Navigating Life After Music School: Finding Your Path with Eric Heidbreder
At the intersection of technology and music is where you will find Eric Heidbreder. His curiosity and creativity have led him down many musical paths. Eric is a bassoonist, songwriter, musical comedian, audio producer, and more. Back in March, before I knew who he was, Eric's blog post "Best Services and Settings for Remote Music Lessons" was all over social media. Using the instructions from this post certainly helped me teach more successful online lessons. In June, I participated in the Fresh Inc Festival for which Eric was a faculty member. Since the festival was online, chamber music participants recorded their individual parts and submitted them to be edited into a complete performance. Eric did a fantastic job editing audio and video for the three chamber groups that I participated in as well as many others. It was only sometime after the festival that I realized, "Hey, that's the same guy that wrote that famous blog post." Please enjoy reading what Eric has to say about where his varied musical career has taken him so far.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do.
EH: I did my bachelors and masters in bassoon performance. While I was in school, I picked up arranging, recording, and songwriting along the way, thanks to some great professors and friends in the music technology program at Ball State University (Derek Johnson and Andrew Reiman!). I've always loved the intersection of music and technology as a way for people to interact with a performance in a way that shapes the performance itself, so more recently, I started teaching myself to code. [The "intersection of music and technology" sounds really serious and academic, but the pinnacle of that idea is my Oregon Trail Livestream. More on that later] Currently, I'm the executive audio producer for an accidental business that arose out of a need for middle school and high school virtual ensemble performances when Covid shut down school band programs. Also, I'm finishing up a 12-week Data Science Immersive course through General Assembly and planning a pretty major career move.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school?
EH: Keeping consistent work. I never knew how to save money because I'd have decent months (like $2000) and bad months (like $300), so to cope with that, I just never spent any money and got really good at doing things for cheap/free.
ER:What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school?
EH: All of my side-interests and extra-curricular activities helped prepare me for life after school. Because I was in school, I got to record an album with my friends where we spent 40-50 hours in the studio figuring out which end of the ridiculously expensive microphone we were supposed to yell into. Also, I messed up a bunch in music school, but quickly fixed the problems. For example, I used to keep my whole calendar in my head until one time I double-booked myself for a gig and essentially lost that opportunity forever. Then my bassoon professor, Keith Sweger, gave me his old Personal Digital Assistant device and told me to start keeping a calendar.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed?
EH: In school, I wanted to perform for a living. I got a good taste of that after school - I performed a lot, and not just on bassoon: Solo performances, chamber performances, bar gigs, comedy shows, improv comedy shows, sold-out crowds, shows where family and significant others were the only ones there, you name it. Now, my career goals are shifting toward having consistent work unrelated to performance that will let me go back to making whatever music I want to make with no intention of making a living off of it. Turns out I like creating more than I like performing, so I'm going to get back into that.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful?
EH: I stayed in the same place I went to school and stayed in touch with the friends I made. Right after school, so many people are ready to go and want to get to work, so it was easy to find people to play with. A lot of the folks from my class would pass gigs around to each other. Granted, I was in Chicago so there were a lot of gigs happening.
ER: I know you are skilled in audio and video editing. How did you learn these skills and how have they helped you in your music career?
EH: The video editing came from my time as a skateboarder, we used to shoot and edit videos together constantly. A couple of the other people I used to shoot videos with have gone down the path of full time videographers because of it! Audio editing I picked up from my friend Andrew Reiman - for awhile, he was my audio engineer for my comedy stuff and would always record my audition tapes for me at school because he needed projects to work on with people he didn't hate. Luckily I got to sit with him while he edited and he taught me a lot about how to record, edit, and mix music. I didn't really do much audio editing while he and I lived together because he would do it all, so once he moved out, I started to *really* dig in and learn more about audio editing. I think I just watched as many videos from Reaperblog.net as I could.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career?
EH: This is a tough question because my career path isn't linear, but I'll do my best: When I recorded my first comedy album, "Songs for Grandma" back in 2010, I think that was a defining moment when I realized that there were other things that interested me about music than the performative aspect of it. Also, joining Fifth House in 2013 pushed my career in a completely different direction than I thought it would go and gave me a lot of opportunities to do public speaking, teaching, and program design. But now, that blog post I wrote right when schools started closing in March about the best services for online music lessons, is the only reason I'm making any money during quarantine.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school?
EH: Do the most ridiculous projects you can think of while you're in school and have access to energetic people who don't care if it makes money.
Learn through projects you can complete *quickly*, even if they're garbage, just finish them, learn from the process, and start another one.
For longer-term projects, set an amount of time you'll do it for before you assess whether it's time to abandon it (I do 3 months to start)
ER: Anything else you want to add?
EH: Party hard but don't die
ER: How can people find you?