Some advice to young musicians

Philip Sheppard had the great pleasure of visiting Montana State University where he had the chance to talk to some of the students studying there about music, life & finding your way – making a career out of what you love doing.

‘… I promised I’d put my notes from the final slides online. So… here they are…’

My notebooks
My desk today…

Be Lucky, or Get Lucky

But what is luck?

Easy! It’s just lots of preparation meeting an opportunity.

Create your own luck.
No.1) Get very, very prepared
No.2) Make opportunities for yourself.

Work harder than anyone else you know.

Be businesslike. Run the paperwork & organization side of things like a business & it’ll generate the freedom to become an artist. Haydn & Bach fussed over the minutest details of their contracts – it meant they could leave them in a drawer and focus on the art – once everything was sorted.

Always carry an interesting contact card.
I make sure mine are a little bit different…

Travel with your work in your pocket… I can’t tell you how many times a USB key with my work on it has landed me a commission from what might just have been a chance meeting or a random conversation.

Be busy, permanently. If people see you’re busy, they will know you’re successful which will make you way more appealing than an artist with an empty diary.

Be insanely well organized and equipped.

Always carry manuscript paper/ notebook. You best ideas are best worked out right when you have them, on paper.

Write a business plan / manifesto / dream job description
Write what you want to be doing in 10 years time
Break it down into small steps
Really small steps
Zoom in on details & be objective
Work on it every day
Make it far-fetched. Really ambitious.
(I’ve done everything on my first plan – from 12 years ago, with the exception of one item on there… I can’t tell you what that was, it’s way too embarrassing)

Be Curious & Be Generous

Always work with people better than you.
I do, but I try to make sure they don’t realize it!

Ask people how they do what they do.
Successful people really love to explain their success.

Write a letter everyday to a different person you think is brilliant, clever or interesting. If I’ve enjoyed a score on a TV show or film, I always write to the composer.
Same thing if I’ve loved a book. It’s so easy to make contact, and it’s a good thing to do.
Talent can be contagious, as can success

Trade favors – I sometimes work for trades – eg, with filmmakers & photographers on condition they help with my publicity shots & showreels

Get Skilled & Get Specialized

Specialize in something utterly unique – even if it is merely a niche aspect of something quite commonplace

Be classical in your foundations, so you can be wild in your top floors.

Be physically & mentally fit

Listen emotionally, analytically and critically to everything. If you love a piece, try to work out what appeals to you. If a performer has a magnetic quality, try to work out how they achieve this.

Be artistically rich

Talk to your audience – they’re more nervous than you are.

Get comfortable onstage – without an instrument or the tools of your job

Sharpen your aural skills

Learn how to truly play in time & in tune. You’d be surprised how many well-known musicians can lose the plot when required to play to a click track.

Be technically astounding.
If you’re not, it’s just a matter of working much harder. And that’s easy.

If you really want to learn how to do something, then teach it…

Big, important stuff…

Define yourself as an artist.
Many classical players will define themselves by the instrument they play – eg, ‘I’m a violinist’.
It’s healthier to think, ‘I’m a musician who plays the violin…’,
or even,
‘I’m an artist, who’s a musician, who plays the violin…’.
You might need to keep that last one to yourself in case it sounds terribly pretentious when you say it out loud…

Attend courses that are not part of your regular studies

Try to actually own your work – this is complicated but the key to your future security

Learn all the science as well as all of the art around what you do.
Research what you do so you can speak with authority

Always say YES to something terrifying, then panic when you have time alone.

When you are challenged to perform in a bizarre circumstance, always accept the dare…

I’m that nightmare cellist who upon going into a pub & hearing ‘Go on mate, give us a tune..!’ will get the instrument out and play it. Believe me, it’s far more embarrassing for the chap that shouted it & will make that debut in Carnegie Hall feel like a walk in the park…

Your big break will be unexpected and probably utterly terrifying.
But, a split second of bravery will open the doors to your dreams…

I’m on @philipsheppard on twitter – always happy to correspond

Philip has recently scored a Star Wars trailer… more here

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Timothy Glissen says:

    I WANT the “Moon Machines” score in it’s entirety! When will that become available? Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2013 18:34:41 +0000 To:

    1. radiomovies says:

      Hmmm it’s complicated… The TV channel own the rights to 50% of the recordings, so unless I can kickstart a campaign to re-record it all it’s a bit of a minefield! Will keep you posted though.

  2. Nancy says:

    I am in the running for being your biggest fan! Thank you for spending time with us. Our paths simply must cross again.

  3. timedmundson says:

    I really enjoyed this article Philip, as a young singer training for Opera in Scotland it has filled me with great ambition to go out now and work really hard as I’ve been feeling rather under enthusiastic recently. Your very right about ‘making opportunities for yourself’, whats the worst someone could say to a concert/function offer? No.
    Best Wishes

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