The Life Of… A Freelance Cellist & Vocalist

By Alex Marshall, a freelance cellist & vocalist


An interview with Alex Marshall, a freelance cellist & vocalist

Can you briefly explain the area(s) of music you work in?

I’m a freelance cellist and vocalist specialising in commercial pop performance - which can include performances for video, TV and radio as well as some corporate and private engagements. I’m also the frontwoman for northern- based function band Kudos, who perform at corporate events, weddings and parties across the country.


What does a typical working week look like for you?

One week to the other is never the same - I do a lot of travelling between gigs, and so tend to live my days as they come! One week might look empty one day, and the next there will be a gig that requires two rehearsal days,   a production rehearsal and the performance… and then that’s the week booked out. I definitely have empty days and impossibly busy days but you have to just stay calm and stay organised. On quieter days, I’ll rehearse music in preparation for any upcoming performances or sit down and do some admin as well as trying to do as much as possible of the p-word – practice!


How do you find most of your work?

I find that most of my work comes from the connections I have made through performing with other musicians. I have met lots of string players who are working in the same sector by simply offering to play in concerts, recordings and shoots. As you build those connections, you all end up working together to offer ensembles that clients are able to book for sessions and performances. That being said, agencies and bookers are really important - once you have a promotional package (CV, videos, photos etc.) it’s definitely worth emailing it to lots of different agencies to make sure you are on their books for any work they might be able to put you forward for.


Was there a point when you realised that you could make a living from music?

LCoM always pushed the quartet I managed and performed in through the Musicians’ Booking Agency whilst I was still studying. I was always working part-time as a freelance cellist with the hope that I would be able to do it full time once I graduated. I then had a couple of part-time jobs when I finished my degree which were fantastic, but as I worked more as a freelancer my working pattern became more unpredictable and I decided to take the (admittedly very scary!) jump and go self-employed full-time.


How flexible do you need to be as a performer, and how proficient do you need to be on your instrument?

It is so important to hone your craft and be confident with your instrument. You often find that people rely on you to suggest things particular to your instrument in the studio, or experiment with different performance techniques. You need to be able to deliver so much playing-wise on demand. Sight-reading and transcribing is a key skill that   I cannot stress enough. Sometimes music is sent out 24 hours before a gig and you are required to transcribe a part from just the audio yourself. Similarly, more often than not, a lot of music for commercial purposes is required to be performed from memory so these skills are vital. Always be ready! You never know what gig will come in next, or what expertise you’ll need to secure it.

As music is a creative process, it goes  without  saying that you need to be flexible. You need to be able to take direction well and work towards a common goal rather than worrying about your own performance style. It could lose you the gig if you can’t work outside your comfort zone.


What have been your career highlights to date? What’s next on your bucket list?

My  absolute  favourite  gig  to  date  was  performing with Paolo Nutini for Zermatt Unplugged, a festival in Switzerland. I was performing as part of a string quartet  in a stripped back version of his Caustic Love album with the original string arranger for the album also performing. We were out for four days in rehearsals and production and we all hung out in this amazing place surrounded mountains, and the gig itself was amazing - I know his music really well so couldn’t stop smiling the whole time! This is closely followed by performing with Mumford and Sons at The O2 and an Apple Music live streamed gig with Little Mix. I would absolutely love to do Glastonbury and a long original artist tour at some point so fingers crossed they cross my path in the future!


You perform as a cellist and a vocalist. Do you prioritise one over the other?

I am a bit more familiar with the string session circuit and what it means to be a classical player in the pop industry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t advertise myself as a vocalist as I really love both. It’s really useful to have the two disciplines and I find that if I’m not busy with cello, I’ll be able to work as a vocalist and in some situations they will even inform each other. I’ll be able to write string arrangements that I know will complement vocal melodies whilst also having an understanding of additional harmony for vocals.


What advice do you have for the next generation of performers coming into the music industry, and in particular for young female classical musicians?

Always be ready! You never know what gig will come in next, and you don’t know what expertise you’ll need to have to secure it. Be ready with lots of different skills, be ready with your attitude and be ready to work hard! Classical female musicians in particular face so much stereotyping and these must be challenged by young women being brave, being the bosses and being their absolute best!


What five tips would you give someone looking to make a living from live performance?

  1. Be organised.
  2. Be prepared to have quiet days and incredibly busy days all in the same month.
  3. Know everything you can about your setup, how everything works, and how other things that influence your performance work (i.e. playback, in- ear mixing, EQ).
  4. Save money for quieter days and your tax bill throughout the year!
  5. Be approachable, friendly and nice! Make genuine connections with other people in the industry.

Alex Marshall

Freelance cellist & vocalist

LCoM Alumna

By Alex Marshall, a freelance cellist & vocalist


Interview with Alex Marshall, a freelance cellist & vocalist

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