Best and Worst Day Jobs for Musicians

Bad news about the economy streams out of the media like water from a bucket these days. As I talked about in yesterday’s article, it’s clear from the closings of venues and performance groups that the economy is hitting musicians nationwide.  It’s possible some musicians are starting to look for temporary work outside of traditional musician income sources.  Also known as: a day job.

Below are two lists, first of good day jobs for musicians – and later of bad jobs for musicians.  Feel free to add your suggestions or stories in the comments.

The Best Day Jobs for Musicians

Temp Jobs

Temp work can range from data entry, to answering phones, to making copies. In other cases this can be an actual position in a corporation – for instance, if a company calls in a temp worker to cover the maternity or paternity leave of one of their full-time employees.

Temp jobs are attractive to musicians because the are flexible and usually pay relatively well ($18-30/hr in NYC for instance). Musicians can be attractive to temp agencies because they are usually highly educated and often very skilled in organization, follow-through and professionalism.

Companies that use temp or staffing services pay the temp agency directly, and the worker is then paid through the agency’s payroll. For this reason companies are rarely expected or required to extend the same benefits to temp workers that they offer their regular employees. Recent articles have reported that temp work may actually be on the rise in the current recession, as companies look for noncommittal and low-cost alternatives to hiring new employees (See: In bad economic times, companies turning to temp work).

Food Service

This includes waiter/waitress jobs, bartending, catering and other food and restaurant jobs. Artists are found so often in these jobs that it’s nearly expected that every waiter in LA and caterer in NYC is waiting for their big break into the entertainment business. Musicians excel in these jobs for the same reasons they excel elsewhere – they are intelligent and often highly educated, and, moreover, they frequently have the great interpersonal skills, charisma and self-confidence that accompany a life spent onstage.

For one lonely summer in 2002, I, personally, was the worst waiter to ever have worked at the Cracker Barrel in Bloomington, IN.  I have absolutely no skill for it.  Other friends, though, have told me that it’s possible to make $300 a night at the right place (and the right night).  So while you may not see me slinging drinks and burgers anytime soon, it’s something that you might want to look in to if you need a job.


Speaking of charisma, sales can sometimes be a good day job for confident musicians.  Successful freelance musicians spend a lot of their time networking and selling themselves the same way other salesmen do.  The difference, perhaps, is that musicians are not just selling a product – they are selling their product.  In the same way, a successful job in sales for musicians – I would imagine – would need to center around  product that they really believe in.

Bottom line, though, a sales job can be great for musicians because it’s possible to make decent of money and like the previous jobs, it could be flexible enough for you to continue your performance/teaching schedule.

Creative freelance work (design, editing, copy-writing)

This can be a tricky one.  Creative freelance work has to be hustled for, and that can take a lot of time and energy out of a musicians main, musical hustle.  But if these jobs come to you, they can be very rewarding.  Musicians are inherently creative people, and having creative output in another discipline (writing or designing for example) is sometimes refreshing.

For example, I once worked part time as a copywriter for an art company outside Chicago. I wrote a 200 page manual on how to teach children to draw. (Despite this I have no idea how to draw.) Another time I worked for a backend web developer as his graphic designer when he was in a pinch. Both jobs came and went after a few months, but I was glad for the creative outlet (and the cash!).


Have an idea for a book? Fictional? Instructional? Autobiographical? Get writing. You never know what will happen. For musicians that can write, a book could be just as valuable as an album. Think of the great musicians before you that have written successful books – Miles, Sebesky, Mingus, Ellington, Rimsky-Korsakov – all musicians and, later, authors.

Certainly this is a job that also requires some hustle, and may take some time to pay off – but think about it.  It could be worth it.

The Worst Day Jobs for Musicians

Full-time job in music business

You may disagree with me here, but fellow MW blogger Cameron Mizell himself – who you may remember worked for three years at a record label – told me to list this. According to Cam, and I believe he’s right, working a full-time desk job in the music industry may teach you a lot of things about how the business is run, but it’ll be long hours, little pay and – these days – a near constant threat of down-sizing.

On the other hand, working at a record label taught Cam a great deal of things that has made him not only a successful independent artist, but also a popular blogger, consultant and iMix celebrity. So you choose. Just remember that working in the music business is not the same as as working in the musician business.

Full-time corporate jobs

There are a lot of benefits to a corporate job. Stability, benefits, salary – the works. If that’s the gig you dig, then by all means you should do it. But as far as your career as a musician goes – it very well could kill your time and eventually your ambition. There isn’t a lot of flexibility in a 40-hour work week (with the exception of the weeks that it balloon to 60 hrs…70 hrs…80….). And soon you’re looking at that fat check you get from the payroll department…and it seems pretty comfortable. Maybe you weren’t meant to do music afterall…maybe you’ll just stay with the company a few more years… Then BAM! You start calling work a career and you start calling music a hobby. Ten years later your kid asks, “Dad, is that your guitar under the bed? I didn’t know you used to play guitar.”


Butcher/carpenter/that guy I recently saw on the Discovery channel that worked at a factory and was missing two fingers

Let’s say you go to your first day of work and you are paired up with a guy named “Lefty” who is missing two fingers on his right hand and will be training you. And your first responsibility is to stick your whole hand into the darkness of that big machine over there and…

Quit that job.

Also in this category is a suggestion from Cameron, who believes that becoming a bouncer at a club might be a bad gig. As he says, “Punching somebody in the face is a risky career move for a guitar player.” (Here, here.)

Essentially, this category includes any job that poses the imminent threat of mangling your hands or chops. Get OUT of there.

Published by

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn (@davidjhahn) is the co-founder of and a former Broadway conductor. He grew up near Chicago, lived in New York City, and settled in California. In 2012, he left the music business to found California Surfcraft, a San Francisco-based start-up that makes high-performance surf gear out of fiberglass-reinforced cork. He is the inventor of the Bodypo®, a sustainable alternative to the traditional bodyboard. He is a cancer survivor, an advocate for unlikely career paths, and, beginning in spring of 2015, a father.

97 thoughts on “Best and Worst Day Jobs for Musicians”

  1. I just stumbled onto your blog and totally dig where you guys are coming from. I worked in the music business for 12 years as a suit with a corner office on NYC’s prestigious Park Ave. I have to agree with Cameron, working in the music business does not necessarily enhance your musicianship. Yes, I got the gig primarily because of my musicianship but that was being compromised on a daily basis. I started taking less and less gigs and one to none in the students category. Currently, I’m teaching 25 to 30 students per week, am also taking lessons again, perform with a general biz band (Atlantic City and corporate events), and am one of those writer/musicians that you described above. I’m making less money and have no benefits but I am gaining back my soul back one gig and student at a time—and, it feels good.

    Ed L.

  2. I have a full time job or career that isn’t music related. I work as a fork lift operator making 40k a year only working 15 days a month. This is accomplished by the companies rotating 12hr shifts. That means i work 36hrs one week and 48 the next and back to 36 and so on. Now I will say that as of this time i am a career man and a part time musician but to me this isn’t a bad thing.
    I play an average of 3 times a week making 5-10k a year padding what I make in my day job. I also spend time in the recording studio putting down saxophone tracks for any local talent who wants it for a modest fee. I basically work for enough money to pay for my own studio time and it gives me plenty of contacts if lightning should strike, I could quit my day job and return as a full time musician if i chose to. There are many ways to continue being a musician even if you don’t want to spend it full time like many people do. Its a matter of what you want in life. I have the highest respect for full time musicians since I was one at one time. It is not for everyone and I miss it to a point but I play enough to keep myself happy.

  3. I agree full-time corporate job will kill the dream. I’ve had one for ten years, and haven’t played music professionally in all that time. I couldn’t even find a community theatre production I could participate in while maintaining my work obligations.

    So, what other choice have I got? I am over thirty, my half of the rent is $1300 (I live in New York City), and I have many other expenses as well. What other job can I take to meet my financial requirements that would leave me time to play/write/act/anything???

    For a while I had a great job that was easy, flexible hours, I could practically come and leave any time I wanted. BUT, I made less than HALF what I make at a “real” job. I ran up thousands in debt while working there as I was earning less than my day-to-day expenses. Only recently have I gotten pretty much paid up. Anything less than $50K a year is pretty much not an option for me.

    so now what????

    1. Sleep less maybe :-)

      I agree with you: working in the corporate environment is not good at all for musical ambition. The people I work with (bless their hearts, really: they are great at what they do) are some of the most drab and dreary, non-creative people I could possibly imagine, even their humour and day-to-day comments reflect it (again, they are ok actually, but that’s just how they are and it isn’t very conducive if you like to be surrounded by creativity and inspriration). However, it can’t be denied that the job pays the bills and that bills need to be paid.

      The only answer I can think of is find a bill-paying job that has a creative element to it. I’m considering that myself: spent a day in a classroom with a former full time musician turned high school music who had found a normal day job that fit with his music very well. Quite inspiring too as he was developing young people as well as catering to his creativity.

      So maybe that is a good option: look for jobs that enhance your creative side, or at least look for ones that don’t hinder it.

    2. Karen, I hear you!! I’m in the same position now that you were then; worked a “career” job in the music business for over 7 years and have since been waitressing and trying to find any sort of creative / not too time consuming job that will pay me enough to get rid of my debt and get me by. Where did you end up since this post?? I would love to hear your story, as I really aspire to do music and only music in the future, but have no idea how without resigning myself to being a full time waitress for the forsee-able future.

  4. I feel ya’ Karen!!!

    I’m in the same boat… I drive a truck for a living (wife is not presently working) and I feel trapped due to the need for the company benefits and the wages I cannot replace with music if I were to quit suddenly. I can’t afford to quit!

    The problem with this job is I work from 9 am to 9 pm and have a 30 minute commute to St. Cloud, MN.
    Then, when I do get home from work, I have another 30 mile commute to Minneapolis if I were to have gig. That puts me there about 11 pm (if I shower and get dressed at home before commuting!)

    No band will tolerate that sort of “commitment”. The best I’ve been able to do is either work on Saturday night (only) or as a sub when the band is desperate enough to deal with my shitty hours of availability.
    I have so little time for music, which is my passion so I resort to writing on the weekends… but, “it’s better than nothing” (…is my mantra). — Andy

  5. hey,

    I’m from the Uk, 29 and a pro drummer. I feel for all those musicians out there sucking it in crappy jobs. I’m on job number 32 now having temped in offices, done contract work, gardening, meter reading, bar name it i’ve done it! None of it has been for good money either so it’s tough paying rent and having the essential extra for rehearsals/ equipment/ transport.

    I got lucky for 3 year and got in a signed band on a major but we got dropped and i went straight back to a call centre vowing i’d never do it again…imagine touring the world, playing arena support slots to come straight bakck to where you wasn’t pretty

    I picked myself up again and started gradually getting session work and bit and pieces..still got the day job but gradually getting back into playing. My point here is you really do have to keep going, if you believe you’re good then just go for it! Don’t be afraid to take a few risks, you never know what will happen. But don’t expect too much either, just enjoy the ride. That applies to life. good luck!

  6. I am a full time music teacher at a public school and though the pay isn’t bad the hours are somewhat inflexible. You can’t just take off when you want to take off. The bonus is that you have summer off where I normally dedicate more hours. However during the year my job is exhausting which makes rehersal difficult sometimes.

    1. I hear ya on that! I’m lucky enough to do music more or less full-time now, but early on I did a ton of classroom teaching and found that, in addition cutting into my touring availability, it really wore my voice out. Loved them kiddos, though.

  7. dear all,
    I’ve just come across this site and have read all the entries with
    Music has always been important to me, as it clearly is to all of you.
    For us it has always been a balance between our love and the rent!
    I live in the UK and teach part-time, which i have found is the only
    way i can find the time to take on my private students and work on my
    own projects.
    As long as you can find a way of keeping your dream alive somehow,to
    “FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT cannot be a bad thing.


  8. My day time jobs is sales, I can make a good presentation about a product talk about it for hours etc. but my problem is I for some reason cant sell my self as a performing musician, I ocacionally play(on call) on fancy restaurants and corporate parties yet its so hard for me to find key people to talk to in those venues, then when I finally make the right contacts they seam not to interested in my product even thou I offer an audition. so what Am I doing wrong here ?…I dont know how to approach booking agents either..

    1. Cameron brought up a very good point. Basically when you are selling music, you are selling self-confidence. Your music should speak for itself right? It does to a point, but you have to appear to be fearless. Musicians often have quirky personalities that get them far. Look at Soulja Boy and some of these ridiculous little-to-no- talent rappers/musicians. They are themselves to a fault, and that is what has gotten them to where they want to be. I suggest you try listening to your intuition and be as enthusiastic as possible about it. By this I mean, when you hear the little voice in your head that says “that person looks like he’s important and could help me out,” listen to it. Don’t take your fear of the situation into account, go up to him and enthusiastically introduce yourself! However, take some time to watch him/her first and see what they do, how they act, catch on to the little details… then find a way to connect. Connecting to people is what makes you memorable. Be yourself, if you know you’re a musician and you know you’re good, just go all out. Once you believe in yourself, other people will start believing in you too. :)

      Best of luck.

    2. Buyers want numbers, plain and simple. Find that little open mic slot or free gig that you can play every week, and beg your friends and family to show up and buy a round or two. Then, when you tell the next buyer you drew 20 souls at your last set, they’ll be that much more likely to give you that Thursday opening slot you’ve had your eye on, and so on.

  9. @John – Make a list of what you love about your favorite artists when you see them perform. Then make a video of yourself performing. How many of those things are you doing? It’s hard to look at ourselves from an outside perspective, but if your product isn’t selling, maybe it just needs a little work. Get the opinions of people who you respect, and make sure they’re constructive. There’s always SOMETHING to work on, sometimes it’s just a matter of identifying it.

  10. “It’s possible some musicians are starting to look for temporary work outside of traditional musician income sources. Also known as: a day job.”

    *Insert lightning-horror-psycho-bathroom-scene sound fx here*


  11. I have enough trouble managing my time for music while going to school For music… so I definitely see the value in this post. Having a flexible job would be ideal, and it makes sense that a musician would not want a job in which there is a high risk of injury. Thanks for the insight on what makes a good day job.

  12. Great post!

    Have you ever considered online surveys? There are legitimate websites out there who are willing to pay for people’s honest opinions and if you sign up with a bunch, you can end up making a lot of extra money from it. And since musicians are busy people to begin with, you can do as many surveys as you feel you are able.

  13. I completely agree about the full time music company job. While I learned a lot at the publishing company and labels I worked for in LA, the 9-5 schedule and constant stress over other people’s music really killed my ambition. It took quitting and moving out of LA to be inspired to write music again. Who knows what will come or if it was a good move in the long run, but creatively..I think it was.

  14. Hi

    I have found that a good job for a musician is to be a teaching assistant. The hours are normally from 9 am to 3 pm, and you can often get part time work. Some schools give you free lunch too. But, reflecting on earlier blog posts, it’s all about how much risk you are prepared to take. In order to have time to practice, promote yourself etc, it’s hard to hold down a 9-5 monday to friday job.


  15. Waiting tables does work if you can work mostly lunch shifts. Don’t make the mistake of taking on weekend night shifts because the tips are better. I did and quit playing for a couple of years.

    Federal or State government jobs are pretty good day jobs for musicians. Pretty much limited to no more than 40 hours a week and you accrue leave that you can take for those gigs where you need to travel out of town. The paid holidays and insurance are nice too.

  16. I totally agree with the whole Temp job thing. I’m currently at a temp agency that only really had me do Security work, but hey! It’s great security work that I had done. There is nothing wrong with being a temp if you’re skilled in a lot of things. In a way, it’s like being a freelance musician. You get contracted through your agency to do something for a company that they don’t have enough of at the moment, or you’re filling in for someone for a little while. Either way, you get money.

    Personally, I believe that some seasonal jobs are good for musicians too. Let’s do the math of someone who I knew up in Seattle who made a KILLING

    1. May I ask where that place was up in Seattle?? I am living in Seattle and would like to find out more about seasonal work. Thanks so much! I am working musician (opera singer)!

  17. I totally agree with the whole Temp job thing. I’m currently at a temp agency that only really had me do Security work, but hey! It’s great security work that I had done. There is nothing wrong with being a temp if you’re skilled in a lot of things. In a way, it’s like being a freelance musician. You get contracted through your agency to do something for a company that they don’t have enough of at the moment, or you’re filling in for someone for a little while. Either way, you get money.

    Personally, I believe that some seasonal jobs are good for musicians too. Let’s do the math of someone who I knew up in Seattle who made a KILLING with part time jobs. Let’s say that I did what he did. Here’s how it would be:

    Let’s start at minimum wage. In Oregon, it’s $8.40/hr. If I had enough jobs to work 15 hours a day each day of the week, then $8.40 x (15 x 7) = $882/wk before taxes. That’s really not that bad. That’s $3,528/month. My friend did this for 6 months only doing a BUNCH of part time jobs and he lived at his mom’s house. $21,168 is what he made for busting his butt 15 hours every single day for 6 months straight, then he quit all of those jobs (except for a couple) and went back to school.

    Think about it. Bust your butt for 6 months straight then live totally on your own and work 20 hours or less each week which would be more than enough to just basically be pocket money. Now, let’s do the same math for my friend in Washington. It’s $8.55/hr which isn’t much more, but check out the final 6 month number:


    Not much higher, but my point is that it’s so worth it to just live off of your hard work for 6 months – 1 year. Also, if you work many part time jobs and just work til you make RIGHT under $600 for any one place and you don’t have to pay federal income taxes on it! How nice is that?

  18. I’m a composer/producer (electronic musician) and former pro basketball player. I made a decent amount of money playing in Europe and Mexico, after I left college, and have been living off of it for the last four years while I taught myself how to compuse/produce music on my computer. Long story short, the money ran out and I’m 1/3 of the way through creating my first unique, authentic, and sufficiently original musical idea. I am now faced with an oppressive, mentally disorganizing, and depressing reality. In spite of the fact that the music I’m making requires my full-time attention and dedication (who doesn’t feel this way at least a little bit?), I’m forced to jump into the job market. Of course, at this point I have a four year gap in my employment history (really, the last non-basketball job I had was in 1999), which will undoubtedly be interpreted as a purposeful failure to disclose unflattering employment experience on my part. But, that’s not really what I’m wrestling with. I’m considering going into financial ruin, and further into the margins of society, in order to continue making music. Suffice it to say that I would do nearly anthing to continue creating music at the same pace and with the same frequency that I have been making it. I don’t feel like I exist without it. I lose all since of time (mostly past and future) without it, and I feel aimless and completely empty. I feel it’s only fair to mention that as an infant I was hidden under a table in an abandoned restaraunt every day by my nanny until I was old enough to open the door and walk out (only to be given to another nanny who would burn my feet on the stove when I cried). I’d love to hear from anyone who makes music compulsively and who becomes psychologically decompensated without it (anyone whose personality functioning depends on constant music-making).

    1. Man Mace I feel you. Really, I do… compulsively… emotionally and pyschologically committed… lost time… things that happen in our lives are amazing for creating music… my songs and lyrics are riddled with phsyco babble and my sound wreaks of my spiritual and emotional challenges… all I can say is do what you must! if you feel compelled to do it… DO IT! if this is you and it helps you then do it… would love to hear your music…

  19. Hey Mace – you’ve got a great story, man. Pro ball overseas? Sounds like you’ve had an interesting life.

    You’ve got a good thing going with your music too. Here’s what I would say, though: you gotta think more long term. A music career is a marathon, not a sprint. And sometimes you have to stop for water if you’re going to make it the whole way. You’ll do your music a disservice if you live a life that creates a negative situation (ie, totally broke, stressed, not eating, etc.) in order to create your music. Put another way, music is not a punishment, so don’t ruin your life in order to do it.

    Give a day job a chance. Everybody that has written for this site has had a crappy day job at some point. It’s part of the life. And it’s often not forever.

    Your a pro athlete, you’ve got the discipline to keep your eye on the prize. Don’t be afraid of stopping for water.

  20. David,

    Wow. I guess my thinking had become pretty rigid. It’s funny. I usually get annoyed when crazy people use blogs and boards to vent and receive unsolicited counsel; and here I was spewing my guts out. Truth be told, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed, insecure, and in need of an external perspective. Thank you very much for your nice comment. You genuinely helped me. I was at the end of my rope, so it seemed. I really needed a shot of reality couched in reasonable and dignified terms. Thank you for that. I think aspiring (unpaid) musicians tend to get treated in an undignified fashion. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this observation.

    Since your kind-hearted response, a local marketing agency selected my music for a promotional video they were doing for a luxury car company. No money yet, but they were excited about my music, so I’m optimistic. Also, upon reading your response, I took a job as an unarmed gaurd at a local shopping center. I ride a bike around a parking lot for 6 hours a day, thereby killing two birds with one stone (I gained nearly 50 pounds since I stopped playing basketball and started sitting in a chair for 10+ hours a day).

    The transition from full to part-time musician has actually been beneficial. I now spend a greater amount of time planning what I will do once I get in front of the computer, and am thusly more efficient and focused. I could never have guessed this would be the case. Apparently, alot of my time as a full-time (unpaid) musician was spent spinning my wheels. My thinking had become so stagnate that I never would have forseen such a positive outcome.

    So, once again, thank you for your eloquent response to my comment. As you might have guessed from my short background, I don’t have much of a social-safety-net (I come from a family of bat-shit-crazies). So, your blog and your response to my comment were exactly what I needed to hear at a very crucial point in my life.

    Your newly-dedicated reader,


    P.S. The email I listed in this comment is my actual email address. Sorry about the first one.

    1. Hey John –

      Wow man, that’s incredible. Thank you so much for writing. I’m really impressed with your resilience and positivity – it’s not easy to make these kinds of huge life changes. I’ve shared your comment with another musician and we’re both really taken with your perspective on the day job. It’s really intriguing that you feel more focused when you sit down to music – heck, maybe we should get a day jobs! That sounds like a really positive outcome.

      I’m honored to have you as a reader. Please keep in touch.


  21. Very insightful. Great points. I feel lucky because it only took me 1 year to realize that I was NOT cut out for corporate America.Not only that, I’ve become an expert at not getting sick and staying away from germs due to no health insurance. lol.

    Overall I’m in between gigs now, so the money is just enough, but I too get worried and wonder if there are some plan b options for supplemental income. This article gave some great advice!

  22. I’ve come across and have been reading this blog all morning now and have to say thank you, it’s a great blog and I’m learning a lot. I’m a drummer for 25 years (self taught) and have been struggling with issues related to day jobs for quite a while.

    Since I was a kid just starting out on drums all I ever wanted to be was a full time rock star (didn’t we all). I played in some great bands and came close to making it but it just never quite panned out. At around 30 I gave up pursuing that dream to get married and have kids etc.

    I’ve always had day jobs usually as a laborer or driver of some sort but at this point I was giving up music and had to find a career. I tried everything from selling cars to being a cop and then back to driving trucks. I could only stand being away from music for a couple of years so I started playing in cover bands on the weekends to satisfy my musical craving and still be able to work during the week. This has worked for the past 6 or so years but every time I change jobs I think about being able to play full time.

    In this economy I was laid off a while ago from a good paying union driving job and haven’t been able to find much in the way of good paying local work since. On top of that my wife and I are on the verge of bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorce. Since we are separating and losing the house I feel like the silver lining in all this is now maybe the chance to find a way to play full time. I’ve been on unemployment for a while and since that was extended for another 26 weeks I have time.

    I am looking into another day job just in case but I’m also looking into getting into a full time touring band and maybe getting some more contacts and doing some session work as well. I’m a rock/pop/country type drummer so finding something shouldn’t be too hard. I think now may be the time for me to finally pursue the dream I gave up on 8 years ago.

    I’m not sure what all this has to do with the above article but it sure feels good to get it off my chest and who knows, maybe make a contact for some work in music. Thanks.

  23. Hello David,

    I’ve been going through your site and I applaud what you’re doing here. Great information and helpful insights. I’ll keep a lot of them in mind.

  24. Hey! It’s me again.
    How do you work a non-music-related day job and a reputation as a capable musician into your college education? What do you major in?

  25. Hey everyone – good discussions.

    I’m a computer programmer in my day job and have been playing the drums for over 10 years. Once in a while I’ll take calls to play in a community theater pit and jam with my band of friends. I’ve been trying to get back into the community by teaching lessons on nights and weekends. It seems that every studio/shop that gives lessons in my area is looking for people with college degrees in music! Is this a normal request? It’s not like I can’t read music or anything like that.

    I really love playing and would like to teach. I just feel like I’ve never gotten in touch with a music community, though.

  26. I have just stumbled upon your very useful page..and before I go on I must thanks you for this these hard economic times it’s much needed..I have managed to be a full time musician (Blues guitarist and vocals) for the past thirty years …I have found a mix of clubwork..divework…performing in psychiatric facilities through a great organization called Hospital Audiences Inc….but mostly I have been performing in the Subway under the MTA Music Under new York banner..this gig is like doing an all day audition for the thousands of people who pass my I garner a lot of opportunities here that I could not find anywhere has been an incredible adventure…however with the plummeting economy and the rampid new technology having everyone plugged into somewhere seems like the end of the dream..yes…the dreaded day job…it has been so long since I,ve had one that it is downright “SPOOKY”….I expect to be checking in here frequently for ideas and support….THANKS AGAIN..Luke

  27. I’m just about to graduate with a math degree but I decided literally last week to become a musician! (must have been that new bass I bought) I’ve been playing electric guitar since I was 15 (now 25) and I was totally into it for a few years but never got very good because I didn’t know how to practice. Then afterwards I got distracted with college and so forth and the guitar kind of gathered dust. I really thought I wanted to be an economics professor but then I became disillusioned with academia and quit grad school, thinking I’ll work on this math degree while I decide what to do. I’m pretty disillusioned with corporate culture as well, not that I’ve had a corporate job but I don’t see it fitting my personality at all. I’ve had this war going on in my head for the last year about whether I should try to be a writer or a musician, and if so which one. Or if I could possibly do both. So finally I decided to focus on music, with maybe a little writing on the side. But that leaves the question of what to do for money while I’m getting good at music.

    So it was great reading the article and the comments, but I still haven’t found a resolution. Right now it seems like my options are these:

    1. Full-time professional career, music on the side. Looks like the possibilities are being actuary (calculate risk in insurance) or working for the government. Probably neither of which I’d enjoy that much, but perhaps I could grow to like it some. It would probably be more enjoyable than a lot of jobs anyway. And of course the money would be good. But I’m worried about this sapping my time and energy.

    2. Working part time as tutor or teacher’s assistant. I’ve been tutoring for the last year and I’ve grown to like it moderately. I find it to be very low stress, rewarding when I successfully explain things, and at the same time not boring because I’m always trying to improve my ability to explain things. The pay is meh though. But perhaps I could get a higher paying tutoring job or maybe I can look into being a teacher’s assistant.

    So I’m just totally stuck about what to do: if I could limit my hours to 40/week then should I go with option 1? But on the other hand should I try to work as few hours as possible to maximize time for music, and forget about the money? Does 5-10 fewer hours a week make that much difference anyway? Also I had this crazy idea of going all out with being an actuary, even though I’m not that attracted to the field, but if you pass all the tests you can make upwards of like $100,000/year…then maybe I could just quit and live off of that haha. But then I’m worried about this: “Then BAM! You start calling work a career and you start calling music a hobby. Ten years later your kid asks, “Dad, is that your guitar under the bed? I didn’t know you used to play guitar.””

    This is such a hard choice! Can anyone give me some advice?

  28. Hi,
    what ever you do, do it for yourself.

    By that, I mean, become self employed.
    What ever skill you have, just start your own business doing it. I used to repair TVs and VCRs etc, and if I had to leave early on a Friday afternoon to go to a gig, well no prob I just let the phone go to voice mail. As long as you call people back next day you’ll be cool, I always had more work than I could handle.

    I knew a guy who washed cars, he had a few regular clients and car yards on Mon/Tue/Wed, then he had the rest of the week to do gigs and practice etc.

    Maybe you can program, or do books, or whatever – just do it for yourself.

  29. I’ve been a “part-time pro” guitarist AND a full-time piano technician since the mid-1980s, and it’s worked very well for me. With four kids to support, I simply couldn’t rely solely on music income. The two fields have actually dovetailed nicely a number of times over the years–some contacts I made through the piano service work then led me to performance opportunities.

    A friend of mine who’s a very busy pianist also has a great day job, given his background: piano sales!

  30. This is an awesome forum. Good info for all. My personal status at the time being is working at a Dental lab as a driver delivering crowns to Dr.’S offices locally. I work 7am-5pm mon-thurs.,but on fridays we get off at 11am due to that being most of the Dr.’S hours. Its a really great job to have flexible hours and the early fridays really give plenty of time to get ready for where ever I’m playing that weekend. I have mainly had driving jobs for the last 8 years due to the ability to get my own things done while I’m on the clock. I can pass out and drop off flyers for my shows,which is a big help. I’m 31 tomorrow,and of course I would love to be doing music full-time,but I’m not disappointed with where I am,even after 15 years of giving it all I have. Playing Death Metal isn’t really about the money,but we do make enough playing gigs and merch sales that we haven’t had to come out of pocket for anything since 2002. Main thing is,like most of you guys have said already,do your music until you just can’t afford to,and even then,make a plan to get some money out of a job and get back to it again. With this recession tho,I see a lot of my friends bands breaking up all over the country due to lack of work to even save up for a tour,much less afford the expenses that come along with doing one,and then playing catch up when you get back. Tough time these days. Good luck to all and I hope to see all of you on the “grass is greener side” Boosh! Jason-Louisiana!

  31. this is a great article and everyone’s comments are reassuring… somtimes I feel alone in all this, but I can’t stop writing and playing… i’m comitted emotionally and spiritually and have busted my self-employed rear forever just so I can afford the freedom to express myself through music… I feel I’m finally getting really great at writing and playing and look forward to sharing my sounds with the world… thank you for this article and everyones input… best of luck to all of us!

  32. I’m going to start working full-time and I’m kind of freaked out to be honest, but the fear is so high that I have a feeling it will fuel me to work even harder. I’ve tried odd jobs, temping, freelancing and could never find enough work to pay the bills, to move out and the creative freedom was great, I took the time to do my first professional EP recording and get my name out there and gig regularly however the stress of being broke eventually took over…

    I’m going to try getting up a bit earlier in the morning, giving myself a 15 min promote time during lunch and
    practicing atleast 30 mins when I get home and another 30 mins for contacting bookers, promo etc.

    I’m hoping with discipline I can chip away at being a full time musician while at work full time. this being said I know working full time I won’t obviously have time to promote like I did before so I’m going to try and assemble
    a team of people that I can pay & reward to help me with PR etc, I.E students who want to experience music PR, managing, etc. to be honest, I just like focusing on the songwriting so If i can find something to take care of the business aspects well I focus on gigs and delivery then I’m a happy gal.

    I figure there are people probably 10 times busier then me who manage to still successfully run their lives, so if they can do it, why can’t I?

    no, don’t get me wrong, i’ve worked full time jobs where I’ve been to tired to pick up my guitar, but I guess my drive now is different from my drive 5 years ago.

    good luck to us ALL!


  33. Hi All,

    I’m a violinist. I play in two bands…one gospel and one fusion/rock based. I currently work full time as an assistant at a performing arts center in NYC. Having a full time job was always instilled in my upbringing. As a musician it’s very hard. The longer I work here the harder it has become. Gigging until 12am on a Monday morning only to get home by 2am…then to be up and functioning and make it to work by 9am…has been a struggle! I’m currently recording a project for this gospel artist based out in CT…so that means traveling to and from CT on the weekends…I struggle with time as it is. Somehow it manages to all work in the end. Yes, having a full time job is draining and a major buzz kill to your creativity. However, it’s steady income. If it’s something that you love…you’ll find a way to make it work. The key is to stay encouraged. I was so happy to find that I’m not the only musician that is going through this. We have to encourage each other!!! Whenever a major disaster strikes or people need help…do you ever notice that music is the number one thing that gives people comfort? Yet, music is always the first program cut out of schools, the first program that is looked at as a “hobby”. It’s a shame! Don’t let anyone tell you that your career as a musician is just a hobby…if it’s you’re passion…pursuit it by any means necessary!

  34. First of all I want to say to each and every musician “Please keep moving forward!” We have all witnessed time and time again that when the economy takes a hit we are hit yet again. Musician wages are certainly the lowest on the salary list and with the competition of other entertainment and DJ’s those with musical talent remain sufering. I have been reading quite a few replys and I came across this page seeking the answer of a question which was whether or not live music was dying. With the closing of venues, noise reduction, restrictions and all of the usual complications associated with gigs, it has really become difficult to make a living as a musician. I too work during the day at a full time job which became a career years ago. I never forgot the “have something to fall back on” speech during my youth. And I, just like many of us, have suffered musically because of the need to pay the rent.

    I will say that we musicians have been faced with many complications and during the tough times we can always find our way out of reality through our music. But we have to find a way to endure tough times in the reality of tough times. Maybe its time for musicians to support musicians to ensure that the venues seeking a head count always reaches that head count. This does not mean that the band wont get stiffed because there are some inexperienced bands going through that now. But I think that if we start supporting each other we may be able to counter these rough times economically.

  35. So great to find out I’m not the only musician who does freelance graphic design to make sure some money comes in. And also amazing to find out it was a smart move, since I feel the same way about 9-to-5s and the risk they pose.

    Thank you for this article.

  36. First of all, I can’t believe I’ve been a musician for so long and NEVER KNEW THIS SITE WAS HERE. I have been reading all the articles, and just have to say THANK YOU for all the help and encouragement I’ve already found here!

    About the day job issue: there’s a balance that must be found. I agree that temp jobs and/or part-time jobs are the best option, for a couple reasons. One, the pay is often good, like you said, and the hours are flexible. Two, the emotional commitment to a full-time corporate-type job can absolutely kill the passion and creativity necessary to write and perform your glorious music! Three, and I have totally found this to be true! the things you learn from taking a temporary job that’s perhaps outside your normal sphere of knowledge can make you grow as a musician.

    For example, I took a temporary job with a local women’s advocacy center raising awareness about sexual assault. The personal growth I experienced during the two months I had that job deepened and changed me as a musician, too. It was an incredible experience.

    I also really agree about NOT taking a day job “in the business”. I ran an art gallery/music venue, thinking that a full-time job in another creative area would be fun. Instead, all my creative energy and people skills were WIPED OUT by this job! My husband actually offered to pay me himself if I would quit and focus on music, because I was so miserable.

    (That reminds me that having a partner who “gets” and supports your music is pretty much the best gift a musician can give to him or herself.)

  37. Ok, and now I’ve read the rest of the posts too, and just thought I’d add a bit more:

    My job I’m at now does have the advantage of being reasonably flexible in terms of time-off. You just need to give them reasonable notice, so that side of it has been good.

    I fully agree with the comment that someone made about seasonal work: I used to work as a sheep shearer/farm worker. When the season was on it was ridiculously busy but the pay was excellent and the time off was fairytale stuff: I think that I would usually have about 2-3 months off a year, normally. And a skilled person in that type of field could probably earn more than a lot of regular, salaried workers (where I am anyway). So fully agree with that comment, although I guess you need to be somewhere a bit rural for it to work, but yeah a lot of the really good musicians in my area are sheep shearers.

    And finally for what it’s worth, being rural isn’t such a bad thing either these days if you have a good broadband connection. You have the benefits of the type of work and lifestyle that a more rural setting has to offer, plus you can still have access to good music resources and discussions over the net.

    So being rural can be very good for developing your music if you are inclined to give that a try.

  38. Great conversation. I’ve been working odd jobs here in NY, scraping by, being taken advantage of, and in the end, my creativity has been stifled by my stress and lack of stability. By some miracle, I just landed a full time Elementary school music teacher gig that begins in a month!! I know it is going to be a huge commitment, and take a lot out of me, especially the first year, but I’m hoping that if I keep a good attitude and approach it as the meaningful kind of work it is, if approached the right, way, it will also create a lot of personal satisfaction. I know of some professional musicians with big names here in ny who are able to live in both worlds. I hope I can too. Does anyone else here have a similar situation or know of people who have??? Looking forward to finally being able to GO TO THE DOCTOR TOO!!!! thanks to all have contributed to this discussion!

    1. I’n in Florida and work as a math teacher in addition to performing most weekends with bands / duets. The schedule works out nicely, I have plenty of time to rehearse and free weekends. Doesn’t work so well when there are weeknight shows to play, but I try to book the weeknight stuff close to home.

  39. I think the best thing a musician can do is 1.Be the best at what they do so people come looking for them.
    2. Do everything possible to stay out of debt.Period.
    3. Be willing to live in a van, for real.Whether its because you are constantly on the road or you just don’t want to pay rent.
    4.Play with people who are willing to sacrifice as much as you are. Having a great band with guys that can’t give their all is a hobby.Its heartbreaking.
    5.Be willing to do whatever it takes but have a plan.

    I ran my own business to be able to tour when I wanted. It was good for a while but eventually the business grew and it became hard to do both. I left the business to focus on a real estate deal to get out of debt and be free to play full time. Things went sideways and I lost everything. Good news, lots of material to be written from it. Bad news, emotionally crushing and now in a bigger hole. Worse news , band no longer doing much. (we had a car accident while on the road that smashed two of the guys and we lost all our momentum and drive.) We still play once in a while but the dream is dead. It happens.12 years going hard, having fun, no regrets. I just finished the first draft of a book (The Bad Times Bible, a field manual for young men in crisis) that I hope to get published. I plan on using my experience as a touring musician to help market the book. (songs and stories nights etc) I just got laid off and am probably going to drive a dump truck for awhile to make ends meet while I see this book process through. Bottom line, be willing to do any kind of work and be willing to starve,(with the right people you won’t notice it as much) keep your dreams alive and do whatever it takes to get where you want to go. Remember, the “bad” stuff in life makes the best song material. If you can’t afford a shrink, write music! Good luck everyone!
    Pete (

  40. During the nineties I was in a very good band that played metal with hardcore punk overtones, not what the industry was looking for. What I did to make ends meet was I learned how to be a hairstylist, it was the perfect day job. I was able to work the best hours in my mind 11-7 not to early not to late, my clientele actually didn’t mind that my looks were a little odd ( most companies wouldn’t hire me on my looks alone! ) most clients thought it was very cool that I was a musician also, not to mention they were a captive audience for at least an half hour! Self promotion was as simple as going to work, plus the added bonus of most young guys I know want to play in a band to meet women, but when you play the heavy stuff you don’t seem to attract as many as you would like to see. We never had a shortage of female fans, so much so that at times I thought why play in a band my day job pays better and I have better luck with women as a hairstylist than a musician. Keep in mind though to be great you have to put in your all. While I was young both were great gigs to juggle but eventually I had to pick one over the other due to an unrelated injury so these days I’m happy to be a poor musician, sad to say though I miss my day job!

  41. Oh boy! I never reply to blogs but this one deserves it. I feel each and every one of you posters! I dont need to tell my story because all of you know it already. You’re living it too. Anyway, I have a serious struggle inside. After years of unsatisfying job hopping and career changes, I’ve decided to use my GI bill for a degree. Not because I finally figured out what to do with my life, but because time is running out. I don’t want to sound like musician number 5,456,346,009 and say that music is my life…But it is the ONLY thing I can stand to do for hours upon hours with my time. Sometimes I forget to eat while making music. I’m 34 and I act like a 6 year old playing with toys when my wife says it’s time to eat dinner. Sends chills down my back and I yell back “I’m busy! in a minute!” I promise I am a good husband, on the outside. On the inside, I’m still thinking about what I’m working on.
    Back to my dillema.. Some days I feel like I’m too old and I need to give up already and just go for engineering and be done with it. I can still make music in my spare time and maybe pass on dreams to a child and hope he or she makes it big. Other days I feel like I just need to jump into one of those 80 grand tuition production schools like Full Sail or something. I know the job market is weak for music.. but somebody out there is still doing it and why can’t it be me? The reason I haven’t picked a school is because you only get one chance at the GI Bill and if I blow it on a Glamour school like Full sail and still have to work boring old technical/factory jobs then I’ll feel really really bad. The safe thing to do is get a regular degree in engineering or my latest idea was the broadcasting and communitations arts which has a little bit of audio production invovled and could land a job i think.
    Has anyone else tailored their education or career goals to fit their music passion? If so what did you do? I’m not talking about any old day jobs. I can get those easy. I’m talking about methodicly planning out a career that you can do that enhances or supports your creativity for your own music. I’m just tired of job hopping because of frustration and boredom.

    1. Tough call man. These are the times when you need to get away and find a quiet place where you can really think and feel in your guts what you want to do. I have also found that sometimes the decisions we make seem to all make sense in the end. This is a pretty big one because it is a one time thing (G.I. Bill) Talk to people you trust and keep doing gut checks. I know how you feel, lots of us do! In the end, you will make music regardless, it is just deciding in what capacity you want to do it in.Good luck!

  42. Hey everyone,

    Thanks for sharing all of your stories. It means a lot to know that there are others who can’t fully enjoy life without music having a major part. I will soon be diving into the make-or-break industry and hustle that is professional music. I came to the city to earn my Masters in Music and have been able to network and have been fortunate and sometimes lucky to work with great people and gain many opportunities outside of performance (music advising, contracting, etc.).

    The irony of being in a city hub for music is that most musicians – in this economy, particularly – will be forced to leave the places where music culture grows in order to secure work in a less elite and highly competitive environment. And the lack of community support, alone, can seriously alter someone’s ambitions to “keep on.”

    So I think its necessary and essential for white-collar professionals and full-time musicians to connect with one another and play together. That way a support system exists in both worlds. As I near my last semester of graduate school, I am quite terrified of work prospects. The only advice I can give myself is research like crazy! Don’t stop until you find the right work with the right people. Its an axiom for life, not just in this context.

    I welcome and appreciate anyone’s two cents.

    Thanks for starting this discussion, David!

  43. Thank you for any other wonderful article. Where else could anyone get that type of info in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the search for such information.

  44. This article is great and I’ll like to add that it was written in 2009 and lots have changed since. the current economy is tanking (tanked), and job outlooks are terrible.

    You have to consider what you want in life (property, car, independence) and look for work accordingly. You have to make ends meet and the quality of life you desire will dictate whither you choose to be a musician or not.

    The toughest part is getting work as a musician, sure you can always teach but what about playing? recording? writing?

    How much time and money it will take before the work is sustainable?

  45. I am a college dropout in my mid-twenties who has been working random minimum wage jobs for several years. I have been considering returning to school to become a scientific illustrator. I am only considering this because I have a natural talent for realistic drawing, which I discovered as a small child and developed throughout my teenage years. I can definitely say objectively that I have a talent for it, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t even consider such a specialization. The field is small, and competitive, but a good for those who have the ability and you can make good money freelancing if you have the business savvy. I would have to return to school to finish my bachelors and then move on to grad school for two years (into a very small, competitive program!). My point is, do you think such a path could mesh ok with being a musician? I am very passionate about music, I love to write and play, and it will be a lifelong pursuit. However, I feel I must have some way to support myself…and either continually working dead-end minimum wage jobs and never having enough money, or just picking something like business or accounting purely for money purposes, would be a path I regret.

  46. Sales, depending on what kind of sales you are in, could actually be a bad idea. I am in sales in the insurance industry and it has actually all but killed my music career. You will have to focus so much time on prospecting you will not have time for music, so if its a sales job that will require you to prospect, run away as fast as you can!

  47. There’s no such thing as a good day job for a musician. That’s been my experience. I’m a musician that’s been working full-time, non-music related jobs to support myself (mostly in retail and in call centers) since completing a college music program not that long ago. I’m striving towards becoming a full-time musician, but I need to get more established first.

    The problem is that working even a menial job comes with expectations to take it seriously, like any career. This creates a conflict of interest for myself as a musician since music is my passion, and music is what my life revolves around.

    To me having a day job is merely a means to an end to pay the bills, while I focus on establishing myself more as a musician. I’m not really serious about anything at any day job aside from doing my job properly and getting paid. I don’t mind the kind of work that I do, since I think that if I were in a higher-paying day job I would have even more responsibilities and less time for music.

    I find that if I get emotionally invested in a day job (which I’ve done a couple of times), it detracts from my music. I’ll be thinking way too much about the job even on my own time, and it takes my concentration away from music. When I’m at work I put my mind in another place as much as I can to avoid thinking about work too much. My mind isn’t a light switch that allows me to turn off the thoughts of the work day so that I can lead my double-life as a musician at night.

    I always do a good job everywhere I work and I’m friendly, but I think there’s something about me that says my priorities are elsewhere. I’ve found myself having conversations with co-workers who will only talk about work, even on break, when I’d rather be talking about or listening to music. I rarely have anything to add to the conversation since to me this type of work is essentially a chore, but for them a career. I’m never rude or anything, I’m just not that into it.

    Generally speaking, employers want someone who will dedicate themselves to their job, making it their number one priority, and a means of self-identity. A musician dedicated to their passion first, like myself, is unable to give this level of dedication to their day job. Consider how musicians may on a regular basis miss days of work, come in late or leave early, or come into work sleepy from a late night out, etc.

    Musicians are seen as bad employees, and I’ve been accused at work of drug use (completely false) and living a certain stereotypical lifestyle as soon as co-workers found out that I was a musician. I was actually fired from my last job for such reasons. I’ve decided that it’s probably best to keep my musical identity a secret from any future employer, since people tend to be quick to judge based on stereotypes, and right now I need a day job to get by.

    1. I completely agree with you. It’s so sad that most talented artists can’t dedicate their lives to their main purpose. I’m in a similar situation, in that difficult transition. I hope we find our way through this soon.
      Best Wishes,

  48. It’s really hard to balance your day job and your musician career.

    Yes I do have a full time job in the corporate world. Yes it does pay my bills. But with a couple rounds of layoffs and outsourcing. I’m one of the layoff survivors where daily hours are 9 to 7:30 Creativity just went out the window! Don’t even have time to play my instruments when I get home.

    I really thought about quitting my white collar job and go being a waiter just to have some time to work on my music.

    I don’t know if there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Go with your gut? or just trying to feed yourself? Decisions decisions decisions… (sigh)

  49. I graduated college in Tampa a year ago and have been living here since..I’ve worked 2 corporate jobs. I’m now moving back in with my folks in Boston to relieve my financial burderns. I’ve found that the stress of finances has blocked my creative energy for my music.

    Here’s my dilemma. I have a couple of very strong prospects at nicely paying corporate jobs in Boston. I’ve yearned for some financial stability, but I also fear that taking one of the jobs will make me comfy..I’m afraid I won’t have time/energy to dedicate to music. On the other hand, my expenses and students loans are high. Thoughts?

  50. Hi, I’m a Jazz/Soul/most-anything female singer and I’ve been working in a full time 8 hours a day job for nine years now and my dream is to dedicate all my time to music, to song-writing and performing. I’m quite aware I’ve got talent, so music is my main objective, more than a dream.
    Now Spain is in a bad situation for most any project, not only due to economic crisis, the whole country is submerged in deep collective depression and dissappointment. I wouldn’t mind moving anywhere, It wouldn’t be the first time (I’m argentinean, not spanish).
    I’m trying to come to light between talent and fear. I can’t leave this job until my music carreer has some solid base to stand on. Musicians here are used to perform anywhere they pay, even if people don’t listen to them, just because they need the money to pay their basic needs.
    I think that’s sad.
    Paradoxically, this job absorves precious time I could be dedicating to music, and at the same time it allows me to sing only where and what I want. I’ll be recording with a friend soon and I hope we can release a great album by the end of this year or before! So now I feel quite under pressure, hopefull and messy.
    I would appreciate any advice or help. Thank you.
    Love, from Mallorca, Spain.

  51. This is really a great blog. Wanted to let you all know that the Military bands are still some of the best kept secrets in the music industry, pending on if you are a classical / concert band performer. I have played with the 85th Army band for eight years now and just recently re-enlisted. I love it. It is a great part time gig and we are using more guitar and vocalists now. Like any other job though, it has its set backs. A few great perks are the insurance policies, and we just came home from a three week tour in Germany. I’m in the Reserves, so I am a part time professional musician for the Federal government while serving in the US Army. I don’t make enough to buy a house and have a family but it can buy groceries and pay a bit of rent. I’m starting a new gig in selling advertisements soon. Good luck to everyone and keep the dream alive! SGT Daniel West

  52. I stumbled upon this site today while researching various sources of income for musicians. I really love how many great articles posted on this site btw – it’s got my brain thinking lots. Reading this blog post in particular is interesting to me because I have been a teacher for Chicago Public Schools for several years, and just a few months ago told my administration I’m done being a part of the real world. Ha – well I didn’t say that exactly but I did decide to leave my life as a professional. I did really enjoy teaching but that’s not what I’m meant to do in this world. I figure if I care enough about music, I will find a way to make a living doing what I love. I think there was a post on this site recently about how we can make decent money as musicians if we just allow ourselves to come to terms with the fact that it WILL be hard work, and we probably won’t make a lot of money just doing one thing (such as busking or playing a show a month), BUT if we combine several different potential streams of income together, we can make good money, and feel liberated doing so. That’s my goal at this moment at least; today was the first day of school btw :-) I sort of feel like a bum but I also feel excited about what lies ahead.

  53. This has been an extremely entertaining and useful 20 minutes of my time….have to say all of these comments are enlightening and it really helps to know there are working musicians out there learning how to cope in the real world and still committed to a dream. Thanks everyone for their amazing insights. I’ve had a similar story myself. I’ve had many day jobs through the years from photographer’s assistant to working for a U.S. stock market and have continued to pursue many musical outlets-I’m a jazz/pop and everything in between pianist/keyboardist and now I have recently discovered my new niche–torch singing. I got the blues and that’s good (for me actually :) So…I recently moved to a smaller market-a great city, but with a smaller musician pool, a lot of opportunities have opened up and with the change in pace, its made me see things differently. I still struggle with the fact that it takes a lot of commitment to advance in a corporate position and if you’re not willing to devote yourself to that “career” it’s going to take longer, but I rest easy in the belief that if I’m not moving up the corporate ladder today, I’m still making progress–and like David said earlier….”it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I think leading a happy fulfilling life isn’t something you “arrive at” but something you live for every day. Who knows what will come your way if you keep pushing, persevering and remaining positive…oh no! the 3 p’s! (I think I got that from some sales conference somewhere…oh geez)

  54. If you’re young enough, think about taking an audition for an active duty (full-time) military band. I retired out of the USAF bands 3 1/2 years after doing 27 years. While you don’t get famous, I guarantee that your musicianship will get better. A lot better. There are a lot of different types of groups in the military and each has its own skill requirements. But the information on what is required to pass an audition for each of the brass, woodwind, and rhythm section instruments, and singers, is located on the web sites. Just Google AF, Army, Navy, Marine, and/or Coast Guard bands. All the info is there. One word of personal opinion–the AF program on the whole is the best one. I realise that there are fellow service members out there who will disagree with me, and that’s ok. But I did 6 years in the Army bands, and then 21 in the AF. On the whole it was a better situation. One other thing, you can try it out, do 4 years, get the new GI Bill, which is pretty good, and then go to school. Check that out on the Veterans Administration web site.

    As far as I go, I’m retired and living in Huntsville, AL right now and gigging locally. Not making a ton of money, but with my retirement I don’t need to. Playing in about 5-6 local bands, mostly jazz oriented, and having fun. Everyone kind of picks their own path in life, and I won’t lie to you, sometimes being in the military was like any other job. It was a job. You did your work. You got paid. BUT….overall I had a great time, played with some great folks, did a lot of fun tours, got to live overseas for a while, and now am living reasonably comfortably while helping to take care of my parents, who are 91 and 88. Not too bad for having started out in ’81 as a PFC in the Army. Anyone who’s interested in more on this can email me at I’m also on Linked In–listed as Pete Harrison/Quality Music Services in Huntsville, AL.

    Good luck, guys and gals. And keep on keepin’ on! Remember–if it ain’t fun, you ain’t doin’ it right!

  55. I totally agree. I’m a young musician (7 years playing) and just recently landed a fulltime job in a good family friends insurance agency.

    I hate it. I have no time to work on my dreams between working there 9 hours a day and trying to take care of things around my house. Did I mention i’m also staff at my church?

    I’d rather be broke again and do what I love (work at my church for free and work towards that recording studio I’ve always wanted) than spend the rest of my life behind some desk living comfortably

  56. Hi David, what’s the best way to find a day job in a city before moving there and when having few contacts there? For example and in my case, I’d really like to move to San Fran or NYC and work days and play nights, however I can only find job listings online that relate to IT, sales and legal work. What about moving to a city first with savings then finding job on site? Thanks for your advice and of course this great blog!

    1. Hi Fred –

      I’ve thought a lot about this. I’m convinced the best thing to do is to move to a new city without a job. Claim unemployment, if you can, and look for work. It’s a risk, of course, but that’s life.

      No one in NYC or San Francisco will seriously consider offering you a job there until you live there. That was my experience. And I understand why – NYC’s unemployment rate is 9.3%…SF’s is 6.9%. Why would they give you a job when there are probably hundreds of local applicants?

      Bottom line – you just can’t mitigate the financial risk of moving to a new city as a musician. You just have to have the courage to do it, and the confidence in yourself that you’ll be able to thrive no matter what.

      On a side note, I lived in NYC for years and now I live in San Francisco. The quality of life is much better here in Cali, but if you want to have a career as a musician you should go to NYC. I came to San Francisco to get away from music.

  57. Thanks for the sense of community here. Great post.

    I have been teaching music lessons full-time for a living for 8 years now, paying the mortgage and expenses for a family of 4 for five years running, student loans and all. Now that I have a kindergartener (and our youngest will follow in a couple of years) it has hit me like a ton of bricks that my hours (evenings and Saturdays) are incompatible with family life. I find myself self-employed with a job that I truly love and have worked hard to develop my reputation, but I must seek employment elsewhere to no longer be the absent father (I only see my 5 year old in the morning before school, not long). If I go to work as a school music teacher, I will still have to teach evenings to make ends meet.

    So… those of you considering a music degree to quench your soul, as I did when I walked away from my biology major, consider double-majoring in something more practical as well. I may need to go back school just to find a decent job and it kills me walk away from all the I have built. I can still teach on the side, but again this cuts into the time I can invest in being an involved parent. Of course, a second bachelor’s degree (required, should I enter the science field) will keep me from being eligible for much financial aid, further complicating matters.

    But, walking the line between professional and hobbyist is causing this early-thirties-life crisis to ensure. I invested years into my training, went to a top conservatory, and took on debt to do so. I found work in my field and by most measures of success, I have succeeded. But, when it comes to family life, my schedule is a significant burden on my wife and compromises my involvement with my kids. I do not see much room for growth or opportunity to shift away from my hours with the current business model.

    I thought I would share my relevant experience to others in or considering the music lesson route. If there are any suggestions from others, of course my ears are quite open.

  58. Ha, I’m in NYC and live here less than a year. I always worked as a pro musician and teacher and ever since I moved to USA I have to start from zero. Well, not only musical payed gigs are hard to find, but also students – I have been applying to music schools with no decent results and also have gotten offers to teach for 10$/hr. Private students – well, pays me less than Europe. I still look for them, but the fact that hobby musicians offer lessons for 15$/ hr is not acceptable to me.
    Also regarding temp agencies – I’ve gotten no dayjob at all and quite honestly thinking of going back to where I come from. I’ve been applying to all sorts of jobs and have gone to endless temp agencies. Temp jobs for up to $30 an hour? Maybe in 2009 when you were writing this. I have only gotten only one interview for a temp job and the same was for 13$/hr. Since I have no “serious degree” and even my music degree is unfinished I am obviously not qualified to do anything at all… Also in this job market I see that for a 15$/hr temp dayjob I compete with out of work bachelors, masters and even MBAs. Good luck then. I think I came to USA in an absolutely worst time of history.

    1. Woa how perspective and conditions change, I would be great on 13 bucks an hour. In the last job I had and it is supposedley payed decent, I was on 2 dollars an hour, yep as good as it sounds :/ and most jobs are around that or less

  59. Loved all the comments on here. I work a day job in the pharmeceutical world. I have looked a longtime for a job that pays a good wage and is just 40 hrs a week. A lot of companies here want you to work nights, weekends, holidays for almost nothing. I still struggling with having time to do it all myself when I am off work. Indies have to do their own recording, promotion, blogs, newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, writing, performing, practicing, and lessons. It is exhausting. It takes longer to get where I’m going, but I get there. I am ok with singing on the weekends once a month. My job pays for my music xpenses and health insurance etc. I am ok with not being famous or making a ton of money if I can do music part time. I have to choose to not have a whole lot of side hobbies.

  60. I’ve found a pretty good balance. I got into a very good corporate job after music crashed in the 90s. I figured I had nothing to lose, and it turned out to be true. I am secretive about my music, and lead a double life. I am adamant about employers not infringing on my time boundaries or making me crazy, and fire them when they try to. My situation is a bit unusual, but the key was getting good enough at what I did for ‘the man’ that I created that leverage. I am a master of managing time, so that I never really have long hours at work. I work from home some of the time, and have a mobile recording studio in my van (which I take to work).

    The only thing that is real to me is the music, and all else seems a waste of valuable time.
    The most freeing thing I did was I stopped promoting myself on the Internet. My live shows are what promotes me I’ve learned and that’s where I keep my focus.

  61. The best gig I’ve come across is substitute teaching. The pay in my area is decent and I can plan days off ahead of time with no consequences. The only problem is when sumer comes I have to scrape by.

  62. I’ve had the same half time office job for just over 22 years now. Punch in at 12:30pm, leave at 5. Yeah, I’m lucky.

  63. Really great article and the posts are really inspiring. I am a musician and I just wanted to offer some things I’ve learned from my experience for people that want to be musicians and earn an income at least if not full time income doing so. My biggest income playing music was/is playing at a local church who usually paid me anyware from $50 dollars per service to the max i’ve made which is $100 dollars per service per Sunday. Some Sundays I would play two services and make $150 that day. Currently I play 3 services and make a approx $120. Not alot of money, but you have to just love what you do enough and know that God will bless you if you help to fill his house with good music.

    Other than that, I’ve done piano lessons which could give you a good salary or at least some part time funds.

    Next is gigging which if you can get a good regular gig that can turn some coin sometimes.

    Other than that, when you gig, sell merch. You can sell ANYTHING, at your merch table. Go to the dollar store, buy glowsticks, stickers, wrist bands, anything and charge double or triple what you paid for it. Easy money.

    I also dabble in music engineering, I have a home studio and always have ads running that if a local artist or small band wants to record a demo, to come to my home and record for a small fee.

    I find if you want to be a successful full time musician, you need to be versatile and tap into several differnet streams of income. I hope this helps someone!

  64. thank you for this wonderful facts.. I always looked at my fat cheque at the end of the month, but looking back at the month that passed I had missed very important gigs that could have shaped my life in music and entertainment. I was called in the HR office and told to choose what I wanted to do. #my music is my way of living.. in short it’s my life.

  65. One addendum I would like to add to this would be that being a cook is really bad for the music dream…at least where I am. I work 50hrs a week and they just took away my one day off constant that was my band practice day…I work as an assistant to a Pastry Chef…whom I will be walking out on as soon as my temp job goes through. ;)

  66. I think I’ve found a way to have time to dedicate to everything I love and earn a good income.
    Seriously, listen me:

    I’m a college dropout.
    I enrolled in Computer Engineering (or Computer Science, you name it), not because I loved it, but because it was the most “secure, stable and right thing to do”. Pretty silly, isn’t it?

    Needless to say, I had 0 interest for programming, and college SUCKED THE LIFE OUT OF ME.

    Really, for those who said they are thinking on taking the “secure path”, don’t study anything related to engineering or programming unless you TRULY have a passion for it: it will take away ALL your time from music and your other interests and leave you with nothing. It’s not something you can do half-heartedly.
    After college, the job prospect is even worse: you’re supposed to keep learning and learning and learning, to stay current and marketable, so you will really not have ANY time for music.

    My main passions are basically three: music, writing and sport.

    I really enjoy reading and learning about supplements, nutrition, workout routines. I’ve being doing this in my spare time a lot in these years, applying those principles to transform my body.
    So guess what? I’ll study hard in the next two years, to be overprepared, get my certification and be the best Personal Trainer I can be.
    It’s a though job, and you have to build a client base, which is definitely not easy, there’s a high turnover in this carreer because apparently people think you can earn big money easily in your first year.
    That’s not how it works.

    But once you’re able to kickstart your carreer in Personal Training you basically have one of the best jobs in order to focus also in your other interests and live a healthy (really healthy!) and balanced life. You get flexible hours, you’re your own boss, you can easily take short breaks from clients (say a week or two for touring) if needed and work only as much as you want: you set your own hours and, consequently, your own earnings.
    Also, in this economy, being self-employed it’s the best thing you can do. So, basically, win-win.

    It will also fulfill my desire to write. I’m planning to setup a blog about nutrition, training, and general health and I’ve already have a lot of ideas for articles to write!

    If you have a TRUE interest in nutrition, workouts, sports to the point you consistently research about it, consider Personal Training.

    In the mean time, I will take whatever “day job” I can find, and also start focusing again on my music.
    I have a Progressive / Djent / Spacey Metal band based in Rome, Italy, which unfortunately I kind of neglected due to college.
    Touring and living solely of music is my dream. So please, contribute to it with a simple “Like” on our page:

    Hope this post has helped someone. Let me know.

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