August 2008 Convention
Kansas City, MO

Panel Discussion: Alternate Careers in Music

Jim Walker

An enthusiastic crowd gathered to hear the advice of three innovative flutists who have carved out successful and creative careers in music.

Jim Walker, who left the enviable position of principal flutist of the Los Angeles Symphony to pursue his interest in jazz and recording studio work, started the discussion by stressing the importance of being incredibly diverse and focused. “Every time I try a new avenue, I work very, very hard,” Walker said. “Be more efficient with your time, because you won’t have time to do everything you’ll want to do or need to do.”

Beatboxing flutist phenom Greg Pattillo, who was a street performer and church musician when he was growing up, said, “Play everywhere, all the time, passionately and aggressively. Seek ways to perform out in your community.” Walker chimed in: “Get out of the practice room, and go to the street. Perform…and experiment when you perform. Learn to integrate the audience, like a street performer does.”

Pacific Coast jazz flutist Horace Alexander Young encouraged those in the class to “be comfortable marketing yourself.” This word of advice was echoed by all three panelists throughout the discussion. Pattillo explained how he took advantage of today’s inexpensive technology to create YouTube videos as a business card. As he says: “Put your content out there—share and learn.” Pattillo also self-produced a CD to use as a marketing tool. Young challenged everyone to take music business courses, if available, to learn how to market themselves and think from a business point of view.

Greg Pattillo (left) and Band

Networking is another crucial element to creating opportunities for yourself as a musician. Walker reminded us to be patient yet persistent, as it took him five years to do anything significant after moving to LA, and it was about 15 years until he really broke in to the music scene there. Connect with other professional musicians in your community to create a small ensemble. Today’s artistic climate has allowed many small ensembles to market themselves and create viable performance careers.

Walker and Pattillo also highlighted the importance of writing and publishing. It’s important these days to learn music notation software. Publish a book of exercises, even if it’s just for your own students. One audience member shared about a supplemental job she found as a musician playing through and editing new music for a publishing company.

Walker aptly summed up the class by saying, “Don’t focus solely and obsess about a particular gig, but focus on just playing along the way!”

—Rosene Rohrer