Music Alumnus Paul Gavin Celebrates Four Years as a Full-time Musician, Works to Demystify Music Careers

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Paul Gavin plays the drums

USF School of Music alumnus Paul Gavin in performance.

On May 1, 2019, USF jazz studies graduate Paul Gavin (class of 2015) celebrated four years of working full-time as a musician and music educator.

He continues his mission to demystify the profession and to help others make their dreams a reality through positivity and outside-the-box thinking.

“There’s a need for music in every pocket of the world that you just wouldn’t imagine,” said Gavin. “Having done this for almost four years now, the different ways I have presented music to people—it’s nuts.”

Gavin shares his music career with the world in his eponymous YouTube channel where he offers vlogs and how-to videos for other musicians, music students, and anyone interested in learning about the industry. Gavin engages viewers with his charisma and positivity as he tackles topics such as making money as a musician, deciding whether to go to graduate school, building relationships in the industry, managing time, and more.

“To put it gently, I want to be a visual, real, tangible example of someone who is making a living doing music and show people how I do it,” said Gavin.

He takes viewers with him to gigs, such as his “3 Cities, 3 Days” video, where he plays gigs in Fort Myers, St. Petersburg, and Naples. His video “Relationships are Everything” documents a day of work with Sickles and Plant City High School students at their Florida Bandmaster’s Association Marching Music Performance Assessment (MPA).

His most popular how-to video deals with navigating the social situations that surround being a music major. He teaches his viewers strategies on how to respond to others when they might question the decision to study music in college or pursue a career in music.

By the end of the video, viewers interested in a career in music can leave with a renewed sense of bravery and confidence as they go on to pursue their dreams.

Gavin’s past four years of work have brought him in contact with a wide variety of musical roles. He currently performs with the jazz group Gloria West and the Gents, and other artists in Tampa and Fort Myers. He has played regularly with trumpeter and fellow USF alumnus James Suggs and bassist Michael Ross.

Gavin leads two bands—The Vanguard, a band dedicated to playing his original compositions, and Mosaic, a hard bop jazz band that plays music influenced by blues, funk, and bebop. He also plays in musical theatre shows and works as a substitute drummer when a group’s regular drummer is unavailable.

Gavin is also dedicated to teaching his craft to others. He gives private lessons to students interested in learning the drums and other percussion instruments. He teaches drumline at Sickles High School, writes percussion music for local high schools, and is a lead drum circle facilitator at the interactive music program company Giving Tree Music.

There, Gavin leads interactive drum circles across the state of Florida in places such as preschools, senior centers, bereavement camps, afterschool programs, and more. Participants harness their natural musical capabilities to connect with music while working with others.

Gavin also performs in Giving Tree Music’s Stand Up, Speak Up!, a program he created in which he plays the drums to the words and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr for elementary, middle, and high school audiences. After performing, Gavin leads a discussion on King and his message.

Working at Giving Tree Music provides Gavin with a sense of fulfillment and community engagement that he didn’t have before.

“I really love working with them because before that started a little over a year ago, I was doing lots of playing, lots of teaching, but the community involvement part of what I wanted to do was kind of missing,” said Gavin. “So when Giving Tree Music showed up in my life, it kind of filled that part.”

In the spring of 2019, Gavin began a short residency with Florida non-profit Arts4All (formerly VSA Florida). With this residency, Gavin meets with students with disabilities and shares his art with them in eight one-hour sessions. At the end of the residency, students from multiple schools came together to participate in group performances.

Gavin’s experience in the music industry has helped him to develop a three-part formula on how to achieve success as a musician. He uses this as a simple tool to advise other musicians on how to be successful in the industry.

His formula first asks a musician to consider their musical abilities, such as proficiency on their instrument, sight-reading ability, and repertoire knowledge. The second part looks at where a musician works geographically and how much demand there is for their specific musical skill set. The final part of his formula considers “who” a musician is as a person, such as their work ethic, attitude, and professionalism, and their ability to form and maintain strong relationships with others.

By critically examining these aspects of music making and making simple adjustments as needed, Gavin says musicians can achieve the career of their dreams.

“If you can score high in all of those areas, I don’t see why you wouldn’t make a living as a musician,” said Gavin. “Because it means that you’re capable, you’re in an area where your capabilities are needed, and you’re the kind of person that people want to work with. Why would you not be able to do it?”

As a student at the USF School of Music, Gavin worked with talented mentors and put in the time needed to perfect his craft. With the support of USF jazz faculty members Jack Wilkins, Chuck Owen, and Tom Brantley, Gavin was able to perform at jazz festivals in Italy, France, and England. In 2013, Gavin performed in Washington, DC as a winner of the VSA International Young Soloist Competition.

He came to USF with a musical upbringing rooted in bebop jazz. Ric Craig, instructor of drums at USF, helped Gavin to explore other areas of music that also bring him joy.

“He encouraged me to chase the things that interested me,” said Gavin. “All of the sudden, my playing opened up.”

Gavin started focusing on the music that excites him, and he has continued to do so ever since. About a year ago he dedicated an entire practice session to “Want to Be Startin’ Somethin’” by Michael Jackson. This proved to be time well spent when Gavin encountered the song once again in a rehearsal for a pops concert earlier this year.

“It was all still in my hands, and Ric told me to do stuff like that,” said Gavin.

Robert McCormick, USF professor of percussion, also shaped Gavin’s musicianship when he was studying classical percussion at USF. Most importantly, McCormick taught him how to make a good musical phrase happen on the marimba. Though he mostly plays drum kit today, he continues to apply McCormick’s teachings to his drum phrasing.

Above all, Gavin stresses individual dedication as being key to his success. In his last two years at USF, he noticed his life getting busier, and investing ample time in the practice room required more careful planning.

To best use his available time, he would be outside the School of Music at 6 am to be one of the first students in the building. For two years, he maintained this routine, getting two hours of practice each day before his first class began.

Now, he enjoys a challenging and exciting career in music in which he continues to grow.

“If you’re willing to sweat,” said Gavin, “this is there for you.”

For more on Gavin, visit his website and YouTube channel.