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Love of Learning

Practical lessons for a musician

By MINA WONG - January 16 2022

Waheed Mufti in conversation with Mina Wong

Several years ago, Waheed (Wayne) Mufti sang for a party where I was a guest. The hosts appreciated his music so much that he stayed for dinner, and entertained us well into the evening. Recently, I found his business card and had a chat with him.

It’s wonderful to talk with you after all this time. How have things been for you since that beautiful party in Clarington?

Wasn’t that a gorgeous place and great party!

Things have been all right. I have been singing with Emile, a piano player I met that same year. I also like singing for different audiences. They always push me to be a better musician.

But to pay bills, I stock shelves for a discount store. I ride an old bike to save money on TTC. To scrape by, I rent the tiniest room in a small apartment that already has three other people.

There’s no easy career path for freelance singers. What I really want is to study music administration, so I can have a career in the music industry.

That sounds creative and practical. What would you like to do with such a cool education?

Ideally, I want to work in music licensing and publishing. If not, I am open to opportunities big and small, as long as they are about music.

You have obviously thought a lot about this plan. Have you always wanted a career in music?

No. In fact, until last year, I never thought there was full-time work for freelance singers like me.

After high school, I was just looking for work, and ended up singing freelance and hoped to work as much as possible.

Ten years later, I have met people who like my music, and now I also work with Emile whenever he needs a singer for his gigs. 

But to be a successful vocalist, I would have to be exceptionally gifted or incredibly connected. Practically, it’s not enough just to love music. I need a stable income, too.

That’s very sensible of you. Have you always been a practical thinker?

Not really. My folks are practical with strong careers. I’m the only dreamer in the family.

My mother manages an investment company’s regional office, and my father supervises transportation for a hardware chain. They don’t make millions, but they have been very successful.

My sister, Nala is only a year older, but she has done incredible things in human resources. Right after college, she was practical enough to start low at a tiny firm, but now she is a compliance officer for an electricians’ union.

As for me, I have always dreamed about financial success with singing, and also with music in general.

But practically speaking, my success should start with post-secondary training. With only high school education, it’s hard to build any career these days.

These are insightful arguments for success. What would your career look like?

Once I start thinking of music as an industry with markets, a lot of dots begin to connect.

With proper education, my work could expand to international publishing and licensing, or to production using creative technology for films, television, education, and many other markets.

My career could be very exciting and terribly busy. The impractical side of me is always tempted to just sing the songs I love, but my practical self says, “You can always customize music for an audience. That’s good business sense.”

“Good business sense” — that’s as practical as any musician can get. 

What are some pros and cons of studying music administration?

Lots of things are in my favor if I can show a school that I think about music and business together. I can also apply as a mature student, with ten years’ experience as a performing vocalist.

But financially, I will need a student loan, which means being in debt until I have a better income. I will have to meet more people who can give me gigs, and not spend very much for a while.

Another difficulty is actually studying business for the first time, but if I can think practically that business is a useful career toolbox, maybe I can learn to like my courses.

The final piece is meeting new demands, including changing technology, more professional development, and whatever else I will need to succeed as a music industry administrator.

You have charted a super-cool, but challenging career with vision and insight. I wish you all the best on this journey, and lots of success with good gigs, and also with audiences who love to hear you sing.

Thank you so much. I will take it slow, think practically, and learn from people who can teach me the skills I need.

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