I was recently having lunch with some friends, one of whom is an independent musician. He let the following slip when we got on the topic of finances - “I haven’t had to have a real job for about 20 years.” I let him finish his sentence, which is rare for me as a recovering interrupter and then I said, “But John, what you do IS a real job. Just because it’s art and you enjoy it doesn’t make it any less real.” He teaches, performs, composes and books. He has a proper job.
I know that musicians are real workers and they are their own business. When I’m lucky, some of those talented businesses choose to work with me and pay me to promote their business. Don’t denigrate what you do in music as not being real work. When I hear that I don’t feel it’s a sign of humility, rather I view it as a sign of feeling guilty for not being behind a desk 9-5 or punching a clock. You should never feel the need to lessen your contribution to society because you make art and don’t push papers. You may well do monotonous work as well as your music for the time being, but don’t discount what you offer to people.
Even more recently, I attended a music and media conference in San Diego (www.sandiegomusicthing.com) and got another fine example from a musician. Side note; mark your calendars for this excellent conference which is like a smaller version of SXSW. It happens in September and full disclosure, I have worked with them for a few years now. But that’s not the point, here’s where it gets interesting.
One of the keynote speakers at SD Music Thing this year was Mike Herrera (MxPx, Tumbledown – follow him and see what he’s up to at www.twitter.com/@mikeherreraTD). I loved Mike’s enthusiasm, optimism, clarity and likeable speaking style. Towards the end of his talk, he let it slip that his former bandmates in MxPx “had real jobs” and they only periodically play one-off shows nowadays. When he opened things up for Q and A from the audience, I teased him and said that he’s not the only artist I’ve heard refer to musicians as not having real jobs. I said that with the level of success he’s had, and hearing the obvious love and passion for his work, what made this not a real job? He laughed and agreed.
I think it’s ingrained in us from an early age from our parents, teachers and perhaps society that work is to be equated with struggle or non-creativity. As a non-famous non-musician (aka my husband) would say, bollocks! It is a miracle and a gift to love what you do and share your talents with your community and with the world.
Another speaker at the conference offered a less optimistic view of “making it” in the music business as a performer. He said it’s a small percentage of people who truly succeed and you need to focus on having a day job or job or if you want, a music industry job. I’m not saying that what he said was false or negative but I believe that success can be different for all people. You may feel successful if you play out once or twice a month and do other fulfilling work which may or may not be music related for the rest of the month.
If everyone took the attitude of that speaker, we wouldn’t really have anyone doing music as their full time work. If that is your intention, go for it! One of my clients has booked herself on six European tours and she also tours the US regularly. She works with kids as well and being an artist is her full time gig (http://twitter.com/camillebloom).
Don’t diminish your work and continue to dream and to do the work. Here’s a book recommendation for you, Steven Pressfield’s Do The Work - http://amzn.to/1ee7jN6 . Though he’s an author, it has useful tips for any artist/creative type person.