HOW HAVING A SIDE HUSTLE CAN STRENGTHEN YOUR CAREER
Pursuing a freelance creative profession is often posited as an all or nothing endeavour. You’re supposed to give up everything else, and put all your time, money and emotional energy into it. To just practise, practise, practise; hustle, hustle, hustle. Never take your eye off the prize and certainly don’t spend any of that valuable time working a job outside of that creative pursuit. It’s true that following a non-traditional career path requires dedication and determination that some more traditional career routes don’t, but I don’t think “all or nothing” is a healthy mindset, for reasons I’ve mentioned before.
Outside of the mental health risks of such single mindedness, there’s also the fact that having a day job or side hustle is sometimes the thing that actually gets you over the hump into a full time creative job, not what prevents it. Having interests outside of your creative life might not only help your bank account, but give you a chance to reset and reenergise, ultimately enriching the music you’re creating too. While you’re trying to make ends meet you might just discover that there’s something else you loving doing as much as music, or at least close to. You might find another skill or talent to nurture and find that a full, balanced and multifaceted life contributes to becoming a fully formed human that people actually want to work and spend time with. Maybe you’ll find inspiration for the very art you’re trying to support.
Side Hustle Stigma
I really resisted the idea of a side job when I first moved to Nashville. I felt like I’d moved here to be a bass player, and given up so much to make the move happen, that doing anything outside of performing was tantamount to giving up that dream completely and wasting every cent it had taken to get here (many, many, many cents). I drank the “all or nothing” Kool-Aid and the first few years in that mindset were extremely tough, both financially and emotionally. I came to Nashville with 15 years professional experience but even so, it took time to build a network and for the phone to start ringing consistently enough to make rent each month. I struggled along, taking every gig that came along and under such immense stress about money that I’m pretty sure I gave myself adult acne (or at least exacerbated it). My mum had to help me a couple of times and my credit card got a solid work-out and, even in the face of all this, I still resisted getting a side job.
I finally listened when my good friend and touring buddy Christian Sedelmyer of 10 String Symphony mentioned it to me again, pointing out that many successful performing musicians in Nashville started with a side job, if not a full time day job. I saw Christian as such a talented and authentic musician that if HE thought it wasn’t selling out or giving up, it must be true. And it was.
Before you go and find a day job, the first step towards a financial boost might be finding a way to diversify and expand what you’re doing within the music realm. If you’re already a sideman/woman performing for other artists/bands, maybe you start offering your services for indie recording sessions at a reduced rate to get your foot in the door of the session world. Maybe you’re great at chart writing so you offer that as a service to songwriters. You could be awesome at explaining the technical elements of your instrument, so you start a youtube channel that you can eventually monetise. Maybe you’re a songwriter who only performs your own music, so you look into joining other groups or backing other artists as well to increase gig opportunities. Maybe you start offering music lessons, in person or via video chat. The first step might be just looking at what you do already and finding a way to creatively expand your financial opportunities within that.
Once you’ve exhausted all those possibilities, if you’re still not feeling flush, it might be time to look for income outside the music world.
Find Your Hustle
To my mind, the greatest benefit of a job outside your freelance industry is not having to sit by the phone; not being in a position where you can only make money at someone else’s whim. Accepting that I needed another income stream, even just temporarily, is exactly the reason I have a career as a performing bass player now. Without a financial bandaid between tours I would probably have had to leave Nashville before I’d had time to build up a strong enough network and bank of experience to get to the full time performing career I wanted. Getting a side job was essential, but finding a job that didn’t make it impossible to continue performing was an important factor.
Flexibility Is Essential
Finding a job flexible enough to allow you to continue performing can be tough, but it’s not impossible. There are seasonal jobs, and there are many jobs where you can still choose your availability. Nannying, short term personal assistant work, gardening, bartending, catering work - anything that allows you to choose if/when you accept a job offer can be a great side hustle.
In Nashville especially, there are employers who understand the touring musician’s life and are willing to work around a fluctuating schedule for the sake of having an otherwise good employee.
My first non-music job in Nashville ended up being the best thing I could’ve done for my career. I was finishing a tour on the West Coast and looking down the barrel of several months of an empty calendar when I spotted a notice for part time staff at a local distillery. I ended up working with something I already loved (Bourbon), in a team of some of the best people I’ve met, and for an amazing manager who let me (and the many other musicians on the team) note our tours in a calendar so he could schedule around them. That job saved my life financially and I held onto it until it for as long as possible, long after I was probably busy enough with music to let it go, because I valued it so much.
Having another way to make money also meant I could say no to gigs I wasn’t super excited about playing, keeping my schedule open to be available for the more fun gigs that came along, often last minute or filling in for someone else. Instead of being locked into something I didn’t really want to be doing but had accepted because of an empty bank account and looming bills, having a side job actually made it possible to keep my schedule open for the awesome things that popped up last minute. For the music I really wanted to be playing.
It wasn’t just the money either, I found great value in doing something completely different. Getting outside the music bubble and my incessant internal dialogue and self-critique of my career. It was learning about something new, hanging out with a totally different group of people, and getting a mental break from the music hustle.
The best case scenario might be to find something you love as much as music, or very nearly. If you can find something else you enjoy doing too, and make that your side hustle, you’ve found yourself a dual career and, I would bet, a very happy life! I know quite a few yoga teacher/musicians who seem to enjoy both equally and have found a way to balance two careers. Maybe you’ll discover you love building websites, or writing, or doing fine woodworking, or making wedding cakes. If you’re lucky enough to find something you love as much as music, that you can balance with your performing, well to my mind - you’ve just won the life lottery and it’s no longer a side hustle, but part of a diverse and interesting multifaceted career.
If you do eventually find yourself with enough work to give up your side job, celebrate! You’ve probably worked incredibly hard to get there. But until then, don’t shun the side hustle, and don’t be embarrassed if you have one. It could be the very thing that ultimately helps you get to the performing career of your dreams.
Picture: at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery with Cariad and Jane: two of the amazing people I got to work with.