For Liz Craig, life revolves around music. “My main everything is piano,” said the Toronto-based pianist, whose work involves everything from teaching to performing at weddings to, most recently, organizing a Halloween recital for students in the Greater Toronto Area.
Liz’s relationship with piano began at age nine, when her grandmother, a church organist, suggested that she begin private lessons, but her relationship with music began long before that. As a young child growing up in Winnipeg, MB, Liz recalls “singing and dancing along to tapes and also making tapes by recording myself singing along with my sisters,” and says she was fortunate to attend a school in which music was a mandatory, daily class. Liz sang in choirs and played in bands from Kindergarten onwards.
When she began formal piano lessons, she devoted herself to practicing and sharing what she’d learned with family and friends. “I remember feeling like it was the highlight of my day and I just always felt connected and whole when I was making and listening to music.” She credits her first piano teacher with laying the groundwork for her life and career in music. In addition to learning the fundamentals of playing piano, Liz had the opportunity to learn popular songs, chording, and play from lead sheets, developing skills that remain crucial to her work as a performer.
When she reached junior high, Liz’s piano teacher moved to the United States, and she began studying with new teachers who focused her studies on classical music and preparing her for an audition at the University of Manitoba, where she went on to complete her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance under Dr. David Moroz. Liz describes her time at the U of M as “an intense four years” that helped shape her into the teacher she would become.
At the time she began her degree, however, Liz had already begun her teaching career; she taught her first group music classes at the age of 15, and became a private instructor at 16. Initially, Liz was faced with the challenge of being taken seriously as a teenager. To counteract this, she took to dressing as professionally as possible (“I’m pretty sure I was the only 16 year old in dress pants at my school on my teaching days!”) and learning as much as possible about teaching, including taking pedagogy courses at the U of M a full two years before enrolling there as a university student.
Continuing on this path of teaching and performing was the natural choice upon graduation, and for Liz it has been a path with many lessons along the way. “When I first started out after university, I just kept trying everything I could think of to succeed and said yes to almost everything that came my way. Sometimes I was too trusting of the institutions that were hiring me, and I think at times I may have been a bit of a pushover. I’ve learned to not assume, to get everything in writing, and to say ‘no’ sometimes which is so empowering.” She cautions other young musicians at the start of their careers against “playing for exposure,” and advises that “if it seems too good to be true, fishy, or way too little pay, get out and don’t look back.” Despite having learned some things the hard way, Liz says that she has no regrets, and regards these situations as learning experiences that have helped her as much, if not more so, than the things that went as planned.
When asked what advice she would share with young people on the business of being a musician, Liz strongly recommends being as versatile as possible and being committed to educating oneself. For example, when she started her wedding and event music business, she immersed herself in those areas and learned about those particular industries. She also makes a point of playing music from a variety of genres, and pays no mind to the notion that to “make money doing covers and things people want to hear” in any way constitutes selling out.
She also advises that having a robust and easily searchable online presence is a must, including a website and social media channels. And when dealing with potential clients? “Don’t be shy about asking for the amount of money you deserve for a gig. Be professional, polite and very quick to respond to inquiries and requests for your services.”
Liz is living proof that it is possible to follow your dreams of a career in music, but not without a solid business strategy and a lot of hard work. Now at the age of 28, she is the president of the Central Toronto Branch of ORMTA (Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association), and enjoys a steady schedule of teaching and playing music at weddings and other events, and in 2020
she’ll begin examining for Conservatory Canada. To learn more about Liz’s tips on the business of being a musician, check out her guest blog post from earlier this year. You can also find Liz online through her website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.