Last week I saw a Facebook post pop up in my feed that caught my attention. It came from a friend in the Columbus music scene, Dustin Rhinehart, and read:
“Q for my musician friends: Do you have a flexible source of income that gives you the freedom to tour/travel/dedicate enough time and energy to your art? Or are you limited by a job/career which only allows you to do the weekend warrior thing?“
As I'm want to do, I neglected to respond to this post. Sorry Dustin, Facebook just isn't a place where I like to spend much time discussing anything. But I was curious in other people’s responses, so I hit "turn on notifications for this post" and laid back as I waited for the solution of all solutions to present itself. Unfortunately, I can't say it did. But the myriad of replies presented a great case study of how music and art takes on very different roles in people's lives.
I feel like these types of questions come from a place of "how can I make being a musician work," so I thought it would be a good subject to address on this week's blog. There's a bit more of a philosophical argument related to identity, what we need in our lives, responsibilities to others, etc. that go along with the original question. So I'm going to breakdown some of the realities for me being a musician, working other jobs, and how it relates to my life.
Two years ago, I was a person who was limited by a job/career that only allowed me to do the weekend warrior thing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. People can feel happy by balancing their lives in a variety of ways. If you feel fulfilled by your career and life, and the time you spend on your art is making you happy, then all the power to you. But for me it wasn't working in respect to being the musician I wanted to be. Most of my week was occupied by my career in marketing. It led to a bit of an identity crisis. I would look at my life and ask "Am I 'James the musician' or 'James the marketing manager who plays music on the side.'” I felt like I had so much to do with music, but it was playing second fiddle to my marketing career. From a financial perspective, my job kept me comfortable. But the results were a home and stuff I didn't want or need. The importance of me working more on music outweighed that stuff, so I left that job.
It was a big step for me because my mindset shifted from "how can I make music work around my life," to "how can I make my life work around music." To start off, I focused on how I could adjust my costs and priorities instead of thinking about how much money I needed. After slashing the budget in certain areas of my life, It made the career change a lot less intimidating. Then I looked at what I was making in music and prioritized what was working to bring in money, which was performing.
So how's that working out? I'm happy to say I've reached a point that when I'm on tour, I'm making what I need. I play around 180 shows a year, so that's half the year covered. For the other half of the year...it’s dicey at best. I've only officially released 7 songs under Digisaurus, and while they provide some revenue through streaming/downloads/publishing royalties, it's pretty limited. Until I build up my catalog, I pick up extra work in other areas to fulfill the responsibilities to what I need when I'm off the road. That extra work comes in the form of small marketing projects, Uber/Lyft, other odd job apps, etc.
You could ask why I don't spend the entire year on tour, and I do know people who do that. But there are aspects unique to my life that I find harder to maintain when I’m out playing shows. They come in the form of long standing relationships, friends, family, and being a part of a community that inspires me to create. I place an emphasis on those things and would argue that I might not have much to say as an artist without them. I know I said my mindset switched to making my life revolve around music, but that doesn't mean to say I shouldn't have a life at all.
So that’s my balance right now. I read posts from people pointing out that even musicians on big labels and tours have to work bartending gigs, drive, or work odds jobs when they're home. And yeah, some do. But I know some who don't. They just have different needs in their lives to keep them happy. Just like the individual who's happy with a full time career and playing shows weekend warrior style. It’s all about what you want and actively working towards it. I’ve got some work to do before I’m completely “James the musician.” But I’m much happier being "James the musician who works *insert flexible job here* occasionally" than what I was before. The most important thing is that music is my priority and that makes me happy.