Interview with Prof. Richard Smith: Tips on how to succeed in the music industry of the 21st century

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A couple of months ago, the renowned jazz guitarist and USC Thornton School of Music Professor Richard Smith delivered a lecture about the music industry in the 21st century at Morley College in London. He studied the profiles of  a few young professional musicians and I had the honour to be featured as one of the success stories! He interviewed me and here are my answers in full length! Some of them were used in the lecture at Morley College.

1) What was the most valuable experience(s) of your music education?

One of the most valuable experiences of my music education was getting a grasp of the music industry and how it works- whether that was through lectures and classes delivered by some of the best music practitioners or through actual projects that involved writing, recording and most of all performing. More specifically, one of the best experiences that I will always be keeping with me is collaborating with American musicians from across the pond and performing in some amazing venues in London and beyond.

I believe music education has nowadays the power to be very relevant to the real world and offer to young musicians the tools that they need in order to succeed, and these go far beyond technical knowledge: they can range from how you interact with people, how you can adjust to different musical environments and how to deliver under pressure.
2) What was the best mentoring advice you received from friends or teachers?
‘Keep working hard, keep insisting, take every opportunity and always remain true to yourself. Know who you are and follow your purpose with consistency and perseverance’
3) What turns out to have been least relevant, and waste of time?
I can’t remember any advice that has been a complete waste of time, but if there is anything that I personally think that is the least relevant would be to stay focused on one area you want to exclusively develop; there is this argument that in order to succeed you have to only focus on one thing and give it your all- while I definitely agree with focus and persistence, I disagree with absolutely focusing on one area of strength only as the music industry of today requires a range of skills and abilities, which, combined together in the right way, can lead to a successful career.
4) What got you your first professional gig?
A few years ago, I remember a songwriter had asked me to sing backing vocals for her EP Launch- it was a great feeling to be paid for the first time! I had met her through university and a common tutor had got us in touch for the gig!
5) How do you maintain your professional schedule – do you cultivate new situations/contacts?
I maintain it by having a circle of musicians and groups that I love working with, that I can truly relate with, whom I trust and know that they are my strong point of reference, my ‘rock’. I always build on those relationships and I make them stronger with time and through common musical experiences.  However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t look for new contacts, and new situations! I always seek to learn more and put myself in environments and jobs that I haven’t encountered before, that challenge me and push me to my limits! This thirst for challenge usually works for the best- I like being open to new connections,open to meeting people and developing bonds all over the world, if possible!
6) Do you “network”?
Yes I do network; For me, networking means cultivating relationships; it is not about seeking to take, asking for favours or persistently ask for jobs- unfortunately in the music world there is a lot of ‘wrong networking’ and misunderstanding around it and  it is easy for young professionals to fall in the trap of this wrong idea of what it means. I ‘ve seen young musicians handing out cards in the completely wrong context, sending untactful emails asking for jobs and generally just planning their actions in a very ineffective way.
Networking should be done very carefully, and always at the right timing and  within respect and appreciation coming from both parties. For me, my networking is communication; it is being open to other people, getting to know other musicians, show interest for their work -and I mean genuine interest-, being ready to help them out if you can, in the same way that you expect them to help you out; it is a healthy exchange and a process of connecting with other people from your field. Many times, my networking has led me into strong friendships which have also been very helpful in terms of musical career, but this was the outcome of the friendship and the connection, not the initial, strategically planned, aim.
7) What are your recommendations to the World’s aspiring professionals – what are the tools they need to succeed?
Don’t be scared to follow your dreams. Success is the result of three main things: love and passion for what you do, hard work and strong vision.
Always keep on working on your craft- what you are able to offer : this can be a range of skills but it is your craft, it is what makes you employable- work to perfect your craft, never stop learning and never think you are good enough to learn more! there is always space to learn! In the music industry, the more skills you have the more chances you will have to get hired; for example, a vocalist who can be a very good sight reader but can also pick up everything by ear, who can compose and arrange, who has production knowledge, who can teach and has great people skills will be 10 times more employable than someone else who can only sing! Flexibility and adaptability are super important, especially in the session world
Your craft is the first thing you need to have.
Secondly, you need to have a very strong vision and purpose. Your mind and your vision are incredibly powerful..-if you can visualise something and if you are ready to work hard for it, ..then you will most probably get there. A few years ago I would look at professional situations and would desire them so much, but I ‘d think they are impossible…Recently out of nowhere they became possible and I suddenly found myself doing things that were unimaginable before. This was the result of a strong, unstoppable desire to achieve my goals.
And thirdly: be kind, be easy to work with, dont be a diva, work on your communication skills! In the music world, we are required to spend days and sometimes weeks and months with other musicians and if we can’t get on with them, then the game is lost!
Any other advice and analogies?

Let everything you do be done in love. Your love for what you chose to be your profession will never fail you. Be strong, be courageous and do not let negativity or blaming others get in your way. Always seek for the good in every situation and always learn something from things that don’t go as you wanted them to. Most importantly..dont quit if you receive rejections!! Even the best have gone through terrible phases of rejection!

Also…dont compare yourself with others. In the past I used to admire others and compare, even though i knew it was wrong. Over the years I learned that each person is unique, each of us has their own voice, each of us carries a past and a background that cannot be comparable, just because the parameters around which we build our lives are different. Embrace your past, embrace your uniqueness and make your personal contribution to the world. Your only competitor should be your own self!

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