Being a Full Time Musician: The Perks and The Downsides

Everyone wants my job.

"You're living the life"

"I'd kill to play music for a living"

"I wish I kept with music so I could do what you do"

"Can you turn down? You're too loud"

I hear all of these on a daily basis while I'm gigging. They all assume being a musician is just one never ending party of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And they'd be right; except when it isn't the 80's and I'm not in Bon Jovi. This life is a job like any other, and it's arguably more difficult in many ways than your average 9-5 career. Weekends turn into Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday through Sunday is when you make your money, and Friday and Saturday leave no time to go out with friends. Your life no longer coincides with the vast majority.

"But Josh, you get to party and let loose every weekend just playing music and dancing for hours" you might say.

You would only be partially correct though. I may be at fancy parties in expensive hotels surrounded by rich socialites, but I never get to turn off. As a paid performer, you're always on, but projecting the illusion of letting loose. Don't get me wrong, I have an amazing job which I'm extremely thankful for, but would I rather sit at a bar drinking a beer with my buddy some weekends? You bet your ass I would. 

Another aspect of being a musician that everyone seems not to understand is free time. Have you ever had multiple appointments or classes in a day where they're not far enough apart to go home yet far enough apart that going right away is too early? You're left in this weird gray area where there isn't enough time to actually do or plan anything else. That's kind of what being a working musician is like. Can I plan a getaway in three months with my wife? Should we buy airline tickets and book a hotel? Probably not a good idea, because will I actually be free? Short answer-I don't know. Sure, solo gigs are easy enough to sub out, but if a band gig books, I'm shit out of luck. It's not like shift work where someone else can fill your spot. Everyone fills multiple roles within the band (for me that means setup, teardown, running sound, singing, and playing trombone) which makes finding a fill more trouble than just always keeping your schedule free. There are also dynamics within the group that exist and make gigs go smoothly, which would be upset by different people filling in, but that's a conversation for another time. 

Finally, you don't just fall ass backwards into work. This isn't The Voice. You don't get scouted. You grind. When I first moved to Naples, I had a very small amount of work with the band. Very, very small. There wasn't work to be done. I helped moved gear on about 3 gigs over the course of a month. Yeah, very small. I also had no solo set ready and really only moved down when I did out of eagerness to start my new life. I had the choice between finding my own gigs and getting a normal job, so I obviously did everything I could to avoid working like that again. It just isn't for me. The next month of my life consisted of learned 100+ tunes just to have a solid solo act, creating a spreadsheet consisting of every bar, restaurant, and venue that possibly did live music, and cold calling each and every one of them. Work is there if you grind hard enough to find it. I did whatever I could to get my foot in the door.
"I'll play the first gig free and we'll book more if you like me"
"Beer and pizza is all you have? Yeah, I'm free that night anyway"
"You want my first born son? Of course, please take the second born too"
Even with all of that, it didn't work out for me right away. I ended up getting a job as a waiter and quitting a week later because all of that hard work I had put in paid off. I was getting more gigs than I could handle while simultaneously having a serving job. I've been free of that kind of job ever since. Everyone wants my job but nobody wants to put in the unseen work. A three hour contract can actually mean more like six hours of work, which doesn't even include all of the practice hours before you arrive on site. Life as a working musician is great, but it certainly isn't charmed. 

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