Matt Walker is the founder of Walker Productions, a small independent publisher specialising in piano sheet music (and electrifying thriller novels), and a writer, composer, pianist and piano teacher.
What inspired you to take up a career in music?
It actually wasn’t my intention. Like so many, I learnt piano throughout my childhood, got my Grade 8 at 17 and took music A-level, but I studied architecture at university. I don’t know why; I didn’t like it and wasn’t good at it. So after my degree, I started to make my living from music. I played at weddings, I accompanied choirs, and I started teaching piano privately.
Yet I struggled to find the perfect teaching resource. I wanted a piano book for complete beginners, that progressed from lesson one onwards, and that included well-known children’s songs. I couldn’t find one so I wrote one, and in 2016 the earliest version of Favourite Children’s Songs For Piano was born. I now have ten music book titles, many of them Amazon bestsellers, and a small (a very small) publishing company called Walker Productions. We publish piano books, predominantly, but also thriller novels and a magic book.
What has been the greatest challenges?
Getting noticed. And selling the books, I guess. The piano book market isn’t as competitive as the thriller market, for instance; however it is still dominated by the big publishers. When I published my first music book, which was Favourite Children’s Songs For Piano (the ‘red book’, as I know it), I’d be happy if I sold ten a month. Now, with a larger catalogue, and some marketing and good reviews, I can sometimes sell ten in a day.
I have to take great pains to ensure all music I arrange and include in my publications is out of copyright and in the public domain. Hence, why my books are full of nursery rhymes, traditional songs, classical pieces and the like.
How do you work?
Arranging for beginners and pre-Grade 1 is tough. Quite often I find titles apparently arranged ‘for really easy piano’ are actually nothing of the sort. I try to minimise the need to move hands, especially the left hand, which means the range of the melody can’t be too large. There have been pieces I’ve wanted to include but had to omit for that reason (The Star Spangled Banner, for instance). And then there can’t be too many accidentals. Diatonic pieces are preferable. I then look at the chord sequence to know where to place the left hand.
As for composing songs, if I’m writing both the lyrics and the music I’ll usually take a ‘lyrical motif’ and compose a melody around that. The music follows, and I’ll put the rest of the words to it. I always compose at the piano with a pencil and manuscript paper.
Which works are you most proud of?
I have recently released my biggest project yet: ‘110 Easy Pieces For Piano’, arranged at a preparatory level, which I’m very excited about. As a composer, I am very proud of my song ‘The Eyes Of A Child’, written for children’s choir, which has been performed many times all over the world, and my first commission, ‘I Am Tomorrow’.
Who are your favourite composers?
I love playing Scott Joplin. Ragtime is such fun! But when it comes to my own piano compositions, I am much more influenced by the likes of Einaudi and Yiruma – that kind of modern minimalism. It may not be ‘sophisticated’, but my take on music is simple: if it sounds good, it is good. And there’s nothing wrong with that. 19 of my original piano compositions can be found in my publication Light & Shade on Amazon. You can also listen to them on YouTube.
What are the highlights of your musical career?
Well, I met my wife through my work, so obviously that’s a highlight! Aside from that, I used to teach Connie Talbot, who appeared as a 6-year-old many years ago on Britain’s Got Talent, singing ‘Over The Rainbow’. You may remember her. In April 2016, I accompanied her live on ITV’s Loose Women in front of 6 million viewers. That was surreal. Before that, I accompanied Four Oaks Cluster Choir when they won the Manchester Amateur Choral Competition in 2015. I have also had my own choral compositions performed by choirs all over the world, and was this year commissioned to write a musical for an amateur theatre company.
Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
I’d love to be able to make my living from my books. Hopefully I’ll be the new Dan Coates, arranging anything and everything for one of the big publishers, like Faber or Hal Leonard. I’d love to be a well-known name in choral composition, too.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians and composers?
I want to start by imploring you – look after your posture! For ten years I played with undiagnosed tension in my shoulders and it gave me tendonitis, which I still struggle with. Now I have to make a conscious effort to relax. It’s really important!
Practise, please. Practise = progress. You can have the best teacher in the world but if you don’t practise you won’t get anywhere.
Most importantly? Love what you do. Or else, what’s the point?
Matt Walker www.walkerproductions.co.uk