I am thrilled to bring you Will Stroet whose music fills the home of many of us with children (and is enjoyed by the adults, too!) At the end of his interview, Will offers up some practical advice on taking the leap on your passion-path and has very generously offered a lucky winner a CD/DVD prize pack! Keep reading for Will’s story and the goods on an upcoming concert and tweet-up at UBC!
Welcome, Will! Can you tell us about how you started your career in children’s music? Was it always your dream or did you fall into it? Do you remember the moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?
My career in children’s music grew over a number of years and in a number of stages. I started writing music for kids when I was at UBC studying to become an elementary school teacher. I wrote some songs to help me teach lessons and it was from there that I found I had a talent for it. I started my teaching career the following year, spending one year as a substitute teacher, followed by 5 years teaching music part-time at a French immersion school in Vancouver.
It was during those years that I released my first three albums and began performing in schools and at festivals throughout the Lower Mainland. During my last year of teaching, I performed about 100 shows, and although I was teaching part-time I felt too busy to do both jobs well. It was under those circumstances that I decided to pursue a full-time career as a children’s musician.
That was almost four years ago and we haven’t looked back. I absolutely love what I’m doing now. I get to meet hundreds or thousands of kids each week and share my music with them. Essentially my job is to perform for kids and get them pumped about music and other things relevant to them. Most of the time they learn a thing or two to boot!
It sounds like writing songs was always a part of your career, and then quickly came to the forefront. So your days now look different than when you were juggling the two part time gigs of teaching and songwriting/performing. What does your typical work day look like? Is there even such a thing?
My work days vary a great deal. When I’m on tour we usually start with a morning show, frequently we drive on to an afternoon show, and then we drive to the next town for shows the following day. Being on tour is tiring, but I always joke that with a three year old at home when I’m on tour that’s when I’m able to get caught up on sleep!
When I’m performing in town I get up, drive to the venue, set up/sound check and do the show. If it’s a public show, I always enjoy connecting with kids and parents after the show. Kids are hilarious and I’m inspired when I see how much they enjoy the music and my show.
I also spend many days working from home. On those days my wife and manager Kim and I usually start with a quick meeting to see where we’re at with current projects and then we get to work. Bookings, blog posts, newsletters, administration, marketing, songwriting, social media, applications…
Working from home is great – when you are home, that is! I love your comment about how you catch up on your sleep when you go on tour! Spoken like a true parent. Speaking of which, how do you balance family and your career?
When it comes to work/family life balance we are blessed. Kim, Ella (my daughter) and I live in a duplex with my parents who help us a lot. Kim’s parents also live nearby and help out as well. When I’m in town we generally share child care duties each week in this way. Due to the nature of our work, our schedules change all the time. It is a challenge to stay on top of it, but it also means I frequently get to spend extra days with my little girl in the middle of the week. I really treasure those days; it is so true time flies once you have kids, and honestly I can’t believe she’s already three!
Sounds like a great arrangement! I’m sure everyone in your family has their favourite songs…but I’d like to know what yours is and why!
Tough question. It changes all the time. Right now my favourite one to play in concert is probably “Hygiene and Eugene.” The kids love it—there are fun actions and it’s got a pretty fun riff that the band and I have a lot of fun with. You can watch this video on Kids’ CBC starting May 20, along with other “Will’s Jams” videos. My favourite song to listen to is probably “Boost me up.” It has a really fun up-tempo and is going to be made into a video as well.
I’m also in the process of writing my next record. I will be in studio in June to record and we will be releasing in the fall. This means I have a bunch of new songs I’m really getting into. It definitely feels good to write new tunes and I look forward to sharing them soon!
I’ll be sure to check those out! My son and I enjoyed the Full of Beans video – like, A LOT! Here it is for the benefit of my readers who haven’t seen it yet!
I’m sure it hasn’t been all fun and games. Can you tell us about any obstacles you have encountered on your journey?
I think our biggest challenges were probably pretty similar to many small businesses. Getting people to notice you early on, and trying to measure up to other established people in your industry were the biggest challenges. Both of these things take time. Looking back, I remember how hard it was booking gigs in the early days. I would often cold call schools, festivals, libraries, anyone who might give me a chance. It was very hard mentally when you might only have success booking one or two gigs for every 30 or 40 calls. When you don’t have much of a track record, and people don’t really know you, you have to remain persistent and believe in what you are doing. I’ve now performed over 750 shows and in certain markets it is definitely a lot easier, but these challenges remain when you are trying break into new markets.
Well, you are obviously a great example of how one can take their passion and talent and create an ideal working situation. What advice do you have for my readers who have a dream but are afraid of taking a leap?
As a child I was always very cautious. My daughter is like that as well. I was literally scared to take leaps of any sort. I like to think that the leap that I took in following this amazing career was a calculated decision that resulted from years of laying the groundwork for a successful career.
Here are some tips:
- Be sure there’s a market for what you have to offer. Try it and test it before jumping in with both feet.
- Find your niche. I perform music in French and English and have connections in the school system that allowed me to book enough gigs to stay afloat in the early days.
- Work with good people who you trust. I have an incredibly supportive partner, who honestly deserves as much credit if not more for my success, and was ready to support me when I did take the leap. We have very different strengths and that is what has allowed us to succeed.
- Don’t quit your day job until you’re making money with your side business and have a solid business plan. By spending some years in the more traditional workforce, my partner and I built some financial stability that has sustained us and given us the freedom to make investments in our business.
- Believe in yourself and work really hard!
Thank you, Will! That is such thoughtful advice! I wish you decades of enjoyment in everything you do, especially in making children dance and sing!
To learn more about Will Stroet and his music, visit www.willmusic.ca. “Will’s Jams” begins airing on Kids’ CBC television May 20. Join Will and his Backyard Band for a free concert at UBC Alumni Weekend and the #willsjams Tweet Up on May 25.
Good luck to all my readers who enter this draw – deadline is Friday May 10, 2013!