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Expert Interview: Ella Rohwer - Finding the balance between creativity and career

Ella Rohwer is a classically trained cellist with a hybrid artistic identity in pop, crossover, as well as theater and contemporary music. In addition to her work as a live and studio musician, she arranges and directs string ensembles in various contexts. Since 2023, she has also been the managing director of the PRO MUSIK association, an organization that advocates for the representation of interests of independent music creators.

Published on
February 16, 2024
Michael Schütz
Marketing Lead

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What is your background / story?

I am a classically trained cellist with a focus on contemporary music. However, I ventured into other musical paths early on in my studies - I played with DJs, composed theater music, improvised freely, and worked with an electric cello and effects. I then joined Bosse as a cellist through contacts when he was promoting his "Kraniche" album. Suddenly, the pop business was also an option. This overwhelmed me at the time and instead of working independently, I went back to study because I thought that was the only "right" way to establish myself professionally. I thought I had to join an orchestra. Ultimately, I realized that my strengths lie much more in independent work, between genres and in creative work. And now I have been in the business for 10 years as a freelance musician. I often tell this story to students at music colleges to draw attention to the fact that "off the beaten path" is often where interesting things happen.

How did you get into the music business?

My father was a professional musician (violinist) in a large orchestra, and my brother and I started learning instruments at an early age. The decision to do this professionally, however, only became clear when I was around 17/18. Back then, the perspective was to join an orchestra. I really "got into" the business primarily through a network that I built and playing a lot.

Who were important supporters, mentors, and partners on your path so far?

I find this question difficult to answer because I have always felt my career path to be very fluid and many people have influenced where I am today. However, I would like to highlight a few. My first teacher at the HfMT Cologne - Aachen location, H.C. Schweiker, laid the most important foundation for my instrumental playing and showed me that it is possible to sit at the instrument without fear - not a given in a conservative classical education. I was able to continue this work with Petra Keßler in mental training. Without these people, I would be a completely different musician today. In addition, Tobias Philippen (pianist, now head of the theater publisher schaefersphilippen) was an important contact at a turning point in my musical career, who brought me into projects and supported me musically in my first experiences in the pop business with Bosse. In terms of my association work, Axel Müller, also a founding member of PRO MUSIK, was an important partner. From the beginning, he has supported my ambitions to take over the management of the association and with his experience in different musical and political levels, he is a valuable advisor. Without him, I would not be managing director of PRO MUSIC today.

What does your job look like today?

I co-founded the PRO MUSIK association in 2021 and am now the part-time managing director for the association. This has significantly changed my daily work routine. A typical week often consists of two full office days, the other days I practice in the mornings, answer emails in the afternoons, and play gigs on weekends or in the evenings. I often also travel to Berlin or to cultural-political meetings and conferences in other regions. Overall, this takes up a lot of time and is a special challenge for me because as a freelancer I was used to completely managing my own time. However, working at PRO MUSIK also completes my work, as it shows me how important it is to address structural problems in the scene collectively.

What are the most important skills in your current job?

Communication. Being able to communicate well while considering the needs of all participants is an important issue for me. Interestingly, this applies to both making music and my work in a cultural-political context.

In musical training, we often focus on the technical skills on the instrument and little on their application in practice. This is then reflected in the scene by professional musicians often acting very individually and in their own interest. In addition, there are often conflicts in collaboration with clients and colleagues. This problem continues in representation of interests: those who have learned to only perceive their own interests are less likely to join a community of interest and are less willing to compromise. My goal with PRO MUSIK is to show how meaningful it can be to join a democratic structure and that this allows more common interests to be asserted.

What have been your greatest challenges and learnings so far? What were the "highs" and "lows" that you can share?

The COVID-19 pandemic has so far been the hardest "low", and at the same time, it has also brought about the greatest learning. I never would have thought I would be financially dependent on state aid to such an extent. I also always thought before that I don't need others, that I can achieve and change everything myself. This situation, especially due to the long-lasting restrictions, was extremely challenging and personally pushed me to my limits. At the same time, however, it has strengthened my conviction that we can achieve more together in the music industry and this feeling of a "collective" strengthens me a lot. A "high" in my career was my first experience with mental training. I started it when I began playing "auditions" and it put me under a lot of pressure. When I realized the energy that arises from me when I don't block myself through internal processes, it was a real "aha moment" and made me euphoric. Apart from that, it still allows me to experience and enjoy every stage experience in the "flow" today.

What trends do you see in the music industry that could become a big or important thing?

In my view, the current strongest trend is the development towards more and more content in ever shorter time, supported by AI-generated music. I am curious to see how this curve will develop, because in my view it is not compatible with substantial artistic work in many parts, as it requires time.

What is your advice to musicians who are considering a music career or have already taken the first steps?

In the music industry today, I think it's important to find a good balance between content depth and efficiency. This is no longer a given due to the ever-increasing pace of content being published daily. However, I consider it essential for a sustainable career in the music business. Basically, one must be clear that as a musician, one does more than just spend time with the instrument or in the rehearsal room. Behind this tip of the iceberg are acquisition, accounting, communication with clients, taxes, insurance, and much more, which is initially significantly less attractive.

Thank you very much for the interview, Ella :)

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