Starting out in the big world, earning a living, can be difficult especially when trying to balance doing what you love and making ends meet.
BIG FISH, LITTLE POND
In England, from the age of five, you get on the theme-park rollercoaster called education, not getting off until at least ten years later. It's here that you are supposedly taught the 'basics of life' and how to survive in the grown-up world.
You have your core subjects: English, Maths and Science (Biology, Physics and Chemistry); History, Geography, Business Studies, and Religious Studies all make an appearance. Then there are creative subjects like Art, Music, and Drama; languages such as French, German, Spanish, Italian, or if you are at a fancy school, Latin and Greek. P.E. of course is important, keeping you in shape and making you wear horrible tiny black shorts. I.T., design and technology, textiles, food tech, and graphics are all covered one after the other through the year until you decide which one you want to take as a GCSE. Then at A-level you can choose subjects like Psychology and Sociology.
I might have missed a few but the point is, when you list them off, there's quite a few subjects you end up studying. When deciding what you want to study at GCSE and A-level, you typically go for subjects you're good at, or at least try to before you're told that doing all creative subjects at A-level might be a bad idea. So you swap out Drama for Geography (bad decision in hindsight) and Music Technology for Sociology (probably a good idea seeing as you had already chosen Music as well).
Early into my education I had noticed that Music was my jam, it made me happy, and I ended up joining a lot of ensembles both in and outside school. Yes, I had gone through a stage of wanting to be a video-game developer but what teenage boy who liked playing games didn’t go through thinking that? I had a talent for music and one of a few in the school regularly asked to perform for various events. My father described it as being a big fish in a little pond and that this would change when I got to university.
I found that dad was correct, at least to begin with, but my passion and drive to be part of every ensemble at university meant that by the final year I was, again, one of a selection who performed in most concerts and had made it through the, at times, brutal ‘Solo Performance’ module with it’s harshly assessed recitals.
BIG POND, LITTLE FISH
Congratulations, you’ve finished your degree! Take a look at all these wonderful career choices you have. You could be a solo performer but wait; you’re too nice and not cutthroat enough for that, as one of my tutors said to me. Why not be part of a paid ensemble? You’ll have to wait for one of the existing members to retire then go through a series of gruelling auditions. What about becoming a classroom teacher? We always need teachers. With music at risk of phasing out of education, maybe not. Perhaps try to become a hotshot composer overnight with a one-hit wonder, which is quite difficult when there are so many other musicians trying to do the same thing.
I decided to try and make myself stand out among the many by doing a Masters in Composition for Film and Television. Income was important though so I started doing a few retail and catering jobs to keep afloat while I nurtured the skills I had developed. The first was a catering job in a café for just over six months; the second was an used-electronics retail store for a year; the third another electronics store, this time with a promising career ladder to climb that I almost considered changing career direction as the financial support was quite good and had a few creative outlets. While doing these jobs however, I could not shake the feeling that I was unhappy and unsatisfied, while whenever I was teaching a student here and there or composing a song or two, I was enthused and buzzing with energy.
With a degree in music performance and a masters in composition, I felt I had an advantage of having two skill sets. While it's good to have a singular plan of what career you want to do, I knew that both of these were worth using. I had already started to teach clarinet and saxophone and so continued to advertise and offer my services as an instrument teacher, while also finding composition work on request forums, taking any rejected music I had made that did not fit the brief and posting it on stock-music libraries.
Over time, I found that these two enterprises were doing well enough to keep me afloat and were starting to get tricky to balance alongside a retail job. The steady income of the retail work had been so helpful and that guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month had been lovely but it was time to gamble and take the plunge, making the music full-time. I'll admit, doing this cut down my monthly income significantly but I could survive on what I was making and the most important thing was - I was happy.
I love teaching. I love composing. Doing it all day, every day is great fun. Working in retail, especially the last job, had great benefits but it had been tough and, at times, soul-destroying. Does that mean the music is easy - no. It's hard work building a business but it is mine and I get a huge satisfaction and sense of pride out of seeing it grow; seeing my students improve and enjoy their lessons; hearing my music played in projects and even seeing what I believe the least promising of my music being purchased.
STARTING OUT IS TOUGH
I've had bad days, bad weeks, and bad months. I've seen patterns where some months are better than others but this is all a process of learning and, while it can have moments of hardship, it also has moments of excitement.
Sometimes, the most important part of your business is the support network around you. I could not have done any of this without the incredible support of my family and, most importantly, my wife. She has been the first one to offer great feedback, to use her expertise to help me grow but has also kept me grounded, remaining honest, telling me when an idea I've had will not work and what to do instead.
The key thing to remember is - don't give up. You may be in a job at the moment that seems like it's going nowhere and is unfulfilling and yet, in your free time, you really enjoy it when you go on a walk and take breathtaking photographs of the natural landscape; perhaps you like building computers or repairing your friend's cars; maybe you are that friendly face at the gym that offers useful tips to fellow gym-goers; or like me, you have a talent with an instrument or write music in your free time.
Have a think, could you be making a living out of this? It won't happen overnight but perhaps you could start advertising on social media, in local newspapers, and on specialised forums. Have a look online or locally to see if there are any masterclasses or tutorials on how to build a business out of your skill set. See what happens. If there's opportunity there and it is promising, don't give up; make yourself known. This side hustle could end up being a game changer for you.
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