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How Jane Maudsley tuned into the performing arts industry with Little Voices

Written by Josh Russell, Emilie Sandy on Tuesday, 16 January 2018. Posted in Interviews

By focusing on imparting confidence and soft skills, Jane Maudsley is helping kids become stars with Little Voices

How Jane Maudsley tuned into the performing arts industry with Little Voices

If it weren’t for a casual conversation over a cup of coffee, Little Voices may never have come to be. Jane Maudsley was sitting a Blackburn coffee shop and a chance comment from Holly Hammond, her former head of drama at school and future co-founder, provided the cue for the idea for Little Voices, the kids drama and singing lesson franchise, to emerge from the wings. “She said: ‘We offer so much to children that as a teacher, even though I’m teaching these big classes, they still want more’,” Maudsley recalls. “Within six or seven weeks of having that conversation, we had opened Little Voices.”

Growing up as a child in Blackburn, Maudsley certainly had enough exposure to entrepreneurs building their own companies: both her father and grandfather had been business people and this definitely had an impact upon her. “I was really inspired by their journey,” she says. “Business was always in my blood.” However, even then, Maudsley wasn’t one to dance to somebody else’s tune: rather than following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, from a very young age she demonstrated a predilection for performance and music. “I demanded to have piano lessons from the age of three: I was one of the youngest that had ever taken them,” she says. “I had tiny little hands and had to stack books up to be able to even sit on the stool.”

But while the young Maudsley evidently had a huge appetite for learning about performing arts, she was underwhelmed by the experience of studying it at school. “I was quite disengaged from music and drama academically: it didn’t inspire me,” she says. “I had fantastic teachers but it was more the people surrounding me that weren’t really interested in music and drama: they viewed it as a doss lesson.” However, it was outside of the school curriculum that Maudsley’s passion for performance was allowed to take centre stage. Not only did her additional tuition give her a chance to master her melodies and hone her harmonies but appearing in productions like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Phillip Schofield whet her appetite for appearing in the limelight. “The extra singing lessons I had, the performances that I did outside of normal school hours were what engaged me,” she says. “They gave me the hunger to do more.”

Having grown up around working professionals and yet having developed real prowess as a performer, when Maudsley came to make her decision about what to study at university, she found herself in two minds. “I had to decide whether I was going down the academic route and going to Durham University to study to become a lawyer or going to follow the music route,” she says. And while Maudsley feels her father would have preferred her to choose the former, it was her mother’s advice that finally encouraged her to pursue her passion for music. “She told me I should follow my heart and that was really important,” Maudsley says. “She said: ‘do what you’re passionate about, do what you know will make you want to jump out of bed every day.’”

While Maudsley had been excited by the prospect of studying music at the University of Sheffield, the reality fell a little flat. “My first degree wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,” she said. “Once again I was a little bit disillusioned and thinking ‘have I made the right choice?’” With just four hours of contact time a week, Maudsley felt the course failed to engage her and while a module in her final year to create and manage a musical or performance event allowed her to stretch her wings a little, she had grand ambitions she felt unable to fulfil within the course. “I was still headstrong in wanting to be an opera singer and sing professionally,” she says. “I’d done loads of performances outside of university and that’s what I wanted to do really: put on my dress and perform.”

Fortunately, after graduating and spending a year working at her family’s business, Maudsley finally got her shot to do just that when she went to study for a master’s degree in performance at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. “I loved that I was in college every single day; the hours were full on and you learned a lot,” she says. “It gave me a much better understanding of opera, classical music, myself and my own strengths and weaknesses.” The fact that the course gave Maudsley the chance to find her voice as a singer and build up a broader perspective of the industry was invaluable, although she did begin to notice that she and other people on her course weren’t always singing from the same hymn sheet. “They were very much happy to sing the Messiah on a Saturday and do choral societies, which is the bread and butter of the industry,” she says. “I preferred the commercial side but you wouldn’t speak about that publicly: in the culture of classical music and opera it wasn’t considered fitting.”

While Maudsley was still eager to pursue a career in opera once she had her master’s, the budding performer also realised she had to find a way to make ends meet while she did so. Given she’d already done quite a lot of teaching during her time at university, that seemed like the obvious choice. “I wrote to my old school, as well as all of the schools in the area and music schools across the county,” says Maudsley. “Basically I went for every interview that I could and ended up with four or five different jobs working as a singing teacher.” Coming back and teaching singing at her old school was an opportunity Maudsley relished, particularly as there hadn’t been much provision for singing lessons in the local school system when she had been growing up. But the way music tuition was viewed in the wider education system began to bother her. “The way you were viewed by the greater school community was quite harsh,” Maudsley says. “The value it gave a child wasn’t really appreciated and that was highly frustrating to me.”

And as the curriculum has become increasingly fixated with STEM skills and training kids solely for their future careers, this is an attitude that has only become more prevalent among politicians and schools boards. “They only see performing arts as use for someone who is maybe aiming to go on the West End stage, end up on television or be a famous actor,” says Maudsley “It’s not about that. It’s about the confidence and life skills that it gives to a child.” While it’s unlikely that every tyke who treads the boards will end up in The Book of the Mormon or appear on the BBC, performance can prove invaluable in allowing them to practice all manner of skills. “It’s not about the performance element really,” Maudsley says. “It’s about the things that children learn that they can transfer into other areas: life skills like eye contact, posture, breathing, handling anxiety and nerves, effectively communicating with the spoken word, good diction and pronunciation.”

And this is the insight that lead to Maudsley's conversation in the coffee shop, kickstarting her and Hammond's consideration of how they could create a model that would help deliver some of these overlooked elements. “It’s absolutely about the fully rounded development of children,” Maudsley says. “Every child’s got something really special and amazing to share and it’s about giving them the confidence to hook into that to the best of their ability.” And while this focus on softer skills may sound a little philosophical, Little Voices also offers much more concrete benefits for kids. “You’re building a child’s CV from a very young age so they’ve got something to show for all their years of commitment to singing and drama,” says Maudsley. “Every child goes through the exam syllabus with the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art; children who are 15, 16, 17 or 18 get extra UCAS points from the exams they take so it helps them to get into university and college.”

As Maudsley and Hammond were already experiencing so much demand for extra-curricular performing arts tuition, getting the word out about Little Voices didn’t require a huge marketing spend. “It wasn’t about marketing strategies and plans at that point,” Maudsley says. “It was completely organic from the work that we were already doing.” Even once the entrepreneurs began to cast their net wider and draw in more children, they found that a more human approach served them best. “No matter how the digital world is working and how much we say that things are shifting, people trust other people,” says Maudsley. “Word of mouth and offering trials – saying ‘come and have a go, see what you think’ – were key to our growth.”

However, even as they added staff Maudsley and her co-founder soon began to find that they were unable to make their service available to as many kids as they wanted. “We wanted to teach more and more children but I couldn’t physically teach more modules myself,” Maudsley says. “Additionally, there were only so many tutors that worked with me within the local area and they could only service so many children.” In Maudsley’s eyes, the solution to this was obvious: franchise Little Voices. But Hammond wasn’t so sure, leading her to eventually part from the business. “She didn’t feel the whole country would embrace it or that people would want to share in our culture, values and behaviours and become a part of our brand,” says Maudsley. “Our visions for the future were just very different and she decided to stay in the teaching profession. But while we went through a business divorce – if you will – we are still incredibly good friends.”

Once Little Voices had started down the franchising route, the next step for Maudsley was bringing on board some franchisees. “It takes some time for us to recruit a franchisee because we want to make sure that we’re getting the right person,” says Maudsley. “So it's absolutely not about selling and stacking up fast.” As well as a passion for the performing arts and excellent organisation, the perfect person to take on a Little Voices franchise needs to meet a variety of criteria. “They need to be effective communicators, good with people, good at inspiring a good team to be a brilliant team and want to see children inspired and growing,” Maudsley says.

But as long as franchisees have these core competencies, Little Voices’ training programme can help them get up to speed. “We give them five days worth of training initially but that’s literally just an induction: we then hold their hand through the launch and right through year one, year two and year three,” says Maudsley. “We’re there for them as much or as little as they need us through those early years.” From here the process becomes more of a partnership, with Little Voices developing and working with them as children’s needs and the market changes. “They’ve obviously got everything they need to be captain of their own ship but with us always there with them,” Maudsley says.
Certainly this approach seems to be working: Little Voices recently celebrated its tenth birthday and the kids its franchisees taught a decade ago have grown into highly successful, well-rounded adults. “We’ve had children who are now performing in the West End,” says Maudsley. “We’ve got individuals who are working at Sky Sports as broadcasters. We’ve got lawyers, doctors and marketing consultants.”

And while not all of the children that have attended Little Voices over the years have ended up finding jobs in the public eye, the franchise has still clearly impacted their lives in other ways. Maudsley recalls a recent encounter with a parent who told her that her daughter has gone into the beauty industry. “And she absolutely puts down her confidence in an interview, her ability to speak to other people and put herself forward to the skills she learnt at Little Voices,” says Maudsley. “So she’s not chosen the arts as a career but the skills have certainly set her apart.”

But the last ten years haven’t just seen kids’ performance skills and confidence come on in leaps and bounds: Little Voices has also grown in presence over the years. “We’ve currently got 22 franchisees,” Maudsley says. “Most franchisees run multiple centres and the majority of them run three, four, five or six centres.” And Little Voices is already thinking about the next decade: not only is the franchise aiming to up its franchisees to around 60 to 80 in the next few years, it’s also eyeing up opportunities further afield. “There is talk of going into master franchising across into Ireland as we had some enquiries in Australia and Canada,” says Maudsley. “The world’s our oyster really.”

Without a doubt, Maudsley is going to be leading Little Voices for years to come with a song in her heart. “I love the business, I love the people I work with, on the whole I love what I do and I’m privileged to do it,” says Maudsley. “Down the line, we just want to help more children and keep helping them to achieve their dreams.”

About the Author

Josh Russell

Josh Russell

When he isn’t tooling around on trains in a tux like the Daniel Craig of the Greater Anglia transport system, Russell spends his time living the glamourous life of an enterprise journalist, judging Digital Business of the Year at the National Business Awards and attending conferences like NixonMcInnes’ Meaning 2013. However, like all good secret agents, Russell lives a double life – in his case, as a closet revolutionary. Social enterprise, sustainable business and collaborative practices are his true passions, something that he has had plenty of opportunity to air in his features here at Elite Franchise.

Emilie Sandy

Emilie Sandy

Aside from dashing between the Cotswolds and London to shoot business types for magazines such as EF and TV stars for the Beeb, Sandy is also a visiting lecturer at a college in Stroud – not to mention a proud mother to son Freddie and daughter Fjola. She has photographed our cover stars since our very first edition. You know what they say – if it ain’t broke...

 

 

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