The Life Of… A Percussionist and Creative Producer

By Eddy Hackett, Percussionist and Creative Producer

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Eddy Hackett Web

Interview with Eddy Hackett, Percussionist and Creative Producer

Briefly explain the areas of music you work in.

I’m a performer, a music educator, and a creative producer and company director. I perform mostly within classical orchestras, playing with over 30 professional orchestras. I have done a lot of work as a guest principal percussionist also. I guest as an academic lecturer, doing a lot of work on the subject of entrepreneurship. This feeds in to my role as Director of the Lost Estate and the Arensky Chamber Orchestra.

 

What does a typical working week look like for you?

Each week tends to be different to the last, and changes with different times of the year. A typical week right now would revolve around meetings and work on The Lost Estate’s new project called The Lost Love Speakeasy. Alongside producing the show, I meet with the creative teams, organise set design and ensure venues are booked, talk with sponsors, oversee menu design, and keep a tight check on budget and the overall finance for the show.

I am doing a fair amount of academic lecturing across the UK and look after my band The Old Dirty Brasstards. We do about 100 gigs throughout the year, with about two to three gigs per week. We have been working on a project to perform debut albums of particular artists  including the Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes, taking in corporate events as well as clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s.

 

Can you make a living as a freelance percussionist?

Definitely! I am often asked what the best approach is to do this, and I think you need to adopt one of two polar positions. The first is saying that I am going to specialise in one thing. It could be that you choose to be the number one session percussionist in the UK, or break it down further to being the very best at Indian hand percussion. The other is to be a ‘jack of all trades’. Not to be ‘a master of none’, but to acknowledge a career that spans many different genres. I have fallen in to the latter as I like to keep my options open. As a performer I have played a lot with classical chamber music, pop, theatres etc. For me that’s been really useful.

You have to constantly try to improve. Be aware of consistency – You’re only as good as your last gig. I am always trying to come back to one particular piece   of advice that I share with my students. It’s about understanding what your base job is. Most musicians tend to teach, and so I am very aware that having a healthy but exciting teaching job can form this base.

 

You play in a variety of settings. How flexible do you need to be as a performer, and how proficient do you need to be on your instrument?

You’ve got to be aware of the rising quality of musicianship across the globe. Students tend to be more technically proficient as they leave music college, and the standard in the industry rises year on year. You have to be constantly trying to improve. Be aware of consistency – you are only as good as your last gig. Hopefully you can fuse both consistency and proficiency, allowing you to have a more profound musicality and sense of individuality over time.

 In terms of flexibility, for me it’s been really useful to be able to play a number of different instruments and styles. When I left college the first few gigs I had was playing with a symphony orchestra. They  asked  me  to  play  a bit of hand percussion, tuned percussion and standard orchestral percussion. There were not many people at the time who could play congas, followed by a xylophone solo, followed by cymbals, and make them all sound beautiful. I was really conscious of this and it really helped me stand out at the start of my career.

 

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

I have been really fortunate to have a diverse and exciting career so far. Some of the first highlights include tours with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and performing at Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Centre (New York). I did some fantastic chamber music projects in Lichtenstein with my group, London Percussion and my wife who is     a harpist. They were almost styled as lounge-style jazz gigs, and involved some of the local children through the education outreach we were able to do.

With the Old Dirty Brasstards we headlined the William’s Green stage at Glastonbury performing to 5000 people. Recently our album project performing the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album has taken us to Sheffield, Manchester and Bristol 02 Academies.

I’m particularly proud of my work as director  for  The  Lost Estate, creating the very first immersive classical arts performances. One of our projects called ‘The Great Masked Ball’, based on Swan Lake, had over 25 performances to more than 6000 people. It was a huge sprawling event, with set and lighting design, actors, dancers, musicians and fabulous food.

 ‘The Lost Love Speakeasy’ is our next ambitious project with The Lost Estate. It’s a 1920s New York speakeasy, with an original theatre script about two lovers journeying from the deep south in America up to New York. I’m excited to see if we can extend our initial run of 7 weeks with the project.

One piece I have always wanted to perform is ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ by Steve Reich. I’m hoping I can do that very soon.

 

Do you prioritise your work i.e. do you pick classical work over pop and session work?

I’m at the stage now where I have a couple projects of my own. I’m lucky that I can have the first choice of all the gigs from these projects so there is often a lot of work available. When choosing work, I consider what drives me artistically and creatively at any given point. If I have a series of Old Dirty Brasstards shows lined up, but the Royal Opera House calls with a performance request, I will likely try to take the latter. I like to retain variety and spread myself across a number of different genres. Equally, the more responsibility I gain as the older I get, the more I do have to balance this attitude with my bottom line figure to ensure I can pay my mortgage. You do have to make artistic compromises to achieve financial security.

 

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

As already mentioned, you have to be at the very top of your game in terms of your quality and consistency. My old teacher from the Manhattan School of Music used to refer to the ‘race horse mentality’, where he said  the best students were like race horses at the start of the race – absolutely raring to learn, and striving to better themselves as performers, and ultimately win their race.

I believe the key to becoming a valued musician in the community is establishing  an individual  voice. Knowing what’s right for you may differ to others, but this allows you to express yourself and share your passion from behind your instrument with other people.

 

Alongside your performance work you are one of the Directors of the Arensky Chamber Orchestra and The Lost Estate. How did you end up in this role, and does it inform your playing or decision making as a performer?

The Arensky Chamber Orchestra was set up in 2009 by a friend of mine. I got a Facebook  message  in 2011  asking  if I was free to play percussion on one of their gigs, and have played principal percussion for them  ever  since.  I have always been interested in strategy  and  in  2014  I  was asked by English National Opera to chair their Young Patrons Committee. They were looking to try to improve the experience generally. Similarly, I was always discussing ways in which to improve the Arensky Chamber Orchestra with its directors, whether that was the performance or audience experience, or even just the addition of new creative ideas.

I like to spread myself across genres, but I do have to pay my mortgage. You have to make artistic compromises to achieve financial security.           

In 2017 they agreed to bring me on board in a more managerial position, to push the collaborative  nature  of the orchestra, creating new performance opportunities and helping it find its own voice. One of the things that we were all interested in doing was taking the fine arts and fusing it with an amazing night out. Sometimes these are perceived to be separate events i.e. you don’t normally expect to have an incredible meal or cocktail at a classical arts event, and vice versa. That led to us setting up the production company

The Lost Estate. Now on our fourth production, we merge incredible food and cocktails, with immersive set and lighting design, and classical arts and performance to create a single cohesive experience.

We agreed early on that The Lost Estate should be set up as a commercial company to avoid dependence on funding applications. So it’s a true traditional business, which has been an amazing roller-coaster ride; learning to run a business from a finance point of view to future planning has been a real baptism by fire. I am a great believer in learning by doing. You  learn  by  making  mistakes,  and  we still have a lot to learn, but it is an exciting, if slightly terrifying role as company director and I absolutely love it!

 

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

  1. Make sure you are the very best musician that you can be in terms of technical proficiency and musicality.
  2. Make sure that you are really informed from a listening perspective on the genre you want to perform in.
  3. The combination of being a fantastic musician, but importantly a fantastic person is what develops work through word of mouth. Feel comfortable within your own skin.
  4. Organisation is key. Be organised, on time (or early) and respond to people promptly.
  5. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself! I regret spending a lot of my early career feeling stressed out when I could have just enjoyed what I was doing. We are unique as musicians in that we can make a career out of a hobby or a passion, so it’s important to remember that. The more you enjoy it the better you will be!

 

What is your favourite ensemble to play with or type of percussion work?

I absolutely love most of what I do. I get to play with    my favourite musicians in Old Dirty Brasstards. It’s an incredible group with fantastic arrangements. There’s  also nothing quite like sitting at the back of a symphony orchestra playing cymbals in a Mahler piece. I do also love performing chamber music, especially the music of Steve Reich. I have just started to do a little more session work in studios over the past couple of years. I love working with engineers, producers and composers and refining their ideas and putting my own performing under the microscope. It’s a really brilliant and fun process!


Eddy Hackett

Percussionist and Creative Producer

www.eddyhackett.com

www.thelostestate.com

 

By Eddy Hackett, Percussionist and Creative Producer

Eddy Hackett Web

Interview with Eddy Hackett, Percussionist and Creative Producer

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