photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
-THE DA VINCI CODE: PART-TIME EVERYTHING
In Part 1, we talked about the conceptual and structural problems that stop you from quitting your job and doing music. Understanding the problem is a good place to start, but what we need is a new way forward toward a life in music.
One of the first concepts to understand is that you don't need to derive all of your income from one activity. In other words, you don't need to play 5 or 6 nights a week to make it in music. Even if you did play that often, how much would you need to earn for each gig? ($150 x 5 days x 50 weeks = $37,500 per year) $50 gigs aren't going to cut it.
Some cities can support gigs that pay each musician $150-200 a night. When I lived in Chicago, I eventually found my way into that pay scale. Wedding bands and cover bands can pay even more. But after a couple years, I became dissatisfied with city living, the grueling traffic, and to some extent playing music. I wanted something more.
In most locales, musicians earn a livelihood by being renaissance men and women. The reason I reference Da Vinci in this segment is because of his diverse interests and resulting contributions ranging from painting, sculpture, architecture, music, science, mathematics, engineering, inventions, anatomy, geology, cartography, botany, and writing. I'm not suggesting we all start making maps or writing theoretical physics papers in our spare time, but I am asserting that we break out of this dogmatic, division-of-labor box that demands we pick just one way to make money.
It's as if we are kids at the candy shop, and our mommy is saying, "I'm sorry little Johnny, you have to pick vanilla or chocolate. You can't have both." Guess what? You are all grown up now, and you can eat whatever ice cream you want. The only catch is that you have to pay for it.
When I was a freshmen in college I began my music studies in earnest, but I recall being conflicted. I was buying magazines like Writer's Digest (btw, if anyone is dying to buy me a Christmas present this year, please consider a subscription to Writer's Digest) and researching various subjects at the library hoping to do some self-publishing. Back then, the word 'blog' was unknown.
Even then a part of me wanted to write, and not only write but self-publish. I've always found it puzzling that as you are graduating high school, the buzz words "follow your dreams" are spoken by everyone. What people really mean is, "Follow your dreams as long as it doesn't make me uncomfortable, and, frankly, as long as you don't get ahead of me in line."
I'm sure I could have made writing part of my life then, but some inner voice kept saying, "you have to pick just one." So, I went with music. Here I am going full-circle twelve years later.
My point is that for many of us the way to quit your day-job is finding multiple part-time jobs in music that aren't gigs. Don't let the gate-keepers box you in. You don't have to play by the rules, because there aren't any. Some of your part-time work may not even be in music at all. I've known musicians who work in real-estate, photography, education, and journalism.
By now, someone out there is bringing up the division of labor argument. It's true; society materially benefits from dividing people by specific tasks rather than each member trying to do it all. Economist Milton Friedman pointed out that even the complexity of a pencil makes it too difficult for any individual to produce, let alone produce inexpensively.
But isn't there a practical limit to how much efficiency and increased production society gains from this confinement of specialization? Researchers argue that a person averages 10.5 job changes -not career changes- during their lifetime. What would be the harm in having 10.5 concurrent part-time jobs for the rest of your life?
I know it doesn't really work this way, but you get the idea. Just as the economic justifications for slavery became less tenable after the invention of the cotton gin, so do many of the arguments for the complete division of labor as we increasingly find ourselves living in a post-industrial world.
Additionally, we're talking about creative work, not assembly-line production. If you feel like a robot at your job, you are in danger of being replaced by a robot. Regain your autonomy, your independence, and your true value to society by finding multiple outlets for your creative energies.
The people I see succeeding in music often teach private lessons, play gigs, tune pianos, etc. all on a part-time basis. They don't usually pick just one means to make money. This allows them to thrive in communities that would otherwise be unable to support them. If there aren't enough gigs, or the gigs only pay $50, find other part-time music jobs to fill the gap.
In music school, I was indoctrinated with the belief that the world could never see a modern Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach, because the economic and social environment that allowed such compositional-centric activity no longer exists. I've come to question some of these assumptions. Beethoven taught students, most notably Czerny. Robert Schumann wrote for the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music). Bach played at and composed for church.
If you read about the lives of these great composers, you'll find that so many were plagued by disappointments. Schumann lost his playing career due to a hand injury, Mozart died penniless and was buried in a pauper's grave, and Beethoven, for goodness sake, went deaf. How silly of us to think they had some unfair advantage over us.
Part-time Everything is the most stable way to earn a living in music. You don't put all of your eggs in one basket, and you can't get fired, at least not from all of your jobs simultaneously. The variety of challenges, aka the spice of life, keeps you from burning out too. When you become a skillful Jack of two or three trades, small job opportunities become more viable means to earn a living. More people get what they want, including you.
In Part 3, we'll be looking at the various music jobs you can pursue as either your full-time profession or as part of your Part-time Everything strategy.