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Guest Post: Kelly Oliver on Starting Out as a Musician

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It’s important for me to clarify that I’m giving an insight into starting out, whilst feeling that I myself am still starting out. While taste and enjoyment in music is completely subjective, I would propose that the experience of being a musician is entirely subjective as well. I can try and give you a taste of what it was like to begin for me – a female, solo, singer/songwriter, guitarist and harmonicist, influenced mainly by acoustic folk music, completely new to the music scene and with no experience or contacts whatsoever.

Starting out is daunting. It’s an intimidating industry and success doesn’t just depend on talent. The fact that your potential success often depends on factors out of your control is a scary thought. Growing up, I was used to the idea of something ending and another thing beginning; used to the idea of continuity and of working towards a goal that existed. For example, I studied at school knowing I would then have A-Levels and go to uni. I studied at uni for 3 years, knowing at the end of it I would have a degree. I completed a TEFL course knowing at the end, I would have the certificate and could travel abroad to teach.

Pretty much all of my life so far has been lived with the expectation of a certain goal at the end, and I personally am always determined to reach that goal. So when I made the decision to try and pursue a career in music, I had none of the guarantees I was used to, and knew of no certain time scales either. Every goal I made for myself wasn’t a static that already existed, it was an illusion that I would have to create and make happen. This uncertainty is incredibly daunting, and I believe it ultimately means that as a musician, you have to want your own personal success in the music industry more than anything else, as it is something you have to create yourself.

There is another side to this however, which makes the idea less daunting. I try and look at it from the view that, because I am progressing towards something that doesn’t exist, it becomes achievable. If I was working for a wine company, employed at the entry level position and had my sights on the top job of a Wine Buyer, I am certain that the job already exists. Other candidates are aiming for that exact position, in fact, someone else has that job. As I progress in music, I am not trying to secure any one else’s job, I am working to enhance my own individual career. No two positions in the music industry are equal, so I feel I am working towards an end that CAN exist, even if it doesn’t already. As a beginner, this gives me the motivation and determination to continue, and not instead to apply for a permanent full time position at The Wine Society.

There is also no doubt that starting out as a musician is tough, and full of rejection. That is something I had to get used to very quickly. I had to be able to shrug off rejection, it was a daily occurrence. I’ve learnt quickly that there are so many opportunities around and one person just can’t claim all of them, so I’ve found the best thing to do when an opportunity you had hoped for is stopped in its tracks is really just to forget about it completely and look to the next one. For every 20 emails I was sending (and do still send), I might have received one back, and most likely it was a no. I initially applied and was rejected to the organisation which has now recorded and released my debut EP, Folkstock Records. It’s important to be positive and always consider that you never know what is round the corner.

Above all, embarking on a music career is amazingly exciting and, so I’ve found, very fulfilling. New opportunities arise every day, and the most amazing part of it for me is that I find myself mixing and integrating with so many other musicians¬†I would never otherwise¬†have come across. As I have no idea what the future brings, it makes me appreciate even more what I have already achieved. I spend my days writing music and doing admin work, and my evenings gigging to try and earn a living. I find the journey just as exciting as the goal I’m working to achieve at the end.