”Duh” tips!

IMG_20170117_152721_631.jpgFor the young professional.

So you have just received your fancy degree (OR are busy with your fancy degree) and need to get a job to pay the bills. What are the things that fly out the window the moment you start working?


When I started working it was super tricky to balance all the things you learned in varsity. You no longer have the hours (even though a music degree feels like the most ”full” 4-10 years of your life) that you had previously. I am going to write six ”duh” tips to help those who feel like they are drowning, and hopefully make their start easier in a busy career. This post is entitled ”duh” tips because when you hear them you will think ”I would obviously do that!” BUT we don’t. We get tired or want to crawl into bed or just don’t feel like being an adult.

No. 1 Schedule a time to practise.

Don’t lose the years of work you did in the practise room. You most probably will not be able to keep up the practise regime you had in varsity (unless you nabbed that prime orchestral spot) but try to at least maintain it. Listen to your body. I practise super early in the morning so practise feels like it is a priority. I am awake. I know that my day will get busy, and by then end of the day I won’t have the energy to practise. Also, use the practise time as YOU time. Don’t look at your phone, don’t get distracted, don’t listen to your colleagues problems. Practise. And enjoy the fact that you can, and that you made it an important part of your day.

No. 2 Budget

This one is a sensitive issue because people don’t want to cut out those two Vida coffees a week but seriously, you cannot choose coffee over something like instrument maintenance or rent. Also, in an industry that doesn’t always pay per month, it is a good thing to budget and save. Be realistic and honest in doing your budget. If Vida is something that has to be on the list make sure it is there i.e. don’t think of it as “I just got X gig money – Vida!!” Include everything from valve oil to new concert shoes. If you need help in budgeting, ask mom or go to a financial planner (the banks offer this kind of service) but don’t leave it too late. The point is to consider what you need verses what you want. Rent, work clothes, food, cell phone contract, retirement annuity, have to come before evenings out, drinks, coffee or movies. It is vital to get this balance right in the beginning.

P.S. Vida can be replaced with whatever luxury you have in life. I just know students, here in CT, who will choose coffee over bread!

No. 3 Watch your health

Stress is something that every career has but I have never met as many unhealthy people as musicians in SA. Obviously this does not apply to everyone, but growing up it was a normal thing at all the courses I attended, for the majority of musicians, to smoke, drink alcohol and drink loads of coffee. This coupled with the late nights and crazy schedule normally ends in a sick person who has snot running down their face during their performance. This kind of life might be because we are young but why not start looking after your body now? It is recommended that 30 minutes of cardiovascular is a good to start to a healthy body and mind. It is good to flex your creative mind and go for an activity that gets you outside or even better, strengthens your core – something I find vital in playing a large and heavy instrument. Watch what you eat and drink and don’t overdose on coffee. I was a serious coffee addict and I have managed to get it down to three cups a day and even that is too much. Keep hydrated especially in winter. We have just come out of term 2 and most of the music staff were suffering from headaches do to stress and dehydration. Finally, look after your teeth, and go for the annual health checks. Put this in your budget because it is important for a long and happy musical life.

No. 4 Be proactive in your work space

Our industry does not allow for us to be “only an euphonist”. Keep this in mind while you head out into the industry. If you are going into education be proactive and learn the recorder, or teach theory, or learn to arrange music. By the way, these things are not hard – they just need practise. We need to be multi-faceted. If ever you are freaking out about something go ask someone in the industry, who is already doing it, for their advice. If you are a brass player you will need to go find a venue for the concert you will want to put on. It is scary but it is also worth it and through the process you learn the important skill of concert management. Jump in and just do it!

No. 5 Make money but keep your soul alive

When you finally get busy with your gigs just keep a mental note of the things that made you want to be a musician. So often, I meet musicians who have lost their love for the work that they do because “it is just a job”. It is your job but we are very lucky to be able to have a job we chose. Listen to music, read poetry, read books, watch your favourite artists on youtube, find a composer that gets your heart revved up, or go walk in nature and be filled with the nostalgia and wonder that you are living your dream. Also, keep up your practise (as said before) and choose that piece that you thought you might never be able to play, and learn it.


No. 6 Pace yourself

The above paragraph and this one kind of tie in. It is so easy to hit burn out by doing too much. Too much, however, is how a lot of us survive so keep in mind that you need to take some time off. Put time off into your schedule! I, for one, am still terrible at this but I am learning to be better and since scheduling in time off my energy levels are up. I also see friends more, go out more, and basically be a better person.


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