Ep. 1 - Introduction

Hello. I have decided to write this new blog Musician at Work for several reasons, which I will outline shortly. It is a view of the world from my point of perspective - both issues in my life as a professional musician with a finger in many musical pies, but also as just a bloke trying to get by in the wider social, political and cultural climate of the UK today. 

Online presence 

Having an online presence is an essential part of life as a professional musician in this country. This is needed mainly for self-promotion and advertising (eg: informing potential audiences of upcoming performances and new projects/albums, etc). This is particularly true of a freelance musician, which is the category that I mostly fall into (apart from a few regular, ongoing bands). More about freelance musical life later... 

Sometimes, this need for an online presence seems to be a bit absurd and illogical to me. I recently thought about entering a jazz composition competition funded by a regional branch of the Arts Council. One of the criteria for assessing the viability of the winning proposed compositional idea was the ‘scope of the online presence of the composer’! If this was for a competition where the prize involved attracting an audience for a live event I could understand this, but here the prize was a radio broadcast of the performance of the work by a band that didn’t necessarily include the composer in its ranks. Huh?!  

I didn’t bother to enter the competition… Thinking about it, a competition for the best idea for a composition rather than the best actual composition seems a bit bonkers in itself.  

What musicians do all day 

In the current lockdown-affected world there seems to be a strong pressure to justify the work that musicians (and artists in general) do as ‘real’ work. The validity of this career as a ‘proper job’ seems to be more in question than ever, and this is reflected by the shockingly bad organisation of financial support for freelancers in the Covid pandemic. The government just does not know what we do and how the music (and wider arts) industry is actually organised. I hope to enlighten and inform with my future blog posts. 

This lack of understanding from the wider audience became even clearer to me over the Summer when a friend interviewed me as background research to her upcoming novel which featured a musician as one of the main characters. She is an extremely knowledgeable and widely-read person, but the ‘unworldly’ and ‘romantic’ ideas that she had about life as a musician were very wide of the mark. The interview proved to be a real ‘reality check’ for her. Maybe she is not alone in needing this? 

Show your workings 

This phrase, which for me harks back to the dreaded maths exams of my youth, is part of a philosophy which is gaining prominence amongst artists in all fields. I first came across it a few years ago when my PhD supervisor recommended the book Show your Work! By Austin Kleon. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Show-Your-Work-Getting-Discovered/dp/076117897X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=8UI611W1QIYJ&dchild=1&keywords=show+your+work+austin+kleon&qid=1611161026&sprefix=show+your+work%2Caps%2C153&sr=8-1)  

The basic philosophy involves opening up the process of creating works of art to the audience rather than just waiting to present the final finished product. This (usually online) access helps to explain your creative processes in the making of a work and some of the ideas and techniques behind it to interested observers. This helps to build a relationship between the creator and individual members of a potential audience and opens up the possibility of a two-way stream of ideas and greater understanding between both sides. Watch this space… 

Music education 

2021 is the 40th anniversary of passing my PGCE in secondary music teaching. Since then I have taught in schools, colleges, universities, workshops and community projects, usually part-time alongside a professional involvement in music. I still teach part-time in an FE College. Education is in my blood and I will also be passing on a few nuggets of (hopefully) useful information in this blog. 

As you can see, the reasons behind this blog are many and varied - from an extension of my self-employed business, a small (semi-political) platform for my voice and opinions (and also that of my industry), somewhere to share and explain my artistic ventures and projects, and an educational tool. 

I hope you enjoy reading it! 

Cheers, 

Ralf

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