I am often asked what it's like to be a musician, and with respect, that's almost as broad as asking what it's like to be a human. I'm pretty confident that a day in the life of Robert Emery will be radically different from Puff Diddly, or Simon Cattle; yet we are all musicians, allegedly. So if the making of music is the only thing that connects us, what is it like to be this musician?
Right now, frustrating. We are taught not to wear our heart on our sleeves but to restrain. We are shown the stiff upper lip, and as someone in the media, we are coerced to give off the image that all is perfect in the world. If you know me, you'll know I like going against the grain, so this article should be no different.
I'm currently in a phase of what I call pre-planning; effectively deciding upon ideas I'd like to push forward to fruition, and then start the real planning on those ideas. And believe me when I say that the only thing more frustrating than pre-planning is parliament trying to deal with the Brexshit situation.
I've had two years of working on Bat out of Hell, producing albums and writing a musical, and in that time I was so busy I didn't have the common sense to think ahead. So the clock strikes, the new year came in, and all the projects I have been working on are complete. A golden opportunity appeared, and I had time and freedom to push my own projects.
I'm an ideas man. I generate ideas every second of every day. This is my mindmap of ideas, I call it ‘The Idea Factory’, and it’s for my work in TV, radio, podcasts, musicals, business opportunities, compositions, education work, charity work, albums, and concerts. And these are the things that never, ever get started when I'm paid to do another job; making a living from someone else's financial risk always takes precedence.
So why frustration?
Well, have you ever been in twenty meetings knowing only one may lead somewhere?
Have you ever been told 'we love this idea and will absolutely be in touch', only to never receive that call?
Are you your own boss, and therefore have to motivate yourself every morning to get your lazy bottom out of bed, to your desk and start the battle of making those phone calls you've been dreading?
I'm sure you have all experienced some of these elements at one time, so I'm not anything special here. It doesn't make it any easier though.
Some musicians practice for four hours a day. Mrs E would like to do that if she had the luxury. I, however, find practising one of the most boring things known to man; that's one of the reasons I could never be a concert pianist. I'm a very impatient person, and I don't want to practice doing, I want to DO. So this musician doesn't practice unless necessary.
When on the road, I can easily spend 24-30 hours a week travelling. This is the perfect time to catch up on the gift that keeps giving - emails. Sarcasm aside, I have never had life without email, but I can't help thinking without these dreaded things we would have more time to work.
And when I have to go out to work, the day of a gig falls typically into five sections:
A typical gig day
How the schedule looks
Travelling to location - about as exciting as learning geometry in school
Rehearsal - usually a three-hour session in the afternoon. This is where the fun starts, and as long as the leading artist or guests are happy and not stressed, things usually go well.
The Inbetweeners - the time between the rehearsal and gig. If you've ever seen the TV show 'The Inbetweeners', this little space of time can be a bit like the famous comedy series; unpredictable, funny, stressy, and generally trying to keep everyone calm while the excited teenage boy inside me comes alive.
The gig - the best bit of the day. Making music in front of an appreciative audience; what more is there to say.
Travelling home - even less appealing than learning the periodic table.
If I am conducting an orchestra without a soloist, life is, honestly, easier. It's just the musicians and me. The musicians in the orchestra are paid to do what they are told; if they are given the Messiah, the little baby Jesus will be happy as it's the Messiah he will hear. No argument. If there is a soloist, the control shifts and the soloist usually has the final say, especially (and rightly so) if it's their name above the door. If they change their mind about a piece of music and want to swap, I will always try and find a way to do this. Hence life with a soloist is often more challenging; which is the reason you should never marry one.
Talking about soloists, singers are the worst to deal with. If you are cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, as long as you remember to bring that large wooden instrument to the gig, there is little unpredictability. Likewise, James Galway can pop his little disassembled flute into his backpack, and providing it's not stolen en route, there is little that can go wrong. Singers, on the other hand, have a distinct disadvantage that their instrument is human; and we all know how unreliable humans can be. So it's not their fault they are the worst to deal with, and to be clear it has nothing to do with the possibility of a diva element - because all musicians have a little diva inside them - but if your soloist happens to have a sore throat, life gets interesting pretty quickly!
The poet William Cowper said 'variety is the spice of life', in which case my life is akin to a Vindaloo. Music isn't really my business. Communication is. When I'm writing music, I want to communicate my love, fear or happiness. When I'm performing music, I want to feel the love, fear or happiness in the hope I pass that emotion to the listener. Sometimes, I want to talk about music; radio and TV presenting, podcast, this blog, interviews, they are all communication of equal importance to me, and all keep my day sufficiently interesting that I don't stagnate like the brand 'classical music' has over the past thirty years.
Since I started in this game, I've never had time to twiddle my thumbs and wonder when the phone will ring next. Is that luck or to do with talent? Neither. It's business.
You can look anywhere on TV, and from Phillip Schofield through to Gareth Malone, Carol Vorderman to Piers Morgan, they all have one thing in common; they are a business. A product. We all, to some extent, have a team behind us steering the ship. Agents, Artistic Managers, Business Managers, Social Media Managers, Publicists, Stylists, Strategists, Publishers, etc. These people don't just work for the love of life; it's their way to buy the Heinz Baked-Beans, and not the essentials own brand; which means the 'Talent' needs to earn a shed load to be able to keep the entourage happy and working successfully. This, in turn, generates more business for the Talent, which means the entourage gets paid more. This perpetual system continues until the public or producers don't like the talent, the talent retires, or excerpts from the Messiah are sung in commemoration.
The entertainment industry is run, like life, by the Pareto principle. This 80/20 rule (if you don't know it, please find out about it) means that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So I'll keep having meetings, happy in the knowledge that only one-fifth of my time is helping this musician, and the other four-fifths I shall leave my entourage to Handel.
Finally, business is a fickle thing, and as I started with frustration, I'll end with it too. Without this emotion, I would be numb to the fact that I make good money out of my passion, that I get to meet the most incredible people, and that my vocation is one of the few constants in life - that the humans love of music from birth to death. So perhaps the odd dose of frustration is a bit like the essentials own brand Baked-Beans; nasty, but nevertheless, at times essential.
BookS & Podcast recommendations discussing working in the music business
The Bulletproof Musician - an excellent blog and resource useful for all musicians. Fantastic advise that will help any aspiring or professional muso to learn how performance psychology can help you play your best when it counts.
The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness - Veteran performer and educator Gerald Klickstein combines the latest research with his 30 years of professional experience to provide aspiring musicians with a roadmap to artistic excellence.
The Alexander Technique for Musicians - This is a unique guide for all musicians, providing a practical, informative approach to being a successful and comfortable performer.
The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less - Twenty years after its first publication, this book is a global bestseller read by millions of highly effective people around the world; plus recommended by Tim Ferriss.
Mind Map Mastery: The Complete Guide to Learning and Using the Most Powerful Thinking - Tony Buzan invented the Mind Map technique five decades ago. Seeing the transformational impact it had on people, he has been spreading the thinking tool across the world ever since.