Both Choices Are Good

I’ve been having an interesting conversation with one of my coaching clients lately.  The topic is a common one among music people (and all creatives, for that matter): trying to resolve the “conflict” or the “incompatibility” between making our living from our artistic pursuits vs. making a living from a “day job” or other, non-artistic pursuits.  I think part of the problem is the inherent assumption that it’s a “conflict” in the first place.

I just don’t see it that way.

A few years ago, I was on a “DIY Music” panel at the annual TAXI Road Rally music convention in L.A., along with other music industry professionals including Tony Van Veen (then EVP of Sales and Marketing for Disc Makers), Derek Sivers (Founder/then CEO of CD Baby), Lydia Hutchinson (Owner/then Publisher of Performing Songwriter magazine), publicist Mike Farley, and musician/songwriter/artist Gilli Moon.

During the panel discussion, the subject of the “dreaded day job” came up, and I expressed my viewpoint that I didn’t see a day job or other, non-music sources of income as “dreaded” at all.

Unlike so many other music people, I hung onto my day job (as a software architect for GE) for as long as humanly possible before I finally left to pursue my music career full-time. Why? Because while I was a dedicated employee and worked hard, I also “milked my day job for all it was worth,” and never saw it as “the enemy” or the thing that was preventing me from realizing my musical dreams.

In fact, it was exactly the opposite.

That day job funded my music career, and gave me opportunities I would otherwise never have had.  

And even though I haven’t had a “day job” in 15 years, I still refer to my home in Nashville as “the house that GE bought” and my commercial recording studio, from which I make my living today, as “the studio that GE built.”  Every instrument, every piece of recording gear, every tour I embarked on, was initially funded and made possible by that day job.

So today, during my conversation with my coaching client, memories of that TAXI Road Rally panel and the views I held at the time (and still do today) came back to me.

Here’s what I told my coaching client:

As for the “dichotomy” between making music a priority and making other income a priority, remember that it’s not actually a dichotomy at all.  That’s entirely a mindset thing.  The two are not mutually exclusive; they’re actually complementary.  At least while we’re getting things rolling with our music income, any non-directly-music pursuits that we take on, and the subsequent income we derive from them, are what make the music possible.  Those outside pursuits are actually our “virtual business partner,” or the “virtual venture capitalist” for our music career.  As long as we look at it that way, then we make both sides of our work compatible, and not in conflict with one another.  Income from anywhere is still income!

So for me, it’s not a conflict at all, but a wonderful, symbiotic relationship.  That viewpoint is a choice — one that we all have the opportunity to consciously make, or not.

But given the alternative, why choose to look at it any other way?

If you’d like to read the full transcript of the TAXI panel discussion, you can find it here:

Part 1:
Part 2:

I hope this perspective will help others view their non-music pursuits in a more positive light as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  How do your non-music pursuits fit into your overall life picture?  Make sure to comment below!

About the Author

is an independent music producer and engineer, published author, music career coach, and co-founder of the Azalea Music Group in Nashville. He helps artists and songwriters reach their fullest sonic and emotional impact with the recordings he produces, and also teaches them how to do it themselves. His diverse list of clients includes Davy Jones of the Monkees, Grammy-winning songwriter Don Henry, and international guitar virtuosos Tommy Emmanuel and Muriel Anderson.

10 Responses to Music Vs. Everything Else: It’s Not Either-Or!
  1. I think it depends. Imagine your CD is done, and it is time to book the U.S. and world tours to support the CD. Only one problem- your fellow band members have taken w-2 style day jobs, that don’t allow them to take off time to tour without being fired. They can tour, but only if the touring is constant, for at that point they would have no other income. You need to take time off from touring to write and record new music, because you can’t do that while the driver in the van is playing their favorite music out loud to keep them from spacing out and driving the van into a ditch. So you find mercenaries to tour the record with you, and they are only in it for the weekly paycheck, and you selected them because they were available for the tour, not because you really liked their playing. All this could have been avoided if the band members had chosen FLEXIBLE day jobs from the onset of their music career. But you rarely find that. So even if you have chosen a day job that does not prevent you from playing an opening spot for a headliner in your genre on a Thursday 1000 miles away, likely one of the members of your band has.

    • Hey Chuck! I have a little different perspective… It might have a lot to do with where one lives and uses as a base for one’s music career. One of the most important steps in Nancy’s and my music careers was to take it seriously enough to move to Nashville 23 years ago. Here in Nashville, there are literally thousands of touring musicians who are able to pull off exactly what you describe, on a regular basis. Part of that is a result of the fact that the music industry is such a huge part of the culture here, companies offer many, many more flexible day jobs than they might in other cities, simply because so much of the work force is in the music industry. For example, in my job at GE, over the years after I relocated to Nashville, I negotiated for more flexible hours: first 40 hours 4 days a week; then 30 hours 3 days a week. By that point, even though I was still technically a full employee with benefits, pension, 401(k), etc., I literally had more days a week to devote to my music career (including strategically-planned touring) than I did to my day job. But it didn’t happen overnight. And I’m not sure it would have ever happened in another city besides Nashville (or perhaps a few others around the country that are true music-industry centers, like Austin). The point (and the point of my post) is that I made my day job work for me and my music career, even if that required moving to a true music-industry epicenter. The opportunities are plentiful; it’s all about what we make of them. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great stuff, Fett. Positive and uplifting. Best to you and Nancy.

  3. Totally agree Fett! I saw my day job as a way to self-fund my own dreams as well. Without that income, I couldn’t have built what I have today – and I also wouldn’t have the house, the car, the gear, and all the great learning opportunities I’ve had.

    We can’t expect others to invest in our careers unless we first do it ourselves. But I suspect I’m preaching to the choir. 😉

    • Hey Leanne! I like your comment that “We can’t expect others to invest in our careers unless we first do it ourselves.” Great perspective. Thanks for sharin’! 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed this article because of its positive nature. After graduating from university, I started working in the music business (on work experience) but after proving myself to my employer was offered a paid position. When the internet boom hit in Australia I was lucky enough to leave the music business and found work as an entertainment industry consultant for a global telecommunications company. From there I continued to work as a consultant for a variety of companies in different industries. Even though I had a “day job” my passion was, is and will always be music. As a result, I kept teaching music (I started teaching when I was at university) in the evenings and on weekends, I played in bands and continued to write songs. By having a “day job” I had security but more importantly, I was able to afford to buy instruments and build my studio and finally when I was fed up with the “day job”, I left to focus on MY music business. As a result, I get up every morning excited about the work I do. I know I work longer hours than I did in my “day job” but I love what I do and it doesn’t feel like work.

    Fett is right. My employers were like venture capitalist who funded me to pursue my passion and that is working with music every day. Thanks for the great article Fett and for sharing your experience.

  5. Several points in your article were comparable to what I discovered a few years ago. A ‘day job source of income’ can help build a music career. My band plays locally, however my income pays for my instruments and music equipment. I also discovered there is more flexibility if you are self employed for your ‘day job source of income’. In my case, my profession is business, but my passion is music. I suppose it also helps that I enjoy my day job.

    • Hey Jan! I like the way you put it: “my profession is business, but my passion is music.” I hadn’t heard it put that way before. You’re right about it being easier if you’re self-employed. Fortunately, there are more and more opportunities to make an income from being self-employed and/or having a home-based business than when I started out. It’s a trend that I’m sure will continue, too. Thanks for sharing! 🙂


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