Ideal career paths to combine with music

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Uncle Lee, Feb 25, 2006.

  1. I've a question for all of those people on the boards who don't rely solely on music (music for this purpose including anything in the music industry, eg recording, teaching) to make a living, but who still consider music to be a/the major component of their lives. Something along the lines of: daytime job, come home, play and/or gig.

    What I am interested in is: which careers/jobs have given you enough time, energy, and inclinication to be (for want of a better term right now) a "part-time professional musician"?

    Personally, I am at stage of my life (completing a degree in a non-music related field of study) where I need to start thinking about how I can keep playing. My age and lack of early musical training, I feel, prevent me from relying on music solely for income - at least for now. Also I am enjoying researching and will probably start some tutoring/teaching soon.

    So please let me hear some advice from TBers who have managed to combine music with another career.


  2. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC
    The short answer is that you simply make the time to do what you enjoy regardless of you profession or line of work. If music is your love, you will find a way to incorporate it into your life.

    That being said, a neat field is music therapy. I have a graduate degree in psychology with a music minor and an undergraduate psych concentration in music therapy. I am a behavior analyst at a large residential facility for adults with profound developmental disabilities. Our facility has an arts department and employs two music therapists. Although I am in the psychology department, the nature of our facility allows me the opportunity to make music for the benefit of our residents pretty much any time I see fit. Specifically with the music therapists, a great deal of what they do is therapy through playing music for others. A good friend of mine who is one of the music therapists literally plays music all day. It's a cool field because it is absolutely about music and its ability to reach others with disabilities (talk about a spirituality buzz), but is unique in that it is not chops-dependent, as most any other avenue can be.

    Anyway, I don't know what field you are in now, but your question made me think about music therapy.

    EDIT: Dang, the very next thread I read was the one about music therapy!
  3. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    The guys in my musical circle include:

    * Any number of music teacher/professor types
    * Self-employed web do-gooder/entrepeneur
    * Workout VP for a major national bank
    * Medical librarian
    * 3d-shift janitor -- and that poor, tired guy has played with every major middle-european jazz star you can name, too.
    * High-school English teacher
    * Any number of stay-home Dads
    * Me -- self-employed commercial lawyah
  4. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    The personnel at my gig today:

    Retired high school music teacher
    Technical college electronics teacher
    Political activist
    Consultant who is getting her PhD
    Myself, an industrial physicist

    For me, two "creative" careers seem to build on one another, even if they are in unrelated fields. Playing music recharges my mental batteries, and I do better work at my day job when I am playing regularly. About finding the time, it requires juggling priorities. I probably spend less time playing than most people spend watching TV.
  5. Thanks for the replies so far. One thing I am considering is continuing my studies to PhD level and possibly beyond, and then finding employment at a University or reseach institution. My field is Asian Studies, not related at all to music, but one can certainly incorporate Asian music as one of many possible research areas.

    I guess what attracts me to this career path (besides my obvious interest in the field) is that it's possible to choose one's own hours, to a certain degree. Sure, lots of time would be spent reading, but I imagine it as being quite different from a nine-to-five job which could leave me too exhausted to pursue my musical interests. Any thoughts from people in the academic field as to whether I am working on realistic assumptions?
  6. barthanatos

    barthanatos Insert witty comment here

    Feb 8, 2006
    South Carolina
    Navy here.

    The plan is to put in my twenty and retire.

    I'll be young (38), my house will be paid off, and I'll be drawing a retirement check. That'll give me the freedom to pursue music without threat of "success" hanging over my head. And in the meantime, I get to accumulate GEAR!! Yes!
  7. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I'm finding that IT work (at least at my company...) is a good match for musical pursuits. It pays well enough that I can buy nice gear, and the music counteracts the stress. Also, other musicians in general seem to gravitate to the IT field, so I have lots of exposure to other players.
  8. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Well, I'm a musician that rejected an academic career like the kind you're envisioning. It wasn't right for me for a few reasons, but one of them certainly was the nomad principle. In the North American context, if you want a tenure-track job then in the early stages of your career -- say, the first 15 or 20 years -- you're going to have to move from term job to term job looking for a place to stick. You have no idea where that eventual sticking point really is. Not a problem if you don't mind rebuilding social networks every couple of years. Not my cup of tea, but it might suit you.

    Also, for that tenure track job you're going to have to work your ass off to get it. Hiring committees are obviously more impressed with the guy who lives, breathes and eats Asian Studies 24/7 -- the guy with the incredible publication record -- than they are with the guy who's really very good but seems to spend a lot of time in bars playing music. No problem with hard work but bass takes hard work too -- it becomes a practical matter of how much time one has.

    I've always told young people who want a career in arts to get some kind of occupational "ticket" earlier in life rather than later. Become a journeyman electrician or welder; get great training in IT (Mike's right; lotsa affinity between music and IT); become an engineer, a nurse, something like that. Try to get legitimate training in an occupation that's portable, that's in high demand in lots of different places around the world, and which has potential for letting you take better control of the hours you work.

    Career planning is hard for young people. I was well into adulthood before I had a realistic, truthful idea of what I was good at, what others valued in my skillset, and -- most importantly -- what I could tolerate doing between now and checkout time. What you don't want to do is paint yourself into a corner. There is a high potential for just that outcome in academia.
  9. Thanks guys.

    Damon, coupla questions if you don't mind. Firstly, I am judging by your post that you are now relying solely on music for income. Is that right?

    Secondly, would you mind explaining what you mean by "painting yourself into a corner", especially as it relates to academia? I'm not sure I quite get what you mean. You are saying that one runs the danger of getting into a "rut", is that it?


  10. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Heavens, no, not solely Markus. About a fifth of my personal income comes from music; it varies by time of year, but on average about a third to a half of my working time goes to music, including practice. In my city and region there is not much opportunity to make a living solely on music -- not enough to buy a house and raise a family, anyway. Even our top-notch local musicians -- not me, but I'm working on it -- have to work very hard, with weird hours no security and no benefits, to produce an average Canadian income.

    I'm a sociologist/statistician who does human resource planning for a big electrical utility -- that means I do demography and labour force analysis. I look at our demand for labour and our supply of labour, mostly longer-term but short-term too; more macro than micro. We train our own tradespeople so we always need a stream of trainees coming in the front door but the size of the stream varies over time. I help figure out what we need. I also get involved in a lot of business planning, but that's sort of separate. Anyway, I'm a specialist who's already built a system of doing things for my employer. I'm lucky enough now to work part-time, from home much of the time, to keep the system going and to develop innovations to the system. I could make a bunch of money doing this as a consultant but then I'd have to work way too much, taking time away from family and music. I'm a lucky man, far from rich but with enough money to be happy and raise my kids well. In mid-career, I've taken my rewards in time instead of in money and power; I'm investing the time in music and kids. I figure I'm hedging my bets -- life may be short.

    As for painting floors but not corners, I mean that being an academic, specifically a professor at a university, is a low-demand / high-supply occupation, just like professional musician and pro athlete. Lots of folks would love to do it and there aren't many slots (yeah, we can talk demography but then I should probably invoice someone.) Anyway, you need a highly specialized and specific set of skills to do the work that take a lot of time to acquire and develop (not to mention credentials in addition to skills when you're talking professional academia.) That's time that could be spent on the old bass but isn't. Moreover, you can find yourself down the road having made a considerable investment but nothing like the opportunity you may have expected at the beginning of the journey.

    But I've gotta get working on some billable stuff here. I speak only in general terms and not about your choice and situation, Markus. About that I know nothing and presume nothing -- your prospects in academia may very well be excellent and suit you to a tee.

    P.S. -- Like many other technicians, jazz musicians sometimes find their way into teaching gigs at legit schools. Any good-sized technical college or university is teeming with such technicians who have arrived at teaching via a career in practice.
  11. Diddlysquat

    Diddlysquat Guest

    Feb 8, 2006
    I kind of like the contrast of my vocations and avocations: engineer by day, musician by night (and weekend), husband and father 24/7. Never a dull moment.
  12. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    I dunno if he has tenure track or not, but Tatsu Aoki has managed to be an assistant professor of film for several years now. Meanwhile he still does alot with his bass career and music related activies (like help run a record company). He's also very involved in the Asian Jazz scene and has played with some big names.
  13. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Look at the bigger picture and avoid things that will interfere with gigging:

    -- Will you have to travel out of town a lot (i.e. sales, marketing, truck driver, airline pilot)?

    -- Will you have to work nights ESPECIALLY weekend nights (nursing, chef, limo driver, anything with rotating shifts)?

    Then look for things that will HELP:

    -- Flexible hours...I have to put in 40 hours a week at my job but exactly when is really loose, I can put in twelve hours one day and four the next, etc.

    -- No dress codes...if you need long hair, tattoos, piercings, etc. as part of your image

    -- Lots of vacation time...the more you get the more road work you can do

    -- LOW STRESS...hard to go out and play if you're a basket case when you get off work for the day

    Finally don't overlook LOCATION:

    -- What kind of jobs are located near good music towns? In the US, it's better to live near NYC, Boston, LA, Chicago or Austin than Boise, Muncie, Frostbite Falls, etc.
  14. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    When I was 17 I wanted a career in music. Now that I'm quite a bit older, and look at friends who went that route, I'm kinda glad I didn't. It can be a very hard life.

    Of all my friends who went into music full time, three are with major symphonies, and have a pretty comfortable life. One is the concertmaster of a major state symphony.

    One plays guitar with a band that works about 200 nights a year- but in his 20s and 30s he was starving.

    And one guy hit it big, sold a lot of records, and has a pretty comfy life.

    Those who became school music teachers are pretty happy.

    The rest all eventually left, or found other employment, and play music part time, in local orchestras, bands, trios, whatever, strictly for the love of it. They're happy. The guys still trying to make it in clubs are mostly poor and miserable.

    If you really think you're good enough, go for it. But don't think mere talent and skill will earn you a living ;-)
  15. Thanks to who have posted for the good advice so far.

    Damon, thanks for explaining the "painting yourself into a corner" part. I believe you are exactly right, especially as it applies to Arts subjects (Languages, History, Philosophy etc - I know them as "Arts" from studying in Australia but I am not sure how they are referred to in the US or Canada. Humanities? Social Sciences?)

    Anyways, yes, you are quite right about the supply and demand. I guess that my main reason for believing I could pursue an academic career is that I love research and I love teaching, and I presume, would love teaching at a tertiary level. Primary and secondary school would not really suit me, I think, possibly because it is harder to be a "free thinker", and of course the discipline factor. I have taught primary, middle and high school students and have discovered disciplining others is not my strong suit! I think the real thing that draws me to "academia" is a strong, real interest in the subject itself (Asia) and the tasks involved (research, teaching, writing essays/articles).

    Obviously I have a strong, real interest in bass too, but I am a realist. I would be surprised (though definitely not disappointed!) if I were able to pay all my bills and raise a family just through music.

    I guess one of the immediate advantages I see in academia is a certain freedom to choose your own hours. Research can also be done at home, which cuts down on commuting times to or from work. To me, this equals more practice time.

    Brian, also, thanks for the good advice. I had not really considered the points you made about vacation time and location, but now that I think about it, they seem almost as important as hours per week. Can I ask what you do for a living? Feel free to say no or PM me if you don't want to write it in the post. I also like your point about stress: it IS hard to practice when one's mind is exhausted from (oftentimes) dull, pointless or frustrating work tasks.

    Again thankyou everyone who has posted so far. To refresh the original question, which non-musical related careers "sit well" with having music as a substantial part of your life?
  16. Damon, feel free to presume the worst. I have seen one of my favourite teachers at University being grilled by a committee in relation to his Habilitation (Professorship? I have no idea if this even exists outside of Germany, where it is basically the academic qualification to gaining the status of "Professor", the practical component being actually attaining a Professorship at a University). Anyways, they gave him a very tough time, so I guess I have seen the competitive and ugly side of academia too. As for academia suiting me to a tee, I would not formulate it so strongly, but at this stage of my life it sounds like it would give me a freedom over my work and time and energy that I cannot envision if I were to "work for the man".

    Anyways, cheers again for the detailed post of your situation. I have a relative who was offered a Board of Directors position in a major financial institution in Europe, which he turned down, preferring to work there part-time and enjoy his life. He works for a month and then has one month off, focussing on art, which sounds like a dream come true. Keep enjoying Damon, it sounds like you are right on the money.
  17. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    I work as a substitute teacher in a HS. The pay is OK for the amount of hours I put in, but the greatest benefit is if I don't go to work nobody cares. can take off a month, tour, and go back without even missing a beat.
  18. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Speaking of free time and low stress, this reminds me of when I was at NT many years ago. There was a guy on the grounds crew (lawn maintenance, etc) that had a PhD. He liked the job that he had b/c there was very little, if any, stress; he had plenty of free time to pursue his interests. He had access to the libraries and all other school resources. And one year he was even on sabbatical. We thought it quite humorous that someone on the grounds crew could take a sabbatical but he did it. So sometimes there are jobs at universitities that may suit a person more than just the obvious ones.
  19. Anonymous75966


    Jun 29, 2004
    Absolutely right. One of the best bass players in Vancouver also happens to be a professor of economics, but he got hired 30-odd years ago. For the next generation of us, the academic path - strictly in pragmatic, career terms - definitely isn't as easy as it used to be. I think there are only ever going to be fewer and fewer tenured jobs - maybe part of the general trend in the workplace toward more temps, fewer permanent hires. And sessionals - at least in Canadian universities - often make less than the department secretary. Universities are essentially just another kind of big corporation and ultimately they answer to money.

    Depends on your field I guess. I walked out on a graduate music program, in composition, for a number of reasons - one of which was the worry of being painted into a corner I didn't want to be in. If you do want to be in the corner I suppose it's better. But I think academic music might be exceptionally competitive and partisan, compared to the rest of the arts or social sciences.

    What do I do off the bass? I work in a music library, also freelance as a composer / arranger / copyist / sound tech. So I guess I'm embedded.

    My cornball advice for Lee re academia: if you really love what you're studying, by all means go for it. But if you're thinking about an academic career as job security / status / income / etc, it's probably harder than you think.

    For yer perusal:
  20. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I'm an electrical engineer involved in integrated circuit design for data communications applications. I have a master's degress in computer science.

    Boston is a good town for music and a good town for electrical engineering, that's why I located here after college.