photo by clrcmck
The stepping stones method is relatively simple to understand, but a challenge to really implement. Essentially you envision the job you want, you draw dots, you quit the job you have, and then you connect the dots. Voila!
Step 1. Envision the job you want. Get a clear picture of what a life in music looks like for you. Ideas have already been mentioned in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series. Remember that an imperfect something is almost always better than a perfect nothing, In fact, it's likely we all will continue to change our goals slightly for the rest of our lives. People change. Interests change. It's always a transition from one state to another. Just be sure to have a picture of what success looks like. Otherwise, change is an aimless pursuit.
Step 2. Draw Dots. Dots are the days/hours per week that you get to earn money doing music. It's unlikely you can start with 5-6 days/dots per week playing gigs, teaching, etc. It's more likely you can start teaching Saturday morning lessons at a music store and perhaps play a couple of gigs per week. These "dots" certainly aren't enough to pay the bills.
Before you get to step 3, it's necessary to make some decisions about part-time work. Will you work a part-time job that isn't related to music? As undesirable as it may seem, working part-time outside of music will take some of the financial risk out of the equation. Playing a couple of gigs per week, teaching, and delivering pizza part-time may be preferable to the 9-to-5 you hate. And there's always room for improvement after you've reached your realistic career goals. It's not an all or nothing proposition.
The other option before quitting your old job is waiting until you have enough "dots" established to financially support yourself. An example of this would be teaching every weekday evening after work and on Saturday until your teaching income pays the bills. Then quit your job. This method seems to be the least risky, but there are several down-sides.
First, many potential "dots" may interfere with your 9-to-5. For example, I currently start teaching music lessons at 12:30pm on Mondays. I would be hard pressed to squeeze in enough lessons if I could only teach after 5:00pm on weekdays.
Second,this method is highly demanding in terms of time, energy, and focus. See Part 1. If you're like me, I'm mentally drained after an 8 hour work day. The nice thing about this path is that if you come up short, you still have a job. On the other hand, it's more tempting to give up, hit the snooze button one more time, and loose momentum.
Step 3. Quit your job. Here's where it gets fun and a little scary. It's so important that you have a clear plan and that you've addressed the issues in steps 1 and 2. I once read that the greatest reason for failure wasn't a failure to plan, but rather having delusions of grandeur.
For this reason, I recommend finding the exact dollar amount you need per month to survive. That means you need to make a budget and determine exactly how much money gets spent. If you are serious about your career goals, it probably means you need to get thrifty and cut out the excess. For more about money and music, check out A Penny Unearned is 1.56 Pennies Saved: How to Avoid Financial Suicide.
Don't think that you will succeed because you are super talented, you're passionate, or the universe is on your side. Make the numbers work, and you'll have a fighting chance. Math works!
photo by JHayne
I heard the no-debt, financial guru Dave Ramsey tell the story about how old-timers use to deal with log jams. A jam occurred when loggers would float newly cut trees down the river. From time to time, the logs would all get stuck in a river bend, and it would become impossible to float any more downstream. The solution? Blow some up with dynamite. The loggers knew that it was better to suffer the loss of part of their logs than to get stuck forever.
The same thing may be true with our careers. Quitting a safe, stable job isn't easy. It's the proverbial bird in the hand that's so tempting to hang on to. The stepping stone method will remove some, but not all, of the risk involved with quitting.
4. Connect the dots. Now you have the biggest structural hurdle, the 9-to-5, out of your way. But don't get too comfortable just yet. If you've done it right, you may have a little extra money saved from working full-time plus a few music jobs, but now a major staple of your livelihood is gone. Focus all of your excitement and energy on expanding your music-related job opportunities.
As someone once said, success builds on success. Put another way, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Having a couple gigs makes you infinitely more hire-able due to, if nothing else, your exposure to other musicians and audiences. The same can be said about teaching. In the early days, students seem to sign up incrementally. After a certain point, a studio can grow exponentially. Students may refer relatives, neighbors, classmates etc. Keep working to close the gap.
Take and use the same processes in steps 1, 2, and 3 to do away with your part-time work that isn't related to music. Even if all of your "dots" are music jobs, you may quickly develop preferences for certain jobs/gigs over others.
Don't fall into the old way of thinking that you are stuck or that you have to wait until someone comes to save you. Do something about your life. I think dissatisfaction in one's work probably means you aren't using the best part of yourself, or said from a Christian point-of-view, you aren't using your talents. You aren't doing anyone any favors by being miserable. With some hard work, a rational plan, and determination you can make a life for yourself in music.
I would love to hear from those out there who are either trying to get out of their non-music careers or have recently achieved their goal of doing music full-time. Be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you haven't already.