Navigating Life After Music School: Career Talk with Lisa Liz
Hello readers! I’m very excited for you to hear what trombonist Lisa Liz has to say about navigating life after music school. Lisa’s musical career has taken her on some big adventures, including touring with the musical Blast! and freelancing in Japan. Recently she has been creating fantastic videos! Make sure to check out her YouTube account (linked at the end of this post). Lisa and I met when we were both graduate students studying trombone at Arizona State University. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about her musical journey and hearing her insightful thoughts on music and life.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do.
LL: I am not sure how far back you want me to go, so I’ll start at the beginning! I started taking piano lessons when I was about 9 years old. I did that for a few years, then when the time came I was super excited to join beginning band in elementary school. I started out on the saxophone, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it. Then, I switched to the clarinet and continued to play that for 6 years. When I was about to enter high school, I picked up the trombone since the marching band was looking for more brass players, especially low brass! I fell in love with the trombone and the people who played it. I knew this was the instrument that I wanted to play! Marching band led to my participation in drum corps, and then majoring in music in college. I did both of my degrees at Arizona State University. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and my Master’s Degree in Music Performance.
What I currently do… I am going to answer this question in two ways! Before COVID-19, I was an active freelance trombonist in the Phoenix, AZ and Tokyo, Japan areas. Some of my main jobs included playing shows at the Arizona Broadway Theatre and touring with the productions Blast! and Blast The Music of Disney.
What I do now, after COVID-19, is entirely different. Like most freelance musicians, all of my work for the year has been cancelled. I was actually at the beginning of a contract with Carnival Cruise Lines when the pandemic started. My contract was cancelled and I was sent home (long story there). I have had to adapt my career entirely, but I am making it work! I currently teach private trombone lessons on Zoom and have been putting a lot of time and effort into my YouTube channel. It is my goal to become monetized on YouTube soon, so I can have that as another stream of income during this difficult time for musicians.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school?
LL: When I graduated with my Bachelor's Degree in Music Education, I knew I did not want to be a full-time band teacher. I came to this realization a year or so earlier, after taking a semester off from school to tour with a show in Japan. That tour pretty much solidified the fact that I wanted to perform for a living and not be in a classroom. However, I decided to finish my degree since I was so close. After graduation, I worked for a year outside of the music field entirely. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do… I felt totally lost. This year was very important for me though. By working at jobs outside of the music industry, retail management and bartending, it became so clear to me that music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Working other jobs and being away from music inspired me to go back to school to get my Master’s Degree. It was a totally different experience than my Bachelor’s Degree. I just wanted it so bad, I was super dedicated to being a professional musician.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school?
LL: I would definitely say playing in as many different ensembles as possible. I think by the time I left ASU I had played in every single ensemble, haha! I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study will Sam Pilafian while he was still alive, and he always encouraged my to play everything and always say, “Yes”! I feel like not being afraid of playing different musical styles has always served me well. There is always something new to learn… something untapped you haven’t played yet. In addition to playing in multiple ensembles, I would also say working with many different departments. Not only was I involved with the trombone studio at ASU, but also the tuba and euphonium studio, the jazz department and the music education department. There are so many amazing teachers, resources and people at the colleges and universities. Looking back, I wish I would have reached out to even more people and cultivated more relationships.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed?
LL: My career goal when I was in school, specifically my Master’s Degree, was to play trombone for a living. My goals weren’t super specific, but I knew I wanted to freelance, tour and work on multiple projects.
No, my goals have not changed at all since I left, I very much want to continue to do that for the rest of my life! My goals have become more specific though, and I am starting to add some new projects and ideas into my ideal freelance musician lifestyle. I am definitely getting more into the business side of it now. I love the online world, marketing and social media. I am also interested in starting my own projects, which I am working on behind the scenes now!
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful?
LL: I had a somewhat non-traditional academic career. I took time off three times during my two degrees. Once for a semester, once for a year and once for a year and a half. Two of those Three times were for music jobs, so I would definitely say, not being afraid to take a gig and make a big change. I started doing this in my undergrad, so I feel like I got a head start at this.
Another action I took that has served me well was networking. It is true what they say, “It’s all about who you know”. I made a point to get to know as many people in the music scene (in Phoenix) as I could. Not only getting to know people, but getting their contact information and keeping in touch. Again, I also started doing this while I was in school. For me, graduation didn’t seem like an event, I actually didn’t even go to the ceremony! I was already working by the time it came around.
ER: How was your experience touring with Blast!?
LL: Touring with Blast! has been awesome! There is so much I can say about it, but I’ll try to keep it short. I have had the opportunity to travel the world, so that’s been amazing. The tours that I have been a part of have been to the US, South Korea, and Japan. I have been so fortunate to tour all over Japan so many times, it is my favorite place in the world (I live here now). The people I have met in Blast! have been amazing - my husband, my best friends, and so many other amazing musicians and performers. Being a part of the “Blast Family” for networking purposes is great. Much like college, it’s a huge network of musicians working all over the world.
I have also learned so much during my time with Blast! It has certainly made me grow as a performer, a musician and a professional. The tour life is not easy, and performing up to 10 shows a week while traveling and maintaining the same level of performance every single time is an extremely valuable skill that I learned.
Last year, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Blast! promotional tour here in Japan. We did radio and TV appearances, written interviews and live shows. That experience opened up my eyes to the whole business side of things that I didn’t really know much about or have an interest in before. Now I do! It was a great experience.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career?
LL: Nice segue here … saying, “YES” to going on tour with Blast! I took 3 semesters off during my Master’s Degree to do my first tour with Blast! and I am so happy I made that decision.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school?
LL: The biggest piece of advice I have is: DON’T WAIT! Start networking with local musicians and going off campus for musical events as soon as possible. Make sure everyone knows you, what you’re about, what you play/do, what your goals are, etc. There shouldn’t be a hard line between when you graduate and when you start working, it should be a seamless transition. Get to know absolutely everyone you can. Start small, with your studio, but then get to know teachers and students in other studios and departments, then other people at the university, then local musicians, then national, then global (this is now ENTIRELY possible with social media and the internet)!
ER: Anything else you want to add?
LL: Yes, but I feel like I’ve said too much already, haha! Anyone who has any further questions can contact me anytime, please reach out! I would be happy to talk to with anyone regarding their music career. I am also always happy to expand my musical network and connect with more musicians all over the world.
ER: How can people find you?
LL: Everything is @lisaliztrombone, I tried to make it easy for you all! Here are all of my links: