As we pointed out last week (amid a storm of opinions and frustration over the current arts job market), times are tough for classical music. But this isn’t actually anything new — times are often tough for artists, and the only way to cope for the long-term is to know what’s going on, plan ahead, and make smart decisions. Survival is a matter of adaptability and creative problem-solving as much as talent and luck.
So often, we hear musicians say they want to quit their “day jobs” and make money solely from music performance. This sounds great, but is usually voiced with a tone of frustration, even self-defeat. The irony is that for most people, being realistic about the world’s possibility pool for artists is actually one of the most positive things you can do for yourself, as it helps to open up new thinking and break down “old tapes” that do little more than make us feel unsuccessful and ineffective. For the moment, let’s set aside the outlier concepts of fame and wealth, and instead look at accomplishment, what it means, and what else might be included in a career that matters. Could it be that an artistic career might function better, and longer, when performance is a part-time endeavor? Since that is the reality for the vast majority of working artists, it must get due consideration:
Reorganizing your thinking
First and foremost, there is no glory in being a Starving Artist. For most, that state of mind is simply a crutch, or an excuse for wherever they are at the time. While difficult periods will stretch your budget and your solution-finding skills, don’t let poverty thinking become a lifestyle choice to validate your artistic status. It’s OK to make a living, any way you can. (I’ll write you a permission slip if it will help.)
- Simple fact: Only a small number of musicians will be able to maintain a performance-only living for extended periods, much less an entire career. This has been the reality for many decades, if not many centuries. Now, changes in the field (as discussed in Part 1 of this series) will make all of us increasingly reliant on the ability to cobble together a living from multiple sources. Don’t take your current income for granted, and be ready to adapt as needed. It’s just part of the game.
Embracing the options
- Even traditional alternatives are still viable for the right people, and should not be dismissed. Teaching and arts administrative positions, among others, are of course completely legitimate choices, and essential to a nurtured and thriving arts community. Ethan Hawke’s new documentary, Seymour: An Introduction, explores one remarkable example of an artist who has chosen teaching as his personal mission. When the world is awash with programs and teachers who aren’t up to snuff, it’s time to set pithy epigrams about “those who…” aside, and celebrate those who teach for the right reasons.
- Many people simply aren’t cut out for full-time self-employment. An “outside” job can bring structure and other benefits to an otherwise chaotic and frustrating life, and make an enormous difference to your quality of life.
- Many musicians choose to divide their time between art and other employment, for any combination of reasons. It’s a very personal choice, and a viable option. In fact, part-time musicians are far from alone. (The Guardian offers a list of prominent examples, linked below for inspirational purposes.) And this state of being is not new — in fact, PTers are the historical norm.
“From Philip Glass to St Hildegard of Bingen – classical music’s 10 best moonlighters“, The Guardian, 3/24/15
- Your work is your work, your art your art, whether it’s part-time or the result of a single focus throughout your life. Don’t let your employment status diminish your worth as a creative professional. If what you produce and how you perform are of benefit to someone, then that work is of value. Period. Stop selling yourself short, especially in the face of a worldwide job shortage in your chosen field. The real win is to keep going, and we’re cheering you on, all the way.
This is the second installment in a four-part series.
- Part 1: A hard look at the future
- Next week: Adjusting your mindset