Phill Howley is a professional drummer, composer, producer and educator. Over the years he’s worked and recorded with a variety of bands and musicians, including Liz Green, Louis Barrabass, The Bedlam 6, Paddy Steer and most recently Manchester based ethio-trad, folk-hop band Honeyfeet. He’s also one fourth of the genre-defying Shyfinger.
Phill leads Sing City – weekly songwriting sessions for young musicians – on a Wednesday evening at Band on the Wall. Find out more about Sing City here.
Phill has shared with us some top tips for aspiring musicians. Give them a read…
1. Be passionate. We get to “play” for a living. Let’s not forget to do this every day (including practicing and composition). Treat the music you make with the joy and spontaneity of a child playing and try and let the music dictate what to play, not our egos. The song always wins.
Try and be brave and always play with people that are better than you. It’ll be tough, but you’ll learn so much more by being around them, and if you can’t get gigs with them, make sure you go and see as many great players as you can. Seeing great people play is one of the things that keeps me motivated.
2. Be open. Don’t get hung up on styles and fashions. Listen to as much music from all over the world as you can and play as many styles and instruments as you can. You’ll never know if you love it if you don’t try it. There is a lifetime’s worth of musical traditions out there to be explored and respected. Even if you never play in a salsa band, learning some traditional Afro Cuban music will inform your own artistic voice.
3. Be good people (don’t be a pain). We as musicians are a very social tribe and we often have to spend long periods of time together travelling and hanging around before gigs. With this in mind, try and think about how your manner and behaviour can affect others around you (remember that no matter what, it’s not all about you! EVER!)
Also, if you can see somebody might not be having the best time, try grabbing a coffee and a chat or give them space if that’s what’s needed. Artists, as with all people, are susceptible to the difficulties and stresses of everyday life so let’s keep an eye on each other and help people where we can. You never know when you might need that help and support.
4. Be professional. Show up early. Make sure your equipment is in full working order. Make sure you know the music beforehand. Communicate in a clear and prompt manner (both in person and in correspondence). Don’t over charge. Don’t undercharge. If you don’t know, don’t lie! It’s always better to ask and be seen to want to learn, so ask questions.
5. Be diverse. Learn about admin and office management. Get your communication skills together. Learn about audio engineering. Learn about music technology. Learn to repair instruments. Learn to teach. Learn to compose. Learn to book tours. Learn to manage.
It doesn’t really matter which of these you might learn about, but it’s very important as a musician to have a very good knowledge base of all of the roles within the industry. The more you can cover yourself, the more jobs and opportunities that will be available to you.
6. And finally…please remember that even though being a musician is 99% travel, admin and meetings, we should never take that remaining 1% for granted. Playing music is the best thing in the world and the most FUN so never forget to enjoy it (even if the sound’s terrible)! 😉