For many, playing the saxophone is a hobby; a sideline to the day job; something to relax with; an opportunity to immerse yourself in something different. However, some dream of being able to play full time either as a change of job or in retirement. But what does it take to get a full time saxophone job?
We ask saxophonist Kim Cypher who earns her living in this business, having left a regular job to pursue her passion for music
Kim – you used to be a saxophone instructor and a music teacher in a primary school in the Cotswolds. What made you change your career?
Quite simply, my heart has always been in music. My husband Mike and I met playing music together in “the Gloucestershire Youth Jazz Orchestra” when we were 15 years old. Music has remained a key part of our lives and always will be. We both started performing in bands from a very early age and served our apprenticeship performing in pubs and clubs around the country. Following college, getting married and then settling into demanding jobs, myself as head of the department of music in a local primary school and Mike as a regional bank manager, it became more difficult for us to focus on our musical dreams. But that kind of passion never goes away.
So, we ran our music projects alongside our day jobs, working Monday to Friday and then gigging weekends. We did that for many, many years until the frustration of not being able to focus on music became too much to bear. It was decision time and we both agreed that life’s just too short. Sometimes you need to take a chance and go for it. What’s the worst that can happen?
We were both in it together and if all failed we’d just return to employed work. That risk was far less worrying than the risk of living to regret that we never tried.
Thankfully, four years on and all our musical projects are doing really well. We are out gigging most weekends and several times during the week, as well as working daytimes generating work and marketing all our bands and projects. It is fair to say that we have never worked so hard in our lives but also we have never felt so fulfilled. We are following our dreams and it feels great.
How do you keep yourself motivated playing similar music week in week out? Or is each performance so different there’s no chance of getting bored?
We are involved in so many different bands and projects, and working with lots of different musicians, so there really is no chance of ever getting bored. Every week, every gig, every venue is different. One week we might be playing a party band gig for a big corporate event, the next week it may be a small intimate jazz gig, then a rock ‘n’ roll theatre show, or a session recording….the variety is huge.
Admittedly we are performing some of the same music on a regular basis, but we rehearse regularly to keep our set list updated and fresh. Plus we approach each performance as if it is the first. We have a responsibility to our audience to put on a first class performance every time. If we ever got bored it would be time to move on, but that is never going to happen.
Your reputation locally must get you a lot of referrals. But how do you go about getting enough gigs?
This is a full time job in itself! Thankfully, we do get lots of work by word of mouth and our long standing reputation is invaluable. But, that didn’t happen overnight. We have worked really hard over the years promoting ourselves, contacting venues, developing websites, engaging in social media, making connections with other musicians and basically getting ‘out there’ and establishing a name.
It is easier now that people know of me but it is still hard work. The key is to be relentless, keep reminding people of who you are and what you do. It sounds pushy but if it’s your livelihood you need to keep the work coming in, so we don’t always rely on the work coming to us, we actively get out there.
“It was decision time and we both agreed that life’s just too short.”
Being self employed makes you very aware of maintaining your reputation and always protecting your ‘product’. Quite simply, it is essential to maintain the highest degree of professionalism and we work very hard to deliver the highest possible standard of performance and service
I see that you are recording your debut album which is something a great many musicians dream of doing. It sounds like a mammoth undertaking! How many hours has it taken for you to get it done?
This is very much a ‘labour of love’ but also a dream come true for me. It is taking up a huge amount of my time. It is sometimes frustrating that I can’t focus purely on my album, but all of my other musical projects must continue to thrive. So, it is still evolving!
I have now written all my original tracks and I have some amazing musicians lined up to work with me to bring my music to life…I can’t wait! The album has really come from my heart and sums up the idea of following your dreams and making them come true. I have always been fascinated with ‘make believe’ and anything theatrical that can transport you to another world, so this has been the basis for my album. It will include some original songs and instrumental numbers plus some of my all time favourites, covering many different styles from Blues, Latin, Jazz and Funk.
So the message is that it’s not an easy life and certainly not glamorous. What attracts you to the lifestyle then?
It is a hectic lifestyle with unsociable hours and lots of travelling. It most certainly is not a lifestyle for the fainthearted and definitely not the glamorous lifestyle it is often portrayed to be.
Many of our friends and family think we’re mad and cannot understand the lifestyle we lead, unsurprisingly as we’re often just getting ready to start a gig at a time in the evening when most people are going to bed.
Also, people don’t see the ‘behind the scenes’ reality of a busy gigging lifestyle…usually beginning mid afternoon, preparing for the gig. Then we’re loading all the equipment into the car (we have a LOT of equipment), traveling, eating a packed meal in the car, then arriving at the venue and often carrying all the equipment up stairs and along corridors.
Then we have to set up and get ready for the performance in a conference room or sometimes a toilet (the least glamorous part). And all of this before the most important part of putting on a first class performance for 2 to 3 hours.
Then we get to do it all in reverse!
Generally we arrive home in the early hours of the morning starving hungry and unable to sleep due to the huge adrenalin rush that is still going on. Often we’ll then grab a few hours of sleep before getting up to go to a lunchtime gig. Quite honestly, having thought about all that, even I now think we’re mad!
This kind of lifestyle certainly requires discipline and commitment. But, ultimately we absolutely LOVE what we do and we cannot imagine ever not doing it. It may be hard sometimes but any job is hard. At least we’re in control of our own lives and we are able to fulfil our dreams. We’re doing it together and who knows where it may take us….that’s a lovely way to be making a living!
Kim and her husband Mike (a drummer) formed their popular party band “Dancin’ Easy” over 20 years ago. The band has gone from strength to strength and is currently performing for regular events all across the UK. As well as this, Kim leads her own jazz quartet, performs with many other bands, and records as a session musician.
About the author:
Mike Guest is currently re-training as a musician after retiring from his desk bound day job. Only rarely now does he pursue a ball with any form of stick.