James Mcaulay
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Entrepreneur James reinvents gig economy

Fitzwilliam College alumnus James McAulay is raising money for the NHS and helping to support struggling musicians thanks to his latest business venture.

James co-founded innovative music events company Encore straight after he and business partner James King completed their Computer Science degrees in 2014. Encore Musicians is a marketplace platform with more than 42,000 registered live musicians across the UK. Last year it generated over £1 million in revenue for musicians who were booked across 2,000 events, ranging from weddings and birthday parties to corporate parties and festivals.

As coronavirus began to spread, the business was hit hard, with more than 500 cancellations in just two weeks. 

The 10-strong London-based Encore team brainstormed ideas to avoid a commercial crisis and came up with a new way of gifting bespoke songs to help keep freelance musicians in work during lockdown.

James said: “It’s been a very difficult time and all the events we had lined up for the musicians on our books were cancelled. We had no income on the horizon. Our team came up with about 25 different concepts to see how we could save the business and help freelance musicians get work. 

“I’m really proud of everyone for coming up with such a creative idea of personalised music messages, where customers can pay our musicians to record uplifting, bespoke songs for loved ones in isolation.” 

It’s now possible to book a professional musician to perform a song and video message, recorded and ready to share within 48 hours. 

James said: “We’ve seen people logging in from all over the world. The most heart-warming messages for me are ones sent to care homes and hospitals when people can’t see their friends and family. We had one message sent out to a doctor fighting COVID on the frontline in South Africa from her friends in the UK and she said it made her week.”

Every video includes a donation to the NHS and more than £1,500 has so far been raised. Prices are set by the musician and start at just £15, with £2.50 donated from each video to the NHS. A tipping feature allows customers to provide additional funds for musicians once the video is completed.

Two Fitz alumni helped James with funding after he got in touch with the Fitzwilliam College Alumni LinkedIn group.

He said: “Paul Dixon (Economics 1984) and Paul Cassidy (Classics 1981) are angel investors in Encore. I approached the group for some advice when we were first launching as a start-up business – they met up with me and decided to invest.”

James added: “Fitz gave me a great grounding to start an online business straight after I graduated.

“There were always a lot of music events happening at Fitzwilliam College – I was involved in the Fitz Barbershop, I sang and played cello in a band that regularly played in the Fitz Bar, as well as being part of a piano trio and cello quartet too.

“I took part in the Telephone Campaign a few years in a row to raise funds for the College and it provided a really helpful opportunity to speak to a number of inspiring Fitz alumni and entrepreneurs.” 

Find out more about Encore’s personalised music messages.


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