Musicians Solving the Day Job Dilemma

Rachel wrote in a few weeks ago requesting a post on this topic (thanks, Rachel!). Here are solutions for the day job dilemma. It’s an issue many people struggle with. To help, below are excerpts from my book Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music — the third edition.

Let’s start with a reality check.

“At some point in their careers, most musicians work ‘day jobs.’ Ask veteran musicians what kinds of work they’ve done outside of performing and composing—you’ll be amazed.

Composer Philip Glass didn’t earn his living solely through music until he was 42. Until then, he worked as a plumber, moved furniture, and drove cabs.”

Saxophonist / composer Allan Chase weighs in on Day Jobs for musicians

Allan’s “day job” is chairing the Ear Training department at Berklee College of Music. Prior to that, he taught at New England Conservatory and chaired the jazz dept. there. Allan offers this perspective:

“Many artists find a happy balance between a day job (preferably a skilled, interesting and flexible one) and a performing or composing career. For example, many jazz musicians in New York City work part-time at night as legal proofreaders (a sometimes tedious but flexible and relatively high paying job). Other artists I have known work as . . .
language teachers
computer programmers
software consultants
graphic designers
piano tuners
house painters
college staff
phone sales people
educators, administrators
real estate investors
. . . or practically any other job that allows periods of time off and/or the ability to determine one’s own schedule.”

Check your attitude: Adjust as needed

And although Allan was writing specifically about jazz artists, this applies to musicians across all genres. About assumptions and attitude, he says:

“It can drive you crazy trying to figure out how and why other people are making it, or why others may seem to have a level of success or access to opportunities that you may not have. It’s useful to realize that a great many seemingly successful musicians have sources of income other than performance itself (a spouse’s income, family or inherited money, foreign grants, ‘secret’ day jobs, connections to commercial gigs, etc.), and they often avoid talking openly about these because they feel that knowledge of their dependence on non-performance income will diminish their credibility as serious musicians.

The fact is that very few people earn a comfortable living solely by playing music. Acceptance of this fact will make you saner and more practical in finding solutions to the problem of how to survive and be happy while continuing to play the music you love.”

From my perspective, life is just way too short to be carrying around resentment about the need to earn a living. But if you’re wondering if you’re  . . .

Ready to quit your day job

How do you know for sure? It’s pretty clear cut. Look objectively at your financial situation. Make sure you can not only survive, but be stable and be able to save as well.

Track your spending. You need to know for sure what you’re spending and bringing in each month. For freelancers, it’s important to track finances for the whole year, so that you know where you stand over both the busier as well as as the leaner months. In the end, you need both an emergency fund and a savings plan.

If you’re not quite ready to quit your day job, but wonder how you might improve your work life balance, read on.

What’s helped musicians like you — solutions for the day job dilemma

In looking for the best day job fit consider the following four questions:

Do you want to work at a day job within the arts or beyond?

Some musicians want to have all of their working hours connected to the arts, to be around others who think and talk as they do. These musicians look for day jobs with various arts organizations, or within the recording industry, or with music retailers, publishers, or music schools. For networking and feeling connected, this route can be a plus.

Other musicians prefer non-arts related day jobs that give them some distance from music. They want to explore other skills and interests, or they find that with a non-music day job, they can conserve their creative energies to be used on their own time.

There’s no right answer here. Only what’s right for you.

What skills, experience, and interests do you have? And what skills would you like to develop?

Summer jobs and part-time work often leads to other opportunities. Musicians end up finding meaningful and satisfying day jobs in all kinds of settings, from religious institutions, to political campaigns, and grass-roots community organizations. And some musicians choose day jobs where they can gain specific skills useful to their music careers, such as jobs in fundraising, marketing, or public relations.

What kind of schedule, hours and flexibility do you want?

Many musicians seek work with maximum flexibility. Depending on the work involved, a company or organization may be able to offer flex time as a benefit. Some musicians start their own services and side businesses. These can range from dog walking services, to recording, editing, massage therapy, catering, daycare, yoga instruction, website design, or tutoring.

What about the money?

To make good choices about work, you need to know how much you actually spend each month (not how much you think you spend). If you haven’t written out your detailed monthly expenses and calculated what you need, why not start now?

Explore your work options, clarify your finances, adjust your mindset and balance your priorities. That’s how to find a day job that works for you.

For more help on this topic, check this Byte on Creating a Sustainable Career in Music.

My book Beyond Talent  has more to help you design a satisfying freelance career and solve the day job dilemma. There are chapters on promotional materials, networking, booking concerts, managing finances, raising money for projects, and more.

And if you want to sample expert music career coaching, join our next hot-seat coaching session! Get on the e-list here, so you get the notification, plus the weekly newsletter of music career tips and inspiration.

Looking forward,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

PS: If you found this post helpful, please share it with your musician friends—let’s spread the love!
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