tl;dr: I’m going to try my hand at doing musical activities full time over the next several months! I’m primarily looking for paid performing opportunities from music venues to restaurants to parties (and happy to do cover sets, which I’m working hard at developing). I’m also starting to teach guitar, songwriting, and music theory lessons, both online and in northern NJ. Contact me if interested. My original music career/dream is not dead, it’s more alive than ever (just starting to test out some new songs, still writing more, new album in the not-too-distant future!), but I’ve reached a crossroads, and I felt it was time to at least attempt to make a decent income from music in some capacity.
For the past three years or so (although that wasn’t the absolute beginning of my story), I’ve been taking deliberate steps nearly every single day towards building a career in music. But honestly, most of that has been holed up in my room writing songs, working on the craft, filming covers and miscellaneous other videos for YouTube, and attending lots and lots and lots of open mics (from here to England). I love every minute of that, just like I love everything else that has to do with music, but I do constantly wish I were performing a lot more (not including open mics) and, especially, taking more risks. I’ve tried almost everything to force myself to get out more and take more risks, but my anxiety and my endless capacity for rationalizing that anxiety usually makes these things difficult.
The one thing I haven’t tried? Not working a non-music job on the side that sucks up significant time, energy and consideration that could have otherwise been spent on music. Now, this is not something everyone can try, obviously, but: I’m free of ties and dependents that would cost me money and freedom (and intend to stay that way); I have the absolute cheapest tastes and lifestyle you can imagine (my obsession with traveling to London regularly notwithstanding — but I’m willing to sacrifice that for the time being); I have a small cushion of savings built up; and unlike many people my age, I can mentally afford to live with my mom for at least a little while longer (we get along swimmingly, I pay my own bills, our living situation is mutually beneficial, and I couldn’t care less what people think about it).
That said, my current part-time day job was definitely in my long-term plan for my music career up till now. I get to work from home, so the hours are extremely flexible and I can take it on the road with me, and even though it wasn’t enough money for me to live on my own, having a certain amount coming in every month gave me some sense of security and allowed me (in theory) to seize important but money-losing opportunities with my music career while still being able to afford necessities, a few luxuries (mostly the aforementioned biannual traveling and the occasional precooked frozen dinner — livin’ large!) and any necessary expenses to move forward with my music. I figured it was essential, but in a way I think that’s been part of the problem.
The other part of it is that, of course I know that plenty of people make a living from cover gigs at restaurants or weddings, or giving guitar lessons or any other musical job that’s not quite what I want to be doing, which is traveling the world singing my own songs every night of the year (yes, every night, that’s what I said) for people who love them. Dare to dream! Some people who share this dream do cover gigs as their “day job.” Other people do a completely unrelated day job in an office, bar or restaurant or wherever. For some reason, something in me inexplicably always thought the latter was smarter, more likely to pan out in the end, and almost more glamorous (?!). I suppose that’s mainly because it seems easier to get counterproductively complacent and comfortable with a job that’s kinda sorta what you want to be doing with your life, but not really, than with a job that decidedly isn’t (although, in that case, people often get emotionally attached to the pay and the sense of security anyway, and the effect is the same). But really, whether or not you get stuck in a day job and never make it in your original music career is less about the type of job it is and more about talent, motivation, smart risk-taking, and a little bit of luck. And if I fail, I like to think it will be based on the luck part. (Or perhaps just based on my social anxiety and awkwardness. But that’s a subject for another blog post.) At any rate, in terms of what I’d rather be doing with my day between covering great songs or doing office work, I can tell you right now it’s the cover gigs (and unlike a non-music job, it could potentially help with my musicianship and network), so why am I still going for the other option?
Anyway, these thoughts weren’t the actual impetus for my decision. They’ve just been swimming around in my head for a long time, unresolved. In fact, just a few short weeks ago I rewrote my long-term plan like the nerd that I am, and in it, I estimated that I should stay at my current job for another three years based on a timeline of what I thought I could achieve by then. But then last week, my employer unexpectedly informed me of their decision (for fair reasons and unrelated to the quality of my work) that my role has to be expanded within the next several months, and they gave me the option of becoming full-time again with a lot more responsibility, or gradually transitioning out. I was actually somewhat relieved and excited about being faced with that choice, because in a way it was a chance to save me from my years-long self-sabotage of sticking to the easier road, full of excuses, even though I’m very ambitious and lord knows you can’t possibly achieve anything great without taking some equally great risks. I thought about my goals and my desires, and I decided to make the more courageous, genuine decision and take a leap in the dark. As they say, you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
I have no idea if this is the action that’s going to turn things around for me and lead me right to where I want to be, but it’s definitely a move in the direction I want to go in, so that’s enough for me right now. I need to get more comfortable with taking persistent, large steps in the right direction even when I can’t see the entire path lit up ahead of me like an emergency exit path. It makes me anxious, but it’s just never going to be that clear (or else there wouldn’t be so many talented, driven people who never make it), but if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing and the uncertainty simply has to be accepted. I’ll try to take the intense physical symptoms of my anxiety as sheer excitement, as something positive that makes life worth living, until I expand my comfort zone and I’m no longer uncomfortable, at which point I’ll naturally come up with some even bigger ambitions to make me uncomfortable again. (For someone who complains about her anxiety so much, I’m weirdly uncomfortable with actually feeling comfortable.)
My main focus (as I’ve tried to make it for a while now, but never really seemed to conquer properly) is getting more gigs. If I work hard enough at promoting myself and doing them very frequently, I should be able to replace my income doing cover sets. At the same time, I’m hoping this new necessity will also motivate me to take more risks when it comes to pursuing the less financially helpful gigs and opening slots at destination venues that will actually introduce me to fans of my genre who might want to support my music. Like I said, having a stable (if small) non-music income was supposed to allow me do this, but somehow, psychologically, it seems to work in the opposite direction: that the more risks you take, the more you’ll say “fuck it” and take even more risks; whereas the more you seek out some stability and make yourself comfortable, the more attached you’ll get to that stability and comfort and become totally risk averse.
I want to promise myself right now that no matter how into the “cover gig” thing I get, I’m never going to give up on writing and attempting to sell and tour my own music as my primary goal in life. I work on some aspect of it every single day and incorporate it into everything else I do. And I mean, I have earned a hugely impressive several handfuls of $20 bills this year from merch, streaming, ASCAP performance money, and yes, paid (largely original) gigs here and there since releasing my studio album in March, so I’m well on my way to being as rich as Taylor Swift. Kidding; I know the amount I’ve made so far doesn’t inspire much confidence, and not having much mass appeal potential means my chances of ever doing more than just scraping by are pretty slim. But, I know I could be putting 10 times more effort into all of those income streams, and like I said my tastes are cheap as hell, so I really do think that in time I can at least make my definition of a decent living off my own music! Whether I’ll ever be able to afford my dream of a nicely situated flat and legal permanent settlement in London is much more debatable, but I’m pretty satisfied with just dreaming and doing my best for now and we will see what happens. Take that, anxiety!
So to sum up, if you have a wedding, party, or venue you want me to play at, let me know. Also, if you like my style and want me to teach you (or help you improve at) guitar or songwriting, also let me know. Otherwise, just keep an eye out. I’ll really be doing a lot more in the next year than I’ve ever done before; I’m on a mission!