Many of we musicians have day jobs.  For some, it is a temporary, seasonal gig for extra cash.  For some of us, it is a part time, or multiple part time, jobs to make ends meet.  For some of us, we have full time jobs, both exempt and non-exempt.  Some of us love our jobs, and some of us are not so fortunate.  No matter what else we do besides make music, having a non-musical job can be taxing and take away from music time.  Add to that any personal life (spouse, kids, parents, dependents, etc.), and there is little time left for making art.

I have been living this life for 6+ years now, and I’m writing to encourage you, the working musician, to make art, work hard at your day job, and stay sane.  Here are my tips:

  1. Find a day job that you enjoy doing, or at least, something you can believe in.  For me, I need something that will challenge my brainpower while serving a social purpose.  That is why I love working in arts administration.  There is always a new challenge, a new mountain to climb intellectually, but the day-in-day-out work serves a greater purpose.  And, the environment cannot be beat.

    For you, this might be helping a certain population (eg. the elderly, the very young, the under-served), creating something that isn’t music (eg. setting tile, baking food, etc.), or applying a totally different part of yourself (eg. doing a trade, such as automotive repair).

  2. Know which professional corners you can cut.  It is indeed possible to have two careers.  Even if you want to do your best at each job, you have to know what is your most efficient way of doing things, without sacrificing your quality of work.  Work smart, and don’t work hard for too long.  There are always easier ways to do things.  Figure them out, and do less work with the same quality result.  This will help you focus on what is important in your job.
  3. Set aside music time, even if that means forcing yourself to do so.  Sometimes all it takes is 15 minutes of initial time to get you revved up for 30 or 45 more minutes.  If you don’t have more than 20 minutes of free time at a time, be “scrappy”, as I put it: take every little bit, every scrap you can snag, and use that for your art.  You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in 10 minutes.
  4. Sleep, and get “zero music” moments.  It is so important not only to stay continually refreshed by sleep, but it is also critical that your ears stop hearing so much music.  It is easy for us to put in headphones on the job, go home and listen to music, listen to the radio or iPod on our commute, and then practice and/or compose that night.  The absence of music breeds better, more balanced work.  Take time to have the absence of music, even if that doesn’t mean complete silence.  Your sense of perspective and artistic freedom will improve, as you will understand life without music (which allows you to see life with music with greater insight and breadth).
  5. Set your boundaries and limits.  Articulate what areas of your life are able to mix.  If you want to merge your musical and day jobs, do so, but only if that will make you happier.  Also, do not take on more than you can handle, and I don’t mean just time-wise.  To produce the best quality work, you have to focus on fewer tasks.  Spreading yourself too thin prevents you from editing, re-thinking, re-analyzing, and coming up with solutions other than the first one you try or think of.  Music needs revision, whether in practice or composition.  Set limits on what you do so that you have time to revise.
  6. Find a good social outlet.  An easy way to manage stress is to find a connection with other people, even if it is not at all related to your dual careers.  For me, that involves visiting family, and playing with my cats.  (Yes, like last night, Summer the cat is curled up in my lap as I write.)  Social outlets allow you to express any distress, take in the positive emotions that will come (hopefully, if you choose wisely), put things in perspective, and prevent rumination.
  7. Don’t be upset if you don’t make much money from your music.  Many musicians make a living off of their music, but it doesn’t come easy.   It is okay if music, while taking up much of your effort, does not proportionately return itself financially.  The landscape is not particularly beneficial for those not in urban centers, but in those urban centers the competition increases.  It’s okay to have two careers, even if the musical one is not pulling its financial weight.
  8. A rising tide lifts all boats.  (Oh, gosh, did I really just use that cliche?)  Promote your colleagues’ work.  Attend their events.  Repost their latest social media news.  The more you can be a part of musical culture, the more likely you will have opportunities, and especially opportunities that fit an overcrowded schedule.  Furthermore, you will have found a simpler, more enjoyable way to be a musician (but please do not just say things, and be active socially; music is hard work at its best).
  9. Get a calendar and a good to-do list organization.  This may be a physical planner; an iOS calendar and to-do list; Microsoft’s OneNote; EverNote; other productivity apps, or combinations of these.  Just be sure to simplify the number of tools you use, to make it as easy as possible to navigate.  Check it at least once a day, set and evaluate how you are doing on your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, reorganize your tasks and priorities (and their deadlines) to suit your goals and time limits, answer all your emails, and know when to take something off your to-do list not because you have done it, but because it isn’t feasible in your current schedule.
  10. Finally, know that you will need to choose what is possible and what isn’t.  Ideally, choose the most fulfilling things that take the least amount of time, and stay away from the unfulfilling things that take up the most time.  You cannot, and frankly should not, do it all.  It is not worth your time, expense, and effort to worry about not doing something.  Do what you can do, and know that you have limits.  Doing your best does not have to mean doing everything.  Your music is about making art; don’t let professional aspirations take the fulfillment out of it.

I hope this proved helpful.  Happy music making!

Dan