As a self-employed musician, my job description is ever-changing. Officially, I’m a piano teacher, but even that is not the same as it was a few years ago. Living just outside Austin, TX with my musician husband Andrew and our teenage daughter Cara, we do everything from teaching online to driving all over for gigs and working daily on building our online music business. Here’s an overview of the last week for me.
Friday- I spent most of this day rebuilding our website. I have some new online piano classes, and needed to tie together the class landing/purchase pages with our website. I use several different apps and platforms to create the graphics and deliver the content, then put the final links on our website, WilsonandWilsonMusic.com. There are lots of all in one platforms out there, and I’ve tried many of them. Right now, we’re trying to keep the overhead lower, so I’m using some less expensive options and setting up the flow with ConvertKit. These classes are either live online group classes, or a membership type option where I deliver a lesson every week. Either way, the same content is available to my students and they can also communicate and send feedback to me through the chat/video options on my lesson delivery platform, Musico. Right now, I’m creating the structure for people to be able to purchase the class, but I won’t go live with the page until I’ve actually made the first few lessons.
Friday night we went to see our oldest son play bass with a band he’s been playing with for over 2 years- Jake Worthington. They have a record deal and are playing lots of big venues around the country. We’re so excited to see them start to gain some notoriety and a following of their own. They were playing only about 40 minutes away and we had a night off, which is a rare combination. My husband Andrew is a fiddle player and he sat in with the band for the show- he’s played with them a few times before. I played proud mom and took lots of pictures.
Saturday- More website building and some general home maintenance. The 3 of us live in a 1150 square foot manufactured home with 4 small dogs and a cat. It’s a new construction situation and because of paperwork issues, we don’t have septic yet. Between that and the field/driveway outside that isn’t yet landscaped, we have a lot of extra cleaning to do to keep it all at bay. Even though it’s early October, it’s still in the 90s here in Texas, and quite humid due to some recent badly needed rain. Typically we have gigs on Fridays and Saturdays, but we started this weekend with nothing on the calendar. About noon today we confirmed a last minute booking for Sunday night, so I made up a graphic to post on social media. Andrew sent out the event to everyone we know in the area, hoping a few will be able to come out on short notice.
Sunday- Spent most of this day assembling a set list, packing up gear and getting ready to head to our gig. It’s a double header- Andrew will play bluegrass for 3 hours for a regular bluegrass gig featuring a rotating cast of local musicians in Austin. They’ve recently started having jazz for a couple hours after the bluegrass set, so our duo will play from 9-11pm. Something non-musicians don’t realize is how much time we spend getting ready and traveling to gigs, setting up and tearing down. Most of the time, the actual performing time of 2-3 hours is less than 25% of the time invested just that day. Our gig went well, several friends came out and we were joined onstage for the 2nd set by our son the bass player and another musician friend who was running sound but wanted to play with us. We had fun pulling out some old tunes from our swing/jazz repertoire that we don’t always get to play.
Monday- For most musicians, Monday is our weekend - typically no gigs and there’s usually some recovery needed after a weekend of gigs. We got home about midnight last night and we’re starting a bit slower than normal. Cara has to catch the bus for high school though, so we’re up by 7:30. Our 4 chiweenies are happy to jump back on the bed for a nap once we’ve gotten them fed and outside for a walk up our road. With the temperatures still high, we have to get any outdoor exercise in pretty early or we lose motivation in the heat. The rest of the day is spent preparing for our Monday night livestream. Last summer, we started this with the goal of being more consistently online. We play 5 songs and talk about our week- it’s about 25 minutes long. By having a standing event every week, it keeps us practicing and playing and helps our audience remember that we’re here too. For most of the first year, we tried to not repeat a song for our “Live for Five” every week. Since mid- summer, we’ve been being a bit more casual about that part, but it does inspire us to learn new songs or bring out ones we haven’t played in awhile. I almost always play piano, and Andrew rotates through instruments- he plays guitar, fiddle, cello and sometimes mandolin. Lately he’s been playing with the 5 string fiddle more, as we like the bigger sound for our duo. Tonight we’re playing some of the songs from our setlist last night, including a couple that we didn’t get to play but wanted to! Our setlist is ridiculously long, because we’ve been playing together since we were teenagers, and we both get bored with the same songs. We’re dabbling with songwriting this year, something I did a bit of in my teens and haven’t done for years. The Live goes well tonight- no major internet issues. Our daughter is our producer and manages comments and banners for our songs. Our next door neighbor came over to watch- it’s nice to have people we can see in the audience too!
Tuesday- Up for the bus, coffee and morning exercise before we dismantle the setup from the livestream last night. Our little house has one main kitchen/living room, and that is my video studio/ teaching space/office and our family room. Additionally, Andrew has a small room to teach and make videos in at one end of the house, our daughter has a small bedroom and bathroom, while our master bedroom is off the kitchen. Living in such a small space with 2 of us needing to record and teach classes presents some challenges. We can’t do laundry or run our air conditioning when either of us needs to record. Even with good insulation, in the summer months we have about 30 minutes before the AC needs to go back on. And of course, only one of us can record at a time. To keep noise down, I take the dogs to the far end of the house and do some online work and video editing while Andrew makes videos and then he returns the favor for me. Today I need to set the living room up for teaching, as I have lessons most of the afternoon and evening. Mostly this involves setting up my 2 webcams, plugging in my mic and external speaker, getting my tea and water handy and making sure I have my student’s music nearby. I start the day by teaching my little niece who lives 4 hours away, and end it with my cousin in New York state, who I recently reconnected with. One of my favorite parts of being an online teacher is that location is not a factor- for either of us! I have so much technology available to me and it’s super easy to send video, sheet music, audio and more. This is so superior to how I taught in person that I just can’t ever go back. My webcam over the piano shows everything my hands are doing, another one shows my face, and the magic of screenshare and technology allows me to share notes on the staff while I play them, new songs that I just wrote for my students, and flashcards, graphics, and every other thing needed to have a successful lesson. I finish up lessons at 8pm, and Andrew and Cara are already making dinner (quietly) in the kitchen. On teaching days, we pretty much eat and head to bed, as we typically teach until 8-9. Many of our students are kids, and there are only so many after-school hours- we need to maximize them all. We usually watch tv for a couple hours, just to give our brains a rest. So much of our work involves thinking, planning, scheming, creating, editing and constantly relying on our brains- TV is a helpful distraction to take us out of our thoughts and entertain us for awhile. We both love to read as well, but typically do that more in the morning.
Wednesday- Another teaching day, much like yesterday. I have a few more gaps between students today, and Andrew has a long stretch without lessons, so we’re both experimenting with our new lesson platform. We’ve been using an app for 3 years to send assignments to our students, but they just announced they are closing their doors, so I’ve been researching replacements for several weeks now. The new platform, Musico, will be both an assignment library for our students AND a live lesson platform. So instead of using Zoom or another meeting software, we will be able to have everything in one place, which is really helpful. The online lesson thing is still a new concept to a lot of people, so removing any of the barriers to getting started is beneficial for us. We were forced into online lessons, like many teachers, during COVID- but it really sparked this idea in me that this was the thing that would allow us more freedom for our future. Musicians don’t typically get to-or even want to!- retire, but it’s incredibly hard to make a living. Until recently the most important thing is to build a good local network for teaching and gigging. COVID changed a lot of things, and I see online lessons and learning to be a way for us to reach many more people, and provide ourselves with a portable, steady income source that we can have no matter where we go. We love traveling and being only a couple years from an empty nest, we are thrilled at the idea that we may get to do more of it. But the biggest obstacle between us and that freedom is our ability to master the technology, and make an entirely new path than the one we started on.
Thursday- This is the day Andrew teaches in person. He still has about 10 students that are local and for various reasons haven’t moved to online lessons. In the last 9 months, we moved about 15 miles from where we had been living and changed teaching locations 3 times for these people. Luckily they’re loyal to Andrew and love his teaching style, so they have dealt with all the upheaval. Because our house is so small, he teaches at our neighbor’s house in a small addition that they’re building. This means I have the house to myself (and 5 animals) for the day, and I try to capitalize on the quiet. Today I recorded 4 lessons for my beginner piano course. I use a software that allows me to switch between cameras while I record, so that I don’t have to do a lot of editing at the end of the videos. This was my first time doing recordings in a couple months, so I spent close to 2 hours doing tests and getting my sound right before actually starting the videos. All told, I have about 30 minutes of usable video content and I finished up at 5, just moments before Cara got home from school. I spent another hour working on graphics and pdfs that will accompany the lessons, and next week I’ll assemble the flow to send these out. In the end, for 4 beginner lessons of about 8 minutes each, I’ll probably have 15 hours of work in them. However, this is content that I can use over and over for several years at least, so I will just hope it’s time well spent!
Friday- Andrew and I have a gig with a country band tonight. Andrew has played fiddle with Jarrod Birmingham for over 5 years now, and I joined the band about a year ago on keys. Tonight we’re playing south of San Antonio, so about 2.5 hours away. This is a pretty typical drive for us for a weekend gig, as most of the bands we play with are based further south than us. Austin has so many musicians that local gigs aren’t often lucrative enough for us to book. Traffic is thick going through Austin on a Friday afternoon, and we arrive about an hour later than planned. We haven’t played with Jarrod for over 3 months, so it’s a big reunion. Playing music with our friends is one of the very best things about being a musician, and this band is full of great players and people. The weather has broken and turned into fall today, and right before we go onstage at 9pm, I’m gleefully showing everyone the weather app on my phone- it’s under 80 tonight! Despite that, we get pretty hot under the lights and under cover out of the breeze. We play a short show of only 2 hours tonight. Jarrod doesn’t take breaks and we usually go for 3 hours or more, which is a lot easier than it sounds. We rock out and have a blast and before we know it, 3 hours has flown by. It’s a lot like having a party with your friends, doing fun stuff you all enjoy. As Andrew has 2 gigs tomorrow, we decide to drive home instead of staying overnight in the hotel they provide for us. It’s a bit shorter home, with no traffic after midnight. I feel exhausted and struggle to keep my eyes open but luckily Andrew’s driving and having no such issues.
Sometimes the hardest thing to deal with is the lack of breaks in our week- one day pretty much flows into the next, and we do something for work every day. The variety of work throughout the week is what keeps both of us going- our somewhat scattered artist brains are not compatible with repetitive tasks and we’re prone to going off on rabbit trails. By building our business and life around a combination of teaching, performing, writing, recording and online business building, we try get some creative satisfaction out of most days.