The Way Out... The Road Back


trying for a career change


Now that I was out of a touring band, and quitting playing music full-time, I needed to find work ASAP.

I did the natural thing—I tried to find work playing music. I mean, c'mon—it was all I knew how to do! Yes, I needed a new career, but for the moment, I needed to pay the rent. I needed to build a practice as a freelance musician.

Of course, being freelance is radically different than being in a touring rock and roll band. You need to know contractors and other freelancers who will hire or recommend you. You play different places (instead of playing only nightclubs, you're now working nightclubs, private clubs, hotels, conference centers, private homes—anywhere) and the dress code varies ... a lot (you go from wearing whatever you want, to wearing anything from casual to formal).

Getting paid is different. Instead of receiving cash nightly, you are typically collecting checks from disparate sources, sometimes waiting as long as 4-6 weeks. In fact, getting paid is one of the most frustrating aspects of being freelance.

Of course, most contractors are honest and reliable. But every freelancer has worked for bad apples who hold your money, lie about it, even stiff you. The bad contractor may be dishonest, or maybe just irresponsible. They're banking on the premise that musicians need work wherever they can get it, and will sit docilely by while being taken advantage of. I once foolishly waited until January for a lousy $115 for a job played the previous August! Finally, I threatened to write a formal letter of complaint to his client and got the check two days later. Good riddance to that sleazeball.

Issues of HOW one gets paid aside, here's the good news: many freelance jobs pay better than rock'n'roll "bar scale." And now the bad news: in a large metropolitan area with an abundance of good players, the competition is very keen. There isn't an open space for a new kid, even one with a dozen years experience, who one day picks up the phone and announces "OK, hire me!"

Establishing one's self takes time, anywhere from one to three years. And as I said, I still needed to pay the rent.

So aside from scooping up some scattered musical work, I realized I couldn't immediately support myself as a freelancer even if I wanted to. I needed other income, right away.

Musician had so far been my only professional job, but I did have a couple straws to grasp. Primarily, I'm fortunate to be a college graduate. This experience had imbued me with a few skills, notably writing and communications. To all you musician career-change candidates, I admit, education was key. For someone without a college, associates or even a high school degree, career counseling and going back to school are two of the most widely acknowledged options. One, or both of these things may be necessary to make a successful transition.

Something else which proved invaluable was the purchase a few years back of an Apple Macintosh. I acquired the computer only because I thought it was cool, and likely could help me write. I logged a lot of hours and became proficient on a variety of programs, including rudimentary desktop publishing. It was all self-taught, and just a matter of time spent. It was more than worth it: in today's market, even basic computer skills are absolutely essential.

Even with my degree and a few computer skills, my glaring lack of experience guaranteed rough going in terms of finding work where I decided to look: in the white collar world. Considering my writing skills and desire for intellectual challenge, some sort of white collar, communications-oriented job became the long term goal. I knew however, this was going to take time.

By the way, it's worth mentioning that when I was fired from The Assassins, a couple of important life events were drawing near: the upcoming close on my first house—in a couple months—and preparing to be married—in about six months. Life's pressures were looking in, especially in the shape of a looming mortgage payment.

An obvious plan emerged, to follow three paths simultaneously: 1) Play music as much as possible, 2) look for a legitimate second career wherever and however I could and 3) get whatever work I could to help make ends meet in the short term.

THAT's when things really got interesting.

Next: Making Ends Meet...

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