Bachelor of Music with Honours in Popular Music

Over the last decade, the RNCM’s Popular Music programme has established itself as a global destination of choice for outstanding music students, teachers, researchers and professional artists.

The UK’s only 4-year Bachelor of Music degree in Popular Music, this unique course continually reinvents itself to respond to the ever-changing, dynamic music industry, creating exceptional musicians, original artists and entrepreneurs and enabling purposeful, successful, sustainable careers.

What We Teach

This exciting new degree focuses on Artist Development, teaching the essential skills of the 3D musician: Performance, Composition and Production. Inspired by Manchester’s iconic and fertile music scene, our programme embraces innovation and diversity, and through the study of a range of popular music styles and genres, we empower you to be ambitious and imaginative with no boundaries to your creativity.

With the focus on producing exceptional graduates with the skills to shape the future of music, we regard you as a professional musician from day one and have a flexible degree that enables you to create your own bespoke package and to major in one of our four core areas of study. Through an unparalleled network of international visiting artists, industry professionals and influential music industry partners, we actively encourage and support you to develop your professional career alongside your studies.

Opportunities We Offer

We offer you the unique opportunity to study and collaborate with students from our orchestral schools in your own original projects, taught modules, and our flagship ensembles, the RNCM Session Orchestra and RNCM Big Band. Our Interplay initiative has established an exceptional international network of educators, practitioners and students from conservatoires in Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Rotterdam, Singapore and Valencia, all of which provide you with enviable opportunities for artistic collaboration and career development on a global scale. You also have the chance to work as a signed artist with our independent label, Northern Quarter Records, and to perform and record with our partners The Metropole Orkest and Abbey Road Institute.

Our Visiting Tutors

Our impressive roster of Visiting Tutors plays an essential role in your musical and professional education. You’ll have direct contact with some of the world’s most influential and inspiring practitioners, including: Anomalie, Charlie Andrew, JP Bouvet, Matt Bramhall, India Carney, Guy Chambers, Kim Chandler, Yolanda Charles, Louis Cole, Chris Cooke, JP Cooper, Kimberley Davis, Dirty Loops, Scott Devine,  Everything Everything, Mark Furman, Steffen Geldner, Rob Harris, Elliott Henshaw, Julian Hinton, Trevor Horn, Matt Johnson, Mario Jose, Andrew Kesler, Bill Laurence, Michael League, Mark Lettieri, Barry Manilow, Shaun Martin, Michael Mayo, Gretchen Menn, Merck Mercuriadis, Dominic Miller, Stanton Moore, Simon Moran, Ida Nielsen, Tessa Niles, Aimee Nolte, Mike Patrick, Mo Pleasure, Jason Rebello, Stefan Redtenbacher, Nile Rodgers, Luke Smith, Snarky Puppy, Ash Soan, Steve Sidwell, Richard Spaven, Becca Stevens, Paul Turner, Hannah V, Mike Walker, Pete Waterman, Aaron Williams and Cory Wong.

Programme Overview

Duration: 4 years, full-time
UCAS Conservatoires Code:

Applications open12 July 2023
Deadline for on-time applications: 2 October 2023

Tuition Fees

Entrance Requirements

Age, Qualifications and Standards

Entrance to the RNCM BMus (Hons) in Popular Music is dependent on the following:

  • All applicants must be at least 18 years of age on 31 December in the year of entry.
  • All applicants must pass an RNCM audition in the year prior to entry, demonstrating a high standard of performing ability, equivalent to ABRSM, Rockschool or Trinity Grade 8.
  • All applicants must have a level of theoretical ability equivalent to ABRSM Grade 5 theory.
  • All applicants must achieve 2 A levels, Rockschool Level 3 Music Practitioner qualification, or BTEC National Diploma in a music related subject, or international equivalent.
  • All applicants must achieve 4 passes (A*- C) at GCSE including Maths and English.
  • UK and Overseas candidates with alternative and/or equivalent qualifications to the above, should contact our Admissions Team.
  • Applicants whose first language is not English must obtain an IELTS score of 5.5 (or CEFR B2) in all components.

Alternative Qualifications and Direct Entry (accreditation of prior learning)

Candidates with Scottish or Irish qualifications and those with alternatives such as a BTEC or NVQ, should contact Admissions on 0161 9075 465 or email [email protected]. International students should also refer to the international student entry requirements.

Candidates who have undertaken relevant qualifications/modules at a recognised Higher Education Institution, and who wish to be considered for direct entry into Year 2 onwards of the BMus programme, should contact Admissions for guidance before submitting an application. In the first instance, please email details of your prior learning (summary of educational background and copies of transcripts) to [email protected].

Programme Details

Performance (140 - 180 credits)

Performance is at the core of your training and through individual tuition focuses on enabling you to realise your true potential both technically and creatively on your instrument/voice – multi-instrumentalists (including voice) are actively encouraged to pursue a dual performance role. You learn how to critically evaluate and perform a diverse range of repertoire, inspiring a cultural connection between historic, contemporary and progressive material. Development of your own musical voice is encouraged through the composition, production and performance of original material.

In band musicianship, you focus on the development of a technical and critical understanding of the role of your instrument/voice within a range of musical environments and styles. You gain skills in effective band rehearsal and performance techniques, developing the ability to both give and take musical direction. Additionally, you learn how to integrate production technology within a variety of live and studio performance environments. Throughout the programme, you work with several different musicians from across the school and the College, both in the capacity of session musician and original artist/band. These modules run across all four years of the programme and in the final year you have the option to major in performance.

Composition (80 - 140 credits)

The composition modules develop your skills in melody, harmony, rhythm, lyric writing and arranging. Individuality of writing style is encouraged through the application of creative approaches to musical composition and songwriting. The study of pre-existing repertoire in years 1 and 2 provides a foundation of critical skills in the analysis of musical elements and the development of compositional and lyrical methods and techniques that typify the practices of contemporary composers and songwriters. In years 3 and 4 you work on creating your own original compositions, with each song/piece in their portfolio notated in lead and lyric sheet and/or score format, with an accompanying demo recording equivalent in production quality to those commonly presented to music publishers, film/library music licensors, producers and record companies by professional composers and songwriters.

Interpersonal and situational skills develop through the many collaborative situations that exist in the professional environment. For example: co-writing songs as both composer and lyricist; working with vocalists and instrumentalists in the production of demo recordings; and working with engineers, artists, and producers in the studio environment.

Completion of the composition modules gives you the requisite skills and knowledge to work in the music industry as a composer, arranger, songwriter, lyricist, and/or demo/MIDI producer. You also develop the necessary awareness of stylistic breadth, analysis, and understanding of permanent musical values to work in many situations and environments with a variety of stylistic, artistic and production demands. In your final year you have the option to major in composition.

Production (80 - 140 credits)

The production modules prepare and equip you to become skilled producers through the study of technical and creative aspects of music production, facilitating academic and practical knowledge and understanding to be able to develop the craft further through your own artistic projects.

You’re given the opportunity to develop and apply knowledge and skills within the areas of recording and production through the completion of a variety of creative and industry focused briefs. You also gain a wider understanding of the historical and cultural frameworks of the professional environment and within this reflect upon and evaluate your own practice. Years 1 and 2 provide you with a foundation of critical and technical skills in the analysis of existing repertoire and the creation of new works that typify the practices of contemporary producers and artists. Through a blend of seminars, workshops, colloquiums and tutorials in years 3 and 4, you develop high level analytical, technical, critical, and creative skills and work independently and collaboratively on original projects, focussing on the cultivation of your musical identity.

The interpersonal skills required of a producer are developed through gaining experience working in the collaborative situations that exist in the professional environment, acting as the nexus between a variety of different skilled professionals in the creation of new work; working with artists, composers and musicians in the studio environment in the production of recordings.

Completion of the Production modules provides you with a broad range of technical and musical skills and knowledge, enabling you to enter professional life as a producer, studio engineer, sound designer and/or computer-based composer. You also develop the necessary understanding of stylistic breadth and the ability to analyse, assimilate and generate ideas in order to work in many situations and environments with a variety of stylistic, artistic and production demands. In your final year you have the option to major in Production.

Artist Development (80 - 140 credits)

Artist Development focuses on the freelance portfolio musician and the original artist, both in terms of creative practice and entrepreneurial activity. In years 1 and 2 of the programme, you develop the skills required to market and promote yourself and your music to a broad audience. You acquire a knowledge and understanding through research and academic study of the music industry and business practice in the context of yourself as a professional practitioner, enabling you to begin your career in conjunction with, and informed by, your studies.

The concept of the professional musician’s portfolio career studied in years 1 and 2 is developed further in years 3 and 4 of the programme in the Electives, which gives you the opportunity to tailor your studies according to your areas of interest and to specialise in areas that will best compliment your artistic, professional and academic goals. The options are contemporary and relevant to today’s music industry and are available to students from all RNCM schools of study, actively encouraging cross-school collaboration and diversification. The modules are designed to promote a collegiate approach in areas with genuine crossover potential.

Working with our industry partners and partner institutions, the Professional Engagement option within this module is designed to allow you to experience life as a professional freelance musician, band or artist within the industry, before returning to College to reflect, plan and realise your individual and collective goals as you graduate from the programme. Opportunities include work and study abroad as well as within the UK. This unique aspect of the programme takes place in either year 3 or 4 and provides you with the opportunity to gain valuable experience and make influential contacts that paves the way into your career as a full-time professional musician. In your final year you have the option to major in Artist Development.

Musicianship (40 credits)

In the musicianship modules, you develop musical literacy to an advanced level, enabling you to employ your theoretical, aural, and creative skills across a range of musical settings and to apply these in the performance, composition, and production modules.

You develop a wide musical vocabulary and a keen musical ear through a range of contemporary industry-focused practical applications including groove writing and programming, vocal top lining, and harmonic progression writing. In year 2 of the programme, you have the opportunity to select from a range of innovative musicianship disciplines that enhance your development as the 3D-musician and to collaborate and study alongside students from all of the RNCM schools.

Performance Opportunities

Manchester is Europe’s second largest creative, digital and media hub and has a vibrant popular music scene rooted in a rich cultural history. The city is home to major international live performance venues such as the Manchester Arena, O2 Manchester Apollo and Manchester Academy, and iconic Northern Quarter settings including Night & Day Café, Matt & Phred’s, The Ruby Lounge and Band on the Wall, where RNCM students perform regularly. Our graduates are at the heart of Manchester’s music scene and you are actively encouraged to develop your own collaborative original performance projects throughout the programme to take advantage of these surroundings and professional networks.

You also have the opportunity to audition for prestigious conservatoire ensembles such as the RNCM Session Orchestra and RNCM Big Band, and to work professionally with our industry partners. We actively promote original music through our record label Northern Quarter Records and Northern Sessions live events across the UK.

RNCM students appear regularly at major festivals including Glastonbury, Hyde Park, V-Festival, Latitude and Kendal Calling. They have also performed with high-profile artists including Little Mix, Becky Hill, Arlo Park, Craig David, Tinchy Stryder and Cee Lo Green; toured with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and The Shires; appeared alongside violinist David Garrett at the Royal Variety Performance at the Lowry Theatre; and performed on the world tour of Thriller Live.

The RNCM Session Orchestra has performed at the British Music Student Awards at the Liverpool Echo Arena and the 02 Academy Birmingham, at the Music For Youth National Festival and Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, the Liverpool International Music Festival, the Duke of Edinburgh’s World Fellowship Coronation Ball at the Royal Courts of Justice, and at Manchester Day.