Neotech Ambassador Blogpost Feature: Stephen Donoghue

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We discovered Stephen on Instagram (all the way from the UK) when he tagged us in posts in which he had used his Neotech Soft Sax Strap! We kept seeing his amazing talent and wanted to partner with him! We are thrilled to have Stephen Donoghue as part of the Neotech ambassador family!!

Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time for this interview today! We are so excited to have you join the Neotech family!! We always enjoy your content and appreciate you using Neotech Straps!

So I know from your social media that you play the saxophone and cello... do you play any other instruments?

I also play clarinet and bass clarinet!

Wow! Can you tell us more about the bass clarinet?

Yeah! The bass clarinet kind of looks like a cross between a clarinet and a saxophone.

Do a lot of people play the bass clarinet?

I wouldn't particularly say it's a common instrument but it seems to be one of those instruments where everyone loves it! Compared to the saxophone, the bass clarinet is a lot softer. It's a better instrument for more intimate gigs, if that makes sense.

How long have you been a musician?

My first instrument was actually the clarinet. I started that when I was in primary school, so I was probably about 8 or 9 years old when I first started the clarinet. Then, when I got to secondary school, at about the age of 13 maybe, that's when I started playing saxophone. I haven't actually been playing cello for that long. I was in my early 20s when I started and I'm 28 now. So, I haven't been playing cello for very long at all but I really sort of took to the instrument quite quickly. Would you like to hear how I started the cello?

Yes! For sure, because that was actually my next question! haha

For cello, are you familiar with "Clean Bandit?"

No, I'm not- I'll have to look them up soon!

They are a British band and they originally started as a string quartet and now it has sort've developed into a modern pop group, if you like. I was watching one of their gigs at a festival and they started playing- the cello it does... and something just resonated within me and I thought, "I think I need a piece of that in my life." That's how it happened!

As for my other instruments, I can't really remember what made me want to learn clarinet. I do remember that when I said I would like to start playing it, my parents sort've said, "I don't think you'll take to it. I don't think you'll stick with it." It was my grandma who said, "No, if he wants to do it, I'm going to give him the opportunity, so she bought me my first clarinet."

Wow! That's so sweet that your grandma wanted to give you that opportunity!

Like I said, I started saxophone when I was in secondary school. At the time, that quickly took over as my main instrument- from it being clarinet. I just felt a lot more at home with the saxophone and it's been that way ever since.

Thanks so much for sharing how you got started with each instrument that you play! It's neat that you have a different background story for how you picked up each one!

What would you say is your favorite style of music?

Hmmm my favorite style... I don't know if I have a favorite style, to be honest. There was a time where I really really wanted to become a jazz saxophone player, but it never really happened. I ended up playing a lot more soul music rather than jazz. Although I can do a little bit of improvising, I'm not really an improvising specialist. When it comes to just playing my instruments more for fun, I do find that nothing quite captures the sound of the cello like classical music does, obviously that is what cello is mainly used for. It's great for weddings and pop music...stuff like that, don't get me wrong... but to be able to sit within a quartet or quintet and be able to play some of the best classical music, that's just one of the best feelings ever- it really is!

It's neat to hear your thought process on music style and what you enjoy. So is classical music what you normally play for gigs, or is it more of the pop style?

It's mostly the pop style that I play, because it's what a lot of wedding clients ask for. It's what pays. The woman who is currently teaching me cello- I'll get together with her and she'll bring in friends who play the violin and viola and we'll do quartets and stuff like that! The covid lockdowns have made it harder to do that for awhile now though.

Oh that's really neat! I bet it's so much fun getting to play with other musicians like that!

What are some future goals you have as a musician? I know that's a heavy weighted question so feel free to take your time in answering!

Okay so, to be honest, that isn't really a difficult question for me because it is something I keep thinking about lot, especially recently, now that everything is starting to work/ up again.

One of my main projects at the moment is I'm working on a string duo with a friend that plays violin. We are looking at hopefully doing stuff like corporate events. We are also looking at doing weddings together. We have put together a wedding package where we play all the music for the entire day. What I mean by that is we don't start together and finish together. So, I would play as guests arrive, my friend (Alexandra) would play for the ceremony, I would play for the drinks reception, then she would play for the wedding meal, and then we would both do a power set together in the evening. We've been working on that for a long time actually, but, again with the lockdowns, we really lost track of where we were at. We couldn't rehearse, we couldn't do anything. It's been nice to finally start getting that together and it's really close now. We are both really excited about that!

For me personally as a musician, playing all these different instruments... it's so difficult to stay on top of them all. A problem that I often have is that I'll be feeling really focused on cello, but then a lot of gigs end up being for saxophone. Then, all of a sudden I will get a lot of gigs on the cello so it's constantly a juggling act. One of my personal goals is to keep doing what I'm doing and to make sure I'm keeping on top of all my instruments- especially the cello. I still take lessons for the cello and I'm hoping soon I will be able to get back to seeing my teacher again on a more regular basis!

Now I have another big question for you: What inspires you as a musician?

I already explained how Clean Bandit inspired me to play the cello. For me generally, to be inspired, all I really have to do is listen to my favorite band or instrumentalist... so like Clean Bandit. For saxophone... well I'm a bit naughty as a saxophone player because I don't listen to enough other saxophone players... I do really like David Sanborn... and Sonny Rollins as well- he's another favorite. Let's say I'm in a bit of a position where I'm not feeling particularly inspired to practice, all I have to do is listen to my favorite musicians, and it's like, suddenly, I latch on to that creative energy. I'm like, "Alright, I'm ready to go again. Let's do this!"

Ha- I totally get it! That's how I get inspired to go to the gym. I see other people's fitness videos or pictures and I'm like, "Let's go!" haha.

What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment so far as a musician. I know that's another big question too!

Haha, definitely! Well, I haven't always been a self employed musician. When I first finished school- I did 2 years of sixth form-I went to college instead of university because I decided to do a triple diploma instead of a degree. 2 years music practice, triple diploma. After that I was in a bit of a strange place, mentally really. Although I was really happy to be able to play my music, I also really wanted to be able to have money and to you know, be able to afford things. So after college, I ended up getting a normal job, if you like. I worked in electrical wholesaling, which is something I really never wanted to do, but I ended up doing that for 6 years actually. By about the end of the third year, I think I realized that it really wasn't what I wanted at all. I want to be a musician. So, I decided there and then that I was going to start working really hard and put together sets that I would be able to offer for weddings and stuff like that.

Interestingly, this was the same time I met my friend, Alexandra- who I do the duo with, and she's always been a self employed musician. I told her how I was feeling and how I didn't like my job anymore...that I really wanted to be a musician full time. She said to me, "Let's swap numbers and we'll get together for a coffee." We did and she literally wrote out everything for me and she said, "Do this, do this, don't do this, do this." Within about a year, I was ready to leave my job and go forward as a self employed musician. Here I am... 2 years later!

Wow! Congratulations! There are musicians who want to do that for their whole lives and are never able to get there. That's amazing. To able to do your passion every day... that's special. That's great that your friend helped you map out how to make that dream into a reality!

So you are located in the UK. Where exactly in the UK are you located and what is the music scene like there?

I'm in Doncaster. Unfortunately, in recent years, a couple of our really good venues had to close down for financial reasons. We do have a fairly active music scene here in Doncaster. We are not far from cities like Manchester and Liverpool and that's where the northern English music scene is really at. We are kind've lucky in Doncaster because we are quite central in terms of getting to different places. I always got a lot of options of where I can go and where I can offer to work. I do sometimes get local gigs, not as often as I'd like, but is more rock style than anything else. We do happen to have a lot of jazz players locally.

That's really great that you're not far away from other places and that they have a solid music scene in Doncaster!

Do you have any other musicians in the family?

I have a younger sister who is coming towards the end of sixth form now and she is learning the trombone.

Ah, nice! I'll have to send a Neotech Trombone Grip your way for her to try out!

How did you discover Neotech Straps and how long have you been using them?

I think I've been using them as long as I can remember really. I think it was my teacher at the time . I can remember at the time, when I first started playing saxophone, I had a really crappy neck strap- it was horrible! My neck would hurt after . I just can't remember exactly, but all I can assume is I probably said to my teacher, "Look my neck really hurts. What can I do? Is this something I can change?" I think he must've been the one that said, "Try a Neotech strap." I've just used that ever since.

What straps do you have right now from Neotech?

I have the Soft Sax Strap.

How long have you had your Soft Sax Strap?

This is my second one. I did have the forest green one for a time. I was using it SO much. I decided to get a new one and I've had that one ever since.

That's great! Does yours have the regular swivel hook connection?

Yeah! The plastic swivel hook!

Nice! That's actually our best seller at Neotech!

Why should other musicians use Neotech Straps?

They're dependable. They do exactly what they are supposed to do and they do it very well. A lot of other companies are trying to create these support systems to take away as much weight as possible. The problem I found when I've looked into them is they don't seem to be as easily storable as Neotech's products. One great thing about my Neotech strap is in my saxophone case- the case I got for my saxophone isn't quite the right size- if I slot my Neotech strap against the side of the body of my saxophone, it acts as a cushion or a buffer and fits perfectly! haha. Thank you for looking after my instrument for me!

This has been an awesome interview with you, Stephen! Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

We did talk about how I play at a lot of weddings. I wanted to add that at weddings, I usually play the cello for the ceremony and then I'll play the saxophone for drinks reception. I am able to offer both for single bookings, which that's been quite good actually. A lot of times people have seen me play cello and they say that it sounds really nice, but that they are really hoping for a saxophone player at their wedding. That's when I can say, "Well I can do both!"

That's so good that you have that versatility!

Thanks a million for your time, Stephen! We are so excited to be a part of your journey as a professional musician and we look forward to seeing all that you'll do in sharing your gifts and talents with the world!!

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