Portfolio Career Tips

By Gary Stewart


Interview with Gary Stewart - Leeds Conservatoire Alumnus, Drummer, guitarist, songwriter, orchestral percussionist.

‘You can’t see the wood for the trees’

When I was 12 or 13, I used to listen to my then-to-be best friend (TBBF as the kids say) play drums during the break time at school. He hated people watching him play but, for some reason, he didn’t mind me listening. From these break time listening sessions came friendship, then inspiration and finally, a healthy competitive spirit to be as good as I could be at playing drums and percussion. I firmly believe these three aspects are integral in maintaining and furthering a healthy and valid career in the music industry.
What about all the other myriad aspects of being a musician? Well yes, there are many things to consider when building a reputation as a competent, reliable and valued musician for hire; the little trills, hammer-ons and paradiddles that we need to keep on top of. Below are a few I live by:

  1. Be on time - Simple. Don’t turn up to a rehearsal, recording session or lesson late. In the first instance it sets a bad example and jeopardises the ‘reliable’ aspect of yourself. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30 and managed to make it to musical appointments on time at the peril of (frequently and ironically late) public transport. Set off early. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your gig/session/lesson. It shows that, aside from being a musician or not, you value and respect the importance of being punctual.
  2. Be humble - No one likes a narcissist. It’s important to be humble and gracious with any musical work or project you are involved in. Yes, you have spent hours/years practising your instrument, focusing on timbre, pitch and technique; or honing your songwriting skills; or constructing the sickest of dubstep beats. You may think you’re the next Beethoven, Dylan or Stormzy but there is little merit in acting like you already have that accolade. Be the nice guy. In this dogeat-dog business there is always someone ready to step into your shoes. Which leads ‘nicely’ onto the next point…
  3. Say yes - Always try and take the gig. I started to get orchestra work when I was in my first year at Leeds Conservatoire. I was asked to do a John Barry evening at the Grand Opera House in York with the National Festival Orchestra (NFO). It was terrifying not only because I had to play vibraphone in the opening James Bond theme, but because I threw myself out of my comfort zone and made the step from student to jobbing musician, while still being a student. From there I got more work with the NFO and then I started to do shows, which led me to other shows and festivals. I started networking without fully realising it. Start saying yes and looking for gigs as soon as possible. If you take on board points one and two into the bargain then you will eventually find yourself in a position to have the power of choice to say no. Note: three gigs in one day CAN be done. I know.
  4. Be human - It’s well-known in the Orchestral ‘industry’ that, in addition to being excellent on your instrument, it’s equally important (some may argue more important) to have the ability to socialise with your peers. It’s common when on trial with an orchestra that the players will regard how you cope in the pub after the concert as importantly as they will assess your playing within the orchestra. The ability to get on quickly with strangers and make acquaintances is invaluable in your career as a musician; be the best player you can be for sure but also be prepared to bring bants to the table also.

I mentioned earlier that I believe friendship, inspiration and competitive spirit to be integral in maintaining a healthy career in music. In this current music industry we find ourselves not only having to be proficient on our instrument; we are having to become our own agents, promoters, accountants, web designers, record producers, tour advancers, spreadsheet warriors, Twitterers, Instagrammers and Facebook wizards. As music becomes easier and easier to record remotely and to be released independently, resulting in an unprecedented amount of music being made and released, it’s very easy to spend more and more time on the peripherals of the music you are playing; the tweets, the Facebook music page, the thousands of Insta posts. The original spark that got you into music, that friendship with a like-minded other is easily forgotten amidst being active on ‘social’ media. Inspiration in the direct form of going to gigs, concerts and recitals is put on the back-burner while you pinpoint focus on how many Facebook guests are coming to your next show. And the next. And the next. The competitive spirit to how good you can be on your instrument clouds with every pull of your time towards the next lesson. The next rehearsal. The next bout of admin you have to do. The next meeting with the music video producer. The trees are so many that you fail to see the wood.

Take time to recalibrate and don’t lose sight of what got you into music initially. Keep in touch with your musical peers. Be inspired. Go to concerts. Play your instrument daily. Make time. Be the best you can be. See the wood through the trees

Gary Stewart

By Gary Stewart

Ahead of graduating @tashadmusouk is making their professional debut in Vernons Girls at @RoyalCourtLiv from 9 June… https://t.co/dXWt7jVMkI
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