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Meet Seba Molnar

Today we’d like to introduce you to Seba Molnar.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up on a farm in upstate NY with a very alternative lifestyle. Birdsfoot Farm is an organic vegetable farm and intentional community founded in the early 70s. We grew most of our own food, had out-houses and solar power. I didn’t have TV or video games as a kid, so I spent most of my time playing outdoors as a pretty “free-range” kid and practicing music. It was a super supportive environment and I was lucky not only to have my own family but the larger family of the community supporting me and pushing me to follow my dreams.

I was pretty isolated living in the small town of Canton with about 6000 people, most of whom were poor, rural, farm and working-class families. Not much diversity… My mother runs the farm and my father has a small school named Little River Community School, which he started in the late 90s and is still running to this day with about 40 students. At first, I switched around trying the piano, violin, and drums, but it wasn’t until I started playing clarinet around age 10 that I got serious about it. I picked up the saxophone, too, about a year later.

My father had played both instruments when he was younger so they were always lying around the house. I was introduced to jazz at a young age by my father and more in-depth later by my high school band director, Tim Savage, who went on to become one of my most influential mentors. In 8th grade, I left my father’s school and went to the public school. While in high school I was lucky to have the opportunity to perform with some of the older musicians in the area and study with some of the teachers at nearby Crane School of Music. After high school, I studied at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston where I got to study under world-renowned saxophonists, George Garzone, Bill Pierce, and Tia Fuller.

While at Berklee I continued to focus my studies on jazz but also began exploring other sounds and styles, like funk and R&B. I graduated Berklee in 2016 and have been working as a session musician in a number of pop, funk/R&B, and Reggae bands in addition to teaching around the Boston area. Come to check out Seba Molnar Quartet, The Collective, and Java Jukebox at a venue near you!

Has it been a smooth road?
It definitely hasn’t been easy but I have had a lot of help and guidance along the way. I am so grateful for all of the inspiring mentors and friends that I have been able to meet. I think struggles are part of the journey so I try not to get too bogged down by obstacles, and look at them more as a learning experience. Since I finished school I have been learning how to make a living with my craft and navigate the music industry while still staying true to my creative conscience. This has been a humbling experience and I still have a lot to learn.

I have been fortunate to play with a lot of different people and bands, which has given me the opportunity to learn from the inside. Leading a band and being a sideman are two very different experiences. Leading your own group is both extremely rewarding and stressful. If things go wrong – which they always do – you’re the one that is responsible to keep the show going. In most cases, it’s not even about the music, it’s more logistical planning and making sure everyone and everything is organized and ready to go.

Being professional is key, too. I know so many players that are phenomenal musicians but are extremely unprofessional when it’s actually time to get to work. These are the things they don’t teach you in school. One obstacle that I ran into was a lack of education on doing taxes and learning how to be financially smart as an artist in a real-world setting. I am grateful for my Berklee education. I learned so much about music, but I should have learned more about the financial end of the business as an artist.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Being a professional musician often encompasses a wide range of jobs and responsibilities. In my situation, I am wearing many hats at once. It was jazz that fascinated me at a young age and got me to understanding music at a higher level.

While it is by no means necessary to study music in an institutional setting to become successful or skilled in a craft, it can give you a boost. I grew up playing jazz and classical, both of which require a high level of understanding of theory and technique. There are two sides to the business, the creative side, and the financial bureaucratic side, both of which are highly intertwined.

In an ideal world, I could focus on the fun creative aspects of music. In reality, I need to make enough money to keep my creative side going. To be a professional musician you have to live and breathe it 24/7, even if that means sacrificing, or it’s just not going to happen. In order to make a living off of music, I play in five or six different bands, teach, practice, prepare for gigs, and look for new gigs. Playing the smallest part of the job.

I have to make set lists, organize rehearsals, email clients, put together bands, make sure everyone gets paid, all that fun stuff. Teaching has been a rewarding way to give back to community or next generation of young players, as well as help me establish a semi-stable financial situation for myself, which in turn allows me to pay the musicians in my band, for studio time and promotion, as well as feeding myself and paying bills.

Another source of income is playing GB, or general business gigs, basically weddings, private parties, and corporate events. And while these gigs are creatively not that rewarding, they help make everything else possible. I have to think about and combine art and money to be a professional artist.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I really like the size of Boston. It has the cultural scene of a large city, but it is easy to get around and not as crazy.

There is a lot of history here, which plays into why there are so many schools here, which is a good thing for the arts – having a lot of young people, educated young people. The music scene is really good here in terms of the quality of musicians. There’s a strong artist community here in the fine arts and music.

I think the live music could be better in Boston. Important music venues have been closing and the remaining ones don’t pay a living wage or as much as they should be, kind of killing itself. Finally, I think the pizza selection in Boston is poor. Allston has suffered a loss of pizza shops in recent years.

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Image Credit:
Kaya Blaze Kelley, Mauricio Rosales, Gaia Petrelli Wilmer

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