So if you didn’t make it into the RA top 100 DJ poll this year and your agent hasn’t called offering you glamorous tour dates in South America next summer, you may find yourself like many of us joining the rat race of commuters making their way to their desk jobs each morning, wishing you could kick back and spend the rest of your Monday developing that beat you started on the weekend. We’ve all been there. But how bad for your creativity is your day job really?
Balancing the need to make a living with the passion for making music has been a life long battle for me. Its not a fight that's got any easier either. People deal with this dilemma in different ways. Some rebel against the system and find alternative ways to get by, some play the system, claim benefits & deal drugs while others find lucrative ways to make money without being tied down for eight hours a day. Many, in my experience, get sucked into the corporate machine of the 9-5 completely, often losing track of who they really are or what they really set out to achieve in life. Its understandable.
It takes a great deal of courage to make a decision, to really say to yourself this is who I am going to be and this is what I am going to do. Circumstances prevent many of us from simply taking charge of our own destiny like so many of the sensationalist articles suggest. We can’t all just quit work and become great artists who make great money doing what we love, and actually the world would quickly become quite boring if we did.
So the reality is most of us will have to work. I don’t think I will win the Nobel prize for having uncovered this profound fact of life. But that's not what this blog is about. What I am interested in examining today is exactly what type of work one should engage in and how your day job could actually compliment your creative output at home.
A mistake I and many others have made is to think, “Well if I want to be a music producer I should get a job in the music industry right?” Be careful. That could be the very last thing you want to do. Why? Well imagine this. You decide to take a job as an engineer in a recording studio and find yourself working brutally long hours on other peoples music every day. By the time you get home your ears are shot to bits and your eyes are bleary from staring at Logic all day. Do you honestly think at this point you’ll be raring to fire up your own computer for another eight hour session? Good luck with that.
So you may at some point think “Well I’m creative so I need a job that lets me be creative”. But do you? Again proceed with caution here. You’ve already decided you want to become a music producer haven’t you? If you then go off and get yourself tied down into a highly creative job in some other sector, the chances are that it will completely consume you. There are only so many hours in a day and being creative can burn a lot of calories. If you’re working in some advertising agency busting your gut to come up with the latest viral campaign for some hideous corporate brand, don’t you think your precious creativity might be a little spent when you finally get a Saturday afternoon to yourself in the studio? Don’t under estimate how much mental space music making requires.
Perhaps a better approach is to view the situation as a problem which requires some balancing. We all have to wear different hats in life. We all have limitations. Sometimes we have to consider carefully how we are going to distribute and spend our precious life energies. If you’ve made a decision to take your music production seriously then the creative centre of your life is already largely spoken for. You don’t want to be offering that up too readily to an employer or some other kind of cause that you’re not feeling passionate about. Instead you could think about what other reserves you maybe able to bank in exchange for employment.
Studio production isn’t particularly physical (unless you dance hard throughout the whole session). So you could think about allocating some of your more physical energies to a day job, which would leave your creative mental energies largely untapped and ready for deployment in the studio later. Full on manual labour might be taking it a bit too far. Long hours and very early starts could compromise you, but you could consider options like gardening, painting, decorating or the trades. When I was younger and DJ-ing quite a lot I tried to hold down a couple of white collar office jobs at the same time. This proved to be extremely stressful. I remember once working for an insurance firm that happened to be next door to a record shop. I spent more time in the record shop than I did at my desk and eventually the manger at the insurance firm suggested I might be in the wrong job and invited me to retire! I guess I should have felt a bit ashamed but I was actually pretty relieved. I did find myself however in the unfortunate position of having no income so I went down to the job center and said I’m happy to do what ever, give me anything I said. So the next day they sent me gardening and for the next few months I was glowing. I was outside in the fresh air every day exercising and connected to nature. I didn’t earn very much money from it but I had enough to survive, and more importantly bags and bags of energy for my music. Never before was I more focused on my creativity. I was the life and soul of the party.
Perhaps if you are more of a pragmatist you could put your organisational skills to work. There are many clerical office jobs which may sound pretty dull on paper but may serve as excellent jobs for budding music producers. Or perhaps you could consider a job in sales? It may sound like a rather counter intuitive option but a sales job can actually work quite well for the double lived techno producer. Unlike advertising, design or other highly vocational professions sales jobs often have quite clearly defined and straight forward objectives. Obviously it depends on what it is you are selling, but if you can find a decent gig in this sector it could provide you with the financial support you need whilst still leaving you with plenty of capacity to be creative at the end of a working day. Sales jobs can also be quite lucrative if you know the right people and present well enough and generally if you are hitting your targets then no one is going to be breathing down your neck. I know people who’ve enjoyed highly successful sales careers which have afforded them opportunities to run record labels, start their own club nights and pursue active DJ careers.
A lot of highly creative people go into teaching. They often say the person who learns the most during a lesson is in fact the teacher. Teaching is probably an exception to the rule where it may in fact be extremely complementary to your own musical endeavors to teach within the same sector. At the same time as teaching people who are newer to the art than you are, you'll find yourself being challenged and discovering important lessons for yourself along the way. Teachers also tend to get more holiday than private sector workers, that means more studio time right?
When choosing a day job to support your music career you have to think about conserving two main resources, your time and your creative mental capacity. You don’t want to get into jobs where you’ll be expected to work late into the night and into your weekends all the time. You probably want to avoid other highly creative positions too. Whilst you may learn things in these jobs, if you get stuck into them long term your music will end up on the back burner while you’re pulled onto grueling client briefs with nasty and unrealistic deadlines. You want to be avoiding stress at all times. When looking at which jobs to apply for always give the position a stress risk score. Stress and music making don’t go well together. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Equally, spending all of your time completely focused on your own creative output can be counter productive, which is why the right day job can actually be highly beneficial to your music. If you are locked in the studio everyday not seeing anyone this is very unhealthy too. You may find getting out to work for a few hours each day can have a tremendously positive effect on your general well being. Sometimes doing something very mundane and non-creative for a few hours can really ignite your flame and passion for the studio again. A little juxtaposition in life is important.
There is no one size fits all solution to this problem and we all have different skills sets and varying degrees of capacity to juggle different disciplines in life. Theses are just a few suggestions based on my life experience. Eventually you’ll find your own balance and synergy. I wish you the best of luck!
Words by Joseph S. Joyce