CA, UJ lecturer by day – rock star by night

​He is a lecturer for third year Accounting students at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), but still gets to perform with internationally renowned acts and South Africa’s biggest music stars – meet the coolest UJ lecturer, Garth Barnes!
The lead singer and guitarist of rock music band CrashCarBurn, 34-year-old Barnes, is a qualified chartered accountant (CA) who also lectures at UJ. He is a full-time academic, a Highveld Stereo radio presenter and rock music star who gets to tour the world.
Barnes shares how he manages to live the best of both worlds with Where did it all begin?
Garth Barnes (GB): After matriculating from Greenside High School, I went straight into my B.Com degree at Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), now UJ. I picked up the guitar and my first year varsity textbooks at the same time, discovering my passion for music relatively late in life. I took some time off after my honours degree and moved overseas to pursue music full time. By the time I had completed my B.Com degree, the band I was playing in at the time had started to really take off. So rather than jump straight into my articles, I decided to take some time off and give my music career my full attention. How did you realise that you could be both a musician and a professional CA?
GB: I don’t think it was a ‘realisation’; I didn’t wake up one Tuesday morning and go ‘Hey, I can do this!’ It’s actually taken years of effort and a slow migration towards positioning myself so that I can pursue both avenues. I remember even as an Article Clerk at Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), having to juggle work and music. But I think that’s a part of living a rewarding life. Slowly moving towards a place where you are able to find time for all the facets that interest you and grow you as a person. What is your day like as a UJ lecturer and a musician who has other businesses to take care of?
GB: Well, I wake up and go to work just like anyone else. Fortunately, the music world comes alive for the most part after-hours, so it doesn’t interfere with my job. It’s like any hobby, some people leave work and go to the gym or art classes – I leave work and head for the Studio. I still get to make music, but I don’t rely on it for income and because of that, I can pick and choose where and when I want to do things. How do you manage to be a professional CA and a musician as well as a radio DJ/presenter?
GB: If you have a genuine passion for something, you find a way to make it work, and it won’t even take much effort. I have always had very understanding employers (first PWC and now UJ) who understand the value of a balanced lifestyle and how it will actually enhance your performance in the workplace rather than detract it. At the same time, I have to do my part. I make sure I never drop the ball at work by managing my time well. As a professional, you need to realise that people are counting on you to fulfil your responsibilities and I would never abuse that trust. Music is in my blood, picturing my life without music is almost impossible for me. I suppose there is a good chance that when I’m 60-years-old, I will someday end up singing cover versions on my own in a pub somewhere in the West Rand on a Thursday night while patrons do their best to block out the noise… as long as I’m still playing, I’m ok with that. What kind of advice do you have for someone who wants to have the best of both careers like you?
GB: You need to enjoy what you do. I think a lot of people are surprised when I tell them I enjoy making music and I also really enjoy my job as an accounting lecturer. That’s why it works! You are going to be doing this for the next 40 years, so make sure you enjoy it! What skills does a lead vocalist and a guitar player need to be the best as a musician, like yourself?
GB: I think perseverance is the key. No one is born a great guitarist, singer or accountant for that matter. As with anything in life, if you stick to it, you can only improve. A lot of people get into music and expect overnight results; it just doesn’t work like that. It takes years of consistent effort. Which are some of the biggest gigs you have performed at?
GB: We’ve been very lucky in the past to have been included on some great line-ups. We played Coke Fest in 2008 alongside 30 Seconds To Mars, Good Charlotte and Korn. Then there was Ellis Park last year with B.o.B, Jessie J, Fallout Boy and a few others. Years ago we opened for Avril Levigne on her tour of South Africa. We also toured the US a few years back with Katy Perry, Gym Class Hereos. I remember studying for my board exam while on the tour bus, wow! Your students; do they know you are a popular rock band musician and see you as a celebrity or as a lecturer?
GB: I try to keep the two separate. There is no chance of me breaking out into song during a lecture. Likewise, I won’t be giving IFRS tips in between songs at any CrashCarBurn shows. What can the young people that know and admire you learn from you as an individual who does what you do both as a musician and as an academic?
GB: I think the key to being happy in your personal and work life is to understand that YOU are responsible for achieving that happiness. So many people are waiting for ‘that lucky break’ or ‘that promotion’ or ‘the perfect job’ to pop up. It won’t. You have to go and find it! And if you don’t find it, create it! Do you think Accountants are different from people in the arts, in engineering, or in any professional academic sphere who have multiple skills?
GB: Maybe that was true in the 1980’s, but the profession has come a long way in dispelling those myths. It’s like any group of people in life; you cannot put all accountants in the same bucket. Sure, there are accountants out there that will put you into a deep, deep coma with a short 2-minute conversation, but I can honestly say those are few and far between. In my experience, most of the accountants I have worked with are versatile, dynamic people who would surprise you when you find out what they get up to after-hours!


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