard in the right place at the right time as well as working really hard. You can make a career out of anything that you love but you just have to be the best you can at your craft, be exceptional. I would say go for it but work hard. If you absolutely love it then it doesn't feel like work.

What would you say has helped you to be successful?

You have to be flexible if you want to make it. You have to get used to working with a lot of different people in the music industry. Being open minded is good in this kind of career because you don't know what is coming from one month to the next necessarily. You might have one operatic contract for three months then you might have nothing for a month. But actually those downtimes are really important as well you know to have a bit of a recheck and check your technique and you have to keep up with other things that are going on and new events and new operatic companies. So you need those downtimes, you can't just go go go.

I've always been very open minded as to whatever comes along. You can say yes or you can say no but I think if you're open to doing a variety of things that's really nice and rewarding, you don't get bored that's for certain!

Courtesy of katedowman.com

How do you market yourself and what tips do you have for others?

Obviously social media has been amazing. You have to be on Facebook, Instagram, twitter and all that jazz because that is immediately a massive audience all around the world and that was never available to artists in the past.

What made you want to record this album?

These songs were just always there and I've known them since school. I've always come back to the Manx music and I used to play the harp with Charles Guard and I always used to play them on the piano just for fun. I'm so pleased that I got to do them at last. I've been talking about making this album for about five years.

Not everyone speaks Manx Gaelic and even so they might not necessarily know the history behind the songs so I've talked about where they were found and who collected them in the CD booklet.

So it was really a case of when rather than if this album was made?

Yes, definitely! Because this album is so precious to me, it's taken until now in my life to record it. I just never found anyone that I trusted with those songs. I tried a couple of different producers but they never made it special enough. They did that very generic Celtic thing of sticking some pipes on it or bells and pop a harp on it and there you go! I wanted to arrange it differently, and because they're folk songs and they've been passed down orally there is no one who can say there is a right or wrong way to sing them so I wanted to make them different without taking away from the song itself.

I found my producer Chris Craker who has worked a lot with Hans Zimmer and he produced the soundtrack for Interstellar and The Little Prince, so there was just something really special. When I started talking to him about it he just knew what I meant and I trusted him.

Courtesy of katedowman.com

So this album is a real labour of love?

Yes, well I can't even call it a labour, it's just love. It's been such an honour for me to be able to do it. They are such special songs, they are so beautiful and precious and there are so many Irish songs and Scottish songs out there that people know, there aren't that many Manx songs out there in the wide world and they should be known because they are so beautiful. Everyone whose heard it has loved it regardless of what music they're into. I was really worried what my operatic friends would think because they're really harsh critics and they absolutely loved it. They said it sounded like my true voice, and it is.

It's not about technique or projecting to the back of an opera house over an orchestra or thinking about what the conductor is telling you to do or where you've got to move, it's literally just thinking about the hills on the Isle of Man and trying not to cry!

We recorded the album in about seven days, we worked so hard and I was so focused, I recorded about two or three songs a day but honestly, recording Ellan Vannin, I couldn't get through it and I kept crying! And I think you can hear that a little bit. I know I can!

What do you enjoy most about being a singer?

I personally love it all. It's the reaction from the audience that I love. If they like what they're listening to and come up to me and say 'you made me cry' then that is so amazing. It's so rewarding because it's about taking people out of their everyday life for just that hour or however long you're singing for.

But with that I think comes a certain amount of uncertainty as well. It's not all glamourous but that's fine. You're not always dripping in diamonds and wearing a big dress and singing opera. If you work hard, you can pretty much make it happen. And you do have to work hard.

There's never a moment where you stop and say 'oh I'm perfect now' it's a journey, voices change, techniques change, you're always learning and personally I love that.

Whispering Tides was produced by Chris Craker.

Album cover artwork and design by Bruno Cavellec.

Photography by Simon Park.

The album was funded by Culture Vannin.

Local stockists include the Lexicon Bookshop, Bridge Book shop, Manx National Heritage shops, the Welcome Centre at the Sea Terminal, Laxey Woolen Mills, Tynwald Mills, and Presence of Mann.

Download the album online via Spotify, Itunes, Amazon and Deezer.

Keep up to date with Kate Dowman on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you'd like to apply for any funding from the Arts Council, have a look at our Funding Page


A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government