Interview with a Keyboard Player/Musician

A/N This weeks interviewee is a guy whose carved out a different kind of career for himself. Read on to learn how he’s managed to make his boyhood dream a reality, and the lessons learnt along the way.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

I actually have two careers – in my day job, I am a Sales & Marketing Manager for a professional audio solutions provider called Audiologic which I’ve been doing for just under three years following a number of years as a Business Development Manager for major audio manufacturers like Bose and Sennheiser. My other career (or night job, if you like) which I’ll be talking about is that of a musician.

I had a fairly traditional formal introduction to music at Rishworth School – 10 years of piano, flute and theory lessons along with studies in ‘A’ and ‘O’ Levels (including an ‘O’ Level in History and Appreciation of Music which I took a year earlier.) This was only part of the story though as there were many opportunities to further your musical experience at school including the annual Music Competition and various other activities into which I always threw myself wholeheartedly!

When I left school, I went to live in South Africa with my parents and, owing to my ‘A’ Level grades not quite being what I needed for my chosen University, I decided to start work in a local music shop in Johannesburg called Soundhouse. It was there that I began to meet many of the local musicians and found that keyboard players like me who could read music and understood synthesisers were a relative rarity – everyone wanted to be a guitarist or drummer! So – I joined my first function band called ‘Atlantic’ in 1989 – and was promptly fired from the band three months later for not wanting to rehearse!

Over the next year or so, I ‘paid my dues’ (and in doing so learned some much-needed humility and desire to rehearse) in all sorts of different environments including a production company who used to put bands together for specific events. I would receive a phone call in the morning and, if I was available would have to meet the band of musicians (usually different from the last ‘band’ that was put together) that afternoon – have a brief rehearsal then play for a corporate function that night! The pressure was immense, but the experience of playing different music with different musicians on every occasion certainly did wonders for my versatility as a player.

I spent 1991 to the end of 1993 playing hundreds of gigs for various South African bands including Toys for Girls, Communique, Skippy & Savannah and Dessi B – from tiny little pubs where no-one came to listen, to large clubs with a few thousand people. Throughout all this, I also maintained a day job – first with Soundhouse until 1992 then I went to work for the local distributor of the keyboards that I used as a Technical Product Specialist. The day job was a concession to my parents’ old-school concern for the transitory nature of the music industry, but that also honed my work ethic so there were no complaints!

At the end of 1993, I joined a rock theatre show called Stage Fright as Assistant Musical Director which happened after the producer of the show saw me play at a Benefit Concert for one of the local musicians who had been in a road accident – he liked my rather ‘energetic’ playing style (I was not really one for just sitting behind the keyboards – I had been known to break keys and send keyboards flying off their stands in my enthusiasm:)) so a year of playing in theatres began. During this year, the Miss World pageant was held at Sun City in Bophutatswana and the band from Stage Fright had the honour of playing for the Coronation Ball – certainly the largest gig of my career to-date, seen by quite a few people on TV.

I returned to England at the end of 1995 and didn’t play for a while following falling down some stairs in April 1996 and breaking my right wrist in three places. I spent some 18 months getting my hand and wrist put back together and the operation (a Brunnelli Procedure) actually featured in a book by the surgeon as it was a relatively complex rehabilitation.

In 2004, whilst working for Harman Pro, I discovered that many of my colleagues were musicians – including a singer who I knew from my time in South Africa. We had a brief discussion about playing music, went to a random band name generator on the internet and ‘5 Consultants And Their Fish’ was born… We were all mid-30’s professionals by this time with no desire to go back to playing in the pubs and clubs for next to no money, so targetted the high-end wedding industry as a ‘music solution’.

We attended our first Wedding Fair in October 2004 with (I’m slightly ashamed to admit:) pictures on the walls of the exhibition stand (which were actually stock photos off the internet) ‘signed’ by famous people thanking us for our services at their weddings!! Despite the little exaggeration (we hadn’t actually played a gig together by this stage) we left that fair with £11,000’s worth of deposit cheques!

In 2008, 5CATFish (as we became to be known) were voted ‘Entertainment Supplier of the Year to the Wedding Industry’ in the Wrapit Awards held at Claridges. The band continued through to 2011 when I took a break to study my MBA at Warwick Business School.

Coming right up to date, in March of this year I was approached to stand-in with ‘The Meatloaf Story’ for the last 9 nights of a national theatre tour after they had lost two other keys players to accidents… I had one night to learn the full two hour show and, after the first night, which was – well – a little unprepared, shall we say, the remainder of the tour went well, culminating in me being asked to join the other show which this company produces – ‘Vampires Rock’. We are currently in rehearsals and the 40-night national theatre tour starts on October 2nd.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
A mixture of reliability, flexibility and ensuring that, in amongst doing something that you love in return for money (which is not the case with every career) you treat playing music as just another career and deal with it as professionally as any other job. Also, it’s important to be able to get-on with people…

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
In terms of musical style, most of my experience has been in rock, soul and pop.

What can be challenging about your profession?
Owing to my preference of maintaining two careers, the main challenge is logistics, especially with the looming tour with Vampires Rock. Learning time for new material can be a real drain on what would normally be my spare time too, so I am lucky to have an understanding and supportive wife!

What do you most like about your profession?
I get to do what I dreamed of as a child every time I go on stage! I’m lucky to be in a position where I am able to be a little more choosy about the musical jobs I do these days and so have the honour of playing with some incredible musicians which just drives me to improve. Also, music is something that you never stop learning – I’ve been playing for almost 40 years and I’ve just started seeing someone for lessons in composition.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
The first night of the recent Meatloaf Story gigs is right up there! Meatloaf tends to be all about the piano in some of the tunes and there are some especially prominent piano-based introductions to songs in the show. With only one day to learn the set, I was hopelessly unprepared and when the follow-spot light shone on me for the intro to ‘For Crying Out Loud’ I basically froze and the ensuing 30 seconds or so were akin to the great Les Dawson! Traumatizing in front of 600-700 ardent Meatloaf fans, but I think they forgave me…

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
There have been a few, but playing the fanfare for the entry of Miss World to the Coronation Ball in 1994 was certainly one of them. Also, my favourite band is an American rock band called Toto and I played in a tribute band to them a few years ago. We rehearsed for about 7 months as some of their music is really quite challenging to play as they have two keyboard players and I was trying to cover both keys parts on my own. We booked a venue called ‘The Robin 2’ in Wolverhampton for our first gig and I had to go on stage to play an instrumental to open the show in front of a few hundred hardened Toto fans – for some reason, one of my most terrifying musical moments.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Be on time, be professional, be flexible, be friendly… (OK – that’s four pieces, but they’re all so important!)

Is there anything else you would like to share?
There are a few professional musicians who I am delighted to call my friends and they all share my views (or I share theirs, whichever way you view it) of working just as hard at music as you do at any other job in order to succeed.
You might not get to be in the Charts with a Number 1 album, but you can still make a good living from having more than one string to your musical bow – one of my favourite drummers plays, tours, teaches, writes, plays clinics for equipment manufacturers and makes sure he brings his best to everything he does.

Living the boyhood dream.
Andy Lewis – living the boyhood dream.

Andy Lewis is a professional keyboard Player/Musician.

You can follow Andy on Facebook

Company: 5CATFish

Contact Details: andy@5catfish.com 

Interview with a Head of International Development – Retail

A/N  This week my interview subject is a fellow Old Rishworthian alumni. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her journey and the advice shared.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

From setting up shop with my cash register as a little girl I knew I wanted to be in retail. Somehow over the years I now am still in retailing, and now have the privilege of travelling all over the world looking for new retail opportunities with a great brand. How cool is that?! I always think I have been lucky, but my friends remind me that it is me who has found and made the opportunities.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?

Opportunity driven, understanding both your customer and client, loving your brand, long hours and sheer determination! Listen more than you speak. Consultation, persuasion and selling skills are critical.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?

International Retail Development and Franchising.

What can be challenging about your profession?

Long hours and flexibility to be available 24/7, this is retailing. Jet lag and chronic tiredness. Demanding customers, clients and bosses. Life never stands still so you need to be flexible and on the ball.

What do you most like about your profession?

The buzz of making things happen. Easy measurements for success. Seeing results. Every day is different.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
Announcing the wrong speaker at a huge conference I had organised. I wanted the floor to open up. I don’t think it bothered anyone else but I hated making a mistake!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

Negotiating and landing a big contract.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?

Believe in yourself at all times.You can make anything happen if you have the will and determination.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Build up as many contacts and connections as you can. If you find someone interesting who makes you rethink things see if they will mentor you.
Read articles, chat, listen and learn.
Don’t forget your family and friends.. You can’t bring back time..

Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London
Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London

Helen Barnish is Head of International Development – Retail, Hamleys of London. Researching new markets to expand to, and contracting new Partners

An Interview with a Ghost

My younger self - Kashmir
My younger self – Kashmir c1977

Do you remember wondering what you would like to do during your late teens and early twenties?

When I was making the transition from educational life to working life, I was keenly interested in career options and in hearing about others’ experiences – particularly if they were in a field I was considering.

It’s occurred to me that, within my network alone, there’s probably several hundreds of years’ worth of experience and insights, which the young me would have found informative at that stage in my life.

The idea of sharing with the younger generation appeals to me, so I’ve come up with the “Interview With A (job title)” series. I’d love to know what you think of the concept and if you’re willing to contribute.

Here’s the first instalment

Interview with a Ghost

I:      How did you get into ghost writing?

G:     By accident, or serendipity … I’ve always written, since I was a kid.   In my working life, I was asked to write skits, newsletter pieces, marketing collateral, training material.   Mostly corporate stuff.   About 8 years ago we were managing an international event for the not-for-profit sector and needed a no-cost means of promotion.   So I wrote print media community interest pieces which journos ran under their own by-line.   It worked really well.   The event had participant numbers equivalent to the Winter Olympics.   That was really the start of my ghost writing.

I:      What makes a good ghost writer?

G:     Understanding the target audience and having a good handle on the personality, or entity, you’re ghosting.

I:      How do you achieve that?

G:     I’m from a sales background, which is all about representing your organisation and communicating their product or service in ways that are relevant to the target audience’s interests and motivations.   With ghost writing, you’re putting yourself in another person’s shoes and thinking from their perspective.   We (Dragon Sisters) use a range of tools and research to get to know a client and their audience, to make the content authentic, personalized and engaging.

I:      Who uses ghost writers, and why?

G:     In my field, public figures, professionals and all kinds of businesses and organisations use ghost writers for promotional purposes.   The reason is that they are too busy and or, they don’t know how to write strategic, engaging content themselves.   There’s a surprising number of PR agencies who sub contract to us.   Audience engagement and growth is faster and more effective through social media and on-line platforms than any other professional and business development means.   In marketing terms, strategic content creation is king.

I:      What mediums do you mostly write for?

G:     Blogs, articles, newsletters, marketing collateral including websites and of course, social media – mostly LinkedIn and Facebook.

I:      What can be challenging about your job?

G:     Writers block! It can be a bit of a challenge since all my work is deadline dependant. Weirdly though, I often come up with better stuff working under pressure than when I’m cruising.   Luckily!

I:      What do you least like about your job?

G:     Time zones.   Sometimes I’m racing to beat the clock at 2am because I know my client across the globe will be getting up and getting on line then.

I:      What do you most like about your job?

G:     Great clients!   Many of my clients are over-seas or inter-state so I never get to meet them face-to-face, but ghosting them creates a unique relationship; they trust me with their reputation and that creates quite a bond.   I really like all the clients I work with.

I:      What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?

G:     I wrote a bit of an off-the-wall skit for a national conference when I worked with Vodafone.   I wasn’t told ‘til the 11th hour that I’d be the one to deliver it.   I had to wear a ridiculous get-up and I had the public speaking skills of a sausage.   Thank God there were no iPhones or social media sites back then!

I:      What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

G:     Appearing on the Bert Newton Show.   (It was a long-running Australian national TV show).   That was a horrible 10 minutes which felt like 10 hours.   I was so nervous I thought I would throw up over the presenter; a very elegant, popular presenter named Moira.   (Moira was very thin – it’s true what they say about the camera adding pounds – and next to her, I looked like a nauseous blimp).

I:      What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out in your field?

G:     Where I started out and where I’ve ended up (so far) are really different places and I’ve taken some circuitous routes, during which I’ve learnt that nothing is ever wasted in terms of building experience and skills.   So my advice would be:   when an opportunity presents itself, even if it’s apparently not on the trajectory towards your immediate goal, make room to accommodate that experience; you never know where it might lead, even much later in life, and there’s no substitute for experience.   If you want to write, a wealth of experience makes for a nice fat memory bank – which is a great resource for any writer to have – and especially for a ghost writer, where you have to relate to a diverse client base and target audience.

Photo of Yvonne Toering
Yvonne Toering 2015

Yvonne Toering is a business development consultant and ghost writer with Dragon Sisters, Australia.

My next steps

In Australia, July 1st marks the start of a new financial year. For most businesses, regardless of size, the precursor to this is a period of frenzied activity. Wrapping up the old financial year and preparing for the new: creating new strategies, setting and taking new directions, evaluating the past year’s performance success factors and deciding where to focus energies and resources next. It’s a part of the year-end process that I enjoy because it is a wonderful period of reflection where the results are normally visible and measurable. I derive great enjoyment from my involvement with my clients and personal students, both as a business woman, a teacher and as a bespoke coach.

En route with my niece
Singapore stopover with my niece

This year, the 1st of July also marked the date I arrived back in Australia after almost a year spent working in Europe. Instead of travelling solo, as I so often do, I was accompanied by my 13-year-old niece, who I was bringing on her very first visit to Australia. My son, who’s been spending the last couple of months in Europe was also accompanying me. We took time out to make a short stopover in Singapore and introduce Alexa to a little part of this island that hold so many memories for all the Van Buerle family.

My very long journey back also allowed me plenty of thinking time. Time to reflect on what direction to pursue next in life. Teaching, guiding and coaching is such a rewarding, enriching, privilege on so many different levels, not least of which, is the sense of making a significant contribution to both the personal and business growth of clients and students alike. The wonderful thing about introducing new experiences, concepts, thoughts and ideas is that I can help people develop and grow so that they can achieve their goals regardless of whether on a personal or business level. Alexa’s experiences on this trip to Australia will be with her for the rest of her life. She will be able to use them as building blocks for her future. It is not too dissimilar to the experiences I offer my clients in the sense that it is building capacity for growth.

There is a misconception that a coach/mentor is a guru-like figure who spends their time telling lesser mortals what they should be doing when, in fact, nothing is further from the truth. It is about greater understanding, empathy, trust, respect, confidentiality, mutual liking and being on the same wavelength. It’s an egalitarian relationship of strong integrity and authenticity. I often develop a special relationship with those I work with and in some cases it even becomes an ongoing friendship.

My role as a coach/mentor has developed from working with diverse cultures and organizations. People began to consult me on matters that they were ‘stuck on’, life and business areas that they wanted better results from, identifying ways to move forward, strategies to move in new directions. My business achievements, life experience, cultural range and above all, my passion for progressive, empowering growth, seemed to resonate with individuals from widely varying backgrounds, age groups and levels of experience. They all have had the common objective of wanting to effect positive, meaningful change.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You could say that this kind of work crept up on me. I’ve found that there is nothing more fulfilling than working, either as a coach, mentor or teacher, to facilitate the achievement of powerful outcomes. With the wonders of technology, it does not seem to matter where I am geographically. My only real limitation of being able to help more people is time. Whilst working full-time I was only able take on a very small number of personal clients which was why the year in Europe was so wonderful, as it opened up considerably more free time in my work diary.

On my long journey from Barcelona to Darwin, I had time to think carefully and decide that I am making the time. I do not want to be bogged down in a corporate job. Sure a high salary is nice, but at the end of the day it is not fulfilling for me. Instead, I have decided that I am making the time to do what I really enjoy and that is being able to take on a few more personal clients through our Dragon Sisters global network. I am very happy with this decision and excited to think about the new goals, the new solutions and the new individuals that I’ll be able to work with over the next twelve months.

So, to all those who’ve been asking whether I will be available this year, the answer is yes. If you or someone you know is struggling to find solutions to achieve business ambitions or just generally wants to get life on track, I’d be happy to have a confidential, exploratory ‘chat’ about how I may be able to help.

Michelle

P.S. You can contact me via michelle@dragonsisters.com.au

Sisters are doing it for themselves or are they?

Although women are fantastically capable, we tend not to be self-promoters. We share our heartache, our grief and our moments of triumph with girlfriends. It’s in our nature to genuinely share the credit for a job well done with our team, colleagues and special friends. So, although we are so good at talking in groups, supporting each other through thick and thin, there are very few of us, certainly those in the 50 plus bracket, who feel entirely comfortable, stepping into the spotlight alone.

I do have to say that young women these days seem to be somewhat better equipped to do this. I am sure this is due, in no small part; to the way the school system does so much to encourage young people, both male and female alike, to make their voices heard. They get them out there at the front of the class for show and tell when they are tiny; this translates into being more confident standing in front of an audience and speaking about your topic. I applaud this method of introducing youngsters to public speaking. In my day, it was “sit down and shut up”. To be called out to speak in front of the class was a form of punishment!

When looking at things from a career perspective, one of the best exercises for women, if in Australia, is to undertake entering the Telstra Business Women’s Awards. I am sure there are equivalents in other countries too. Entering an award is not something that I would normally do. I feel uncomfortable with self-promotion and pushing myself forward.

However, I was nominated by someone I truly respected and purely for that reason; I accepted the nomination and went through the awards process. It was a wonderful learning experience. I was forced to take the time to evaluate my career to date. Time to reflect on my achievements, but more importantly the steps that I took to arrive at my present day position, and by doing so I learnt a lot more about myself. I was forced to stop and think. To think about me, not about others.

Everyone normally operates in automatic mode, travelling the same old road that they go down every day while their minds are thinking about other things – thinking about everything except the present.  As a youngster, we usually can’t wait to grow up – that desperate need to be 16, 18 and finally the magical 21! After that, the years seem to vanish, and we wonder where the years have gone! How often do people say, “If I knew then, what I know now?”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but living in the past or constantly making plans for the future, only serves to cheat ourselves of the pleasure of the present moment. So, instead of living in the land of “I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” or “what if,” we must live in the present moment – making the most of it & enjoying life to the fullest!

I encourage WINNER1 cmpeveryone to consider who you may wish to nominate for an award and if, in Australia, the Telstra Business Women of the Year Awards are currently open. For me, the process was extremely rewarding, but it was not easy; in fact, I’d go so far as to say nerve-wracking! The icing on the cake was winning, but even if I hadn’t won, I would not have regretted the process I went through. It was the beginning of a much greater awareness of self. Best of all, I came into contact with a fabulous group of individual women who are all sisters, doing it for themselves!

Are you one of those women forging your own path? Perhaps you are just starting out, or maybe you are, as they say in Australia, well ‘down the track’; wherever you are in your journey, I’d love to hear any thoughts, observations or reflections you might like to share.
Happy travelling!

Michelle

PS – you can also self nominate – so don’t hide your light under a bushel!


Action Plans

The New Year is a time when people often make resolutions that are not kept so rather than make resolutions I find that this a fabulous time to have a personal planning session with myself.

I use this as a time to clean out and sort out in both the physical and also mental sense. It’s wheConfined by the walls that you buildn I consider and plan my options and directions for the next 12 months. A big part of the planning process is to review my Action Plan ( I am currently in year 3.5 of my current 5 year plan).

Yesterday was my review day and it’s always interesting to pull out my blue note book (which I started in August 2010) and check to see how I am tracking. The purpose is twofold:

1) I can check off what has been achieved – which is always motivational for me as I usually find I’m able to tick off quite a few items. I do love to be able to physically tick off an item in a lovely coloured pen! Yes, I am old fashioned it’s a nice hard copy. It’s personal choice but I do find this so much more solid and satisfying than an electronic document.

2) I review where I am and tweak the plan as necessary. Being willing to tweak and make adjustments is absolutely necessary on any Action Plan since circumstances change which influence how I might need to proceed. If I didn’t tweak and adjust then it would not be a living document and therefore quite worthless.

As part of my review for the year I also take the time to look over and update my resume because I never know what’s around the corner and it’s always good to be prepared for opportunities.

What does yours look like and do you need a hand polishing? I’ll be happy to send you my tip sheet for making sure a resume stands out from the crowd.

Michelle

Changing our lives

Have you secretly (or maybe not so secretly) thought you would like to change your life in some way, shape or form? I know lots of people have but feel they can’t do anything for one reason or another. Family, kids, parents, finances, pets and a myriad of other thing are usually cited as the reasons for being unable to change. People depend on you, you can’t afford it and so on the reasons go. Many of the reasons are very valid but there is always something that can done to effect some type of change towards goals and ambitions.

I want you to think for a moment about how we all began life. As a baby we came into the world and faced enormous challenges. We needed to grow up – and if you think about it, growing up is a series of changes that take place with the biggest changes being in our early years. We start with small steps, milk and then onto solid food with the consistency getting firmer as we move through the learning to eat phase.

At the same time we learn to become more in control of our bodies. In the beginning we need our heads to be supported, to be picked up and carried everywhere. Then one day we learn we can roll over. Amazing! We can turn over all by ourselves. We might not be able to turn back, so we get frustrated and cry for help at which point some adult comes along and helps us.

Think about how a child learns to walk, first they crawl, pull themselves up on furniture for support, wobble about fall on their bums occasionally and finally, one day, they just let go and wobble off on shaky legs.

Well it’s the same concept if you want to make changes within your life, one step at a time and gradually the confidence builds and off ynewstartou go!

It may be that your 2015 ambitions are firmly embedded in your mind but you aren’t sure of how to go about making those changes or you might still be thinking about what direction you want to head in. This is where the support of a mentor, life coach, advisor or whatever name you want to give such people can be very helpful. The key is to make sure that whoever you choose is a good fit for what you want to achieve as it is definitely not a case of one size fits all.

How do you know if they’re the right person? Check out their track record and find out whether they just talk the talk or whether they have life experience? Ask questions and if you’re not happy with the answers keep looking.

I am selective about who I choose to work with and my clients always appreciate a 100% confidential environment, although I know some people prefer to work as part of bigger groups where there is less cofidentiality control and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It comes down to personal choices and what works best for each individual. For me a decision is always based on whether I feel I can help someone to achieve their goals and if they feel comfortable to be open with me and most importantly if I will be happy working with them. If not, then I recommend others (often within my network) as after all this is very much all about personalities and ensuring the approropriate fit in order to create the right environment to achieve best outcomes.

If you’d like to explore options on how the team at Dragon Sisters, or myself personally,  may be able to help maximise your potential and achieve your ambitions, be they personal or professional, contact us now and plan to make 2015 the start of effecting positive changes for yourself.

Michelle

PS I’d also love to hear you share any ways you have chosen to effect changes in your life.