How to deal with not doing music full time?

How to deal with not doing music full time?

Happy 2020 everybody! This week I received a note from a musician who is feeling what many of us feel about our “double lives” as clarinet players and #AdultsMakingALiving. He writes:


I almost feel like this is something I should be asking a therapist instead of a musician, but as you're now an entrepreneurial musician with a day job, how do you do it? After the honeymoon period of a new job wears off, it gets harder and harder for me to get up in the morning and go fix people's computers instead of making the music that I want to make. It almost feels like I need someone to make me independently wealthy so that I can have the freedom to do what my soul needs. When I get home, often the last thing I feel like doing is pouring even more effort into getting noticed and now that I'm firmly in the middle of my life, it's never going to get any easier.

What is it that I need to do? If I can truly never break out of my rut and I'm doomed to be an IT guy for the rest of my working life, how can I actually resign myself to this instead of striving endlessly?

Music and money: one supports the other, but they don’t need to come from the same source.

I hear you man. A famous artist (John Lennon) once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” — and this sounds like what’s happening to you a little bit.

Ever since I moved to New York, I have “double majored in life” (*my wife’s phrase, which I love, and have adopted as my own). I have had music, and I have had my money-making endeavors. Sometimes the two coincided (i.e. making money in music), but more often they have not. However I have found a balance where one supports the other.

While I was still doing the freelance/orchestra life, I never felt completely fulfilled. I was working, but I was working with a lot of people who would read magazines during concerts (no, I’m not kidding. They had them on their music stands) and complain during breaks. Many were very, very unhappy. And there I was, feeling their negativity pretty acutely, and thinking to myself, there are hundreds of musicians who would kill to do this job you’re endlessly complaining about. It was around this time that I decided to switch tracks, and to make an attempt to be successful outside of music, and to pour my energy into the business sector to see how far that would take me. It was a good decision for me, and ironically, it gave me the freedom to become much more successful INSIDE the music world.

Here’s the difference between our two situations, though—at least as I see it: I was inside, and chose to leave. You’re outside and want to get inside. (I assume this from your phrase, “getting noticed [as a musician'].” if I got this wrong, or misinterpreted this, my apologies.)

Decide what fulfills you as a musician.

If you want to feel fulfilled as a musician, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What fulfills you as a musician? Is it playing something perfectly 100 times? Is it 1,000 people at a concert? 100,000 views on YouTube? 1,000,000 plays on Spotify? Each of these requires a different path.

  2. What fulfills you as a person? Is it playing music you love? Teaching someone else to play and love music? Is it the freedom to do what you want (e.g. without needing to worry about money)? Again, each of these requires a different path.

Here’s what made the difference for me, back in 2005 when I left the orchestra. (Perhaps this is an exercise that you might try.) I was getting tired of playing music and feeling like “Wait—this is it??? This is what I put 10,000 hours in a practice room for?” I was dealing with the negative attitudes of many of my peers. And, to boot, I saw people in their 60s and even 70s playing the same gigs I was playing at 35. So, on a drive back from a concert—a long drive on the New Jersey Turnpike at midnight—I fast-forwarded to the end of my life and tried to look back on my 35-year-old self with that perspective. And I boiled my life down into two questions: looking back, would I rather have been known as a touring musician, or would I rather have watched my kid grow up? Would I rather have played music I was increasingly bored with to earn a living and “fulfill my destiny as a musician”, or would I rather have used that creativity in other places in my life?

I think the answer is obvious, based on the decisions I made.

Find moments of creativity in your non-musical life.

Back to you: look at your life with whatever technique you choose to give you that kind of perspective. Music does NOT have to be what fills up your refrigerator with food and pays your rent. In fact, I’ve found it’s liberating when it isn’t. Finding creativity in your non-musical life actually makes the times when you’re with your instrument more precious, less stressful and much more fulfilling.

Give your best time to yourself.

Finally, practically speaking, one other thing I can recommend. If like me, you have the most energy in the morning, give that time to yourself. Wake up early and practice, write, record—whatever. That way, you can enter your day with the feeling that you’ve already accomplished your musical goals for the day.

I hope you find the balance you’re looking for. It’s definitely worth the effort.


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