I’ve recently taken a part-time job as a barista. It was my third day in training and there was finally a lull in the rush of customers. In this short time, one of my fellow teenaged coworkers found out that I’ve finished college with a doctorate. Perhaps it’s surprising, but his reaction still took me aback. He was so baffled and he wanted to know why (if I’m so qualified for a different job) that I’ve chosen to work at a coffee shop in a grocery store. It just made me realize that not many people understand the music and arts business. The reasons to work a part-time non-music job are unique to every musician. Here are mine:
I love music. In order for me to continue a freelance career, go to music concerts, buy new music, support musical talent, etc., I’ve decided to take another job with consistent hours and consistent pay.
I love coffee. I always have loved coffee and the coffee shop experience. I love how such a small drink plays a supportive role for almost any profession. And if I wasn’t in a practice room, rehearsal hall, or classroom, I most likely was in a coffee shop on my way to one of those three places. Many hours were spent in a coffee shop studying for the doctoral comp exam, grading papers, and finishing my doctoral document. I’m also an amateur at coffee. I’ve had a French press for years and have dabbled with espresso machines. Working with coffee is something I’ve been fascinated with for a long time.
I’m burnt out. To me, burnout doesn’t mean I hate what I do. It means that I’ve done so much of what I love that I need a break from it. I need a break from feeling constantly exhausted, the constant judgmental atmosphere of various music circles, the mentality of not paying musicians for their time and work, starving to pay rent, and the overall politics of music organizations and academia. I need a change of pace to remember how to handle the stress that comes with what I love doing. Additionally, I should not have to feel guilty for this decision. I’m sure anyone else who’s completed their degree has felt what I’m feeling.
It’s not my only job. I don’t know of many musicians who only work one job. Most professional orchestra musicians I know also have a small business or work in academia. Currently, I’m a percussion teacher and a freelance musician in Missouri. Working another job supplements my income. It allows me to have money for emergencies, personal equipment repairs, membership fees, etc. More importantly, some of my students can’t pay my full lesson price. Working another job allows me to pay for driving expenses in order to keep my lessons affordable for these students.
Perhaps the starving artist is a common comical character in our culture. In reality, it’s such a shallow depiction of what music professionals actually do in their day-to-day lives. For anyone reading this who has been in this situation, know that I am rooting for you. There’s nothing wrong working non-musical jobs and doing what you love doing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.