Is There Life After Music School? Part 2

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Sokak SanatsIn the last post, I presented the first part of my seven step checklist for those of you who are “Waiting to Hit It Big.” That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re waiting to be discovered by Hollywood music producers. This is for any musician who is someplace between the graduation parties and a paycheck. You may be ready to start your music career, whatever that looks like for you, but the world may not have noticed you yet, and you’re not sure how to get started.

The “Waiting to Hit It Big” checklist won’t tell you how to find your dream job, but it will help you plan and prepare for it, and use your time wisely in the meantime. And you won’t be caught in the “woe is me, the starving musician” mind trap, like many hopeful young musicians who are struggling in pursuit of their dreams.

If you haven’t read the last post, I suggest that you start there. Those first three steps will give you direction and a way to take the actions required to keep you moving. The next four steps will form the framework that will support your dream (and you!) as you begin to create your future.
(Note: The first three steps on the checklist are in the previous post. I begin here with step four.)

4. You are not your work. This may seem straightforward, but it’s actually a difficult concept for musicians. We identify so closely with our music that we often forget that there are other things in life. And while a laser-focused, driven approach may get you where you want to be, you may lose something valuable along the way. So do your work with intense passion and drive, but reserve time each day to reconnect with yourself and your friends and family. Other people nourish our souls from others in a totally different way than music does, and both are necessary. Music may be an inseparable part of who you are, but it is not ALL that you are.

Why is this important? Because we won’t win every audition. Because when it takes longer to reach our goals than we expect, or when we experience negativity along the way, it is essential that we don’t take it personally. When we take failure to heart, we allow it to grow and breed more failure within us. Accept the hard times as part of the struggle. You are better than your failure. You are more than your work.

5. Have someone who will hold you accountable. You need someone who will nudge you, push you or even kick you (figuratively speaking) when you aren’t meeting your goals and staying on track. This could be a teacher, coach, relative or a good and reliable friend. Choose someone who will take your success as seriously as you do. And schedule regular “check-in” times, like regular lessons with a teacher, or weekly coffees with your friend. Let them know that you’re counting on them to be honest with you and call you to account if you’re slacking. And then don’t be offended when they do! Let them help you achieve your goals. Possibly you could be an accountability buddy for them as well.

6. Get a job. Do I sound like a parent? You need a job. Hunger is a poor practice companion, and financial desperation make us do silly things instead of smart things. You need to make enough money that you can pay your rent and utilities, buy food, stay clothed and have the transportation you need. Once you can pay for those things, you have breathing room to work toward a goal. If you’re starving, your audition is unlikely to go well. Prospective employers can smell anxiety. Remembering that you are not your musical work (see step 4), keep in mind that you are not your “day gig” either. Whatever you need to do to keep your household needs met doesn’t define you or mean that you’re not a “real” musician. We have all had day gigs to support us when the work we loved to do was slow in coming.

Even better, cobble together some music-related work that you can depend on to bring in enough income. Build a small teaching studio; that doesn’t mean with hammer and nails, just get a few students. Could you play for weddings or parties? Then go get some clients! Perhaps some regular busking would be possible, but be sure to check on the local ordinances so you don’t get a fine. Check with school and church music directors in your area to see if they could recommend you for private lessons for their students. Get creative – there is plenty of work out there if you look for it!

7. You need a budget. Now that you have enough money coming in, don’t get careless. As the saying goes – if you don’t tell your money where to go, you’ll wonder where it went. Learning to handle your money well is no different from making a schedule. You have a finite amount of time and money. You must choose how you use it, wisely or foolishly. Keep this in mind – a budget isn’t a tool to deprive and demoralize you. It’s a plan to empower you, to give you the freedom to achieve your goal.

There are so many online tools to help you build a budget quickly and pretty painlessly. My personal favorite is, because it’s easy and it’s free. Don’t neglect this step. The frustration, worry and money that it will save you is priceless.

You’re now equipped for the battle. Go make your dreams happen!

I’m curious – which one of these steps are you most tempted to ignore?

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  • Ann B

    Budget – It’s too easy to “treat” yourself to something as a temporary distraction in life, and then to find that you have nothing to show for it in the end. Setting priorities for money is the hardest thing.


  • Rob Stone

    Anne: Very good advice for all of us, young, just starting out or “in the game” for awhile. The “arts” are a difficult field to achieve financial success, stardom, etc. I’ve seen many musicians, who I thought were the most talented I’d ever heard, struggle at times, to make a living, not get every job they auditioned for, etc. But I’ve also seen & heard fantastic musicians, who are not well known internationally, but have a following locally, are making a good living, have families, have interests outside of music, are healthy, taking care of themselves, and who are enjoying their lives! Like you said, balance in your life, with personal music development, making a living, having a social life, staying healthy, is the key to going forward!


    • Lorna Ota

      Thanks Anne for all the above reminders and more…since I’ve been hanging around for ages….but not a professional. I just love the sound of the harp and all it can offer. It keeps me and others with whom I share this awesome ‘gift’ in a pleasant, positive and happy mood, most of the time. I totally agree with all you shared above. I wished someone guided me this way when I was much younger. I also thank Rob for his sharing, too. The KEY: “Go Forward!”


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