DIwhy?!! You’ve got to make your own work.

So, by now I will have started my concert series, ‘Mid Week Music‘ Which, I’m almost certain will be a huge failure, but hey! I tried!

I wanted to start a concert series for a number of reasons:

  1. I am basically only good at performing
  2. I would like to be able to perform regularly for people who want to come listen
  3. I like supporting other musicians!
  4. I needed to diversify my income and actually have some sort of back up when busking is a wash out.

So, ‘Mid Week Music’ was born. (this is April that I’m writing this, so it’s either a complete mess or doing ok! we’ll see!)

This month I wanted to talk about ‘Making your own work’. As a creative, it is the only way you will get work. You can get gigs and everything else, but creating your own job is the only way you will actually have a job.

I always think of Shelly Fairplay  and Christy-Lyn, two very clever harpists with a lot of hustle.

Firstly, I think of Shelly’s harp ensemble ‘Dynamic Harps’, with is an amateur harp ensemble she founded and has run for years. She founded a harp ensemble because that’s what she wanted to teach, she saw that there wasn’t one in south wales and made one. A couple of years ago I bumped into her at a bank and she said ‘Eventually I’d just like to be teaching ensembles’, and she does! she created work for herself and it’s that sort of drive that I try and take with me into my ventures!

Secondly, is my social media friend Christy-lyn, she has a fab youtube that you should definitely look at, but she’s created videos for beginner harpists and people looking to know more about playing and all aspects of harping! (I even helped out for a ‘Harp Help’ Video, and I’m sure you can go watch that now!). Her use of social media and the internet in finding a niche for herself is something I also hope to emulate. She’s doing a great job!

One thing I wish musicians would realise when leaving university or college is that half the time you will have to make work for yourself. You will have to go to wedding fayres, advertise online, create groups and make actual jobs for yourself because for the most part a large hotel chain isn’t going to pick you off the street, let you work there for two years and pay you very little! You’ll have to put on your own concerts. And it is scary, knowing that you can fail, but if you’re going to fail at least it’s on your own terms, not sat behind some desk at a recruitment firm doing a job that google could do better than you. (have I stressed how much I hate ‘recruitment’ as a profession… there are too many of you! go get a real job!)

Anyway, If Mid Week Music is still going, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD COME TO IT! and if not, then at least I tried!


Pricing Gigs (or) I Don’t Understand.

General Warning: If you don’t want to know vague financial details about my life and work then please don’t read this and continue to believe I am a poor struggling artist who magically pays her mortgage through song and hope…




I just got back from playing at a restaurant. This is a nice restaurant that I like performing at however they do things a little differently and I, honestly for the life of me, can not figure out the correlation between what they are paying me and the duration of time I am playing for.


My Prices

N.B. This is only 2017 specific prices. my prices will probably change every year like a normal business.

What I am paid for any event is not decided by me. Sure, I have a set ‘price’ for an event, but what I am actually paid is 100% dependent on the budget for the event.

When I get an email from a client with an event that is up to 2 hours (again this is wedding excluding), I will quote them a price depending on their budget. For any event from 0-2 hours I charge between £175-£250. This is a huge gap in prices but I have a starting price and then I’m happy to negotiate down to my bottom before saying ‘no’. My logic though is this, If it is not a charity event anything under £150 is not a gig I should be at for more than an hour. Quick gigs that are only an hour are fully negotiable because they are short and there is so little chance of me having to wait around! However, if I am doing a wedding and they don’t want to pay me at least £175 for a drinks reception a child will 1) Run head-first into the pillar of my harp (this has happened twice at two different weddings) and 2) A Child will slap the pillar of my harp. (this has happened at three different weddings). So if I am asked to do an event in a decent location for less than this amount of money I will not do it for the sake of my livelihood (my harp.. duh) and also because I can’t afford to waste ‘prime time’ (Wedding season, i.e. a Saturday afternoon in August) where I can find another wedding that will pay me a liveable amount!

I know, I know. ‘Sam… stop complaining about how much you charge/earn… it’s so gauche! aren’t you meant to be a classy musician who doesn’t talk about money, like you were taught to in University?’ (literally, this was something I was “taught” in uni…. more on that at another time). I know, it sounds snobby and trite, but if I don’t talk about it then no one will! LITERALLY NO ONE!!! and then young musicians are just gunna leave music college/uni and have NO IDEA what they need to charge… which is exactly what happened to ME and why I once did a wedding ceremony for £50…………….. yeah…and the bride even had a meeting with me to discuss music…

To enlighten you, here is my ‘Annual Budget Guide’ on how much everything roughly costs me and how much I need to make a week in order to pay for all of these things. Granted I usually aim for £250 a week so typically earn more by default. but this is the bare minimum of what I need to earn in order to keep living. (and I know my website is crazy expensive and I forgot to put my harp insurance on there!)


This is how I got my £175-£250. I don’t like charging over £250 for a two hours event unless it’s a large business that has the money for it!


HOWEVER, back to my point, I have been booked in to play at this restaurant twice before and instead of giving me exact start and finish times, like you would for an event. They divide it up into ‘sets’… two 40minute sets is £100 usually, which kind of makes sense, you do a 40 minute set, you take 5-10 minutes to go to the loo and refill your water, and do your second 40 minute set. Usually, if I play a dinner, I will just play for the whole dinner and take quick stretching breaks during, because I know my body and what it’s comfortable doing and how long it’s comfortable playing for.

Today they had me in a 6pm to do three 30 minute sets… I was puzzled by the exact length of time they wanted me to play as they were staggering their guests so that they could seat people in a calm fashion and I was playing at the bar so that they could sit guests down while they were waiting for their tables. Pretty smart. However, when I got there and asked about the sets and the time in-between the manager replied ‘oh you know…’ and gestured… That is not helpful… so I did my three 30 minute sets (I hope that’s a helpful way of writing that!) with five minute breaks in between because playing for 30 minutes for me is nothing… I play for 2 hours when I busk with little stretching breaks and tea breaks.

So I finished my sets and packed up, I handed the manager my invoice because they pay me in cash for some reason… and he looked surprised, he said ‘oh you did them back to back?’ I replied ‘I took like a five minute break between, you weren’t very specific’, he responded in his glib vague nature ‘oh well… you know… usually they… ummm… take about 20 minutes and have a drink… and… ummm… well…. you know…’. I don’t know. I don’t understand. For this gig (they made up the prices) they were paying me £200 for 3 30minute sets… was I being paid for waiting around? was I being paid for the sets… was I being paid for the entire time I was there? how long was I even supposed to be there?

I don’t understand.

They asked if I would do another half hour set (that’s probably a lot clearer I should’ve used that from the start), and I said, ‘sure, but I will bill you for it’ because, as we have learnt from previous experiences and previous blogs ‘THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND!’ you aren’t ‘helping out’ I’m not gunna take a 20 minute break and start bussing tables… they aren’t a small independent popup that I frequent! I owe them nothing! THEY ASKED ME TO BE THERE!!!

Anyway, so I went and did another set (which involved unpacking all my harp stuff again and then packing it up once I was done…) and I said to the manager ‘Do you want me to write you a new invoice or do you want me to write the extra set on the invoice I’ve given you’ and he said handing me a roll of cash ‘oh… no, I’ve put an extra 20 in if that’s alright…’ I was confused by this and replied ‘well… 50 would have worked because it’s technically £66 a set…’ and then HE was confused…. what? what’s happening…

And then I realised, as I was getting my harp down a flight of stairs because their disabled lift doesn’t work… which just… ugh


Nevertheless, I realised, there is absolutely no correlation between what they are paying me and how long I am performing for/how long I am there for…. They, like me, plucked this ‘sets’ system out of mid-air and assigned numerical value to it, while at the same time getting a quote off me for my system without telling me about their system… so, here we find ourselves… I don’t understand….

Mainly, I don’t understand other ‘musicians’ who do gigs there… do they have time to just sit around for 20 minutes alone in a bar waiting in between sets? what? I get it, if the most expensive bit of a equitment was your PA system, but if you have a harp out you don’t wanna just leave that uncovered in the middle of a crowded bar… that’s lunacy! Also, had I known that they wanted me to sit around for 20 minutes between my ‘sets’ I would’ve brought a book…. my laptop… some work to do…Also, I could’ve given them a price based off what they expected from me and what I expected from the event. Either way, this is a classic case of grown ups not being direct and not frankly and clearly addressing the work they want and then being surprised when it doesn’t meet their expectations. I don’t understand how a place that has staff and clearly knows you have to be specific with timings was so unclear about this this time! Oh well! this explains why they were so surprised by my original price quote! I just don’t understand. I think that is all I can say at this point. I have literally no idea what they were paying me for


Nevermind! I’m back there again next month…. I think the important thing is that they are paying me!

Back at it Again!


A couple weeks ago I took part in a waste of time.

It was called ‘Classical revolution’ and it took place at one of my favourite Coffee shops, ‘Little Man Coffee’. Looking at their social media and their videos it looked pretty good, it looked like there was a good number of other musicians coming together to do little concerts and perform works they hadn’t yet played for an audience. So naturally I said I would do a couple pieces, because I am slowly trying to get back to some good classical repertoire.

However, when I got there one sunny afternoon, it became apparent that I was the only person performing at this concert that I wasn’t being paid for… the organiser was half an hour late as well.

This organiser was the definition of ‘Mediocre white Man’. He started talking to me after I had done a 30 minute set and I assumed he was just a random member of the public coming to tell me how much he enjoyed it… he was the organiser…. we had not brought his instrument, he had effectively missed his own concert, and he mumbled. The Mumbling is what got to me. Here I was, a confident and professional musician, hosting my own concert, by myself, not being paid for it, and I wasn’t even in charge! This mediocre man then told me that he would say something after my ending set… I was amused by this, did my final 10 minutes and starting packing up while this man mumbled to a now almost empty coffee house… like, most people had gotten up and left when I’d finished my first set.


A couple weeks later I performed at Pontypridd museum… I organised everything, I did all the promotional work, all the flyers. And people actually came, people also watched on the live stream, which was great. But people came! and they even donated! So, we actually made a small profit!

So, after this I became more frustrated with the fact that I had organised a successful solo concert and managed to get people to turn up for it, and yet this man had managed to organise a monthly concert series…. soooo… Now I’m doing one. Because….

If I’m not being paid, I might as well be in charge!

It’s true though, if I’m not going to make any money from doing this guy’s concert then I might as well be in charge of my own concert.

So, ‘Mid Week Music’ was born! It’s the same model as the pontypridd concert, being donation based. but it’s designed so that people can come and see some live music on their lunch break and also be able to eat their lunch at the same time. (Also, one of my other favourite coffee places is in Castle Emporium so that helps too! honestly gang, if you’re still buying coffee from Starbucks, Costa or any other chain and you live in a city like Cardiff, what are you doing? Go local! Go independent! they need the money more than the tax avoiders!)

Anyway, so the first one is 7th June, 1pm. We’ll be live streaming it too! Don’t worry! but also, we’ll be doing it every month (if it’s successful!!!!) with different artists and performers each month who will all get to share their wonderful talents with you!


So! You can come see it live! watch it online! and follow it on twitter!!!!! also tell a friend! and please come! Please!!!!


Sam Hickman – Back At IT AGAIN!!!!

Treat Yoself 2016!

so for the past two weeks I’ve been putting off buying a pair of shoes.

Shut up! stop right there!

‘A Woman buying shoes… tell me something new!’

No, I was putting off buying these shoes!


Let me take you back two weeks (this will be like a month by the time this comes out but bare with me!)

So, I wear my boots busking all winter, and have worn them so much that there is a huge whole in the sole, which is easy to get fixed but it just shows how much I’ve worn them in the last two years. I wear them every time I go busking so they get used!

However, during the summer I wear a pair of sandals but at the end of last summer my sandals broke and I’ve been on a quest to find a good summer replacement. I have to walk 25-30 minutes each way with a 6kg harp on my back. so I can’t wear something on my feet that I will regret 5 minutes down the road.

For weddings I can wear nice shoes and easy pumps that I don’t have to do any walking in and basically just have to be comfortable to drive in! So I had a couple options and I came across these shoes.

It’s a fantastic company that makes really great shoes! they used to have a casual line called ‘Terra Plana’ I have a pair of heels and heeled ankle boots from them that are still fantastic 3 years on! They use 50% recycled materials and really design their shoes for people who have stuff to do! and also sports and running stuff… but yeah, walking with a harp on your back is like a gym but you get paid in between!

Anyway, I’ve been ‘umming’ and ‘aaaahing’ about it for a good couple weeks and today I was just went for it and bought them (also I got a 15% discount… so that was pretty good). But I realised that it’s because as a self-employed person you have to watch every penny to make sure you’re on track financially and you’re making enough, saving enough to pay for everything and pay your taxes…. all that grown up nonsense!

And then, on top of this our society puts so much emphasis on ‘getting a bargain’ and getting things for ‘cheaper’ than their worth. So my actual first attempt at getting my ‘summer busking shoes’ were a pair of £4 espadrilles I got from H&M that don’t fit and aren’t properly made. My usual summer pumps I get from Next during their boxing day sale, they are around £8-£16 and last one year then fall apart, they are also bad for my feet. So this year I thought I should just do what I do with the winter and get a decent pair of shoes that will last, be comfortable and good to my feet! So I took the plunge and bought an expensive pair of everyday shoes! I will let you all know how I get on with them!


Back to the point, as a self-employed musician you feel this pressure to try and save all your money for work related things, upgrading your instruments and equipment. We don’t look at the musician and their physical health. This can be very dangerous as music is such a physical profession that you have to be well enough to be able to make the noises and pluck the strings etc! On top of this, as a musician, who is pretty happy with their work, I tend to not really ‘treat myself’ regularly that isn’t just a work-related expense, and I get that these shoes are a work expense but let’s not dwell on that!

I’m very happy with my work at the moment, at 23 I feel like I’m making a healthy start to my career and making good decisions that will positively effect the longevity of my work in music. However, a sign that you are not happy with your work is if you are ‘treating yourself’ a lot more than is actually a ‘treat’. In Sarah Silverman’s book she talks about her friend’s philosophy; ‘Make it a treat’, she was talking about sex and drugs… but it applies here! If you’re living beyond your means and spending money like a crazy person, then you’re probably not happy with your lifestyle. We can get really desensitized to the things that make us happy, ‘too much of a good thing’ can actually numb your brain’s pleasure centre! That’s why I rarely listen to music at the moment because I’ve reached the point where, performing and playing music is something I do so much that it doesn’t have the same effect that it did when I was 15 and only singing a couple minutes a day. Nowadays, I actually sing for longer than I speak, which is worrying but it’s just how it works out on a day to day basis. Therefore, I have stopped listening to music on my ipod on the way to work and listen to podcasts instead, which allows my brain to wring out and reset so I can enjoy my work and performing.

This is just something personal to me that I realise I do and it’s something for us all to think about in our lives as musicians and as people in general! Make sure you’re treating yourself if you don’t think you can, make sure you’re happy and healthy and also make sure you make bank!






they are the best! I forget I’m wearing them half the time because it just feels like I’m in barefeet wearing socks!

New shoes came today from @vivobarefoot yay!!!!

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They are awesome!

I’ve worn them busking


Oh, the life if a celebrity…

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I’ve worn them at gigs


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Program Music: How to put together a program

This Month I have performed at a variety of events, from a University Reception at Cardiff National Museum, to a Charity Concert at St Martin Church in Roath, to Birkenstomp at Little Man Coffee.

The Only tricky Thing

The only hard thing about being a Singing harpist, other than the whole ‘Singing while playing the harp to an alarmingly good standard’, is choosing what to do for concerts!

For background music, like this month’s drink’s reception, I have developed a standard repertoire that I can stretch over a  a number of hours so I don’t have to repeat anything and I’m providing a varied and interesting program throughout!


For Concerts I have developed a few tips to try and suit the occasion. Here are the three ‘P’s:


how to pick a piece:

1)Common Sense

This is a tricky one for musicians I know! but if you’re going to do an aria and everyone else is doing pop covers, it will be weird. If you’re following someone who’s done something very moving an profound, don’t try and jump straight into a comedy song! people need to warm up to it!


If you’re at an upbeat concert where the mood is very light and it’s a fun concert, don’t do something slow and sad. easy!

Now, I know that’s all well and good in theory but what if you have to make a drastic change of program suddenly! Here’s what you do:

I have 3-4hours worth of music that can be done as background music for receptions and weddings. about 1/4 of it is acceptable concert material. This is because it doesn’t always show the extent of my skills or is simply not thrilling enough to entertain an audience.

My rule is ‘Always have a lever change’… This is helpful for harpists, rubbish for everyone else. A lever change mid-piece is thrilling for an audience, when I perform Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Stars and The Moon’ there are about 4 lever changes throughout the piece, this coupled with the drama of the song is enjoyable for an audience. I have done many pieces where there are no changes and there isn’t as much flair to the piece.

The main point is, have something that shows off your ability. have a few different ‘great pieces’. Anyone can be amazing at playing a ‘good’ piece, but if you have something that’s personal to you, shows off your skills, range and ability then you’ll have those great pieces.

The Question you should ask yourself before going on stage is ‘would I record this?’ because if you wouldn’t, ask yourself why. Then change it to something you would!

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 16.06.47


Like an athlete you can’t just walk into a concert and be ready! That’s not how it works. Some concerts I learn new music especially to perform at and other’s I reuse music I already have. how do I decide which to do? time and preparation! If I have a fantastic piece that’s practically perfect then I’ll go for it and perform it. It’s sometimes risky business taking a new piece out for a ride sometimes it works out well and others it fails tremendously! It’s common sense really, you know your own ability so make a value judgement on that!

rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! not until you get it right, and not (as most professionals will tell you) till you can’t get it wrong. But, rehearse until you can ‘perform’ it! there’s a huge difference watching a musicians playing a piece and performing one. It’s the reason the Met or the Royal Opera House isn’t full of 12 year olds who can sing Queen of Night and ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’…


Are you sitting comfortably while you read this? yes? that’s the level of comfort you should feel while you perform. You should have that same relaxed ‘Cup of tea in hand’ feeling when you perform.

How do you get to that?

rehearsal and performance. I can sing a moving and tear jerking rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ 16 times in my sleep because I have performed it and playing it and rehearsed it hundreds of times. Similarly, with other concert pieces I have performed them at my residency many times leading up to the performance so when I get to the concert I take a deep breath and it’s like sinking into a warm bath.

Stop worrying about it being perfect, stop worrying about the music. You should only concentrate on your message and what you want to say to your audience.


Take a deep breath, you’ve already done all the work.


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Buying a Harp (a Rough Guide)

This week I thought I’d talk about my harps that I’ve loved, hated, bought and sold in my quest for the perfect playing! It’s going to be story time then some practical tips!

Let’s start from the beginning.

My first harp was only £150 from a music shop in Buckinghamshire. I thought It was incredible and a wonderful instrument… It is not. It’s a fantastic instrument to learn the basics on but only the basics!

Small Lap Harps:


They are the best for beginners! they’re light weight, cheap, take up very little space and often very good quality! My student now uses my small one to learn on as she’s just starting to learn to play!


Over the winter break I decided to re-string my lap harp. I hadn’t replaced them in about 5 years and they were well worn. as I restrung it I realised, you can’t make a cheap harp sound expensive!

It’s a fantastic harp for teaching and learning and a good first stop on the way to a good harp but it is not a nice sounding harp and has a very limited range to actually use for gigs! That being said I did about 3 weddings with it before getting my big harp, so you never know!

Big Cheap Harps

After I moved into my house after uni I bought this big beast off amazon for £500… and the struggle began!

Don’t buy a cheap harp unless you have incredible pitch and even better patients! It never stayed in tune! I fought with it for about 6 months before it eventually got in tune! It did not tune easily, the levers did not work at all! and it was in an awkward size between shoulder and harp trolly!

Due to it’s poor quality and build I constantly had strings break and didn’t even bother tuning the top octave after the first 2 months as they would constantly break!

The positives was that it was a good transitional harp to my big harp from my small one as it has 36 strings and allowed me to expand my playing. It also sold really quickly once I’d put it on gumtree because I was honest about it’s limitations, If you’re going to buy a terrible harp second hand buy it off a harpist how’s honest about how terrible it is!

Would I get one knowing what I know now? Oh heavens no! it was 12 months of struggle!

Camac Harps (Korrigan)

My Live EP was recorded on my Korrigan Linked here:

I bought my Camac Korrigan second hand from a harpist on gumtree for an absolute steal! and It is the most fantastic harp in the world! It is far more reliable than any man I’ve ever met. I know that sounds like a joke but I am constantly amazed at how well it holds pitch, very rarely has string breaks and can take a beating (musically!) it has 38 strings, which means it goes all the way up to a top top C and all the way down to a Low Low A, which is great because I like a lot of bass when I arrange things but you also get beautiful clear high notes.

The only disadvantage is playing outside. It has a round soundbox/body with is quieter than a square soundbox/body. So when I took it busking it was incredibly quiet, however my square harps create a much bigger sound in poor acoustics, like outside!

(Bardic 27)

When the Lord God made the Universe he made Adam and Eve. What people don’t know is that he also made Sam and my Camac Bardic 27… That’s how wonderful this little harp is! It’s fantastic! I use it for busking mainly and it just works so perfectly! you can get a tremendous range of dynamics from it and it sounds so big and glorious even out on the street!

It’s great to play things up an octave and you still have all the best parts of a bigger harp while also being able to carry it like a backpack!

The only down side has been finding somewhere to keep all my stuff. I had a shoulder bag for about a year and it was fine but made me over balance with my right shoulder, right I have a rolling briefcase that is perfect for keeping my umbrella, music, purse, water, keys, tuner etc! And I tie my stool to the handle to make it even easier!

If you’re going to be doing a lot of teaching, busking or gigging and you don’t drive I would recommend this little wonder! it’s just wonderful! And very cheap for such a phenomenal instrument!

Pedal Harps


Pedal harps are expensive and that is why I do not have one yet! I’ve got my eye on a lovely electro-acoustic if anyone want to donate to help fund this just let me know! All donations welcome!


Buying a Harp

If you’re starting out and you have no idea if you will play it for long or if you will play it at all. buy a very small one! a Cheap small one is not going to take up much space, will sell quite quickly if you don’t want it and will give you a sense of whether or not you enjoy it!

Don’t buy a huge harp right out the gate, they take up a lot of space. If you don’t drive they are horrible to get about by foot, they also take ages to sell on!

If you’re going to take it really seriously and really want a nice harp I would suggest visiting ‘Affairs of the Harp.com‘ for a good second hand harp. I really love the idea of a second hand harp as it relieves one harpist of their unwanted harp and allows you to enjoy a quality instrument at a reduced cost. It also means that harpists aren’t stuck with their unwanted harps after upgrading! It’s also the most environmentally friendly way! (Think of the wood!)

If you want one brand new then I would suggest going to the harp shop near you and trying out a bunch of different harps. there are subtle differences between harps and each one is different so make sure you have a go and experiment! Harpists are very friendly so there’s nothing to worry about!

If you don’t drive:

If you don’t drive then don’t get a big harp! it is the worst to take on trains, public transport and even taxis!

If you’re going to get a big harp, get a good trolley! mine is fantastic and let’s me strap in my harp so I can walk to the Hilton if for some reason my car doesn’t start! If you live in a city a big harp will be fine as most cities have decent pavements. However, if you’re out in the countryside make sure you can lift and carry your harp if needs be!

You can’t go wrong with a small harp! never underestimate  a good quality small harp!


That’s it for this week! I doubt that was helpful to anyone reading but I hope it was at the very least entertaining!


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Fees: Why I’m NOT giving you a discount.

Before Starting this please refer to the Musicians Union’s Campaign ‘Work Not Play‘ It’s not as in details as I remember but you get the point!

This Week’s Video


Musicians are regularly asked to work for free or reduced rates, because people assume musicians are just charging what they can and not because it is the least they can charge to make sure they are still eating by the time your event comes along!

Everyone thinks musicians lives are basically this:


but in reality we are all very poor…

Especially harpists because harps are expensive, and then strings are also expensive and cars to get to gigs are expensive and having a house big enough to put your harp is… you guessed it… expensive!

But we all pretend like we’re all very wealthy because that is what you have to do as a self-employed musician.

This is getting too much like a buzzfeed article so I’m going to type in paragraphs now.

I can not give you a discount because if I do that then playing at your event is not worth the time it took to get there. Let me explain this in a work thing. If it costs you £25 to get to the office and you are only paid £6 an hour and your boss says ‘We only need you for 4 hours today’ you have lost £1 getting there. So you may have well stayed home and been £25 richer!

This is an exaggeration I know, but it’s the way it looks for musicians. If I am playing at a wedding for half a day, and have to take time off my residency and they want me to work for less than I would earn at my regular gig it is not worth the fuel to get to the gig in the first place.

When you work out what you charge, you look at how much everything is:

  • Rent
  • Bills
  • Council Tax
  • Tax TAX!
  • Car, MOT, Insurance
  • Instrument Insurance!
  • Food and expenses
  • lessons with teachers
  • new strings/equipment

Then you look at how much you can afford to charge in order to keep all that and there is your total. So when I say I charge X amount for an event it is because that is the most reasonable amount I can charge without hitting the poverty line or making a loss for the year. Most young musicians just starting out will be in quite low income brackets unless supported by their parents or a full/part-time job. That’s the reality of it, asking someone on £10,000-£16,000 a year to work for less is the equivalent of asking your maid to come in on the weekends pro-bono just to ‘tidy up a bit’. It’s not fun.

Here is some tips to talking to musicians about money:

  1. Ask if you can pay in instalments! (I do 50/50 split between deposits for events because it lightens the load)
  2. Change your event to be in the middle of the day Monday-Thursday. (Musicians basically work weekends, unless they teach during the week. I do not, I do discounted prices Monday-Thursday)
  3. say things like ‘What would suit you?’ for payment, they may have a system.
  4. Pay promptly and as close to the event as possible. Rent waits for no man!
  5. Say things like ‘Really?! How affordable’ and ‘You are such Good value’ because it shows that you appreciate the musicians work, talent and time!

And that’s it. so, to review:

Be nice to your musician they are probably a lot poorer than you and never ask for a discount. Got it? Good, learn it!


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Basic Guide To Residencies

Like most actors in Hollywood, I have no idea how I became successful but I’m going to give you advice on it.

Harpy Friday, Here’s something to get you in the mood to read this today:


Settle down, settle down class.

Right, Let’s start from the begging.

What’s a Residency?

Well, a ‘Residency’ is when you have a gig that repeats and keeps repeating on a weekly or monthly basis or all one big cluster. you could have a 3-6 month residency on a cruise ship for example. It’s pretty great! there are many perks, Someone parks my car sometimes!

The Residency is idea for pianist and harpist who are their own accompaniment. Finally, that crippling loneliness lands you a killer gig! I mainly have my residency at the Hilton because they can’t fit their baby grand piano into the restaurant, win for Sammie!


How do I get one? 

well, like most actors in hollywood, I have no idea how I became remotely successful but I’m going to give you advice so you can also attempt this!

I’d like to say I got my residency through hard work and being the best harpist in Cardiff, which is probably not true, there are some pretty famous harpist here. I got my residency through busking… yep, good old fashioned sitting on the street, singing Bette Midler classics!

I was playing ‘The Rose’ and the lounge manager for the Hilton gave me his card and I drop them an email on the way home.

I went in for a trial session and then about two month later they booked me full-time.

So, ‘How do I get a residency’? be lucky. sorry. Be lucky, go ask places you could see yourself playing, you’ll find it pays to be bold! ask local businesses and make sure you don’t go crazy with the prices and let them know your taster sessions are free! (that’s the main fear, that even if they don’t like you they may have to pay you).

You’ve Gotten your residency, now what?

well done my friend! First thing’s first, make sure you state your demands early on, you want amount of money, a latte waiting for you each session and full access to the spa and gym. This is where I messed up, when I got my residency I was so scared of annoying members of staff and getting kicked out that I didn’t push the limit at the beginning. I didn’t make outrageous diva demands, which is what you’re SUPPOSED TO DO!!! I didn’t even ask for a coffee or if I could use the piano stool from the lobby… I was there for 6 months until I realised I didn’t have to bring my own stool in from home! I also didn’t get some fancy drink ordered every time and now have to wait at the bar for tap water like a chump! So remember:

  • Make crazy demands
  • Don’t annoy the staff
  • Ask annoying questions about stuff.

Getting paid.

The saga I have to explain to all of my friends when I talk about my work is that the hilton didn’t pay me for almost 4 months after I started working there! crazy I know!

It takes big hotels ages to pay their musicians, this is just something you have to deal with, the Hilton, Celtic Manor and I’m sure any other hotel with a harpist have a terribly tricky time doing it all. So my harpy friend, Just wait it out! but do follow up and be pushy about it because otherwise they won’t actually pay you…

Know that you don’t know your audience!

When you’re playing a concert you’ve got a program, the people who like what you are playing have come to hear you play, or how like your instrument etc. With background music, you are not the reason people came. you are simply a delightful addition to the experience!

So, try new things, vary it as much as possible! when I do my stuff I start with Jazz and meander through musical theatre, some folk and whatever else takes my fancy on the way. as long as you’re good at your job you’ll be fine!

Just keep it interesting and remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to because most of the time no one cares what you play! just play it well!


Practical check list

  • Talent? (are you good at it? great!)
  • Luck (They aren’t going to find you magically)
  • Gumption! go ask people for things!
  • A good repertoire (I just use lead sheet and improvise chords with my left hand)
  • Outrageous demands, Mini-bar in the shower? but of course!
  • Killer wardrobe. I’m kidding I’ve wore the same dress to work for the last 3 weeks and no one’s noticed!


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Gigs! The Good, The Bad, The NEVER AGAIN!

This week I thought I would talk about some of the gigs I’ve had over the years that I’ve really enjoyed or have learnt from.


I love weddings, they’re fun and fairly easy work musically. I haven’t had any bridezillas yet all my brides have been wonderful people.

What I have learnt from weddings over the years.

My first wedding was in St Margaret’s Church In Roath  when I was 18. I had no idea what I was doing looking back, mainly because I had only ever been to one wedding before, like most normal people, and had no idea what to expect. The bride had heard me singing ‘Somewhere Over the rainbow‘ when I was busking and wanted me to perform it during the signing of the register. It was a lovely wedding and all went smoothly. However, it was jumping right into the deep end; I had no idea what to charge, what to wear, how to organise it properly and what to play for the background music at the beginning of the ceremony while everyone was finding their seats. Now, almost 5 years on, I am old hat at it all. The big rookie error of it was that I didn’t get the location until the day before!



My last wedding was in December at St David’s Hotel . It was a Ceremony and then an afternoon tea, for just 20 people. Gorgeous, simple and easy wedding! I got to play all my own repertoire for the afternoon tea, as I do at the Hilton. And they wanted ‘Ed Sheeran – Thinking out Loud’ for the signing which was easy to learn and arrange for the harp. I even got to use my Canon in D Cheat Sheet for the walk down the aisle, which takes all the best bits of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and distills it to the main motifs so you can lengthen and shorten it depending on the venue and brides pace, makes life so much easier for everyone!


GIGS! Part 1 – Residencies

What they don’t teach you in school or University is how to best go about sorting a long term gig at a venue or a ‘residency’. I have been very lucky to have my regular spot at the Hilton for almost 12 months now and because of that I have had many harpists ask for advice on the matter. I will do a ‘basic guide to residencies’ post at some point. However, here are some of my favourite regular gigs.

Hitlon Cardiff 


I would be no where If I hadn’t been seen by the lounge manager at the Hilton Cardiff one day when I was busking and asked to come in for a trial session. I am very thankful every weekend to have regular work at such a fantastic venue. And to have valet parking! score!




Cathedral 73


I spent about 2 months at Cathedral 73 in Pontcana, which was a lovely venue with really great owners and staff and a real ‘to do’ clientele! It’s also a boutique hotel for those of you wishing to visit Cardiff in a lap of luxury!

The Most frightening thing about it was the parking lot! Cathedral 73 has their own Roles Royce and parking my car next to it in a very small parking lot was the most stressful moments of my entire career thus far!

It was really lovely gig-wise and I’m a little saddened I’m not still there regularly, they chose to have a full-time pianist over me (space issues!)


GIGS! Part 2 – Events and Concerts. The Fun!

I’ve done some fabulous gigs in the past and here are some of my favourites:

Being a Concert Soloist:

every musician wants to be a soloist and if they say they don’t it’s because they play viola (sick burn!) Last year I got to do two lovely concerts:

The First in Bethan Baptist Church in March

The Second was a fundraiser for Stonewall Cymru


Odd And Fun Gigs

one of the best ones was at Cardiff Central Library for an event in July!

The best odd gigs of 2015 included, Cardiff Indoor Flee Market, The RBS on St Mary’s Street,

Being a princess #harpist #castellcoch #artproject #livemusic

A post shared by Sam Hickman. Singing Harpist (@samhickmanmusic) on

Castle Coch for an art installation

and my christmas concert with the Cardiff Consort!


The Never Again or Not At All Gigs!

(Yet more Advice for Young Musicians… sorry everyone else)

The Not At All Gig –  When I was in my Second year of uni I was approached by a night club manager and asked if I would do a gig in their club for a party they were throwing. I said of course, because work is work. However, it became apparent that it was not for my musical skills… he asked if I would play for 2 hours, from 11pm-1am… which already raised some red flags. To follow this spectacular offer he then argued on the price. I had said £90 (it was before I had to pay my own rent) and he wanted me to work for 2 hours in the middle of the night for £60.

Sat in the corner like a Greek goddess

were the words he said over the phone… I later talked to my friend who worked as a night club bouncer and had heard horror stories about this club and advised me not to do it. I sent an email to the club manager explaining why I was turning down his, now very unattractive, offer. To which he responded calling me ‘obnoxious’.

The Never Again Gig – This was more of a scheduling and time wasting gig which I was doing for free on Bank Holiday Monday in August where I could’ve made a lot of money busking instead. It was a gig I was only meant to play for an hour set and turned into me hanging around all afternoon doing nothing. And when I finally performed the audience was completely inappropriate for my genre and style!


So What did we learn from all this?

well, as Sondheim would say ‘opportunity is not a lengthy visitor’, for the last minute gigs and quick bookings you’ve got to take the chances whenever possible but within reason. As a free-lancer you have to know your value and not compromise to the extent where you are uncomfortable doing something. Learn how to tell the difference between a gig that is unpaid because they can not afford to pay you, ( for example; Charities, fundraisers, public sector, and small businesses) or because they will not pay you. If you do not think your work has value then you will not be compensated for your time and talents! This is something I am still learning to this day! It’s the standard interaction most musicians and free-lance people face.


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Car Trouble, Cold Snap and Being A Grown Up

Week 2, Let’s do this!

First, To set the Tone, Here is a photo of Big Harp ready for summer.


Get the Sunscreen!!!!


This Week has been a pretty average week for me, Hilton, Busking and teaching! Let’s Start with Saturday.

Car Troubles

There are only 4 things you need to be a harpist (excluding ‘talent’ of course), they are:

  1. A Harp (Preferably a good make and model but we can get to that another time)
  2. A Tuner (to tune the aforementioned harp)
  3. A Trolley (If you have a big harp and care about your spine)
  4. A Car (to get to the places to play said harp, to pay for said harp)

A serval points in my career I have left the house without one or more of these. Recording day for my EP (The Live EP available for Purchase HERE!) I’d gotten set up in the studio and found I had lost my tuner at the Butetown Carnival the day before… then ran back to my house to pick up my spare.

Saturday I had the misfortune of my Car’s battery dying right before I had to go to my residency at the Hilton. It wasn’t the end of the world because the Cardiff Hilton is a 25 minute walk away from my home and it wasn’t raining. I know what you’re thinking ‘Why don’t you always walk to work if it’s that close?!? SAVE THE WHALES!’ well, the main reason is the Gut strings, when you are playing up to £30 a string (and there are 28 of them on my big harp) the cold weather is not your friend. However, since my car was not going to work I had to walk.

A Disclaimer first: I am very stupid.

I set off. I did not bring a coat. I did not bring a pair of sensible shoes and my tights ladder pretty much the second I left my street. But 25 minutes later I was at work with 2 minutes to spare!

I feel I should stress that I am usually at least half an hour early to the Hilton each week, which is awkward most of the time because on a normal weekend I just have to sit there in an empty restaurant before they open for afternoon teas at 2pm. Anyway, the Hilton is Lovely and you should all go there for afternoon teas Saturdays and Sundays 2-4pm for the fantastic staff, great food and incredible live music *cough cough*, that is if I’m still working there when you read this and I’m not Adele but with a harp… (I have dreams!)

Sunday, I left 4 hours to fix this problem, so I rang the AA at 9:30. The mechanic came, fixed the problem and went by 10:30.That was easy! Being a grown up is really simple about 60% of the time, it’s just filling out forms and calling other people to do things that you don’t know how to do (within reason).


awww’Cold Snap

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this week, but it is freezing! and I can not function in this level of cold. It was alright on the weekend but this week has been a chilly one (Only one string broke in my epic Hilton walk, just for those of you still wondering).

It’s the same temperatures we normally get in January, but because of the crazy mild winter it feels like death has finally come to claim you! Quite far from the roses currently blooming in my back garden:


Today (Tuesday, I’m doing the magic of scheduling my posts, internet trickery I know!), It was -1 and 0 for most of the morning busking. this has been the case for most years I’ve busked in the winter in Cardiff. This year, however, prepared so well for it, I bought a new wool coat and thermal socks and it never got chilly! I even bought snow boots this year and guess what; It snowed everywhere in the UK except Cardiff… Just my luck! (Although busking in the snow is not as much fun as it sounds, I did it about 3 years ago!)

So I’m 50/50 about this cold snap, it means it’ll be chilly but it also (and very sneakily) separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of buskers. For the seasoned ones of us who have been doing it for years and have built up, not only the tolerance but the appropriate outerwear, this cold weather is exactly what we expected the 8 months of winter here in Cardiff to be like! I jest! 10 months of winter. It’s the UK after all.

But this Cold snap means that those guitar wielding ‘Singer/songwriters’ are less likely to come and populate the good pitches, mainly because urban outfitters doesn’t fair well in freezing temperatures!


Being a Grown Up.

My personal New Years Resolution was to learn how to be more of an adult, in terms of feeding myself, doing my taxes properly, and finding the best deal for a mortgage… So not the fun adult stuff like sex, drugs and … ummm…. Voting… I guess!

So 19 days into 2016 I have done about… -2% of the things on the list. But I’m sure by the time this publishes I will have set up my mortgage appointments with my banks (Future Sam don’t screw me over on this one, you beautiful fool!).

The Silver lining is that I did my taxes in the summer. Sure, I didn’t do them to the best way that would suit my swanky Wall Street Alter-ego but I did them correctly and paid my taxes so that’s the main issue here!





‘Helpful Tips’ For Young Musicians

I thought for my final section I would finish with more tips for young musicians aspiring to the heights I have reached. Here are my Thoughts this week:

1)You’ve Got Time. You will probably work 10-20 hours a week, maybe 30 if you get a good gig or nice side job to support yourself, (40 if you live in London, haha suckers!). You have so much time that you don’t need to rush places and you are NEVER ‘busy’. Any Musicians or Musical person who says they are ‘busy’ is lying! I know this because I have used this word to describe me sitting in my Pyjamas watching South Park from start to finish. If you are talking to a Musician who is actually ‘busy’ they are on their way to a fabulous event or have just come from a rehearsal and this is their 15 minutes between one thing and the next. Musical people do this very irritating thing where they think are the most important and busy working professionals alive, which is sometimes true if you are Joyce Didonato, and not at all true if you are a Cardiff Music School undergraduate in between your 4 hours of lectures a week. I won’t go into the things I dislike about musical people now. That’ll be for another time. The Point is You’ve got 112 waking hours in a week, if you are only working for about 10-30 you’ve got time. Slow down buddy.

2)Always be Early, not ‘On time’, Early. Another thing I noticed in my undergraduate was that everyone was always ‘on time’ for lectures, this is fine for an academic setting where you can wander into class at bang on the hour but absolutely unacceptable for professional musicians (unless, again, you are Joyce Didonato, then you can do whatever you want). Because I didn’t grow up being a harpist and only really started properly after graduating I have always been suspicious of my instruments. I always arrive anywhere from an hour to 30 minutes before because I like to have ‘Harp Faffing Around’ Time.

It’s the time it takes to get to a venue, get into a venue, unpack, re-string if necessary, set up your stand, have the staff ignore you when you try to get a drink, find the bar, wait at the bar for the staff to notice you, get the tap water you wanted (I know! WHAT A DIVA!?!?), find your music, tune and then have 10 minutes remaining to find the venues wifi and take pictures of your harp to post online so other harpists and musicians can get venue-envy (a term I just made up). So I arrive early so I can do all of this in a nice relaxed way. It has made life basically feel like a yoga class and a spa, which is then hammered home by the fact I play harp. Basically Always be early for things.

See! Venue-Envy!


3) Never Show Up Unprepared. I have only ever shown up unprepared for busking, which is the only place it is acceptable to show up unprepared for because it is effectively ‘paid rehearsal time’ in a safe environment. I try out all my new pieces busking. When you are working on a big professional project, be it audition, concert or show if you turn up unprepared you will be the only one. If you are the soloist or sole performer of your instrument it will show. I did a National Youth Choir of Great Britain concert a few years ago where the organist hadn’t prepared all the music properly and he was cut from the concert and a replacement was brought in. yeah! the musical world is a tough one Kido! So, repeat after me, ALWAYS BE PREPARED!

And That’s where I’ll leave it this week, here’s a picture of me being my amazing-self at a tiny gig on sunday night.


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