Interview: Communication and self-employment in the music industry

Freelance musician, Ben Glover, reveals his path to self-employment and details the importance of effective communication.

by Kieran Harris

Graduating in mid-2015, Ben has been able to transform his passion for music into a promising career, declaring himself as self-employed just months after completing his course. In the interview below, he gives his thoughts on the importance of music education and communication, as well as offering advice for those looking to turn playing music into a full-time career. I met Ben whilst studying a BA in Popular Music at the University of Derby and wanted to interview him to learn more about what it takes to be a freelance musician.

How would you describe what you do for a living?

 So, my official title would be freelance musician and music instrumentalist teacher. The bread and butter of that would be, five days a week I teach guitar and drums at a music school called Foulds Music Academy and at the weekends, generally I do wedding gigs or corporate events. The way that works is that I’m normally hired in by various bands as and when they need me, and the other side of that is the theatre work I do, which is more sporadic. It was very much taking as it comes really, but I think the teaching work is definitely the foundation and the gigs kind of fall on top of that.

Would you say a difficulty of what you do is sourcing the work?

I’ve been doing this officially since October 2015 – that’s when I declared myself as self-employed. I’ve been doing this now for maybe 17 months, and the first two or three months of that were quite difficult, as you said with sourcing the work. I was quite lucky that Foulds Music Academy did all of the advertising for me as a teacher, and they forwarded enquiries to me and left it up to me to book people in. But for the first couple of months it was quite difficult, because you’re starting from scratch and you’re not going to jump in with like 10 lessons a week. Even before I started doing it properly I was unsure about doing it; I was finding it hard to find gigs – but yeah, you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s about taking the plunge and I don’t think I would have been able to do it at the time without a supportive family – if I was in a different situation where I was living on my own, I think I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Would you say communication is an important part of your career?

 Communication with regards to my pupils is really important because they have to know when their lesson is and it does require constant reminders. Obviously, I get the contact from the music school and then it’s up to me to phone them – I have to ensure that I’m personable and approachable. I think it’s something I had to get used to because I had to learn how to behave and how to build relationships.

Could you tell me a little about the course you studied at university?

The course I did was the BA (Hons) Popular Music with Music Technology at the University of Derby. A module that particularly helped me was a theory module which we studied in first year, I thought that massively helped and that knowledge is something I pass on a lot now because a lot of pupils, more advanced pupils, want to know about it. They don’t just want to play the notes so to speak, they want to understand how things are structured, so for example, harmonic structures, how they work and how chords are built. I think obviously, the ensemble part was also a big help. So, you had one module a year on the performance stuff – I think all three of the modules helped me in some way, they’re all very different. It wasn’t like doing the same module you were challenged slightly differently and yeah, I think doing that three years in a row massively helped me. I think some of the tech stuff was also good for being able to communicate with sound engineers – it gave me the background to understand what they were saying to me.

How essential would you say having a degree is to your career?

 So, the actual degree certificate not so much. I’ve only maybe occasionally been asked whether I’ve got a degree and even then, I’m unsure whether I got the gig. At Foulds it was very laid back, it wasn’t even an interview – I wouldn’t even call it that, it was just a chat with the manager. He knew that I was doing a university course so I think that yeah, it probably did help with the teaching and I think if I called up a music school and asked for a position, they’d ask if I had a degree in music I’m sure. So, I think in the future it’ll help, but I think at the moment it’s the skills that I developed on the course that were the most helpful.

Do you have advice for anyone hoping to become a self-employed musician?

 For teaching I’d say, just hound music schools. If you were in my position just coming out of uni, I would hope if you wanted to do private lessons that you’ve got some experience of doing that before. It is just a case of just trying to speak to the right people, knowing who you need to speak to and just offering your services. Also, tying that in with the session work, if you’re doing a lot of session work and people know of you, they are probably going to want lessons off you or if they know somebody who has a son who wants lessons, they’d recommend you. So, I think by doing both the teaching and session work can get you extra teaching work, as well.  Advice for the session stuff would be to always do the best job possible, because having a lot of people to compete with it’s important try and identify what you’re good at and make sure that shines through. I would also say always respect what you’re playing even if it’s easy or if it’s not your thing, because I think that’s when the complacency comes in and it’s when maybe, you start letting your standards slip.

 

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