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 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).
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.