When people ask What Do You Do? Sometimes it takes a while for me to answer. Usually, “I’m a music teacher” tends to cover most of my bases (barring my moonlighting gig as a hula hoop dancer). I love what I do like I love food (and that’s a lot), and the downsides can’t hold a candle to the benefits of each of my jobs. So in an effort to avoid being Scrooge, I’m going to start with the glass-half-full approach. Here are my top Three Glamorous Things about Musical Self-Employment.
The number one reason I do what I do… is so that I can do the things I want to do. Dr. Seuss is smiling down from heaven right now. But honestly, the reason I divide my time between at least 4-5 musical gigs at any given point is so that I can actually have a life outside of my music. I’m more than what I do, and the “more” is what strengthens my focus as a musician and teacher. So many of my 9-5ers friends do even more outside of their jobs. I’m a total advocate for self-destiny, so if that’s your jam, more power to you. But as it turns out, that’s not for me, and here’s why:
When I get stretched thin, I get really bitchy. As in, ticking time-bomb of suppressed emotions, usually set off by a completely unrelated occurrence, like when people don’t use their signals in traffic. Fortheloveofchrist, every car has them! Anger distracts me, which in turn makes me feel like I can’t fully devote myself to the project at hand. Learning this about myself was like discovering a new bible verse: I Knew It and It Was So. Every subsequent decision I ever had to make after knowing this helped set up my life and career. For instance, when it becomes increasingly apparent that I cannot handle even a 5-minute commute to Panera without wanting to kill everyone, I start to say no to things. I turn down jobs, new student requests, and dial back on my commitments, just enough to create a nice, synergistic balance of music, family, and wine-soaked Netflix evenings. During the summer months, my life accomplishments are usually contained to the garden and the kitchen, and I like it that way. When I was first starting out as an independent music teacher, I was terrified that I would miss opportunities and promptly fall off the Most Current List of Happening Community Musicians Who Like To Do Stuff. But then the second I’m all “I guess I’ll only stay in three nights this week instead of four,” the Universe gives me things, which I fully believe is because I spend time consciously emitting good juju. As opposed to violently cursing out the mofo in the red buick who forgot to use their blinker.
Running a studio is the perfect situation for me. I dictate when, how, and what to teach (hello, Lady Gaga! Not really). If I need to take a weekend to binge-eat with my family, or uh-mingle at a conference, in theory I don’t have to ask anyone for permission. That, to me, is priceless. Obviously, I don’t take off whenever I feel like it, but I know that if I really had to, I could. When the sickies get me down, I don’t have to think “gee, I’m low on personal days.” I just do what I know is best for my health…how novel. The day I discovered I had an adult-onset egg intolerance, which quite literally caused me to flush twelve hours of my life down the drain, my relief that my studio families were willing to reschedule was almost akin to the relief of not having to vomit every time I moved. Superb! I don’t have kids, but when I do decide to spawn, I have no doubt they will legitimately up the life complication factor. BUT, it will be entirely my choice how to structure my life around my children, and if I decide that bubbles and crayons are a priority, then so be it. Creating options, to me, is the best thing any musician, hell, any human can do for themselves.
Other control issues: I set my own hours and rates (in the studio, at least). I write music when I feel like it (a blue moon event, as it seems). I bookkeep in my pajamas at midnight alongside netflix atrocities (Maid in Manhattan). If I want to slap together a meal, parade the neighborhood, squeeze in a dachshund snuggle sesh, or clean my underwear, most of the time I can switch my daily template to do those things. As a result, I’m never without clean underwear – I know you were worried. This laundry list of activities (see what I did there?) may seem luxurious, and the last thing I ever want to do is rub it in, but the truth is I can’t function without control. I am considerably less stressed out when balance exists…and that makes me less like the hulk, mmkay?
MIGHTY Variety (that sort of rhymes…so just go with it)
I have what I might consider borderline music personality; that is, I eat, sleep, and breathe music…when I choose to. Sometimes, I don my cucumber-cool persona and network the crap out of a social-yet-professional event. Other times, I’ll release my
kraken inner child and go wacky with a crowd of kid singers. Sometimes I feel academic, so I’ll read up on the latest education research whilst sipping a ludicrously expensive coffee (which isn’t often, as you know how I feel about buying things). The point is, I never purposefully do one thing…and I like it that way.
As much as an introvert as I’ve become the last ten years, there are still moments when the yearn to really dive into something and completely book myself overcomes my need for two hours of daily alone time. I almost miss falling asleep .08 seconds, an anomaly my husband never did understand until he jumped on the busy-bus himself. Luckily, I’ve set up my life so that when I’m ready for that, I do it. The best “for instance” that demonstrates how I do is musical theater. My guilty career pleasure. Kill yourself for eight weeks, strike the set, sing along to all the parts while weeping uncontrollably every time you watch Bye, Bye, Birdie because MEMORIES. Then be happy it’s over, having forged new friendships with a truly colorful (in the non-racist sense) crowd of
crazies actors, singers, writers, designers, and artists.
It took me a while to be okay with this life. I thought for sure I would find job diversification unfulfilling and that it wouldn’t do much for my career. After all, I spent my college years and then some working my tail off, only to be dismayed at the fact that my work had no effect on the actual size of my tail. But life proves otherwise, I guess.
What do you find glamorous about This Musical Life? Or just your life in general?
P.S. Stay tuned for this post’s evil twin: Three Less-Than-Glamorous Things about Musical Self-Employment…coming soon to a blog near you.