Neal Phillips is leading a double life. By day he’s Neal Richard Phillips, Ed.D., a tenured professor of English and the president of the college-wide faculty association at Valencia College in Orlando. But by night, he’s Neal Phillips, electric violinist, fiddler, rockstar—and a Top Pro on Thumbtack. We asked the veteran educator and musician to tell us how he does it, discussing everything from slow jams and reviews, to what it takes to be a truly great musician on Thumbtack.
When did you first start playing music?
Music was everywhere growing up. My mom played the piano and organ for our church in Altoona, Pennsylvania. I started playing when I was very young, stopped for a while when I got “too cool” in college, and then picked it up again when I graduated.
Music has helped me build connections with people all around the world: in a tea shop in China, on the Spanish steps, or outside a pub in Ireland.
How did you first find Thumbtack and what have you learned since then?
I was searching online for more musical work when Thumbtack popped up, and the more I read the more I thought it made sense as a platform. When I first signed up I had no reviews and no work to show, so getting my first hire was really pivotal. These days the bulk of my gigs come from Thumbtack.
How do you decide which jobs to book?
Distance is the biggest factor. I look at where the job is, then at my calendar and my budget.I try to plan solo gigs out at least three months in advance. A lot of the time, if they’re looking for a full band, that timeline is much shorter. I’ve taken gigs with less than three weeks notice.
What does it take to be a Top Pro on Thumbtack?
Integrity is the biggest thing in the world. I want to come in, do a quality job, and make people happy. It’s how I think about teaching too, honestly. Musically, I have a gift for learning new songs really fast and people are so happy when you tailor a set for them.
Do you have any tips when it comes to asking for reviews?
I think that reviews play a big part in why I’m a Top Pro today. You have to time it right. If I’m playing a sports bar, I’ll reach out the next day. If I’m playing a wedding, I wait until after the honeymoon. People value things that come easy.
What goes into a great quote?
I’ve refined my quotes a lot since I first started. I respond to what they ask for in their request. If they want someone who is detailed, give them that detail. If people are specific enough to say that they want someone to play on the beach at night and that there won’t be a power cord, tell them whether or not this is possible.
My biggest rule: don’t brag. Generally, people are on Thumbtack because they want something really unique. So rather than taking the car dealer approach, be genuine and specific.
You’ve played on a 3D printed violin!?
I played the national anthem on a purple and gold 3-D printed violin at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando last year. I’m leading with Valencia College engineering students to make 3-D printed violins for local middle school students. They’re roughly a quarter of the price to make and we’re working on a grant to help finance a music teacher to teach the students to play. We’re still working on perfecting the instruments right now—we had some melting issues with earlier models. We live in Florida so it was no big surprise. Today I only really use it for sports-related gigs on Thumbtack. It doesn’t play quite as well but it garners a lot of attention.
Do you have a favorite Thumbtack memory?
I once played a wedding where the bride got cold feet and refused to walk down the aisle. While she was pacing around downstairs, I put on a show to distract the crowd. I started playing popular theme songs and telling jokes, until finally she was ready to make her way upstairs. That’s what being a Top Pro (and a great musician!) is. There are always intangibles like that—if you love it, you learn to take them in stride.