Music Degree vs Law Degree (feat. Andrew Saragossi)

I first met Andrew during my first time attending The Queensland Conservatorium in 2009. It was clear then and still is now, that Andrew has a strong sense of musicality and passion for creating new music. My interest in interviewing Andrew came when I found myself getting more and more involved with contracts, copyright and other law-related topics within the music industry. Given that Andrew has both his Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Law Degrees, I thought it would be great to see what he has to say about the interplay of these two worlds and how it has affected his approach to the music industry.

Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?

I would classify my current professions as these; original music maker, freelance musician, teacher, record label owner/manager, concert promoter and booking agent/curator.

I am a co-leader of the following original music groups; Milton Man Gogh, George Cauldron, Jive Canyon, Svoboda/Saragossi, Concocted Consciousness. I am also a member of these; Martin Kay’s Forage, Matt’s Mates and the Brisbane Conduction Orchestra.

I currently gig between 2-5 times per week in various freelance settings varying from jazz, blues, brass band, hip-hop, covers, cabaret/stage shows etc.

I teach saxophone, clarinet and flute at Clairvaux Mackillop College as well as directing the school concert band and clarinet ensemble. I also teach privately from my home.

I am also a director and owner of Green Chimneys Records and its sub-label SuperSonic through which we record and release music, promote shows for international, interstate and local artists (such as KNOWER, Oddisee, Guilty Simpson, Black Milk etc.) and manage artists such as Astro Travellers and Big Dead.

How do manage your time to make room for each of these commitments whilst keeping yourself financially independent and living a relatively balanced life?

I keep a detailed diary of my commitments as well as an ongoing “to do list” of tasks I need to get done in the short and long term. This seems to work well for me and as such, I don’t seem to get overwhelmed with things at the last minute.

In terms of my schedule, the most important change I have made is having all of my teaching at the start of the week (i.e. Monday – Wednesday). This limits the number of early morning starts I have after late night gigs (these most often happen Thursday – Sunday). I feel like a live a double life and when Thursday roles around I turn from teacher to performer.

Do you have a method or personalised criteria to help decide whether to take on a new project or opportunity?

When I was younger I would just say yes to everything (this was especially the case when I was getting back into music after my law studies) and I would recommend any young musician do the same to get a wide breadth of experiences, however since becoming busier I have had to think more critically about which opportunities to take and which ones to turn down.

In terms of freelance performing, I have a system where the gig has to meet at least 2 personal criteria for me to say yes. My criteria are:

  1. Is the music good/Do I want to invest time into learning the music?
  2. Do I get along with the other musicians/will it be a fun gig?
  3. Does the gig pay well?
  4. What is the location of the gig/Is it a venue or festival I really want to play?

In regard to my work with Green Chimneys Records, we will usually only pull the trigger on an opportunity (be it to promote a show for an international artist or take on a new local artist) if it makes financial and business sense for us to do so.

I don’t find I have the same criteria with originals projects as in my experience they tend to form very organically and when people aren’t feeling it they usually go by the wayside.

What made you study law after finishing your bachelor degree at the Queensland Conservatorium?

I was pretty disillusioned with the idea of pursuing music after my studies at the Con after various negative experiences that I couldn’t reconcile and I honestly just wanted to do something that was completely different from it. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I thought studying law would be a degree that would give me the skills and qualification to do a wide variety of things.

Did you continue to play and practice music whilst you were undertaking your law degree?

Yes! I wanted to keep performing in some capacity so I joined the University of Queensland Big Band under the direction of Clint Allen who has since become a close friend and collaborator. Being a member of this band showed me how important community is both in music and life in general. We weren’t the best band but we achieved some amazing things during my time including recording 2 albums, performing Australian premiers of works from international and local composers and undertaking a tour of the USA where we performed with greats such as Randy Brecker, Gordon Goodwin and Vincent Gardiner culminating in a performance at Carnegie Hall. This band helped reinvigorated my love of music and I actually ended up practising more in this period than I did during my music studies.

Has your approach to music changed as a result of investing time in studying another subject so thoroughly?

Whilst my approach has definitely changed I don’t think it has anything to do with studying law. I just think that I have grown up and had a better understanding of myself emotionally and intellectually.

Are there any skills that translated to both the music world and the world of law?

Nothing specific comes to mind with regard to studying law and studying music performance besides general diligence and self-application. On the industry side of music though it has been useful learning about areas of law such as copyright, contracts, tax, corporations and generally learning how to conduct yourself appropriately for business interactions and negotiations with potential clients, students, promoters, bands etc.

Can you please share what made you consciously return to performing and personally studying music after the completion of your law degree?

The thing about music is that once you’ve invested yourself in it, it is really hard to completely give it up and I found that the further I got away from pursuing music as a career, the louder the voice in my head became spurring me to play music!

Beside this, I believe the catalyst for this decision was the unexpected passing of my high school saxophone teacher and friend Scott Griffiths. I never had a more supportive and generous mentor than Scott and his passing came as a shock to me considering he was only in his 30’s. Having to reflect on my relationship with Scott helped me understand the joy of music and how important it is in my life.

What would you say to a musician considering studying law and looking for some honest advice?

I would encourage that musician to really think about why they want to undertake the degree. Being a law student and a lawyer is hard work and requires you to sacrifice a lot of other areas in your life to become successful. In my opinion, it is almost impossible to be a full-time lawyer and a performing musician.

Has your new knowledge and skills from law been of any direct benefit in the arts? For example, the skill of being able to dissect a particularly dense contract may have come in handy?

Absolutely. The knowledge and skills from my law degree have allowed me to set up Green Chimneys Records and deal with the legal issues that arise in our business including drafting contracts and negotiating with other parties. I certainly would not have been anywhere near competent enough to do that if I didn’t study law.

Do you have any plans to take your law experience into the arts or as a lawyer for musicians for example?

Not at this stage. Right now I’m fully committed to writing, teaching and performing music as well as conducting business with my label. I did for a brief period work at a law firm that specialised in the entertainment industry and enjoyed my time there. Perhaps in the future!

What’s the most valuable career investment you’ve made to get to where you are now?

Honestly, just being a generally professional and easy to work with musician as well as being an active member of the scene who attends gigs regularly and is consistently trying to build the community.

Are you currently getting lessons from any other musicians? Or plan to?

I am not currently getting lessons with any other musicians on a regular basis but do have sporadic lessons just to get some inspiration and guidance. I try to practice with others when I can and I find that I can learn just as much from my peers as I can in one-on-one lessons with an instructor.

I have recently been accepted into a Master of Music program in the Netherlands so I will have the opportunity to undertake an intensive study with teachers again soon, which I am very excited about.

If you could simply create more time for yourself, how would you use it? For example, would you invest in more music related skills or study, or spend more time at home etc..

I would probably split that time between practice/planning, composition, self-reflection and then most importantly just stopping everything and clearing my head.

Did you ever have an 8 hour a day practice schedule before working full time?

I definitely did not have a schedule as strict as that. My practice would change depending on what is going on a given day or week. Having a busy schedule now, the most important practice I do is maintenance work on sound production including long tones, overtones etc.

Do you/did you spend much time transcribing other musicians?

I never spent too much time transcribing solos of other musicians but I always transcribe tunes instead of reading them out real books. I see the value in transcribing solos and I want to incorporate this more into my practice just for the aural training component. I think I avoided this because I thought if I transcribed someone I would sound like them when I wanted to sound as individual as I could. I think both are important.

If you could only practice three things what would they be?

Sound/Tone, Rhythm/Time, Technique.

If you had to play in one band only, who would it be?

My favourite project I’m currently part of is Milton Man Gogh featuring Zac Sakrewski on bass and Benjamin Shannon on drums. Our music is somewhat genreless and I have really enjoyed the development of our sound over the last year and half. We are all great friends and enjoying performing and working together and have a very organic way of writing and workshopping new tunes and most importantly we get a lot of things done!

Where would you like to be in 5 years?

This is a difficult question as I am just about to go through a big change in my life moving overseas to study and I don’t really know what the future will bring. I would say though that I want to be performing and recording original music internationally both with current and new projects and be able to make a living doing just that.

If you want to find out more about Andrew head to:

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