Music is such a broad topic and can be a little overwhelming to navigate if you’re thinking of it in terms of a career choice. There are so many jobs pertaining to music, besides just the fun performing side, such as, sound sngineering, teaching, producing, event coordinating, conducting, composing and so on. In order to get a better idea of the work that some of these fields entail, I will be going around Eugene this month and getting an inside look into a few of their busy careers. Hopefully this will help any of you curious folks looking into a music career of some sort.
This week we had the privilege of interviewing Sean Brenan from Sean’s Music Study, who is one of the local music teachers here in Eugene. He is registered through the state and with charter and has been teaching for twenty-one years all over Lane County. Brenan is a super cool teacher whose main headquarters are at Sam Adato’s Drum Shop on West 11th. Its in this fun little shop that Brenan gives students foundational instruction on just about every instrument, whether that be guitar, bass, drums, ukulele, piano, mandolin, or as he says, “even sax, believe it or not.”
He also coaches bands and has even helped to create some student bands, such as our family band, The S’MORES. He explained that, “once you get from ground level and can play a little, we put you in a band off and running and having fun.” If that weren’t cool enough, he has contacts all over the city to help his students find gigs. Including partnering with GRRRLZ Rockand KIDZ Rock, a local organization focused on getting woman and kids out playing music.
Sean Brennan(right) working on some interval theory with a piano student.
KB: What Attracted You to this Career Path?
You know, to be honest, it was not being very good at anything else. I know that sounds funny, but it’s really kind of what happened. I tried business. I tried communications. I tried all sorts of different majors in college, but I was just spinning my wheels. I was getting good grades, but just not feeling purpose and then I got into the music department and got straight A’s and had the highest GPA in the department, which never happened to me before. I was never that good of a student, so I think that’s what really inspired me; it clicked really well. And I’ve had lots of support from family to help me pursue this path, because it’s not one you will make a ton of money at, but with the blessings of family and friends, Eugene has been a real great place to do it I think. I feel like a big fish in a small pond.
KB: Who would you say probably mentored you the most?
Um, you know it was support from parents. Financially they helped with schooling and things like that. They helped get me started, but then I found that I have a good community of friends here in town, S’MORES included, in terms of that. There are a lot of people that love music in this town and want that, whether that is for them to go see bands or to be able to play an instrument. I think that is an important thing in Eugene here for sure, a very important thing.
KB: You mentioned that you took music in college, was there any other professional experiences, education or training?
Ya, well the rest of it would be somewhat informal. I was a volunteer at the Jazz Station where I helped get a new sound system installed there. So I’ve done peripheral work in the music field and some back-lining. I used to also rent out the bass amp and drum set to bands that would come to town. I’ve done those kinds of things that are not directly related to music, in terms of playing it or being educated in music. So those are other things I’ve been skilled in, plus the charter registry through Home Source. I had to take many classes on civil rights and things of that nature. So I’ve had that beyond college. The charter registry was one thing that was like college, even though there wasn’t a degree, but because of it I’m eligible to teach in Charter schools.
KB: What is something that would surprise people about your day-to-day?
That I have a lot of energy, I think is what it is. Even though I’m drinking coffee right at the moment, I usually have a lot of energy. People are somewhat surprised that I can teach a lot of people in one day, even though that’s a pretty taxing thing to do. Whenever you are showing somebody something else it can take a lot of energy to do that. But that’s the thing, I think, that allows me success in this business, having the energy that a little kid has, but then the maturity of an adult to get it all to focus. Getting my students to take that energy, but then focusing in on an idea. I think that’s one thing people are surprised I can do. I’m surprised sometimes too, but it’s a skill you hone over the years, somewhat by trial and error.
KB: How many hours do you work in a typical week?
Well it’s funny, you know the actual hours of instruction that go on, purely instruction, are maybe somewhere between ten and twenty hours of actual instruction. But then there is prep time as well that you absolutely have to do.
It would be hard to teach 40 hours a week I think, for anybody, superman included, because of the taxing nature of it. But with the prep time included, the flexibility of it is nice, because I can prepare stuff at home and then bring a song in for a lesson.
KB: What do you think some of the biggest rewards of your position are?
The light bulb moment is the one I always like. When a student gets something for the first time and you see that light bulb, so to speak, go on over their head. You can just watch as all of a sudden they can pull off what you have been building towards.
I’ve had plenty of moments like that myself, just learning how to do something on an instrument, and all of a sudden you’re just like, “Ohh.” It’s such a wonderful feeling and that is one of the most exciting things, and then also seeing former students play. Recently, I have had some former students play the same gigs that I played at some festivals over the summer. It is really cool to see them playing like I do. It’s like, “oh wow, they really took everything that they learned and have applied it awesomely.” Many times better than me, which is also very satisfying to see that they passed what I can do.
KB: What is one thing you wish somebody would have told you before going into this field?
I was aware that it wasn’t going to be a ton of money in the field, but I think that the important thing for anybody to get a start today is to have good Internet presence. If somebody would have told me that… but you know, when I started there wasn’t even that much Internet. It was the late 90’s so it was just starting to come around, but I think that would be the thing, be business savvy. You can’t really just be a creative musician, because you need a way to get that to people.
I became a business ten years ago and since then have hired a really good IT person, Asterisks Creative, and Jen has done a wonderful job connecting my videos to my website and anything that I have asked of her. She has been really good at making me pop up first on the Google page; those kinds of things. Had I learned about that maybe a few years earlier, but I feel like I got on board. I know some musicians in town that just struggle with that stuff and I’m like, “well you should save up a couple hundred bucks and pay somebody to do it, cause it’s really worth it.” That way you don’t have to put in the effort yourself of having to learn all that stuff. That takes away from your teaching and your creativity. It takes too much effort, so I find that it’s better to learn to delegate. That’s another good thing that was hard for me to do. That’s one thing that is nice about being with KDZZ Rock and GRLZZZ Rock, because I don’t feel like it’s all on me anymore. There is a group of people who all want this, who all want to want to gear up for performance. So that is the other thing that was hard. I wish somebody would have said, “hey don’t try to do it all yourself. That’s why your back hurts so much.”
KB: Having had all this experience in this field, how would you describe somebody who would excel in this career? Such as personality traits and skills you would need?
I think, first and foremost, keep in mind that music is fun. Really anything where people are paying you for instruction, I think you need to make it fun. Sometimes people don’t get a chance to practice and I could sit there and just scowl at them and curse them out, but that doesn’t do any good. I mean, really, the best thing is to be flexible and to have a good enough…and this comes with experience…but have good enough forethought to know that not everything you plan is going to work with each student. Find out what it’s going to take. It is a hard skill to obtain, it really is. You just have to experience it and go through the trials and errors, but that’s what I’d say. And be high energy if you can be. Nobody wants to take a lesson off of somebody who mumbles or can’t be heard. Be the loudest person in the room and act like you’re an authority, even if its something you don’t know. And don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know that, I’ll look it up.’ Be curious. I think that applies to a lot of things in life, but be curious about music and what things people are into and that will make you a better teacher as well, learning different styles of music.
KB: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
There are a lot of different things, but I guess the challenging thing…and not that this is the most challenging thing…but I would say it is learning how people think. That is probably the biggest challenge that I run into. There are so many different learning styles. There are ten styles, and I forget the exact name of it, but everybody has these ten intelligences. Such as, can you get along with others? Are you intelligent that way? Are you athletically intelligent, more math oriented, more letter/verbally oriented? So there are all these different categories and its up to me to figure that out. I ask people, ‘well how do you think? Do you think in numbers or are you a better writer?’ You know, and then I can teach differently based on that.
So that is probably the biggest challenge I run into, but you can overcome it pretty quickly if you just pay attention to each individual student and make sure that you are aware of what they need. You might be teaching the same exact drum beats per say, and you’d have to teach it differently to two different people just because of the way they think, the way their brain works. So that’s what you have to be willing to do. That’s probably the biggest challenge, and it is a fun challenge actually.
I like the challenge. It is fun to be like ‘oh you don’t understand this? Well we’re going to make you understand this. We are going to do as many things as it takes. Like turn it this way, look at it this way, look at it this way,’ and once they finally get it and can play it, then its fun. It’s usually 100%. Occasionally I’ll say, ‘well maybe reggae beats aren’t for you.’ You can say that, sometimes, but the challenge is getting to know and understand how the brain works. It is fun to research. I’ve maybe got a phycology degree just in all the research I’ve done over the Internet. It’s really neat to study different styles of learning. That’s always been fascinating to me.