My friend Unwoman (aka Erica) is a cellist and singer of incredible talent with a voluminous catalogue. She tours regularly at steam punk conventions and has had several successful Kickstarters for her albums of original work. Today, she tweeted this:
“Seriously considering getting a “real job” in a few months. I’ll never stop playing, but fulltime musicianhood is losing its charm.”
This sparked a whole long conversation thread which you can find on her Twitter account about why she was looking for a job and what it meant to be a “professional” musician as opposed to a hobbyist. This struck me close to my heart, as I discovered that her ex-husband had told her that being a musician wasn’t a real occupation because she wasn’t making money. I had the same conversation with my mom who, for all her good intentions, told me that my career in music didn’t exist shortly before I went on tour in the UK. This was a blow to my ego and to my sense of who I am because I define myself as first and foremost a musician. You see, my mom is a brilliant linear thinker. She is a retired lawyer who is stellar at connecting the dots from point A to B but not at reinventing the alphabet. She was defining a career as something that makes you money and by that definition, my music career can so far afford me little, while my “day job” as a therapist and a tutor supports me and enables me to make music in the first place. While I understood her point and her concern for her daughter who was about to jet off across the planet, it made me really question what it meant to be a professional musician.
I consider myself a professional musician primarily because I release music regularly. More importantly, I set out my musical goals every few months and I strive to achieve them. Over the last 6 months, my goals were to license a song, release a music video and to tour in the UK. I totally released my video Remember This and went on the BEST TOUR EVER in the UK. I am still working hard on that first goal, checking out music listings and chatting with other artists who have licensed their songs, researching who is working on what project to know where to send my music. I am currently writing music for a friend’s library to practice writing cues as well. I take my goals as seriously as I would tasks set out for me at a “traditional” job and I am meticulous and organized in my approach to them (thanks to the powers of Google docs and my friends for keeping me sane). I honestly have no idea if I am going to accomplish my goal of licensing a song but I do know that I am going to go after it with the power of a thousand fiery suns and you best bet I am outlining my goals for the upcoming months as well.
It frustrates me to no end when people think that being a musician entails sitting around navel gazing and sometimes picking up an instrument. Worse yet, that you have to be some sort of a starving artist or martyr to your art to have it be worthwhile. I don’t want to have to make my music out of desperation and that’s why I don’t think there is a conflict between being a professional musician and a professional whatever else you do as a day job. If your job affords you the time, energy, and mental wherewithal to make music, then why is it considered shameful?
Why would it make me, or Unwoman, seen as less of a musician to say we have a day job? Does it simply ruin the fantasy of it all to know that when we aren’t playing songs we might just be…doing something else? It reminds me of the first time you run into your teacher outside of school and realize OH SHIT SHE DOES NOT LIVE IN MY CLASSROOM? *mind blow*
If our occupations are not necessarily defined by monetary gain, how do we define them? Does it have to do with self perception or that of others? Why are we so intent on picking only one definition for ourselves anyway and why is it so bruising when someone misjudges? Why do people not consider being a musician a real job in the first place? I frankly work harder at music than in any other area of my life. I am incredibly fortunate to have the privilege to engage in music as much as I do and to work the day jobs that I do. That said though, why do I have to define myself by only one of those aspect of my life and why would you?