Want my job? with Carley Varley

Wondering how to make it as a musician? Find out about Carley's pathway into the arts...

Want my job? with Carley Varley

Could you first introduce yourself for the reader?

My name is Carley Varley. No, not a stage name, it's my actual name! 

I’m from a seaside village called Milford-on-Sea and I am a full-time musician. I gig across the South West of England, I began busking on the streets of a town called Lymington before establishments started asking me to gig inside. 

When I'm not performing I love spending time with my friends, family, fiance and my dog Obi. 

What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?

So my job as a musician involves a lot of socialising, it involves getting myself on stage or out performing as much as possible and so most of my time is spent getting gigs and singing. 

A typical day is admin in the morning, practice in the afternoon and gigging in the evening. It can be tough as people only see the final result of performing but I work hard every day to ensure that I am well-rehearsed.

What's great about your job?

What's great about my job is how fun it is. The fact I love being a musician just makes it great. I love the fact my family and friends can come and watch me at my job – it makes it much more fun.

What do you dislike or find challenging about your job?

One thing I particularly dislike is how often I miss out on things. My friends work 9-5pm Monday to Friday but my job is very dependent on weekends so there have been times I've had to miss out on events. 

It can also be challenging when establishments don't treat me very well or I get messages through that I have not been chosen for gigs. It can be discouraging, but I try to just keep going and working hard.

What are the highlights of your career to date?

I’m lucky to have lost of highlights - my journey as a musician has been absolutely mad! As I said, from 18 I was busking and then at the age of 23 I was performing in The Ritz, The Hilton, The Waldorf and I won an award for Musical Talent in Dorset!

I find my highlights are often people telling me they listen to my music and they’ve enjoyed my sets! Getting invited to play in incredible venues such as the ones I listed… Well, it’s all a highlight for me as I never believed I'd be doing what I love.

What was your career path into this job?  Have you also worked outside the arts?

Before becoming a musician I studied History at university. However I decided I didn’t want to go down this route. And yes, I’ve worked outside the arts, I was a waitress for 10 years, I loved making coffees and serving people.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

Honestly, the biggest challenge has been comparison. I always compare myself to those who I feel are doing so much better. It used to eat at me and wear me down, to the point where I almost quit. After time I realised comparison really does kill and as a musician you are unique, there is not another you and so I started to think: 'How amazing that person is doing well! I hope to do something similar in the next year but if not, that's okay too!' 

I had to learn that opportunity is precious and that I should be thankful for everything that comes my way and encourages others in their opportunities. It was a hard obstacle to overcome at first but it’s like anything when you practice it you get better at it. I rarely compare myself anymore because I just want to be Carley Varley.

Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?

Yes I have! Many musicians I meet now are so encouraging, wheras when I started out many  were quite cold and a few looked down on me. When I meet musicians now they are all lovely and cheering eachother on which is great to see. 

I have also noticed since I announced I'm doing music full-time, 6 of my friends have also done it. I don't know if following me prompted them but it’s interesting to see more people encouraged because other musicians have faith and go for it.

You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?

I would say to 16-year-old Carley: don’t worry. I was a worrier as a teen, I always wondered what I would do, where I would be and I think it took a lot of joy from me. I'd like to tell my 16-year-old-self that everything is great: her best friend ends up being the love of her life. 

If I'd known all of this, perhaps I would have worried less and possibly gone straight into music; it's something I wish I'd done sooner. But I know I'm still young and it helped me become the person I am. I would also thank her for choosing guitar over ballet because I really can't dance!

Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?

My advice would be to be kind. Never look down on anyone, and be yourself and opportunity will knock. I would also say don't expect overnight success because I was busking for a year before anything happened and I had one gig for 3 years before I got any other opportunities. Sometimes where you are is exactly where you need to be to grow. 

It can feel frustrating when opportunity doesn't come your way but in this time perfect your craft, practice and encourage others along the way. I would also say keep going, don't let anyone sway you from what you want in life and don't let what everyone else is doing affect your vision for yourself. If I'd known this sooner than I think I would hav been a lot happier!


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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