Starving artist

My Job Is Better Than Yours – aka The Starving Artist’s Silver Lining

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As an indie musician with multiple careers in music to juggle, there have been many times when I’ve caught myself in the "Predictable Paycheck Predicament," or PPP. It’s the one where I’m jealous of my roommate as she leaves the apartment at her regular time to go to her regular job to get her regular paycheck.

But then I go back to sleep. And when I wake up, I might go for a run, get some groceries, reply to emails, work on a song, set up a pitch meeting or two, grab coffee with a friend in town, book venues for my summer tour, have a glass of wine, watch the latest episode of NCIS online, record in my home studio, and research publishing companies for my indie artist eCourse. Or something like that.

PPP is really just another grass-is-greener complex, and once I get myself present to my starving artist reality, it becomes a thing of the past. I pretend my roommate is there and I sing, "My job is better than yours!" because there are so many reasons why the life of a musician rocks.

1. Freedom. We musicians get to create our own days. I have freedom to go to the gym or write a song or book a tour. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck and I can take off at any time, eat any time, and work when I am inspired to work. By the way, I believe inspiration isn’t always something that happens to you. Sometimes you have to create it, which usually just means sitting your butt down in a chair and writing.

Don’t get me wrong, my calendar is not blank and I still have obligations and requirements to bring home the bacon, but these are usually on my terms and are situations I have chosen, like finishing a song for a video, getting on a sponsorship conference call, or arriving at a gig on time. But these obligations are what I spend my days working on achieving. And the key is I can use my day for what I truly want in my life. This freedom is wonderful and I never take it for granted.

2. Responsibility. I know people shy away from taking on responsibility – it’s a scary, grown-up thing. But really, creating your own day, generating your own sources of income, and being the master of your own schedule is a massive lesson in responsibility. Out of necessity, being a freelance musician has taught me to be responsible, and I’m now able to handle anything with ease.

3. Passion. We are doing what we LOVE! You will never, ever hear me say, "I wish I was ____" (fill in the blank with a verb). I’m usually already doing it. I know so many folks who are in their 9-5 job because they haven’t found their passion, or are doing what they have to do to support themselves and a family. While taking the leap to being a full-time musician is daunting, difficult, and perhaps delusional, knowing what you are passionate about is a blessing!

4. Beating the crowds. I get to run errands when supermarkets, dry cleaning, hair salons, post offices, and retail stores are least crowded. Oh, and can you say, "off-peak gym hours?"

5. Infinite possibilities for income. As a music creator, we can make money in so many ways. It’s exciting, if you think about it. Live show ticket and merch sales; royalties from TV and film placements; recording demos for other artists in my home studio; co-writing and producing with other artists; creating music for websites; scoring indie films; playing house concerts, ski resorts, colleges and a whole bunch of other shows – is just the start of the list. (Note: I have a list of 19 "other gig options" in my eCourse – check it out below.)

I also have the freedom (see #1) to take on other sources of income like teaching piano lessons, personal training, bar tending, and writing and selling an eCourse. Anytime I need a "break," I can still create income by turning to many other options, like guiding a kayak trip or working with the network marketing company Referdia, where I help sign up customers and businesses, making money any time they buy or sell something.

In the end, although my money comes in less consistently than my roommate’s check, my possibilities for income are interestingly varied and almost without limit.

6. Weekday deals. Did you know ski lift-tickets are so much cheaper on weekdays? Well, they are.

7. Having a glass of wine in the middle of the day. Just because.

8. I am NEVER bored. If you didn’t get that from #5, it’s true. Not being bored, however, does require a certain amount of discipline and responsibility (see #2). I wouldn’t make money if I just got up and wrote songs all day long. I need to wear many hats to make an income, and that is what keeps me from being bored. From booking tours to writing music to pitching my composer skills to getting out on the road, my life as a musician is something I create. I take breaks, for sure. Heck, I’m Netflix’s #1 streaming customer. But seriously, each of my days is never the same as the one before it, by design.

9. Staying in your PJs all day. Not advised, just possible.

10. Community. Being a full-time artist automatically makes you part of a community, one that has a mutual lifestyle understanding and one that is supportive of the pursuit of passions of others. You other freelance musicians get that, right? What are your favorite reasons for living the life of a musician? (Comment below or tweet @CBE using hashtag #myjobisbetterthanyours)

Cheryl B. EngelhardtCheryl B. Engelhardt is an established pianist/singer/songwriter who has toured the US and Europe, licensed songs to over a dozen TV shows, and who composes music for films, national ads, and Cheryl is the author of “In The Key Of Success: The 5 Week Jump-Start Strategy,” an incredibly effective, result-oriented eCourse for independent musicians who are serious about breaking through plateaus in their careers. Because you are a loyal Echoes reader, you get a ridiculous 70% discount off the regular price by typing in IHEARTDM in the “discount code” field.

Cheryl’s next workshop will be held in NYC in August 2012. For more info, visit her website and follow her on Twitter @CBE.

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22 thoughts on “My Job Is Better Than Yours – aka The Starving Artist’s Silver Lining

  1. On the “5. Infinite possibilities for income” I would add It is intended for live performers. The audience send money $5 by text messages.

  2. Now that I’m a self-employed musician/comedian/speaker, I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked before in my life. If I didn’t have self-discipline, a strong sense of responsibility, and a commitment to doing my very best, I wouldn’t be making it. I’m SO grateful for my career! It’s hard, the hours are long, and the pay is…well, let’s not go there, but I wouldn’t change it. Thanks for your article, Cheryl!

  3. I have made a living as a musician / composer my whole life. There have been interludes of day gigs, here and there, to help fill the empty measures. In fact, I’m performing one of those interludes now. There’s no shame in it. There has been personal frustration though. As everyday that crawls by without having composed a single note, feels like a wasted day to me…. composing is like air, and I start to choke after a while without it. But I’ll breathe again soon… the phone has been ringing. And there is always the weekends.

    You do what you have to do to keep breathing. My problem is I’ve never been real good about selling myself. I need an agent/manager… but I don’t know where to look.

  4. This was a great article, even if you were bragging a bit (smile).  But it’s for the exact reasons that I pursued a communications career in my younger years.  Belonging to the “creative” community means everything and should never be taken for granted.

  5. the moment you step on stage nervous as hell and when the band strikes together sounding united u get nerves of steel!!

  6. Cheryl, this is a great inspiring read! What are the 5 best things/connections/etc you’ve done to further your music career so you didn’t have to be a 9-5er? 

    1. Hi iwanttoquitmyjob! Great question. I’d have to say 1) when in conversation, making sure to share what i’m up to and what i’m looking for, no matter who i’m speaking with… you never know who has something to offer – that’s how i landed my composing gig at college, in a casual conversation. 2) mastering the instrumental versions of my records- about 75% of the placements i have gotten have been instrumentals 3) more of #1. 4) play gigs that pay, even if the gig itself isn’t ideal- i.e., background music like ski resorts, bars, restaurants. 5) just take the plunge. I got laid off from a 9-5 years ago and had the chance to go back to 9-5 or give the freelance music thing a shot. I never looked back.

  7. How long would you have your current lifestyle without your partner helping pay the rent? Seems to me this celebration should be private gratitude, not public gloating.

    1. Hmm, it’s interesting that the only takeaway you got was that I mentioned a “roommate”. I assure you, we are paying individual rents. No one is “helping pay the rent”, not my personal home space, or my studio rent. Oh yes, I have a studio too. And this celebration is for those musicians who, like me, get glum when times are slow, and need a reminder that living a life we’ve created is quite awesome. Gloating not intended. And thank you for reading. 🙂

    2. Let’s not forget that Mozart died with his bank account at $00.00.  Yet his lifestyle as a musician was successful with or without someone paying his rent.  I say let’s celebrate the person that can survive a musician’s career path… you go Cheryl!

  8. If there’s one thing that I’m tired of (as a musician and a scientist) it’s the idea in the music community that if you have a traditional career, you haven’t found your passion. It is ok to be sincerely interested in multiple, diverse paths.  A lot of the people that I work with are passionate about their 9-5s, and have no problem working for someone else. 

    1. That’s totally true! I have many friends loving their 9-5s. And honestly, as a freelance musician, I am always “working for someone else”. My 9-5 just doesn’t look or feel traditional.

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