London is almost unrealistically expensive. Wiser men have told me that rent should ideally comprise about 1/3 of your monthly income (with the average rent in London costing around £1,500 PCM as of June 2018). In fact, if you want to rent an apartment here without having to go through extensive complications, the estate agent will require you to provide proof of income that’s at least 2.5 times the amount of rent per month. Otherwise, you need a UK-based guarantor, which brings about an entirely new set of challenges.

I could write a detailed post about how counterproductive and mendacious estate companies are in London because, as a German, I like to complain about inefficient systems.

Perhaps another time.

In any case, it costs a lot of money to survive in London and a lot more money to live here. I barely have enough to survive.

So, I had a decision to make after moving into my new house in North-East London and dealing with the resulting costs. I could either get a well-paying job, work 50 hour weeks, earn upwards of £5,000 per month, and at least sleep comfortably because my waking hours would be spent making money. Or I could find a part-time job that merely covers rent and some bills but have enough time left during the week to spend it on my own projects like my music, my writing, and my company.

I desperately needed money, so I decided to go for option one. I redesigned my CV and sent out a few applications for consultant roles at large corporations in central London. I know enough about consulting and recruitment to seem like I know a lot. Kind of like my piano skills.

So, I attended multiple interviews wearing my friend’s suit because I don’t have one of my own. All interviews went well; three went extremely well. Two of the companies said they could pay me 20£ an hour. The other company offered me 25£ an hour. The last interviewer told me that I’ll be able to enjoy weekly Michelin-starred restaurant meals with my coworkers as well as a luxurious company car and business trips to Dubai and Singapore, staying at all-inclusive 5-star hotels. I would’ve had my income and expense ratios sorted and living in London wouldn’t be so daunting anymore.

Side note/pro tip: your bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean much (and a degree in music means even less). However, if you are well-versed and ostensibly competent in a particular field, can prove your experience in real-life scenarios, can articulate properly and speak with brevity, and if you are commercial, confident, and sell yourself effectively, the recruiting officer is very likely to slot you into their company at any level of the workplace hierarchy. Make sure you tell the interviewer how their company will benefit if they hire you and finish by asking, “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t hire me?”

Funny enough that the highest paying company told me that they would love to have me start first thing the next week. It was a Friday that day.

On Saturday I played a sold-out Sofar gig with Selin. It’s a big deal for any musician; if you want to know more about Sofar Sounds, click here.

While playing a song called “Take My Time” I started crying. I can’t say exactly why; the audience was incredibly supportive, my bandmates played in perfect harmony with each other, and the atmosphere was crowded with emotion. Some audience members had that tearful shimmer in their eyes as well. I guess it was a mixture of all of those things. It was embarrassing and cathartic and joyful all at once. At that moment I knew that it would be absolutely insane for me to work at an office in a corporate setting, talking to prospective clients on the phone, closing deals with partners, and holding meetings with shareholders and company executives. I am fully capable of doing all those things but that particular moment on stage made me realize that passion trumps income.

I called the company the next day and told them off.

I had no money in the bank, no other possible job opportunities lined up, and £2,500 due for rent in two weeks.

Neat.

Option two it is, then.

I’ve worked with coffee before and loved it, so I applied for a part-time position as a barista at my local specialty coffee shop. I did a trial shift, pulled some decent shots, poured some decent latte art, and got the job.

My life could have changed completely if I took the consultant position and stuck with it. I could have made a lot of money and had a stable, secure job with a pension and a company Mercedes-Benz. I could have had enough money to buy a brand new Nord Electro 6 and no time to actually play it. I could have joined the legions of money-crazed businesspeople and said terms like “KPI” and “ROI” and “NPV” a lot. #LetsGetThisBread

However…

My life is changing either way and I’d rather sacrifice Michelin-starred restaurant meals for pasta leftovers in return for the chance to establish a personal connection with people through the medium of music, for the chance to make audience members tear up and smile, for the chance of participating in a meaningful conversation using the universal language, for the chance of making enough money to live by doing what I love.

If all else fails, I’ll just move to Lisbon, Portugal, and call it a day. Sayonara mi amigo.

 

Many of you are wondering what I’m doing with my time now that I’m not a university student anymore. This post is going to answer that question.

Two things:

First, I moved into a house in East London. It’s been an incredible and almost ridiculous journey, but here we are. Many thanks to those who cared enough to help us get here; you know who you are. The funny thing is that this house is up for sale, so we might have to move out again after 6 months, but at least we have a working base for now, so that’s good.

Secondly, I’m starting a new company. Some of you might have heard of Sesh Records already. So here’s the deal:

Most artists need to work full-time in order to fund their part-time creative endeavours. That has become something that musicians have adopted as the norm because it is, in fact, the normal thing to do at this point. But if you spend 40 hours of your week working a job you don’t even like (or you work part-time and attend university), that leaves very little room for hours you can spend making music; and even if you make music, your lovely neighbours will complain about the noise and/or you won’t have the energy to make quality music that you truly enjoy. I know I’m speaking to the choir here as most of you are musicians, so you know what I’m talking about.

In any case, that sucks. What sucks more is that, even if you’re lucky enough to have the option of making money with your original music by playing live shows, the stage and sound equipment is usually in terrible condition, you have to pay £5 for a beer which costs the bar £1 to make, and most times the money you get paid only covers your travel costs, if that. So who is the organiser paying? Are they paying you for your music or are they paying Transport for London for their Underground service?

The issue is that artists are so desperate for gig opportunities that they’ll grab anything, even if it’s merely “good exposure” instead of life-sustaining money. This enables organisers and venues to give artist a sub-par deal, because there are countless musicians in London, so if you don’t take the deal, someone else will. It goes so far that some event companies will even ask artists to pay in order to perform, which, I believe, is the definition of the word “satanic” in the Oxford English Dictionary.

All things considered, that’s one big problem. My new company is going to solve this situation by raising the quality of service artists receive for their work and restoring value to good independent music. I believe that good artists should be enabled to make good art, because they’re literally the only people in the world who can do that.

I’ve spent the last 8 years figuring out how to manifest these ideas by talking to many experts in different fields about their thoughts on how to make people’s lives better. These discussions have opened the doors to an almost forgotten area of economics within the subcategory of investing that deals with investing in people rather than in projects.

I’m keeping the description of the company relatively vague because I don’t want to divulge too much information at this stage. I just wanted to let you know that I’m actually doing this now because it’s the best use of my time after dropping out of uni.

And also because it’s a vision that is bigger than my own ego, therefore it requires teamwork, trust, dedication, and a few more noise complaints before we can afford our own studio space.

So we’ll see how well this goes with the new house and the new company.

I spent two years at a music university in London with one more year to go but I decided to quit now. Many people told me, “Dude, just finish the degree, it’s only one more year.” But man, that’s a long time of doing something that doesn’t really contribute to my personal and professional development. And I want to explain to you why that’s the case.

But first let me tell you about my mindset going into university. Contrary to what my mom believes, having a degree isn’t important to me. Everyone has one so what’s so special about yours? A degree is weak evidence for a potential employer to understand that you are capable of following basic orders and managing your time well enough to hit deadlines. It doesn’t mean you’re in any way competent at those things, merely capable, and it shouldn’t require attending university for a young adult to embody such characteristics anyway. Additionally, the content of what you studied is rarely important unless you’re lucky enough to get a job in the specific field of your study. But my goal was never to work for another person in the first place. Perhaps it’s necessary for a while but it’s not my goal.

On the other hand, university is a great place for you to demonstrate to yourself, your peers, and your teachers that you are indeed competent by the degree to which you apply yourself to your studies, your social and work life, and your private affairs. So I’m not saying that universities are all bad because there is obviously a lot of utility in learning about yourself and your position the world, and universities generally have the necessary tools to facilitate that process.

Anyway, I devised a game plan for this university chapter in my life and the plan was to spend the first year doing everything the university and tutors asked of me. I’d work and practice until I couldn’t play or think anymore, I’d study in and outside of uni, and I’d perform on stage doing what my teachers told me to do. I’d comply with every rule and attempt to exceed or at the very least meet every standard the university set for me in order to get the best grade possible.

For my second year, I’d do everything I wanted to do. I’d perform songs with my personal interpretation, I’d practice what I wanted to practice, and I’d read a lot about psychology, business, and the intricacies of political movements instead of music-related subjects. And I’d write essays about what I wanted to research while roughly remaining within the context of the assessment brief as a precaution so I don’t fail. I’d set my own personal development standards that had very little to do with those necessary to receive a good grade.

If I decided to continue to cope with the academic pressures of the final year, I would’ve gone back to the game plan I had in year one for the sake of my degree.

Well, I finished my first year with a grade average of 72%, which sounds really bad to all of you Americans but in the British grading system, anything above 70% is excellent and constitutes as a first class honours, which is the highest honours classification. There are many reasons why that shouldn’t be viewed as a high academic achievement at this point in time, one of them being the exponential grade inflation over the past decades, but on paper I was an excellent student.

I finished my second year with a grade average of 62%, which isn’t that much worse but it’s definitely a product of my limited adherence to the assessment outlines of my university.

So here’s the underlying problem: Your teachers will tell you that their job is to encourage and assist you in your many areas of development as a human being. That is a very noble job description and if it were up to me, teachers would receive a much higher financial compensation for the amount of physical and psychological strain to which they’re subjected day after day. If it weren’t for the creativity-killing array of bureaucratic university guidelines, teachers would actually be enabled to execute their job under the aforementioned description, but they can’t. It’s as if the individual creative coaching potential of an effective teacher is tied to and suffocated by a replicable, standardised syllabus that dictates the content and outcome of what happens in the classroom.

The following is a practical example that my friend Dustin Dooley gave me a while ago. He’s an experienced vocal coach, highly skilled multi-instrumentalist and singer, producer and on top of all that he owns a label. So he said something like this:

“It’s strange that vocalists are taught in a group, at least at an advanced level such as at a music university. A singer’s voice is the most personal instrument and training it properly requires individual coaching sessions because everyone’s voice is different. If singers are taught in a group, the content of what can be taught needs to be completely basic and homogeneous in order for it to apply to every singer in the group, but that strongly restricts the speed at which singers can progress and develop their vocal skills.”

This clearly outlines a fundamental issue about the concept of human potential. Students are paying money they might not necessarily have for substandard information that under-prepares them for the brutality of life outside of university. To then have the gumption to describe a university as a place for young people to develop their potential and efficiently work towards reaching it is incommensurate with the reality of how universities are structured.

It seems to me that the purpose of a university is to enable students to familiarise themselves with the procedures pertinent to adhering to guidelines, implement tools for students to develop adequate time management skills, and facilitate social engagements through events and in-class collaborations and discussions.

I’m not saying that universities completely remove a student’s ability to develop their potential, but I am saying that universities regulate that ability inefficiently.

There is a silver lining, however. If you have no idea what you want to do with your life and you also have no idea what your interests and talents are as well as what your inefficiencies are, then you should go to university. At least there you are provided with the necessary mechanisms to shape your character, seek out and pursue your interests, and develop certain competencies. It’s completely up to you how hard you want to work, but at least the university gives you the freedom to work on that.

I spent a long time thinking about my own character and my talents and disabilities before I came to university, so those mechanisms weren’t of much use to me at that point. Instead, I wanted to find out how fast I can develop personally and professionally within a university setting instead of within a company setting. To be honest, I developed very quickly in terms of my technical abilities on my instrument because I put in the time and the effort, but it’s as if the university has a creativity speed limit and if you maintain a speed higher than the limit, the academic police will eventually stop you and remind you to stick to the assessment brief no matter how good your essay was. And that’s precisely why I dropped out after two years.

There are many more things I could say about this subject because it involves so many other concepts such as freedom and truth and all that, but as of this moment I’ve written more than 1,300 words and that’s quite a drag for someone just stumbling across a blog post on the Internet. So that’s that for now and, of course, good luck to all current and future university students, especially to my valued friends at BIMM.