Finding your performance niche

 17 March 2013

Paul Alborough performs as Professor Elemental, a steampunk and 'chap hop' performer. He describes leaving full-time work to pursue his creative career, with advice for performers on developing a niche.

"My name's Paul Alborough and I perform as Professor Elemental. I've been doing the character, a kind of comedy hip-hop act, for about five or six years, and really last year I started doing it full-time."

Developing a performance career

"I had ten years of office hell, and then I was a teacher for about six years. Then the music just started taking off a little bit, and there comes that decision point, 'Could I actually do this for a living? Yes I can!'

"All the way along, I was always doing hip-hop. But there's not a massive market for a middle-aged, middle-class, white rapper in the UK. There's not loads of listeners out there. So it was only when I found my comedic angle that I thought 'Ah! This is the way I can deliver my stuff.' But again, in a very British way.

"I was about to get a promotion and I had to choose. I made the jump."

"I was always telling people 'Obviously I'll never do this for a living. I mean, it's ridiculous that I even do it at all.' I was always very apologetic.

It was actually talking more to American people and some other bands, who were like 'Man, you can live your dream!' and I thought 'Oh, maybe I could!'

"I was teaching full-time and I was about to get a promotion in my job. The Professor stuff was really going well and I had to choose, and I made the jump. I'd just had a second baby at the time, so it was a very scary time – 'Daddy's going to be a Professor now!'"

Becoming a full-time creative

"I realised that a lot of the opportunities don't come up until you've made that jump. Once you're doing it full-time, all these weird and wonderful opportunities come your way that won't happen as long as you're in your day job. So there is a bit of a risk element to it, I suppose. But it pays off.

"What a lot of people don't realise, and what was a bit of a shock to me, is that the life of a rapper is largely admin-based. 99 percent of it is that: putting details of a receipt into an Excel spreadsheet for a pie that you had at a service station at midnight.

"So there's a lot more of the business aspect – my job is predominantly answering emails, which is not how I imagined the life of a rapper to be.

"But then on the other side, of course, you're not going to work every day, you're doing something you're passionate about… and you suddenly end up in America in a Wild West town wearing a funny hat!"

How to develop your audience

"Find what you're good at and reward those people who've been nice enough to listen to your stuff."

"When I first had the initial rush of, 'Wow, people want to hear my stuff!', I did have these sort of grand dreams about different places I could take it.

"I study quite a lot of comedy and lots of performances and read lots of books about it. I've realised that a lot of the secret to success is, if you do find a niche, stick in with that audience and nurture that group. Not necessarily try to branch out and become a number one hit or anything.

"Find what you're good at and reward those people who've been nice enough to listen to your stuff. If you can maintain that, then I think that's the secret to longevity, rather than being a flash in the pan."

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