Extraordinary Individuals

Journalist and Classical Saxophonist Steph Eslake combined her love of writing and music when she founded Cut Common.  Now Australia's most popular street publication for independent and new classical music, Steph leads a team of up and coming young journalists committed to covering the latest industry news, events, reviews, profiles, and topical blogs.  As an acknowledgement of her outstanding entrepreneurship, Steph has been selected as a semi-finalist in the Tasmanian Young Achiever of the Year Awards, under the Australian Super Career Kick Start Award.  

What were your experiences with music as a child?
I can't remember a time in my life where I wasn't playing around with music. Whether it was inventing my own songs, finding old classical cassettes in the op shop, or enjoying recorder just a little too much during school - I was on it. When I hit 10 years old, I started playing saxophone and this inevitable progression into a formal music education changed my life forever.

Image Credit Siobhan Caridwen

Image Credit Siobhan Caridwen

Why did you choose undertake a degree in music?
I didn't choose to, as such. It was just something I knew I would always do. It was completely natural for me. Similarly, I also knew I would study a degree in the arts because of my absolute love for writing. It took me until the end of my combined degree to realise I should combine the two passions - and that's when I started to really think about my future.

You have qualifications in media and music, were these degrees undertaken concurrently or consecutively? 
I studied a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Journalism, Media and Communications; and a second major in Sociology) and a Bachelor of Music (majoring in Musicology) - this was a combined degree, so concurrently. I started my music side on a scholarship while I was still in year 12, and during that year I also studied a Certificate in Media and Screen, while still doing my pre-tertiary subjects at school as well.


What was your planned career journey while you were studying? 
While I was studying music, I was involved in a number of ensembles and enjoyed performing as a solo classical saxophonist. I thought I would always play, but when I injured my wrist in an accident half way through my degree, I had to start thinking about what else I could do. It never recovered and I can't play properly anymore, so my mid-degree switch from performance to musicology allowed me to continue studying the area I loved. 

In my final year of uni, it hit me - I wanted to be a classical music journalist

My arts degree was always there, so I already knew I had this option to explore for a career path. In my final year of uni, it hit me - I wanted to be a 'classical music journalist'. I thought a lot about what that meant, and while the words sounded like music to my ears (pun intended) I also found it terrifying because the life goal was so niche! But I worked as hard as I could. I got experience - both paid, and unpaid - in television, radio, and print media. I also started tutoring saxophone so that I could keep up my playing as much as my injury would allow. I started up and ran a monthly student paper for the university conservatorium while in my final year there, which was wonderful experience. Over the years, I built a strong portfolio of music journalism. 

These days, I write for multiple publications and while it's within the arts, it's not always strictly about classical music - and I think it's important to look outside the square in this way, too. After completing the AYO Words About Music program last year with a fantastic group of people, I've had the confidence to start my own website CutCommon - the only online magazine of its kind in Australia. Last year saw the launch of a digital music store on CutCommon, and I firmly believe in supplying as much support as possible to our country's extremely talented young musicians.

Music and writing have always run in parallel for me, but had I not had musical training I don’t know if I’d have been confident enough to combine them.

What were the unexpected skills that have positively influenced your career success?
Through my childhood and early teens I suffered from social anxiety. But working in music journalism, I simply have not had the time to be socially shy! So an unexpected skill I've gained would be my confidence in networking - and no matter what industry you're in, this is so important.

What lessons have you learnt in your career?
Work harder, and make sacrifices.  

What personal challenges have you had in your career?
Every day presents a new challenge - whether it's choosing the perfect word to describe a sound when writing a review, improving an element of CutCommon, or making my schedule for the day. But if things didn't challenge me, then it wouldn't be worth doing them!

What have the difficult decisions been in your career?
Letting things go. I have had some wonderful opportunities in my career and I am the sort of person who wants to take everything on - at the same time. I love my work so I'm happy to sacrifice play time for it. But over time I have learnt to narrow my life down to the things that really matter, and while that's been difficult, I feel more directed in my career than ever before.

What is the most important skill for career success in the creative industries and what is your definition of success?
1. My definition of success: Being happy with what you've achieved. If you're not happy, change it until you've found what you really want to be doing.
2. Most important skill for career success: Don't fool yourself - pick something you really love, not the most convenient career.

What advice would you give to students starting a career in music?
Don't give up!!!