working in music

Working in music IS a “real job”

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This personal story from music consultant Wade Sutton reaffirms what you know but may need to hear again: working in music can be a real and gratifying job.

Working with independent artists from all over the world for the past couple of years has been a blessing. I’ve helped artists produce their shows, hone their live performances, and improve their business skills. I have designed websites and press kits, written biographies and press releases, and consulted on music business matters for artists in major music cities like Nashville, Austin, LA, London, Toronto, and Sydney.

Sometimes I even find myself serving as a pseudo-therapist for artists struggling emotionally when someone close to them suggests their pursuit of music is nothing more than a hobby, or a misguided fantasy, and that it’s time the artist considered a more traditional type of employment.

You know, they should “get a real job.”

In all my time working in music, including when I was transitioning from a career in radio to what I’m doing now, not once did someone make that kind of comment to me.

Until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when it happened – and in one of the worst possible settings I could have imagined.

Working in music is “some kind of fantasy”

In addition to working in the music industry, I’m a full-time, single dad of a nine-year-old daughter. Without getting into all of the dirty details, the story involves a recent filing for a modification to the amount of child support my ex-wife pays me each month to help with the care and raising of our daughter. That included a conference so domestic relations could determine whether an increase was in order.

During that conference, my career in music was bashed and belittled by the attorney representing my daughter’s mother. “What he’s doing is nothing more than playing. It is some kind of fantasy somebody pursues when they are young instead of going out and looking for a real job.”

Yeah, he said that, and I finally understood why this kind of comment rocks so many artists – from musicians to painters to photographers to writers.

I like to think I have achieved a pretty wonderful level of success working in music. I have an amazing network of people in the music industry sending me clients, from high-level managers and consultants to music educators, producers, songwriters, and voice instructors from around the country. Not to mention my affiliations and testimonials from award-winning songwriters and professional coaches. This is all in addition to the followers I have picked up on my own through co-writing a successful book, penning articles like this, and speaking at workshops and conferences.

When I found the legitimacy of the work I do coming under attack, I was irritated, to say the least.

Why people don’t see a music career as a real job

The first thing you have to do when somebody suggests a life in music isn’t a real job is understand that artists, by their nature, are creative people who see things abstractly. This leads many artists to pursue their livelihood “outside the box,” which puts you in the minority compared to those spending their lives getting up every morning, punching a time card, and getting a paycheck every two weeks.

Those people are institutionalized. If they lost their job tomorrow, the first thing they’d do is go look for another one. They find comfort and safety in that repetitive structure. They need it. It makes sense to them. It is safe.

Artists making a living from their art are just the opposite. You don’t clock in. You don’t have a steady paycheck, or have anyone looking over your shoulder to check your progress. The thought of such a rigid existence on a daily basis is enough to make most creative types want to take a long walk off a short pier. That kind of environment is suffocating to many artists.

So it is important that you, the music artist, understand it isn’t your fault those people don’t see a profession in music and songwriting as a real job. It is their problem. So f*©k them. When the day is over, their perception of what you do has zero impact on how you write your songs, sing your lyrics, perform during your show, book upcoming gigs, or interact with your fans.

It’s even harder if you don’t live in a big city

There are cities throughout the world in which the concept of working in music or being a full-time musician is looked upon as a viable career choice. The problem is most of us don’t live in New York, Nashville, Austin, Seattle, or one of those other blessed metropolises.

If you live in a smaller community, you cannot possibly expect most people to wrap their heads around how music can be a viable career choice. It just isn’t going to happen – it is too far removed from the perceived normal for that area.

I know. I live in a small town half-way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Two of the biggest employers in my county are the local hospital and WalMart. Music isn’t even on the map. When I try to explain to people what I do for a living, they look at me like I just dropped an anvil on their head. Even my mother can’t explain what I do.

That is why I’ve stopped attempting to get people to understand. When they ask what I do, I tell them I work in the music industry using the Internet and Skype and I leave it at that. It doesn’t matter if they understand as long as my clients and associates in the industry know what I do. It makes life so much easier.

My advice: if you can’t bring yourself to not care what people in your small corner of the world think, then pack up your s*!t and move.

Don’t make excuses about money, school, work, and all of the other reasons music artists come up with. Just pack it up, move, and figure it out when you get there. You’ll be shocked by what you can accomplish when you’re thrown into survival mode.

Go to a place where you can surround yourself with like-minded people. Find other musicians, songwriters, and people working at a speed and pace faster than your own so you push yourself to keep getting better and better.

To hell with the nay-sayers back in your hometown when they suggest you need to “get a real job” while they drag their asses into work every Monday complaining about their bosses, stuck working mandatory overtime, and slowly turning into jaded, miserable people.

Don’t give them the power

Your success in turning your music into a career has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else’s perception of whether working in music is something you can do for a living. The people who tell you music isn’t a real job are the same know-it-alls who insist on giving business advice to young entrepreneurs even though they have never run a business a day in their lives! The only power their statements have over you and what you do with your life in music is the power you surrender to them.

Pull up your big boy (or big girl) pants, tune them out, and be a bad-ass at everything you do.


With clients in major cities like Nashville, New York, London, Sydney, and Toronto, Rocket to the Stars’ Wade Sutton has dedicated his life to helping music artists in all aspects of their careers. Armed with 20 years of radio journalism experience, Wade now provides an array of services to artists, including writing biographies and press releases; creating press kits, websites, and sponsorship proposals; media interview preparation, and more. In 2014, Wade co-authored a music business eBook titled The $150,000 Music Degree with Rick Barker. Click here to get a FREE copy of the book today.

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13 thoughts on “Working in music IS a “real job”

  1. You had me until “It’s even harder if you don’t live in a big city”.

    Find find the exact opposite to be true. Thanks to he inter-webs.

    Moving to a place like Nashville exposes you to high-school like cliques and politics, and more competition than is good for your emotional well-being.

    In my experience, using the inter-webs to build a world wide audience puts money in your pocket quicker and opens up opportunities to travel further.

    1. I think you misunderstood my meaning. I didn’t mean that it is harder to sustain a music career if you don’t live in a big city. I meant that it is harder to get people in smaller towns to perceive music as being a viable career options because smaller towns aren’t music hubs and the people living there have a harder time wrapping their heads around the concept.

  2. Thanks for the uplifting words Wade! I am a serious musician and a stay at home father of four who delivers pizza on the weekends to pay for gear and marketing. Today I found out that I might lose my job. The tip money is great but I have been feeling that when I spend my time slinging pizzas instead of working on music, I am wasting my time…. plus the fact that the supervisor and many of the customers are ingrates and treat me like a piece of meat makes me question whether it’s worth it to work there. I have been entertaining the hunch that losing my job and being thrust into survival mode would help my progress more than hurt it. If I do end up losing the job I am not sure I would be willing to look for another pizza gig. I am a very accomplished musician with undeniable skills but many of my naysayers have taken a toll on my confidence and I often fear that since my project is not very mainstream, it is not likely to turn it into my career….. however, I can’t help but think that if I spent the time I normally spend slinging pizzas actually working on my music, it would be difficult to fail…. Thoughts?

  3. Great article. Like you, I’m one of those small-town dwellers who has to travel at least an hour to play a gig. With a wife and two kids, this is hard, and even though I play in 7 or 8 bands, gigs aren’t frequent or lucrative enough to make a solid living. I have a day job which I do enjoy, but I want to make more money using the Internet. I have recorded several albums and they are everywhere: CD Baby, iTunes, Coundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, etc., but I only sell one album a month, MAYBE, even though they’ve gotten good reviews from some popular publications and websites. I’ve done some video and film scoring for friends, but I’d like to break into that field, or anything else that I can do from home that will yield some significant income. Any advice?
    Thanks!

  4. Man I need this read. . I fucking love music it’s always been something I’ve wanted to be a part of but my whole life people have pushed me away from perusing my dreams and I’ve had more than enough of that shit. Today starts a new life for me. Forget all the people telling me to give up on my passion. Fuck my asshole of boss always being a dick to me. Maybe it’s about time I pack it up and leave this small town to head to a place people care about music.

  5. Crazy… this article could’ve been written about me. I even live in Pennsyl-tucky, just like the author. I chose the Jekyll/Hyde route. I work for myself doing real estate inspections, which allows me all the time I need to pursue my music endeavors. So I eek out a modest living for my son and I while chasing my dream. So when I ~have~ to “work”, the Jekyll persona, I am the consummate, button-down professional and family guy/dad. When it is time to make music, the un-hinged, bombastic, loose cannon Hyde side kicks in. This is exactly how I have described myself to various people on numerous occasions. A bit out of the ordinary and off the beaten career path, sure. Maybe even a little touch of dissociative identity disorder thrown in to keep stuff interesting. Eh, whatever. It’s working for me. Good luck everyone.

  6. I’m a musician who “got a real job.” Not because I couldn’t be a great musician; I just couldn’t stomach anymore why making music has to be tantamount to an oath of poverty.

    So I’m just paying a $$$ bill from my back pocket as I’m typing this (money from my “real job”,) and all I can think of is – should’ve done this switch 20 years ago.

  7. A lot of people can’t do what I do. Like a specialist, I’d like to see these detractors carrying out the tasks, shows, recording, PR/AR, booking etc and see if they don’t see it’s a real job after that. they only see the tip of the iceberg…and trust me the iceberg is HUGE!!!!!!!

  8. So, here’s the thing. It’s one thing to say “pack you stuff up and move” when you’ve established a career, more or less, already. I live in San Antonio Texas, a short drive south of Austin. I moved for a time to San Francisco to go to grad school in an arts focused career path. I lived there with nothing, and the only reason I was able to was because I had student loans to pay my way. It was 2008, so there were no jobs really. I was able to eek out an existence while I could draw loans, but once those ended, and no job was forthcoming, I became homeless. My sister moved me back with her until disability helped me get back on my feet, but now I’m stuck here. There’s no way even Austin is a potential for me given my socioeconomic status, people with nothing can’t just move and hope survival mode enables a miracle. It’s a little socio-ethnco-centric to posit that as an actionable plan, and could result in some hapless rube dying homeless and hopeless. I almost did.

  9. Thank you for this article, it has helped to put the fire under my ass again. I have all too many people in my life trying to tell me I can’t have a career in the music business. Whether it be as a drummer or a promotor or manager of bands. My blood relatives have been the ones to try to push and pull me into directions I have not wanted for my life. Starting from my father telling me at the age of 7 or 8 that he didn’t want to see his daughter strap her legs around a drum. IT didn’t stop me then And now as a grown woman they are still trying to control my life through online and other so called connections to keep me away from living my dream and a life in the music industry. And be able to be a mom at the same time. Again, thank you.

    1. You are very welcome, Melinda! I’m glad to hear it gave you a boost. Don’t let anything people tell you hold you back from pursuing a life in music. Keep plugging away!

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