Small business chat update – Zoe Austin

01 Dec

mugs Welcome another Small Business Chat updates. Today we’re catching up with music teacher and therapist, Zoe Austin. Her original interview was published back in September 2011 and she gives us an honest update on life as a musician and music teacher in the current economic climate. Many of us have to have so-called “portfolio careers” nowadays – I was only telling someone yesterday that I am careful to keep diverse in my customer base and locations and in what I do, to protect myself from downturns and shocks, and when you’re in an area like music that is constantly underfunded and cut, that applies even more. I’m proud to see Zoe battling on and trying to change attitudes, too.

This is what Zoe wanted to be doing by now: “Teaching music, providing Music Therapy and doing paid performances – all together providing my complete source of income. I hope, as more money comes in, to be able to invest in more advertising and an actual website rather than just my little blog (proud of it though I am). I would also like to be able to afford to receive music tuition for myself again, attend music workshops and MT conferences. Musical self-sufficiency, really! I would also like to be able to afford to offer free or reduced-price Music Therapy in areas of need within Cambridgeshire, such as Oxmoor estate in Huntingdon or the Arbury in Cambridge.” Let’s see how she’s doing …

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

No, but it ain’t all bad. I had hoped I would have more self-employed work by now and that I would be working not just as a music tutor but also as a Music Therapist. This is not the case. I still work as an employee for Huntingdonshire Regional College/Hunts Music School and as a self-employed music tutor. I have also had to take up some early morning shift work which is a great drain on my energy (thankfully, I will not be continuing this after mid-December). Needs must!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I have two private pupils who are still with me from last year and I have acquired others along the way. It is a joy to watch all of my pupils change and develop over time as people and as musicians. My love of teaching and sharing music has remained the same, and I hope it always will.

In my own musical life, I have been playing and singing a lot of folk music in the last 7 months, some of which has been with the Traditional Music of Cambridge Consortium. I have, as a result, been able to teach simple folk tunes to some of my violin students and to help them develop their aural learning skills: learning by ear, not
just reading music off a page.

I have just started some employed work as a musician with the Beat Orchestra in Peterborough – a joint initiative with the Britten Sinfonia which aims to involve local young people in joint music-making/composition/performance opportunities. I am enjoying the chance to play with musicians from different backgrounds and to
utilise my skills as a performer, rather than just as a teacher. This is the first time I have worked as a musician in a paid capacity: all my other performance work has been in volunteer orchestras and choirs.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

It has become ever more apparent to me that, if you want to pursue a career in music, you have to love the work so much that no amount of tiredness or poverty can deter you from it! I am often exhausted from having worked a long day, travelling many miles, working in 3 different locations… but it is worth it, because I would do anything to make music my livelihood.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Do not let rejection get you down. Your worth is not dependent upon the judgement of other people. And understand that music is not, sadly, seen as a necessity: we live in a society where playing music is viewed as a “hobby” and musicians are often assumed to work for free (see the debacle over the Olympic committee offering musicians the wonderful opportunity to play for free as part of the opening ceremony – what a treat!). The years of practice and training which go into becoming a good musician and a good music teacher are not appreciated in the same way as those of, for example, classroom teachers, plumbers, electricians. So, we sometimes have to stand our grounds and be assertive professionals.

Choose your battles – you can’t win everyone over! But when you do find a booker or a school which does appreciate your work, do what you can to develop that relationship. Always be polite and approachable and as flexible as you can – you never known what might result from a particular professional connection. Don’t be afraid to say no, however: your time and energy are important business and personal resources so use them wisely!

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Unlike some freelancers, my self-employed work is done, at this point, out of necessity rather than a great desire to be my own boss (although, that would be very nice!). I would quite happily be employed in one job which pays me enough and satisfies all of my creative needs. Realistically, in a year, I think I will still be a
working musician – teaching and playing – and, I hope, I will be in a better financial position than I am now with a bit more energy and just as much love and enthusiasm for music as I have now.

I, for one, am seriously impressed by Zoe’s dogged determination and commitment to her career and her music – both performing and teaching. Can we all say that we would work in three different locations, take on shift work to support our beloved career and never give up? Well, I think most of my Small Business Interviewees are pretty dogged and determined, but this is an impressive read, whatever.

NOTE: Zoe is now concentrating on music teaching and performing. She’s decided not to take part in this interview series any more, but we certainly wish her well for the future!

Zoe’s Facebook Page is here  You can email Zoe or call her on 07791 308546.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more freelancer chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured.


Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Business, Small Business Chat


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4 responses to “Small business chat update – Zoe Austin

  1. Sally Evans-Darby

    December 3, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Lovely blog – I enjoyed reading it. It’s certainly true that music, although undeniably an essential of human life rather than an accessory, is under-appreciated in this respect.


    • Liz at Libro

      December 3, 2012 at 11:39 am

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, indeed, and that’s why it’s so important to have people like Zoe working so hard to keep it there in our lives!



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