Five Tips for Surviving during your First Year out of School

Émilie Fortin is a Montreal-based adventurous musician and teacher who explores every possible facet of the trumpet. A versatile performer, she is a freelancer for several ensembles and orchestras. She has contributed to the creation of more than a dozen works with various emerging composers in an effort to enrich the repertoire of her instrument. She currently plays with the Griffon Brass Band. Originally from Abitibi-Témiscamingue, she received a bachelor’s degree in classical performance with Lise Bouchard at the Université de Montréal. In the spring of 2017, she completed her Master’s degree at McGill University under the direction of Russell DeVuyst. Perfecting her craft with great masters, Émilie always seeks to excel in her personal practice. It is with this in mind that she has participated in brass workshops at Domaine Forget and Chosen Vale (Vermont). She was selected to be a member of the Montréal Contemporary Music Lab in the summer of 2016, as well as a participant for Soundscape Festival (Italy) in 2017 and for Banff’s Evolution Ensemble program for this summer. Firmly believing that pedagogy is an integral part of performance, Émilie is a teacher in various secondary schools in the region. She has also had the opportunity to teach the trombone, trumpet and music theory at an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets (Haïti). During the 2017-2018 season, she developed her focus on community engagement and teaching with The Global Leaders program, where she was one of 35 people selected for an international cohort of enterprising young musicians.


  1. Play music that you like

You don’t have a jury to please anymore, or a specific format to fill (unless you’re participating in a competition). Play that sonata you always wanted to do but was too chop-tiring for a 60-minute recital, try that cool chamber music piece with your friends, or arrange some pre-existing works! It’s so easy to feel that playing music is a chore after being at music school that it’s essential to be back in touch with the pleasure of creating art. In my case, I made a list of people I would like to play with, teachers I would like to take lessons with, and music I would like to perform. After finishing school, I found this was a great way to help me keep me motivated and keep track of my goals. Rather than just playing gigs, I’m organizing my own concerts with the repertoire I want to play. I’m surrounded by musicians and friends who are willing to embark with me on crazy projects, so I’m always inspired. Don’t wait for opportunities; create them!

  1. Take risks!

Since I started university, I decided to spend my summers not working 40 hours a week to save money for the school year, but rather doing festivals instead, which means I was really careful with my money. In the same order of ideas, I often chose non-paid gigs instead of non-music related paid work, just because I knew that in the long run, it would pay off. I also dived into The Global Leaders Program, asking myself often if it was the smartest idea to do this right after my Master’s. Of course, there’s nothing stable about this, and my anxious nature suffered from it from time to time! But I do think that if we decide that music is our career, we have to accept all the ups and downs that are coming our way more often than in the life of “normal” people. While everyone’s economic situation is different (some have the privilege to take more risks than others), and one should always value their work and ask to be paid whenever possible, risk is simply a reality of the musician’s life that we have to embrace. Your life won’t be as consistent, especially financially speaking, than your non-musicians friends, but it’s worth it in the long run to accept artistic projects as much as you can and if they’re related to your long-term goals.

  1. Go out

Try to attend as many concerts as possible and go out of your comfort zone. Everything you read, listen or go to will feed you as an artist. I’m talking equally about concerts, art exhibitions, poetry nights, you name it. Not to mention that the after-concert hang is important as well; connections you will make at the bar afterward are a part of creating a network and learning to know the human beings under the musicians. I used to see this networking as just an artificial “business” aspect of the music and found it negative, but now I’m enjoying discovering and genuinely connecting with new people.

  1. Take a part-time job that is flexible

I know many people who can only attend one festival per summer because their job wouldn’t let them away from the office for a long time, or that they have to ask far in advance for days off and sometimes miss gigs because of that. My more “stable” day-job is to be an usher at a concert hall, which means I work more often during the evenings and have my schedule three weeks in advance. The majority of my colleagues are artists as well, so it’s really easy to trade my shifts and my boss understands if an opportunity comes up and I have to be away for some time. In the meantime, you are creating a network of artists and friends from different backgrounds, not only musicians. Find a job that is adaptable to a freelance schedule, or even many jobs that are easy to deal with. Don’t also neglect a job where you can do something else, like answering emails or learning your music. You’ll have more energy to practice when you’ll come back home. You may have less stable income but will be grateful when your colleague asks you to sub for an ensemble at the last minute and you can say yes! And not to mention, listening to concerts for free is a great perk!

  1. Take into consideration your own progress

It is so hard to have the feeling that everybody else’s life is going so well, that they have so many gigs, while when people are asking you what your projects are, you don’t know what to answer. But please, remember that social media is not a mirror of real life! (I’m not always able to follow my own advice, here, by the way…). Write down your short-, medium- and long-term goals, then work toward them in everything that you’re doing. Be proud of the evolution you achieve, and don’t be distracted by the successes of your colleagues. Like life, the music world isn’t fair, and there will always be somebody better than you in some aspects, and there’s always an aspect of luck and circumstance in others’ success. So, focus on what makes you different and worthwhile, on why people would like to work with you. Take time for yourself, find what makes you feel good, and do it every day. Never forget: the musician in you is just one aspect to your personality; you have to nurture the other sides to feel complete as a human being. Balance is essential.

One thought on “Five Tips for Surviving during your First Year out of School

  1. rachel oconnor June 22, 2018 / 6:11 pm

    Thank you for this awesome and inspiring article, Emilie! Great advice on how to find balance, focus and flow on this path we’re all on! I feel inspired (even though I’m about to go back to school 😉 – Rachel

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