Friday, 9 September 2016

The Graduate: Corey

Name: Corey

Age: 21

Where and what did you study?
Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, studying undergraduate Violin performance course, BMus(Hons).

When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician? 
I think I realised that music was a big part of my life when I was about 12 or 13. I had to choose between becoming a swimmer and starting to train full time or music as I couldn't dedicate enough time to both. It was always going to be an easy decision for me as music is what I've always loved (and also involves marginally less physical exertion!) I started playing piano at age 4 and violin at 6. I came across a string quartet in a church at 3 years old on a walk with my mum, and asked her then if I could start playing violin but no one would take me on until I was a little older!

Why did you decide to go to music college? Is your degree important in your career?
I decided to go to music college rather than uni because I want to be a performer, and I truly believe there is nothing more valuable than being in an environment where everyone wants to achieve the same thing and is at such a high standard. There are so many opportunities at music college to play in different orchestras and ensembles, as well as one-to-one tutoring with some of the world’s greatest players. You are surrounded by musicians more talented than you which obviously pushes you to do better. Another hugely important thing is the contacts you make during your time at music college. The world of music is so small and you will inevitably meet and play with people again. Most of the work I get now is because of recommendations and contacts. I always think ‘you can be the best player in the world, but if you don't know anyone that wants to hire you then you still won't be working’. At music college there is more time to dedicate to solo practice, improving your technique, musicality and developing skills that make you able to play in different scenarios such as orchestras, chamber music, session work and musicals. I chose to study at the Royal Northern because of their pop course, and I knew that we, on the classical course, would have the chance to collaborate with those students. This would improve my session skills, essential to life post-musical college as a freelance musician. I am most happy when playing musicals and doing sessions in studios with more modern music. Its just more my style and personality!

What's been instrumental (excuse the pun) in helping you become a freelance musician? 
The key thing is practice. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a professional musician and that is true. However, the hard thing about this career is that you're never done: you’ve never learnt everything there is to learn, you can't be ‘perfect’. So, even after uni and into the professional world, where people think ‘surely you can play the violin now you don't need to practice any more’, we still have to dedicate the time to learning new music and keeping up our skills so that they don't slip in standard. Juggling a career in music: travelling to gigs, playing, staying away from home a lot, and actually coming back to your roots and practising the basics to keep yourself fresh and your standards high, is what I've found most difficult so far in my professional career. Teachers and tutors have been hugely important to me. I had the same teacher from 6-15 years old and, after that, I've been lucky enough to work with some world renowned players who they have inspired me and improved my playing no end. My favourite quote of a recent teacher, after I had a little panic because she said I should learn a concerto that I've always avoided because of its difficulty is this: ‘you have the ability and talent to play this piece, the only person stopping you is you’, and she was right. We have to be so self motivated as musicians to sit in a room on our own for 4-6 hours a day, practising the same things, slowly and methodically until there is no chance we can get them wrong.

As I've already said, contacts are a big part of getting work as a musician. A lot of jobs don't audition - West End pit bands for instance - it's mostly just who you know and who thinks you're a good player. Of course the big orchestras audition, and that's where experience and practice come in, but in the world I’m circling at the moment, it is a lot about contacts. My mum always says ‘you’re only as good as your last gig’ and I think about that every time I play. There's always the potential that someone is there watching you, considering hiring you, so you have to be on top of your game all the time, both musically and socially. Finally, my biggest influence has been my family. Whilst none of them are pro musicians, they have always understood the job and supported me but never pushed me. It was always going to be my decision if I wanted to be a musician and still my mum says that if I ever felt I wanted to change career that she wouldn't be disappointed or upset because I've spent all this time learning a skill and enjoying it and that’s all she wants for me. The greatest thing they've given me is self belief. There has not been a minute where their belief in my ability has faltered, even when I've doubted my own talents. I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without their support and never-ending positivity.

What's a day in the life of a musician like? 
It depends on whether you are freelance or contract, but for me it is very varied and that's what I love about being freelance. This week I have two days to practice at the beginning of the week; I'll be home, sticking to a practice schedule and working on the repertoire for the gigs later in the week. Weds, Thurs and Fri I'm playing in London with The Little Orchestra, a freelance orchestra who perform classical concerts in quirky London venues in a very relaxed style with sofas, drinks and food. It’s a really nice way for people to enjoy classical music without the sometimes off-putting pomposity of a full on classical concert. It’s a very small group and a short concert of about 80mins ( We will be rehearsing for that during the day for 6 hours  and then we have two concerts over two evenings. On Saturday I'm headed to Manchester. I’ll be up early and then in Manchester for a sound check at 5. I'm playing a big party with a function band called UTC; I also do a lot of weddings for them, as well as a Jewish party band called AURA. So that will be 11pm-2.30am Saturday into Sunday and then home on Sunday to spend my birthday afternoon at home! The week after that I'm headed to Liverpool to extra with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra so it's all go, pretty full on but I wouldn't have it any other way!

What advice would you give to anyone trying to break into the creative industries? 
My best advice and, by that, I mean the most important advice I have is to not be scared of doing anything. Creative industries have an awful stigma that it is impossible to earn money solely from arts alone, and this is just a massive misconception. I've been out of music college for a year and have been living solely off what I make through playing music. If you want the work, have the ability to play the music and put in the time and effort to find it, you will get hired. Never be scared to try, I didn't think I'd get into music college but I did, and it's completely changed my playing and given me the chance to try and make it in this industry. If you don't achieve the first time, which we often don't in auditions and so on, then brush it off, practice harder and come back better. Have a thick skin, don't let other people's perceptions of this career put you off giving it a go. I still have this conversation probably on a weekly basis with someone:
So Corey what do you do?
I'm a musician, I play the violin
Oh amazing, that's so interesting…..and what do you do for your real job?
It will never fail to amaze me at how many people think it's impossible to earn a living from music. 

My second piece of advice is to chase the work. Get into people's heads, if they think ‘I need a violinist’ you need to be the name they pull from the back of their mind. Write to them, ask to come and watch them play, ask if you can sit in the orchestra pits, let them know you’re there and willing to play. I’ve done a lot of this especially as I studied in Manchester and I've had to move most of my work southwards to London and no one has the foggiest clue who I am amongst the sea of other talented young players! Its starting to pay off though and I'm getting work by word of mouth in London and I can honestly say it's such a great feeling when you can actually see things moving forward and coming together! My last piece of advice is to take every opportunity. When you're starting out, you really have to just say yes; nothing is below you. You'll get a lot of people asking you to work for free for the experience and I know this doesn't just apply to musicians. My advice is to use your judgement and decipher whether they're spinning you a lie to get free players or whether it really is worth it for you. Earlier this year I did a run of a new production for free as a favour to a friend but also because I knew that I would meet a lot of contacts in London, and that I would enjoy playing and get some good exposure. Sure enough I've had paid work off the back of that show! There will come a time when you're getting asked to do a lot of work and you will perhaps have to start turning down the worst option and when that happens it's fantastic! But before then you really need to expose yourself to as much as you can and as many people as you can because there's nothing more valuable than experience.  

What's your plan for the future? 
I'm hoping to go into the West End. It’s a tricky business to break into because there is so little funding for large orchestras in the pit. As a result, there is usually only one violin on a show - so not very many jobs. I hope to break into it by depping first, sitting in for the contracted player if they are away, and then hopefully at some point I will secure my own show. In the meantime, I want to audition as an extra for some of the London orchestras, as Liverpool is quite far away! At the moment I'm not keen on being full time in an orchestra as I enjoy the variety of the freelance lifestyle. I'm also part of the newly formed London Musical Theatre Orchestra an amazing new orchestra created by my friend Freddie Tapner, which specialises in musical theatre performances. Our first professional concert is State Fair at Cadogan Hall on November 6th, it is an orchestra full of West End pros so promises to be an amazing evening! Check out for more info. So I'm hoping that this orchestra will take off and that I might be involved for a long time to come!

Corey, the music graduate.
Professional Musician.

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