Case study

Peripatetic music tutor — Matthew Lush

Matthew works as a music tutor, freelance musician, composer and conductor. Find out how he has developed a successful portfolio career in music

What degree did you study?

I studied for a degree in music at Cardiff University, which included a six-month exchange to the University of New Hampshire. I also have a Masters degree in music composition, also from Cardiff University.

How did you get your job?

I currently work for Caerphilly County Council Music Service as a peripatetic music tutor, alongside my own self-employed performance and composition projects.

I began working there part time during my Masters degree, working one day a week through an agency. This allowed me to get a foot onto the ladder of the music service, meaning by the time I completed my MA, I was offered a full-time role.

Had I not worked one day a week, I wouldn't have my job now, and although my self-employed performances and compositions are the parts of my job I enjoy most, without the financial supplement from teaching I would struggle.

How relevant is your degree?

Many elements of my music degree are incredibly relevant to what I do today, both within my teaching role and also in my performance and composition projects.

Without the valuable skills learnt on my degree course, I wouldn't have had the knowledge behind the business of music, such as being accountable for my own taxes. I also wouldn't have the breadth of experience which makes me an adaptable and capable performer within many different outfits.

My Masters course set me up with the 'real-life' elements of the music world that I needed to ensure a smooth transition from student life to working. Without courses such as 'Public Leadership and Engagement', I would have never gained the invaluable skills on how to operate as a part-time (or full-time) self-employed musician. 

What's a typical working day like?

I spend Monday to Thursday teaching in schools for the CMS. I then teach privately, both piano and drum kit. I also accompany the Cardiff Military Wives Choir and run The Siglo Section, a 17-piece big band based in the capital. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Musicians often hold a portfolio career, meaning that you stem into many different avenues of your field. This is very much something I do now and as a result, it never gets boring as each performance, each composition commission and each lesson is different.

What are the challenges?

The freelance element of my job carries with it natural challenges. There are many freelance musicians, and not everyone can play on the same gig or show.

Keeping yourself relevant and visible, self-promotion and getting the gig can be a challenge. Once you find a leg up and you land your first gig, you're on the ladder and, generally speaking, if you're prepared and friendly and do a good job, every gig leads to another.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

In five years' time I would like to think The Siglo Section will be a regularly performing big band outfit and hosting their own concerts with all-star guests.

What advice can you give to others?

  • If you're a budding composer - listen to as much music as you can with a score, try your own ideas out and don't be afraid to hand them to performers for feedback.
  • If you're a performer - prepare. Practising your craft is important, but if you don't know the music ahead of a performance, it doesn't matter how good you are at your instrument.
  • Don't be afraid to get a 'no'. Often, receiving a no means you can put your energy into another project. With every no comes an opportunity to open another door, perhaps something more tailored to you anyway. Don't be afraid to try lots of things - build your own portfolio career. 
  • Contact local music services or teaching agencies and volunteer your services to run lunchtime clubs or after school clubs. If you can prove you are engaging and can spread music and cheer across younger age groups, then this can open up so many teaching opportunities.

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