Martin Clark - What do musicians do when they're not playing music?
(cartoon by Wilbur Dawbarn)
What do professional musicians do when they’re not playing music? I find this question absolutely fascinating because after years of gigging as a freelance musician and working alongside that in the events industry, it seems that everybody has a hidden alter ego. Yes, musicians are concealing a secret identity - the fact that they do other work as well! And the stories people have to tell about it are amazing. From the musician who’s passionate about ensuring everyone has access to good music teaching from the very beginning, to the waiter who’s actually been touring with Feeder between shifts, there’s always something unexpected to find out. So I decided to make a podcast about it, to bring to light the motivations and experiences of people who play great music, but do other things too.
I think it’s best to start out by saying that the things people do alongside their performing work are really quite varied. In fact that’s an understatement. Both for the podcast, and in informal chats, I’ve come across stunning musicians who do photoshoots, manage events, make cases, run their own ensembles, fix orchestras, are academic professors, do gardening, work in pubs, and teach. In fact it seems that basically every musician on the planet teaches. Needless to say that isn’t an exhaustive list but it goes to show how much of the lives of musicians are hidden under the surface. Also worth mentioning are the large amounts of people who don’t consider themselves professional musicians but are still amazing players and give countless people joy through their music.
But why do people branch out into so many interesting facets of musical and non-musical work? In part it comes down to economic necessity - we all know how hard it is to get performing work in music at the moment. But that’s only a small part of anybody’s story.
Take Will, who saw that the same few pieces turned up in ensembles he was booked to play in so set up Spiritato, a cutting edge baroque ensemble that is pushing the boundaries of what people can physically do with period instruments. Or Pete, for whom working in a pub may have started off as something to help pay the bills, but ended up opening up a new world of interests and people for him, away from the sometimes all-consuming world of music.
It’s not failure to spend some of your time off stage. It’s an advantage. Go to a folk gig and the musicians will tell stories about how they found a tune, what inspired them to write something, or a funny thing that happened last week. It’s the experiences they’ve had outside of music that make them interesting people and they make us interesting too. Interesting musicians, good people to work with, and lovely people to share a car journey or post-show pint with. So tell your stories and be proud of the bar job that gives you great ideas for new concerts, or the gardening job that just helps to keep you sane. So what do musicians do when they aren’t playing music? Simple, find a musician and ask one.
Martin Clark is one of those musicians who does other things as well. He works as a freelance bassoonist and has played everything from a historical contrabassoon bigger than him, all the way to folk and jazz. When he’s not doing that he works as an events supervisor and makes podcasts.