A Collection of Thoughts On a Musical Life
I always find it interesting what people in the arts consider a “day job.” I have always had a job outside the arts, so to me, any job related to music has not been in that category. I have a composer colleague with a DMA in choral conducting who considers his work at the college where he conducts choirs and teaches to be his day job. To me, he doesn’t have a day job, but a full life in music!
The Boston Singers’ Resource once ran an excellent article reframing the idea of day job as Correlating Career. I really like this mindset. I won’t rehash that post, because you should just read it yourself.
When I was younger, I had it in my head that if I wasn’t poor, I wasn’t doing it right. I thought that putting effort into earning money outside of the arts meant I didn’t want music enough. That is hogwash! Of course, graduating school during the Great Recession was the biggest factor in my low earnings during the start of my career(s); but my mindset didn’t help. What I wish I’d known was that office jobs not only pay more, but are easier on the body than retail. Moving from retail, up to retail banking, then finally to office work meant that I was physically able to practice at the end of the day. The additional earnings helped me afford lessons, coachings, and the other financial costs of singing, not to mention an increased standard of living overall. If you are smart and capable, you are throwing away money if you don’t use your abilities in your day job.
The key is balance. Burn out is no way to live, no matter what you are pursuing in life. Sleeping, eating, exercise, and relationships are all important parts of being human. While singing in Candide this summer, I decided that working full time at an office, doing my church job, and being in twenty hours a week of rehearsals wasn’t how I wanted to live. Granted, shows tend to be for defined periods of time. But I want my life to always be structured so that I can say yes to any performance opportunities that present themselves.
I looked at my finances and schedule, and decided that I could cut down to a part-time office job. So, since the beginning of 2019, I work part-time at a church, part-time at an office, and do freelance singing. Maybe soon I’ll be teaching yoga! For me, this life of variety is ideal. I marched on Washington with a woman who wanted to make a career in the arts no matter what, so she found her niche, combining a love of history with performance. I really admire her drive and what she has done with her company. Personally, I like the artistic freedom I have now to say no to opportunities that don’t suit me, so I choose mixed income sources.
I have a colleague who has some strong opinions about who should label themselves “professional.” I think her main point is that it doesn’t do the field any good to ignore that full-time artists in America have a nearly impossible hard time. Claire is one of those full-time artists, and if you heard her sing, you would also be ticked that she has so little stability. But I don’t agree with her that you need to be singing full-time to be allowed to label yourself a professional.
I think everyone needs to do what works for them and for those who depend on them. Sometimes the hustle is fully in the arts, sometimes it’s a life of dabbling in artistic pursuits, and sometimes it’s a combination of varying hustles. If you do work truly worthy of payment and someone pays you, you are a professional, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you also do other things.