What’s wrong with having a day job?

Ideally, everyone could make a living doing what they love.  This would mean that musicians could make a living doing solely music, for 100% of the time they would spend if they had a job in an office, on a construction site, or in a laboratory.  But, the worldwide economy is in the doldrums, and in my opinion music as we know it is dying slowly.  The institutions that once held music as the pinnacle of all pursuits–symphony orchestras, opera companies, record labels, publishers, etc., are all decaying, and a new music is arriving, one of grass roots organization, low incomes, high competition, multitudinous pluralities of styles, musicians, and organizations, everyone making music and everyone contributing their minced portion to the stew of music nowadays.

Supporting yourself solely through your art is dying along with the old institutions.  Finding a day job is no longer temporary before your big break; it may end up being a longer term necessity.  Whether it’s accompanying, teaching, arts administration, marketing, etc. (any form of music or the arts outside of your specialty) or doing something unrelated to music, most of us find day jobs that are outside of our specific training, at least in the beginning.

And so, I have felt perceptions that having a day job is a bad thing.  In fact, I have often questioned my having a day job in this early stage of my career (I graduated from Hartt roughly one year ago).  Over time, I have come to the conclusion that, especially in the early stages of one’s career, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a day job.  If you still can advance yourself musically and build up to a solid career in the actual making of music, or even if you have tried that and it didn’t work out, having a day job can be a great opportunity and it can be a good experience in itself, because:

  1. If you work hard at it, it will most likely be validating in its own right.
  2. You can most likely pay at least some of the bills that pile up.
  3. If you work hard at most jobs there is often opportunity for advancement within the business.
  4. Every interaction with a coworker and customer is a form of networking and may lead to further musical development or engagement.
  5. You’re not stagnating, and are engaging yourself through being employed.
  6. Most of the time you can still pursue music on the side, until you have the skills and experience necessary to make a living solely off of music (even as the paradigm of making a living through music shifts, as I mentioned in the previous paragraphs).

While you, me, and the rest of the world figure out what the new business model for making money from music is, it’s okay to work a day job, and you shouldn’t let anyone shame you into thinking you’re lower on the social ladder for having one.  Staying active in life and making money, no matter how much, helps yourself and the economy, and gives you the time to grow after your education has ended.  It also gives you perspective on the harsh realities of the world–today’s job market is tough to navigate, especially in the highly competitive fields of the arts.

Engage your mind, engage in music, engage in a day job if you want/need to, but don’t let other people be the sole influence on what you’re worth.

Thanks for reading,


One thought on “What’s wrong with having a day job?

  1. musicMan

    I’m a Masters student finishing my Composition degree. I can tell you that I’ve been REALLY worried about what to do after my schooling. I’ve been talking with lots of people, both in and out of music, and the conclusion that I’ve come up with is that it is TOTALLY ok to make a living outside of music. And I’m not taking this to mean that I’m giving up in any way. I am still going to write music, and have it performed by different ensembles. And who knows, in the future, I may end up working completely in music. But until that point comes, I will need to live (and not just scrape by, but live a comfortable, happy life), and a full-time, decent salaried, day job will let me do this. What do other composers think?

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