Every Friday on this blog is “Makin’ it Happen Friday”, where I feature another musician who’s found a way to make a living playing music. I am constantly inspired by others, and hope to pass that inspiration on to you.
Today’s featured musician is pianist/composer/accordionist/bandleader Michael Owcharuk. Mike is a friend and colleague of mine here in Seattle and one of the most talented and hardest working musicians I know. I am constantly amazed by his creativity and the freshness of his music and his groups. And he is also one of the shrewdest cats I know, always thinking about ways to get his music heard by the right audience. I have great respect for him both as a musician and as a business man and always enjoy working with him in any capacity.
Mike was raised in Manhattan and came to Seattle to study at Cornish College of the Arts. He earned his Bachelor of Music in Composition studying with heavies such as Bern Herbolsheimer and Jovino Santos Neto. Currently, Michael leads the Michael Owcharuk Trio, performing original modern jazz, and Owcharuk 5, performing genre-bending original work and Ukrainian folk music fused with improvisation, punk rock and Latin grooves. He also plays with Jim Knodle and the Distract Band, The Vampirates and Le Trio. 2 full-length albums of his original compositions are available on Broken Time Records.
I gave Mike the “Makin’ it Happen” questionnaire and here are his answers:
OWM: How’d you get started in the music biz?
MO: The first time I got paid a reasonable sum of money to perform music was New Years Eve 2000 – 2001. It was at the bar in the The Alaskan Hotel in Juneau, AK. Being a product of childhood classical piano lessons, I was playing guitar in a metal band whose repertoire consisted of Metallica’s first album “Kill ‘Em All”, Slayer’s “Seasons in the Abyss”, 5 original songs, and improvised chugga-chugga riffs. I went on to play in bands whose styles ranged from singer-songwriter, to experimental rock, to indie rock, to hip-hop. My professional career as a musician started in 2006 during my last year of college here in Seattle. I was studying composition and jazz piano and began getting gigs as a leader or sideman for casuals, events, restaurant gigs, and theater pit bands. Simultaneously I was booking, producing, and performing in concerts featuring my own and my friends’ music. In 2007 I started teaching music. Currently (in addition to all the rest), I just got hired as a ballet class accompanist and I am very close to giving up that last part-time job.
Transitioning from day job to no day job has been a product of 3 years of work. It’s hard, I have made sacrifices, and I’ve wanted to give up at times, but now it is coming around. I have grown accustomed to having many smaller income streams instead of one normal one (whatever that is). The key for me is being able to do different kinds of things musically, and having an “anchor” job with flexible scheduling. I waited tables part-time at a nice restaurant that afforded me maximum pay for minimal hours. I quit that almost 2 years ago. Since then I have taken and left various part-time jobs as needed. As my musicianship, marketing ability, and teaching proficiency increase, my income does. If all goes well, by the end of the summer I will be a full-time professional musician.
OWM: What 3 things have helped you the most in becoming a working musician?
MO: 1. Education. Formal, informal, and most importantly, on the bandstand.
2. Community. I am blessed to be a part of an amazing, large family of working musicians and artists of all ilks here in Seattle. I have band members, fans, mentors, friends, professional associates, fellow composers, random people, that have helped me succeed in more ways than I can even describe in this post.
3. Constant self-reflection, refinement, and vision. Socrates observed that the unexamined life is not worth living. Every day I strive to be a better person and a better musician. Without vision… you’re only treading water baby.
OWM: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
MO: My advise to aspiring musicians is:
1. Always be nice, get along with people, but don’t take any crap. Do want you say, call if you can’t. Show up on time. It amazing how far you can get in life with these alone.
2. Practice. A lot. Perform. A lot. Learn to play different styles of music.
3. Learn about how music works: theory, ear-training, technique, as much as you can. Don’t let anyone tell you it will somehow stifle your creativity (seriously, people have said that to me). It’s like saying you will get weaker and fatter if you work out. Also very important: Learn about business. Apply what you learn to yourself and your career as a musician.
4. Take on more than you think you can handle, but schedule wisely.
5. Do it because you love it. Otherwise this biz can eat you up.