Happy December everyone! I'm sure that many of us are playing the same pieces in different parts of the world...ahem...but what a stroke of luck it is that people associate their happiest Christmas traditions with music. Whether it's playing special Christmas or Advent concerts at churches, accompanying choirs while they sing standard carols or a certain...ahem...dance-associated program, there are many opportunities for work that are directly related to Christmas. What a wonderful time of year, indeed. :)
I've been enjoying the time I've been spending with my colleagues and friends in featuring them as Musicians of Now. I now have a new thing that I love about each of them. The time during the live stream is always a blast, but there is a pattern emerging. The sessions start with a tiny dance of greetings and formalities, as the series is still pretty new and people don't know what exactly to expect. We have a small rehearsal and then I do a quick run-down of topics they would like to focus on. We go on camera and have a fun time, and then as we're packing up, we hang out and drink coffee or have a snack...and THAT'S the conversation I really want to have. In that after-time, I discover that almost everyone has a part-time job or side gig to supplement their freelancing career. Maybe I'm new at this myself and I'm still learning interviewing skills, but why don't musicians feel comfortable talking about their side gigs?
I have historically avoided the word "gig" when talking about the work that I do on the horn. The word carries a kind of negative connotation to me. When a musician says "I have so many gigs", it's often a collection of little jobs that they are only interested in because they have to make money. This sentiment is often accompanied with a sigh and an eyeroll. In other words, if they had better work offers they wouldn't be taking those jobs. We’ve all felt that crunch of taking any dates that come our way and it’s understandable. When I have jobs like that, I always focus on one aspect of my playing to improve while I'm there so that it fits into my life's real work on the horn. Of the many definitions that the word "gig" has in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the one that applies to us is "a job usually for a specified time, especially if it is temporary." To me, the horn-playing part of any job isn't temporary, so the word "gig" isn't focused on the right aspect of what I'm doing. To my way of thinking, “gig" applies to things that I would MUCH rather not be doing...like side work.
Of the handful of people that I've spent time with for the series, they have all indicated that they have other avenues they pursue to make their musical lives possible. These include working in instrument showrooms, instrument repair, running administrative offices in colleges, teaching at schools, applying for academic programs that include health benefits, and even working at clothing stores. Only a few of them have indicated that during the stream, but afterwards they were concerned that people would think that they weren't as good as others who don't have side gigs, or would even assume that they didn't play their instruments anymore.
I have often found in this business that when we are afraid that people think less of us, it's more that others are thinking the same of themselves because they're in the same situation, and we end up in a cycle of fear and judgment. I wish that we could lift the veil and discover that almost all of us are teaching, or entering data, or telemarketing in order to bridge the monetary gaps that musical work doesn't always cover, especially with January upon us. In the spirit of being more transparent about the fact that I have gigs on the side, I'll share some of the things I've done to make ends meet when things are less than affluent:
- I've delivered food for an online company: no need for a gym membership!
- I've assisted an associate of mine as a cleaning person
- I've entered data for hours for a non-profit, yep, THAT non-profit
- I've arranged pop music for a marching band, yep, THAT marching band
- I teach sectionals at a high school in the Bronx to some great kids
So if you have a side gig to make your career work, don't be ashamed, it doesn't mean you're any less successful as a musician. ALL freelancers that I've encountered have them or have depended on outside work at one time or another: this is the norm of our time as freelancers. Especially here in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world, it's imperative that we have some sort of income so that we can practice and continue to fulfill this wonderful calling of ours. Let's work together to lift the stigma and shame that comes with telling someone you do non-musical work to support yourself. Let's be the first generation of freelancers that doesn't judge or shame each other for having day-jobs: the time for change is ripe, so let's make the most of it!
Do you have a side gig? Do you love it or hate it? Comment below and share!