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DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE…

...into the full-time world of music

With Jennifer Kingwell
Photography by Greta Punch Imagery

I have been in a very fortunate situation for the past few years to straddle a performing career with what in many ways has been the dream day job — something that has given tangible worth to my FEE-HELP debt to help make me feel that going back to uni wasn’t such a terrible, fruitlessly expensive idea after all; meaningful work for a cause that I’m rantingly passionate about; creatively and intellectually stimulating projects that Do Real Good; an all-woman workforce-of-nature whom I fiercely respect; a boss slash mentor who supports my creative endeavours, comes to my shows and lets me take time off for tours, festivals and recording sessions.

…So, remind me why I just quit this part time mecca again?

Playing safe is a dangerous business for artists. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not one to romanticise the myth of the tortured soul (not these days anyway) or advocate a return to the not-so-halcyon days where you could only be deemed a ‘true artist’ by coughing up your heart and using it as an inkwell to pen your thoughts onto papyrus woven from the hairs of unicorns in therapy. No no. Thankfully my formerly Byronic commitment to ‘suffering for one’s art’ has shifted sideways a tad and I like to think that I am no longer a sucker for many of the myths and expectations that plagued me as a less experienced performer.

But no one has ever lured themselves into the music world with the dream to just be an ‘OK’ artist. (Right? Right.) And the privilege of connecting with an audience comes with the price of being ready to lay yourself bare. You don’t need to bleed yourself dry onstage. But you do need to be open. So there is inherent risk in this business of art — but for any performer with the ambition to making this a lifetime affair, even greater risk is in the choice to hold back, to obscure, to fudge or pretend. Because once you start self-censoring before anything’s even left the page you’re cutting off the connection from your own creative source.

In a similar way to the actual business of creating it’s often much easier (and yes, at least at times economically necessary) to hold onto the safety net of a day job and accept the limitations of not focusing on your passion 100%. And I get the economic necessity part of it. But there may come a time when for one reason or another your Brotberuf (literally “bread job”) isn’t as buttered up as it first appeared.

So for those out there who are also considering taking the plunge into full time (or at least more-time) musicianship, here are some of the tips that I’ve picked up along the way:

Have a plan, man

If nothing else, having a written plan of how you’ll switch from having a day job to making a living through music alone will give you something to crumple into a makeshift paper bag to hyperventilate into during your inevitable 3am panic attacks. Also if you include a realistic timeline and budget, said panic attacks will hopefully come fewer and further in between.

Consider multiple streams of income

Just because you’re quitting your day job, doesn’t mean you can’t get another day job! There are so many ways to flex your musical muscles and get paid, other than performing your own original music. Since quitting my online and social media job I have joined an all-girl barbershop quartet (lucrative, I know!) and started a private music coaching studio. I also work freelance creating websites and social media/PR strategies for other artists and community organisations. In addition to writing and performing my own work in different contexts and hustling as an accompanist/backing vocalist the above might seem like a weirdly patched together Frankencareer, but it means I can ride out the dry spells of one gig without going under, plus I am honing my skills in ways that benefit my solo original work.

Choose your pain

Every decision comes with a payoff. Think of life as one giant existential ‘would you rather?’ drinking game whenever you find yourself at a crossroads. Would you rather… have a weekly paycheque affording you a certain disposable income, but your entire creative outlet comes from watching other people’s cat videos on YouTube — or take a risk on hustling your butt off to pull together a living doing what you love? (Of course having a stable income and doing what you love are not mutually exclusive — that’s the aim of the game! But it’s definitely the road less-travelled, for the simple reason that it’s really fucking hard to find on a map).

Consider your privilege and what you can give back

There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that you love music, want to keep playing, but don’t want to pursue it as a career. In many ways this self-knowledge takes great strength of character which in any industry of human endeavour is often sorely lacking. Kudos to you, friend, my future superannuation balance salutes you. But to those who do decide that this is your life path — remember that simply being able to choose music as a vocation is a privilege out of the reach of many. Far from being locked up in an ivory tower creating your magnum opus, your place is as a conduit of human emotion and experience and there are many, many ways to keep this necessary connection open — both through formal teaching or volunteering opportunities, or through interaction with your own networks aka ‘being part of your community’.

Jump out of the fucking plane already

So…Getting back to the question of why I would quit a job that in many ways looks – and for a few years actually was – ideal for an aspiring part-time musician? I’ll spare us all the pain of open-mic-night self-psychoanalysis and just say that I had had enough of playing it safe. Time to put my faith to the fire and see what gets forged.

So here’s to onwards and upwards — or at least sideways and slightly forwards.

I’ll keep you posted…

@jenkingwell
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