I signed up to Seth Hanes' email list a while ago, after coming across 'The Musician's Guide to Hustling' through a Facebook group. Seth is a musician and a marketing consultant, having realised before graduation that he needed to know about marketing and entrepreneurship and throwing himself whole-heartedly into getting to know all about it. He now advises artistic clients and businesses such as the Pennsylvania Philharmonic and The Conservatory of Musical Arts. I was impressed by how he'd combined his musical and marketing knowledge.
So when an email came through from Seth asking for beta-readers for his new book 'Break Into the Scene', I jumped at the chance to combine my own skills - a musical background and editing/proofreading - and offer my help (plus, I have to admit I was really curious about the book, and this meant I got to read it early!).
When the book came out a couple of months later, I ordered a copy - in fact, it was the first thing I used my new student status to get a discount on! I read it (again) on the train back from a day at Uni - it's about 160 pages, so a quick read if you want to sit down to it in one go, but also written in easily-digestible sections, so you could grab it for ten minutes at a time and still get plenty out of it.
The book is part myth-busting and part practical advice. Essentially - yes, you need to practise your instrument to get good at it, but that alone will not get you work - the gigs will not 'magically' come to you. Certainly when I was training, the myth of 'discovery' was quite powerful. If you worked hard and got really good, someone would come and find you and propel you to stardom. Maybe that happens on very rare occasions, but the vast majority musicians need to put some effort in to 'getting themselves out there'.
Seth uses his marketing knowledge to set out steps that you can take to get in touch with people and make opportunities for work as a musician. Yes, he uses the word 'networking'. This is a word that always makes me cringe a bit. But I like Seth's take on it - he quotes his friend and mentor Charlie Hoehn: "The best networkers don't call it networking.... they call it being friends" and says that "actively trying to network with people almost always comes across as fake... it should always start from a place of creating authentic relationships". This rang huge bells for me - having friends who share your experiences in different areas of your life is utterly invaluable (in my case, musicians, academics, people who are self-employed in different fields - although of course I have friends who aren't any of those things and I don't value them any less!). And the best, most enjoyable work, I find, is with people who you really get on with.
But of course you need to make contact with people in the first place. Seth's take on this is a bit different from the usual advice. The biggest surprise for me in this book was the advice not to bother with a website. Since I'm writing this on my website, and my website is where a lot of my work comes from, my immediate reaction was to reject this... but actually, he's not saying never to bother with a website, just that it (along with professional photos, social media, etc) isn't vital to start with. Instead, Seth offers an email template for getting in touch with people and offering whatever it is you have to offer. And while you might want to tweak the wording to suit your own style, the basic premise of 'putting yourself out there' and the guidance for taking the first steps is what I think really makes this book. It's like a reassuring voice saying, it's OK, you can do this, I know it's scary, but I've done it, other people have done it too, and here are the good things that can happen. Some of the 'good things' described really made me smile - as well as being success stories, they sounded like a lot of fun!
There's some excellent practical advice on what to do when you get work too - the 'Skills That Have Nothing to Do With Talent' chapter contains some 'rules' which are aimed at freelancers, but can apply to most musical situations - in fact, a lot of other situations in life too. These fall broadly into practical skills (timekeeping, replying to messages, being prepared) and social skills (be friendly, offer help, "don't be a whiner"). All common sense really, but well worth a reminder.
It can be easy when reading books like this to come up with reasons (excuses) why you can't do these things, why your situation is different, why that wouldn't work for you. Seth is in the US, so some of the systems and organisations he described don't exist in the same way elsewhere (I'll admit to still not quite understanding how the US high school band system works), but it doesn't take too much of a leap of the imagination to think of alternatives in your own area. And of course, not every bit of someone else's advice is going to be right for you. I still felt some resistance to the 'marketing' language (I can't imagine myself sending an email saying "I wanted to reach out" but again that's probably a bit of cultural difference, and the need to adapt things to suit you!). But if you need a quick dose of motivation, along with lots of straight-talking advice and some virtual hand-holding, I think this book strikes the right balance.
The People's Orchestra, based in Birmingham, are looking to expand their unique orchestra model into other areas of the country, including a South Yorkshire group based in Sheffield, hopefully starting early next year. I've been working with them to find interested musicians in the South Yorkshire area - I'm sure you're out there!
The People's Orchestra is a bit different - there are no limits on numbers of any instrument (so no waiting lists for you woodwind players... saxophones included too!). The repertoire is an exciting mixture of classical, film music, show tunes and more. There's some flexibility around rehearsal attendance (they realise that people have different working patterns and commitments). They offer bursaries to those who need them, and the organisation also supports volunteers to gain valuable experience and find work.
If you'd be interested in playing in a big, friendly orchestra and being there at the start of something very exciting for classical music in Sheffield, please fill in the Expression of Interest form at http://www.thepeoplesorchestra.com/eoi
It's that time of year that feels like another 'new year', and this year I feel like I've had a succession of them. Back to a full teaching timetable after a quieter summer - some new flute students, some new online theory students. Hearing about my students' new schools. And then the University students descended on Sheffield for the start of the academic year and the place was busy and buzzing again. And finally, this week, I started my PhD. That is, I've spent one day so far at Lancaster University, where I'll be studying part-time/ distance learning. The first week is mainly taken up with induction and registration events, and I've been impressed so far by the care that's gone into making sure we know where we need to be, what we need to do, and how to find out things. But more than that, by the emphasis on making sure we're OK - how to look after ourselves in the process of doing a PhD, and where to get help if we need it.
There's a lot of crossover between things that are useful in musical training and work, and those that help you on the way with a PhD. The concept of little and often - whether that's reading and writing (I'm taking the advice to write frequently and writing this blog post!), or practising your instrument. Making use of small stretches of time - I can practise a tricky phrase for ten minutes while my lunch cooks (obviously making sure it doesn't burn!), I can read a quick article on the train. Making notes to refer back to about what you're working towards. Planning - your aims for your research, or for a practice session - but equally being aware and prepared that things won't always go to plan, and being adaptable. Realising that there will be times when nothing seems to be going right and you want to pack it all in!
Of course these are useful in many aspects of life. As is stationery. One of the joys of a new school year was always shopping for a new pencil case, rulers, a protractor. I haven't bought any of those this time (and can't actually foresee any use for a protractor any time soon), but after much quizzing of other people about their PhD note-taking and filing systems, I have invested in some hopefully useful equipment. I bought some nice pens, which are comfortable to write with. I've tried making notes electronically, but it doesn't seem to work as well for me for processing information - so apart from using Evernote on my phone for quick reminders to myself, handwriting seems to be the way ahead. I have a lot of post-it notes of assorted sizes, for both PhD and musical projects, small ones for quickly tagging things and larger ones for more extensive notes on books and articles (and yes, they have small animals on them, thank you Paperchase):
I spent a while pondering what the ideal notebook would consist of. A few friends mentioned that they'd had notes all over the place when doing their research, and this was something I found I was already suffering from. At the same time, I was reading about different organisational systems, and came across Bullet Journals. The short explanation of these is that you use one notebook for everything, generally just using the next blank spread of pages for whatever you want to write next, and indexing these in the front so you can find everything. This sounded pretty ideal for note-taking where I'm likely to be writing about different aspects of my project, but want to be able to group themes together at some point. So my plan is to use these A4 notebooks with punched holes and perforations:
To start with I'll be using the next blank spread for whatever I make notes on next, and indexing it Bullet Journal style. However, as my work progresses, the perforations and punched holes allow me to detach sheets and file them in ring binders in the appropriate category, to refer back to. That's the plan anyway - I'll report back on whether that actually works!
I realise this is not exactly a 'research' blog post - but organisation is possibly one of the biggest challenges of a PhD (and also of freelance music-making and self-employed teaching, which I'm doing at the same time). As far as actual research goes, I'm currently reading about theories of adult learning, and making notes for a summary of how each of these relates to music education. And trying to get plenty of sleep!
Flute player and teacher blogging about playing, learning, teaching and researching music.
The Reliable Musician - a series of blog posts on the skills that make the sort of musician people want to work with!