Should Musicians Have a Backup Plan? 5 Reasons Why You Should Just Go for It

Posted by Jesse Sterling Harrison on Apr 27, 2016 06:00 AM

5640557375_602b064772_zPhoto by Ray_LAC via; used under Creative Commons

How much do you hate your day job? Maybe you don’t hate it at all. There are lucky folks out there who are psychologists or attorneys by day and play in a band at night, and they’re completely happy. They feel well-balanced and fulfilled doing what they do. Then there are the rest of us: workers, strivers, many of us feeling blocked or drained by whatever we do to pay the bills.

Nobody needs a rehash of the reasons not to become a professional musician; you’re probably the one recounting them whenever a friend suggests that you just do what makes you happy. "But this, but that," you respond, thinking about rent payments and credit card bills. What about all the reasons to do it? What follows is a completely biased list of five reasons you should just go for it and become a pro.

1. There's never a perfect time

Whether it’s getting married, having kids, buying your dream car, or making a career change, there’s always an adjustment. There will never be a magic moment when everything else in life is perfect. Psychologists tell us that the major stressors in life are transitions: death, the birth of a child, changing our housing, changing our careers. We probably shouldn’t go out of our way to change all of these things at once, but expecting some stress and going into it with good faith, we should never fear to make a change. Why not make the change now?

2. Every career has associated expenses, and not all of them are financial

Make no mistake, whatever you do right now to make money also costs you money…and more than money. When people think "work-related expenses," they think about commuting costs, dry cleaning, and buying meals at the company cafeteria. Those are the obvious ones. However, full-time jobs also cost you opportunities. You have to say no to all sorts of exciting offers, whether they're social events or money-making gigs, because they conflict with the immovable schedule of your day job.

Working for yourself as a musician, you at least have the opportunity to pick and choose and make your own calendar. Only during career transitions do we really see the perks and the downsides of the jobs we leave and the ones we’re going to. For example, if you’re a music teacher and teach from your home, you just saved five to 10 hours a week in commuting…and $50 a week at Dunkin' Donuts during the ride in.

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3. Your best chance of success is doing what you do best

Take a good, long look at yourself. What is your greatest talent? Ask your family and your friends. (But probably not your mom. She thinks you’re great at everything. Aren’t moms awesome?) If your biggest skill – the thing you are blessed to do better than anybody – is something you’re only doing six hours a week, then something is out of kilter. The same goes within the field of music. If you’re an average drummer but you’re a genius behind the board, touring and playing beats should take a backseat to your studio work. If you’re an average cell phone repair technician but an amazing fiddler, you need to find a way to fiddle more and fix fewer phones.

4. It doesn't necessarily have to be all or nothing

There's quite a continuum between working 40 hours per week and being a guitarist and nothing else. If you live in Norway and can get a government grant to compose an atonal opera, that’s fantastic. But most of us don’t have that kind of help. If quitting your boring job cold turkey isn’t viable, why not shorten up your schedule? Your bosses have dreams, too, and may be more helpful than you think when it comes to reaching for yours. Somewhere in the realm of possibilities, there’s a place in which you make enough money to feed yourself and have more time to make art. Find that place.

5. Life's too short for misery

Look at all the people around you. They respect you and think you’re great. But if you have a day job that leaves you annoyed and exhausted every day, they’re not getting the best of you. You’re not getting the best of yourself. It’s amazing how much better life looks when you make a positive change, no matter how scary. Opportunity seems to knock more often, and you’ll be better equipped to seize it when it does. You’ll also be growing in a way that you couldn’t in your old job.

We need more music, and people to make it. If you want music to be your career, don’t hold back. Figure out a way and do it!


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Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.

Topics: Musician Success Guide, Strategies for Success, Musician Life, opinion


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