how do I manage a “regular” job with a parallel career as a musician?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I am a musician (classically trained soprano, to be specific) and I’m in my late twenties. I recently returned to school after several years out in the workforce, where I had singing gigs and a musical life which I tried to combine with various “regular” jobs. It was tough, but it worked – before the pandemic, I had a “regular” job and a fairly steady stream of gigs that paid my bills. Of course, the pandemic blew all this to smithereens. The job I had was a contract that ended shortly after everything shut down, and of course all music work evaporated.

Well, I made it through the worst of the pandemic. I moved provinces and returned to school in one of Canada’s large cities. I’m now in school full-time, and not currently working a “real” job (not enough hours in the week!) although I am picking up singing work when it appears. In the future, once I get out of school again, I will have to find that balance between gigs and other musical work and a regular job again, and this time I’d like to be better prepared.

I struggle with how to present myself to employers, given that my core priorities are 1) keeping myself fed, housed, etc and 2) making awesome music, and not necessarily the job I’m applying for. But maybe more importantly, I feel really insecure about my work history, and have a hard time with making a coherent narrative out of it that isn’t “I took whatever I could get in order to survive.” I have worked SO many different jobs, mostly due to living for eight years in one of Canada’s poorer provinces, where work is almost universally seasonal, poorly paid, and contract-based (especially for young people). Good opportunities just mostly didn’t exist, and I really couldn’t afford to be choosy about where I worked. As a result, my work history includes farm labor, museum work, retail, tourism, library work, admin stuff … the list goes on. I don’t mind wearing a lot of different hats, but I really struggled to be what all these different jobs required, and it was exhausting. In the future, I would love to just … do fewer things. (Ah! The glamorous life of an artist!)

It was always obvious to me that if I wanted to do music for a living, I would have to have some sort of other job alongside it – not just a side hustle, really, but more of a parallel career with a certain amount of flexibility. Are there any people out there among your commenters who have (less well paid, less stable) creative careers that they’ve managed to complement with a more mainstream job? If so, how did you figure out what a good parallel career was for you? (Any suggestions for fields I should consider?) What process did you use to come up with something that worked? How does it break down financially (and how did you figure out what you needed to achieve financially to make a go of things)? And how do you maintain the balance between your art and your regular job, without being torn apart? This is something I’ve really been struggling with. My life really got a lot better and happier once I admitted to myself that I was a musician first, and not a Person Trying to Have A Career with music on the side; but I still really struggle to find ways to balance the demands of regular jobs and what I need to do to be fulfilled as an artist.

Readers with some experience in this realm, what’s your advice?

{ 311 comments… read them below }

  1. D*

    I’m a writer, and I find what’s more important than even the specific career I have, is finding a company that offers a bunch of time off, a mentality from my management of “get your work done” not “butts in seats”, and doesn’t stress me out so much I don’t have the mental capacity to write when I get home.

    Because I’ve been in my industry with similar jobs for a while, but it’s only this most recent place that’s really allowed my writing to flourish.

    1. King Friday XIII*

      Yeah, I’m a writer, not a performer, but having a job that gives me some flexibility when I need it and never, ever follows me home is what works best for me. I could probably make more money doing something else, but having a job with a company and a boss who don’t expect work to be my passion in life means I have room for my actual passions.

      1. Magda*

        Did you try being a writer as a career also? I did and hated it. It was not for me to do comms/writing as a day job and then do … more writing from home on my own.

        1. D*

          I actually work as a copyeditor during my day job, but it’s something I love enough to make it work, and fortunately it’s just different enough from writing not to tire my writing brain out completely.

          Then, too, I work in pharma, so….pharma copyediting is nothing at all like fiction.

        2. Diocletian Blobb*

          I am a copywriter by day and fiction writer by night. It’s not for everyone, but they’re different enough that it works for me. Another piece of the puzzle is that I also play guitar purely as a hobby, so I have a third thing I can do that uses a totally different part of my brain and doesn’t put me under any artistic or career pressure. A lot of times I’ll get off work, play guitar for an hour or two to reset my brain, and then work on my own writing.

          1. Magda*

            Someone very smart told me, “if you make your hobby (in this case, writing) into a career, you need to start a new hobby.” So I bet guitar is important!

            1. JSPA*

              Not a musician myself, but friends have done certifications or worked below the top level in small firms. Paralegal, tax prep (depending what accountancy degree is required or not), realtor in an agency, notary / specialized notary for automobile transfers. You can easily be the “X who’s also our Y, and is here Monday through Wednesday.”

              1. kitryan*

                The small firm I worked for was regularly employing actors and other artsy folks for a few years and was flexible about time off for auditions and so forth. However that wasn’t something that was baked into the firm and as management/workload changed, the vibe changed and so did the flexible attitude. During the time it was really arts-friendly, most new hires were recommended by current employees, who all were artists of some sort or another, creating a sort of pipeline.
                So, generally, I’d say one option to find these sorts of workplaces is to keep your eyes out amongst your musician and other artistic colleagues- where are they getting jobs? Though as with other workplace benefits/conditions, a flexible workplace can become less so over time!

          2. Gracely*

            Yeah, it’s often important to have some separation when your work is closely tied to your hobby. I didn’t know that at first, and I burnt out spectacularly after a couple of years working every day with something that had been my passion. I do much better now with a job that’s different (but still lets me use my hobby very occasionally).

          3. JM+in+England*

            You’re right on the money about finding a new hobby!

            Many years ago, I looked into making a career out of my main hobby of modelmaking whilst having trouble finding employment in my scientific field. Soon found out that:-

            a) Professional modelmaking is very much a “who you know” industry to break into.
            b) Going professional would be the quickest way to kill my enjoyment of the activity; there’s a world of difference between building something because the subject interests you and doing it purely for the next paycheck.

            The latter point was confirmed when talking to former professionals at show. Almost always, they left the industry due to burnout.

        3. Zan+Shin*

          Yes – my friends who went into commercial art never had energy to make their own. Having a day job using a different skill set or energy level can make a real difference!

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Rita Mae Brown has a wonderful comment on this in her writer’s guide (the name of which I am completely forgetting), saying she chose to work physical jobs instead of writing ones so that she would get paid to get exercise and could exercise her brain for her own art.

            1. Linda*

              I did a version of that for fifteen years, and it was great. I recently switched t0 thinking-for-money and exercising-for-hobby, and I’m struggling to come to terms with not being able to pursue intellectual hobbies at the same level anymore. Jury’s still out on whether the money’s worth it

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            My mother-in-law is a sculptor and spent the bulk of her career years in the toy industry, sculpting doll heads for a major toy company. (She also did some of the early My Little Ponies!) She did a smattering of personal projects along the way as well, but only in the last few years when she’s officially retired has she been able to really put the energy into her fine art sculpture that she’s longed to do for decades.

          3. Kelly U*

            I worked in a public library, and felt mentally underemployed. So I could read ‘literary fiction’ as well as enjoyable light trash. Now I work in a law library, and I only have the brain capacity for the enjoyable light trash. It’s really hard for me to need to think in my off time. I need to be able to bubble along mindlessly for a while, to give me enough brain capacity to do my work well.

        4. Baby Yoda*

          Same… once I started a day job that was heavy on reading/writing/editing I lost interest in doing more of the same for my writing/side thing.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. I’ve never considered authorship as a career, but I was fairly active in a few RPBEM (role-play by email) communities in the late 90s and early 00s, I’m talking writing at least 100k words every year, sometimes considerably more than that. But when I started working as a full-time translator, I quit all of them. That said, I’m not even sure anyone’s doing any RPBEMs anymore…

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            My day job is in accounting, and I tell people that wears out Mr. Evil Editor so when I write fiction, Mr. Evil Editor is too tired to whine very much.

        5. Trawna*

          I do writing/comms in a technical, not creative, field for precisely that reason, Magda. It leaves me with enough brain to write, and pays very well.

          Also, I write before work so it gets my energy before my paid work does. That isn’t possible for music gigs, but maybe for practice?

        6. yellow haired female*

          I’m a writer as well… I was offered a job as a copywriter, writing descriptions of car parts for Amazon. I ended up turning it down because it took something I loved and made it boring.

        7. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

          As a comms/marketing type, it did kill off any desire to do much in the way of personal writing. (Not a gigantic desire on my part to begin with, but it’s gone now.) At this point, I view it as a trade more than a craft.

        8. Soupspoon McGee*

          Working as a grantwriter killed my creative writing spark. Maybe part of it was working with people who thought it was easy because anyone can can string a noun and a verb together.

          1. Authoria*

            I’m able to balance a marketing/comms day job with novel writing because the two feel so different to me — what I found impossible was balancing writing with teaching writing. Yet I have so many friends who do. Depends on the writer, I guess!

    2. Magda*

      Yeah! There’s certain fields where flexibility is more likely (such as ones that are well suited to work from home or where you have a certain quantifiable product you work on alone – so I’m thinking graphic artist, remote call center, medical billing transcription) but you can also find certain office cultures that do or don’t offer flexibility and generous leave within almost any field. There are certain fields that are very *unlikely* to be a good fit too – something with clear shifts you must cover could be tougher depending on how easy / costly it is to call out or reschedule (nursing, restaurants, hospitality, retail *could* be flexible or not).

      1. Em*

        FWIW, remote call centres aren’t “flexible” so much — your shift is your shift. What they do offer is “weird hours” so if you need to be free from (I don’t know what musician hours are — presumably for a soprano the nights are a little earlier than the rock band gigging on George Street) 4-10pm, you might not have a problem finding a call centre gig from 11pm-7am., or from 6.30am-2.30pm.

        Given that you’re a singer, I wouldn’t recommend call centres for a day shift, since talking all day is a Lot on the throat. Overnights are pretty quiet, if you’re not working something like 911 dispatch.

        1. BrilliantBrunette*

          This might be a somewhat NYC-specific suggestion, but doormen jobs tend to also have the benefit of offering “weird hour” shifts that can be useful for musicians, like overnights, early mornings starts, etc. Security guards, building receptionist, hotel/hospitality jobs, etc. elsewhere may offer the same kind of flexibility.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      I am not an artist, but a friend is a writer. Her ultimate goal is being a publish author (novels mostly) and her ideal would be a college professor creative writing instructor which would allow her time to write. Unfortunately thos jobs are extremely hard to get and she doesn’t even meet the basic criteria yet (apparently you can be a creative writing teacher with only a masters IF you have a published novel).

      Anyway she tried to string together part time adjunct teaching at an underfunded community college. That just stressed her out because she was living less than paycheck to paycheck. Every semester break she tried to pick up part time work to carry her over to the next semester but that often didn’t work out.

      Now she’s found a full time job that she goes into the office (she learned she’s not great at working from home in a house with pets and other people in it) and can mostly forget it once she leaves, she has more mental energy to write.

      Being stressed about having enough money was not condusive to creativity.

      So my suggestion would be full time work, with a fixed schedule, and the kind of job that you can’t take home with you. Hourly and not exempt so they don’t expect you to stay late. Even going into the office all the time means that you probably won’t have the setup that you can work from home creates a divide that allows you to leave it when you leave (at the cost of the commute and everything else that goes along with going into an office).

      1. Magda*

        It’s terrible because academia did used to round out some of the arts fields, and now that there’s the adjunctification of academia that has basically eroded that option. The adjunct positions are as unlivable as making a living selling books.

        1. Properlike*

          Yes. I hear a lot from people wanting to “move into academia” from their day job, thinking it’s a good way to make money. I’m here to tell them it’s not, yet you work just as hard as if you were full-time faculty.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Last I heard the positions were like $1000/credit hour, and no guarantee of being picked up next semester. That’s … not a living wage.

        2. tamarack etc.*

          Yes, adjunct part-time roles are terribly stressful.

          However, I have the feeling our university’s Internet-based campus and remote learning resource center provides day jobs for a good chunk of the local arts community (as instructional designers, audio producers …). Part-time roles that are enough hours to get good benefits seem to be a sweet spot.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This. I know everyone gripes about the 9-to-5 (well, 8-to-5 minus lunch) but my job is one of those where I’m there fixed hours every day and then I go home and don’t have to think about it. It’s great. No after-hours headspace. Even our salary employees don’t usually have to work extra hours–we close and they go home, too. We do get generous PTO and we’re actually able to use it, so that has to be a factor.

        1. Magda*

          This was what I found! Trying to use side hustles and freelance to pay all my bills was much more difficult than getting a job with generous PTO and I probably ended up working *less* in terms of hours, because I was spending so much time trying to get/manage work and billing.

        2. Harpo*

          I was just going to say this. I’m a harpist, and most of my gigs are evenings and weekends. I have a rare lunchtime gig, but they are infrequent enough that I can take PTO for part or all of a day. Having good steady hours that you know are not going to change were key for me, so I could book my gigs ahead. Shift work and irregular schedules are the worst – you never know if you are going to be scheduled at your day job or not. As a singer, though, this might not work if you have daytime rehearsals that you have to be at. Harpists are lucky that they are in demand as solo players so we don’t really need to coordinate with others for rehearsal time.

          Another option is to find something that pays REALLY well, and work part time if you can. I know a lot of people in high paying tech jobs who swing a part time music career on top of a full time job, but some of them are paid well enough that they could do fine with part time or contract work.

          Someone above listed a lot of jobs that can be fine with flexibility, like real estate, and so forth. I like those ideas. I personally was lucky to have a full time academic job, so daytime hours, and flexibility to do a lot of my work when I could fit it around other work. but I agree adjuncting is NOT the way to go.

          Another idea that may or may not work is to find a job with an arts organization, like some kind of administration work with the local symphony or maybe even a museum or the music department in a local school? They’d at least be more understanding of your position, but be very careful in your interview and make sure they really will give you flexibility.

    4. anon for this one*

      Echoing the advice above that company culture matters. My company has creatives of different types tucked here and there, and what makes it work for us is things like actually being encouraged to USE our generous PTO, and a project-based culture that measures work, not hours.

      The other key I have found is aiming a little lower than your skills and intelligence warrant. The people who have accepted promotions struggle the most, because the job grows past “pay the bills.” This can be a hard walk to walk.

      1. D*

        I’m also encouraged to use my PTO and we get a couple days to dedicate to our personal lives or volunteering and when people asked what I was doing on mine: working on my book!

      2. LW who sings!*

        Ooo, this is good – I’ve definitely struggled with taking on jobs that my skills warranted, but then the jobs ended up taking up more space in my life than I wanted them to! Thanks for phrasing it so clearly.

    5. Bee*

      I have a creative-adjacent career in NYC, and I definitely second this – a job that pays the bills and doesn’t drain your energy is really the ideal here. A lot of people I know work receptionist/assistant jobs for big tech/law/finance firms (some even remotely, now), where they can make good money, get good benefits, and walk away at the end of the day. Temp work can help you balance this, too! A lot of companies in NYC are used to having artists in these jobs and fully understand how the relationship works – I don’t know if that’s the case where you’re located, OP, but you likely won’t be the only person in this position.

      1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

        Agreed. I’m not in NYC anymore but there’s a lot of assistant-type jobs in well-paid industries where institutional knowledge and a willingness to stay in a support role for a long time without trying to move up can be very valuable.

      2. Lady Blerd*

        I was reading this thread from a distance because I’m not a creative but you just made me remember that I do know someone in this situation. She’s an actress who does local theatre, her day job is as an admin assistant. She recently switched jobs but is still doing the same thing, only for better money, I assume she gets enough PTO and flex time to be able to go do auditions and rehearsals.

    6. Rosemary*

      I agree with this. One of my colleagues is a musician, and her “day job” at my company, while intense, is very accepting of the fact that music is and always will be her first love. I believe she negotiated for more vacation time in lieu of higher pay for her role. And our company is pretty flexible – if she needs to leave at 2pm for a gig, that is totally fine. And if she were ever to trade in her day job to focus on music? Everyone at the company would be cheering her on. That said – she is very smart, is a very hard worker, and is VERY good at managing her time. So I am not sure everyone would be able to handle a higher-level job and a music career.

      1. Maglev to Crazytown*

        Worked with a small-town pastor who was like this too for a small location of a larger denomination (not a one-off “Bob’s House of God” sort of independent thing). Did phenomenal work and was an amazing coworker, but we knew where his really passion was. He had flexibility to go respond to emergencies (we all had this level of flexibility as long as we got our work done, his was just most often spent serving his larger “church family”). We knew one day he would have the opportunity to go more full-time permanent in his side vocation, and we had nothing but support and respect for him, and cheered him on, even though we were bummed it meant we would lose him one day.

        1. Magda*

          true now that you say this our church secretary is a musician. I believe she probably started as a paid soloist in the choir.

    7. yellow haired female*

      Totally agree! I’m a writer as well, and I sort of lucked into a job when I was finishing up my MFA. I didn’t intend to stay on, but then the pandemic happened, and I’m still here. But my boss is flexible and I can have as much time off as I want (not all paid, but that’s fine!)

      I work for a psychologist and write reports, so there is writing involved… and my boss liked my work so much that he went out and hired other people from my grad program.

          1. LadyVet*

            I was just talking about how much I would enjoy a job like this. I am a writer, but there were a few months in high school when I also considered psychology as a possible career.

    8. NancyDrew*

      I’m a (traditionally published) author but I have a day job as a communications executive. So I really do write all day…and then write on weekends/nights. (Within reason. I also have two kids.) And my job is global so I’m often managing work at odd hours, too.

      I care about both my careers in equal measure, so I chose the route of a corporate career path that would offer my money and prestige while being writing-heavy. Others choose roles that are the opposite (including having no writing components whatsoever) so they don’t feel like they’re writing 24/7.

      1. Allison in Wonderland*

        This similar to where I am (though I am not yet published). Sometimes I wonder if I should be in a less intense, less writing-heavy day job so I can conserve my “writing energy.” But I wouldn’t want to be in a job all day that I hate! Writing/editing is all I know how to do. It’s a tough balance.

    9. Carissa*

      I’m also an author and now I do so full time, but for a long time I did it alongside my day job in tech as a marketer. I agree with this, when I was trying to balance both, the number one most important thing was finding a situation where my job wasn’t so demanding/stressful that I worked constantly and I no longer had energy to write. (In tech, this was hard, haha.)

      A benefit of a field like tech, though, is that I was able to transition to consulting. In this position, OP, I’d strongly recommend taking a look at fields and career paths that would enable you to one day go freelance or part time if you wanted to. I was able to continue working with my former team for about a year at 10 hrs/week when I transitioned to full time authoring, and the ability to do that was such a huge weight off my shoulders as I dealt with the anxiety of the transition — a nice fallback, in case things went belly-up. I no longer need to do that consulting work but it’s amazing to have the option to do so.

  2. Blue Moon*

    Not me, but one of my former coworkers was a classically trainer singer. We worked in the front office of a small music school! The job was pretty low key and involved processing payments, providing customer service to the parents of the students, and acting as admins for the music teachers. It was a 40 hour a week 9-5 gig with decent pay and health insurance. My coworker mostly had music gigs after work hours, but every so often there was a gig that coincided with work (like she had to leave at 3 pm) and our boss was happy to give her the flexibility to do that. Everyone there was a musician and understood that life.

    1. Whocanpickone*

      I have a friend who has a similar approach. She has worked at theaters and in the music department of a college doing administrative work. Folks who are like-minded already seemed to be more supportive of her musical gigs, etc.

    2. LunaLena*

      Yeah this was I thought of too. When I was in college I had a student job working in the box office of my school’s music theater. My manager was an alum of the music school there, and he took music gigs after working his 9-5 job. During his down time at work he was allowed to use the empty stages to rehearse or even just play for fun. It seemed like a pretty smart setup for him, especially since everyone there lived in the music theater world and were great about being flexible and understanding about his music gigs.

      I’m not musical but I do work in a creative field (graphic design) and I found that working in a job that required my technical skills but not my creative skills meant I had a lot more creative energy to make the art I wanted to make in my spare time. I love my current job, but I kind of miss it sometimes.

    3. AbruptPenguin*

      I was thinking along these lines, too. If you work in the music space for your day job (but not as a musician), people are more likely to be understanding and flexible because they also care about the art form. Of course, you’d want to screen carefully for job type, manager, culture, and all that to make sure flexibility is both possible and likely to be granted. And don’t guess; ask about it in the interview! It may even be something you can negotiate as part of an offer.

      And for your career path, think about how you can frame your experience as an asset. Lots of different jobs means you’ve had to be resourceful, learn quickly and adapt to different working styles, gained various useful skills, etc. Instead of “my work history is scattered,” it’s “my work history is varied and robust.”

  3. Ennigaldi*

    I work full time in a performing arts nonprofit and a lot of us are active musicians doing everything from casual amateur gigs to professional performances (non touring). Being in the field doesn’t pay all that well, but you get a lot of flexibility when you work with other people who are dealing with the same challenge of steady paychecks vs. artistic freedom. The good news is, you already have a big advantage in interviews by having this background knowledge regardless of your exact work history.

    1. bookworm*

      I’d also suggest looking at for-profit companies that sell stuff to musicians (ex: Conn-Selmer). I’m not sure how good their work-life balance and flexibility is across the board, but as an instrumental musician who took a path with different emphasis (more on the non-music day job while still fitting in gigs and performances with the highest quality ensembles I can swing on reduced practice time) I see a lot of musicians around me with those kinds of jobs (the ones who are not music teachers in some capacity).

    2. Caramel and Cheddar*

      I also work in this sector and it’s the same at my workplace — the number of people pursuing various disciplines of art outside of work is very, very high.

      One thing I want to add is that because of this, someone with a “weird” work history isn’t going to come across that oddly in this type of organization! The LW has worked a bunch of random jobs over the years, but so have most of my colleagues. This is where your cover letter will be key, because you can try and link those jobs in a way that may not seem super obvious from the jobs themselves. Find a thread amongst three or four of them that you can tease out that might make sense for whatever job you’re applying for (e.g. administrative skills, etc.).

    3. mreasy*

      This is true about the for profit (or “profit”) music business as well. There is often value to them in having an active member of the music community on the team, and you can find places who are flexible about your time off and tour needs for that reason.

  4. Magda*

    I have many thoughts! I am a published author and would love for that to be my real job, but even though the first book did pretty well it is not steady / predictable money, nor enough of it, to be a full time job. I have tried many combinations of things to make it work: a full time job where writing takes a back seat (worked fine until the book became successful enough to require a significant investment of time on marketing); only freelancing on the side (not predictable enough income); and currently part time work in my field, part time writing (okay but money is still an issue; in the US insurance particularly is usually cheapest through a FT employer). Personally, I’m glad I developed a “field” unrelated to writing and stayed in it for my other employment. That’s what I would recommend; something like administration is very versatile. It did NOT work for me to try to create an adjacent career (like, teaching writing, or doing mostly freelance writing/ghostwriting) as a) any arts-adjacent field is likely infected with the same lack of stability and b) it tired out the muscles I needed to be enthusiastic about my own fiction. My suggestion for OP is to fix up their resume to highlight the jobs that are most similar along a common theme – the thing they enjoyed the most – customer service? administration? and look for the most flexible work in that field they can find. However, that’s just what has worked best for me with my specific skills and limitations and is probably not universal.

    1. LW who sings!*

      I think this is super helpful, actually! I’ve been flipping back and forth for a while between developing other music-related revenue streams (teaching, composing) and work totally not related to music, but I do think that there’s a lot to be said for a totally unrelated career. SO much of the music-adjacent work I’ve had has been…less well-remunerated than I would like, haha!

      1. Rebecca*

        LW, I was in a similar space to you around the same age – lots of different jobs, and wanting to make sure I had time to also make theatre, my first priority! I ended up working as a producer at a performing arts centre, and whilst I learnt a lot, and they were ok with me doing my own projects around that work, the demands of working in a busy non-profit space were such that I never had much creative energy left over for other things. I now work as a policy advisor, which allows me to use my arts knowledge, but pays decently, and most importantly, is super flexible. I no longer feel creatively empty and have the mental space to actually make theatre work. I’ve just come back from a tour, and between shifting my hours around and taking one day off when we were travelling, was able to keep working at my day job throughout as well. I wish that I had taken up a non-arts job years ago!

  5. Archie Goodwin*

    I don’t know if this would help, but what about a licensed job, such as real estate?

    I’m not a professional performer (hell, I’m barely a wannabe), but this came to mind because I looked up a mezzo I heard in performance a few months ago and found that she has a real-estate career when she’s not singing. She’s local to Chicago and seems, according to her website, to pick up gigs mostly around there. But that seems like a viable option, if you’re willing to pursue it and can find a team that would give you some flexibility.

    1. theothermadeline*

      My one concern about this is that in fields like real estate OP would be almost 100% responsible for ginning up her own business which can easily overwhelm the priority balance, and that doesn’t really sound like what she’s aiming for.

      1. irene adler*

        Cultivating business in Real Estate can depend upon the employment situation. In California, agents work under a broker who can help with taking the time commitment aspect out of cultivating clients.

    2. Magda*

      Working for yourself in some capacity is definitely a tried-and-true option for people in OP’s situation. I tried it and – just personally – it wasn’t for me, as the instability and the pressure to find more work actually ended up taking *more* brainpower than a regular white collar job. But if you have lucrative skills you enjoy, it could definitely be an option!

    3. bunniferous*

      If you go that route you might do better to be an assistant to a successful agent-which would be more regular pay but many times could be done with some flexibility. The issue with real estate is many times it is a weekend job which could interfere with your art career-but as an assistant you might could get by working the actual work week.

      I’m wondering if you have considered teaching (music) on the side? The musicians I know do a lot of that.

      1. Properlike*

        What about being a personal assistant in general? Not to anyone super high-needs, but someone who can get a list of tasks and complete them within x amount of time? Or be able to charge for waiting at someone’s house for a cable person, mailing packages at the post office, etc.?

    4. King Friday XIII*

      This reminds me that I follow a YouTuber whose channel is called “The Organized Soprano” – she’s an opera singer and a professional organizer, so she can work around performance schedules and seasons.

    5. just another queer reader*

      I once worked with a recruiter who was also a professional athlete. Being a recruiter for a firm might be flexible enough to work well (although it may also be more “hustle” than you want!)

      1. LW who sings!*

        Interesting! I had not considered real estate or recruiting. I do feel like these options might be more intense than I want, but I just remembered I know someone who went into real estate who I could ask about their experience, so thank you!

  6. ABCYaBYE*

    I have a friend whose musical career is taking off, and he has found that a morning gig works well for him. He works through about midday and then has an opportunity to practice, travel to gigs, or just catch up on some sleep. I wonder if there’s something that would be workable where you are that pays you well enough and provides you some more freedom in the afternoons/evenings for your music. I wish you all the best!

  7. Pool Lounger*

    My partner should be the one answering this. They had a steady job in a very small company while he would tour for months at a time with a band, and now he has a remote job with a Fortune 100 company that also gives him time to play evening shows and do much shorter tours. The former job didn’t pay amazingly, but it had an understanding owner who let my partner take leaves for a few months, then come back to work. The latter job has good time off, flexibility, and remote benefits that he uses for music (and still has enough time off for regular vacations and sick days).

    1. LW who sings!*

      Oo, interesting! What field do they work in (if you don’t mind me asking)? Also good for them, that sounds awesome!

  8. theothermadeline*

    Hello from an arts administrator! As you’ve been gigging for a long time, I expect you generally know what the pattern of hours are for rehearsals and performances when you have a regular gig or are cast in a production. I’d advise searching first and foremost for work that traditionally wouldn’t interfere with those hours so that you’re not frequently changing up your schedule – this will help both you and your workplace. If you’re very agnostic on the type of work, I would estimate that something in a front office or assistance in some kind of educational setting where things mostly happen in the mornings and can end in the early afternoon with rare or nonexistent weekend expectations and regularly scheduled school breaks would be a great place to try and focus. I’m very unfamiliar with Canadian education system, but perhaps a substitute teaching credential could be of interest, or finding a school with an arts program that has in-house private teachers (my performing arts high school had this!), and supplementing with private lessons of your own on a schedule you determine.

    1. CLG*

      I don’t know much about the Canadian system either, but here in the states there are also tons of support positions available in schools that need little to no training, like campus aide (essentially playground supervision and the like) or instructional assistant (basically a teacher’s aide) positions. I know a lot of folks who work close to full time in positions like this, and who receive health insurance/union memberships/state pensions as a result. I agree that a school schedule could really be a good fit for OP!

      1. Fiddlesticks*

        I’m a special education paraprofessional in the states, and a gigging musician. I used to work in the legal field but it made me so depressed I had to get out. The pay was better, but my lifestyle working in education (as a support professional) is so much healthier, even though the pay sucks. Even on a bad day I go home feeling good about the work I do. A great thing is that you’re done by 3pm and have summers to completely devote to your art. I supplement the poor school pay with teaching violin lessons part time. I have my evenings and weekends free for music. About to sit down and do some recording right now, even.
        You really don’t need a degree to get a job in education support, you could start tomorrow if you wanted.

    2. Alex*

      Also not familiar with the Canadian education system, but my husband recently started substitute teaching in the US (while getting his education degree at night) and the flexibility is unparalleled. Plus it ends really early in the day!

      1. LW who sings!*

        I’m definitely looking at teaching! To be a full teacher in Canada requires another degree (B.Ed) so I’m not sure I’m up for that, but I’m currently working out what I could offer in a private setting. Thanks for pointing out that there are other positions available in schools, I’ll look into that :)

        1. HBJ*

          Yea, I would suggest looking outside the public school system. This was in the US, but I have a friend who was looking to move away from her old line of work, but she didn’t think teaching was an option due to not having the degree required by the public school system. She was asked to interview out of the blue by an acquaintance who worked at a private school and got the job on the condition she work toward getting that degree (not sure if the school paid for any of it or not). She did and is very happy with her transition into her new field.

        2. BrilliantBrunette*

          There’s also positions in schools like teaching assistants and paraprofessionals that may not require a teaching degree.

        3. Cascadia*

          Yes check out jobs in schools! There are lots of jobs that aren’t teaching but still have school hours. I’m thinking admin assistants to the principals, people who work the front desk, registrar, etc. I work at a private school in the US and we have lots of staff people who do various office jobs. They’re full time, pay is ok, benefits are great, and school year schedule plus done by 3 every day, usually with no evening/weekend expectations. Our attendance person is an actress and still has time to do rehearsals in the afternoon and shows at night and on the weekends. We also have lots of music teachers that do private lessons after school that you can add on. If these hours sound good to you, definitely look into school jobs!

    3. Anonymous Theater Kid*

      Hello! theater person (mostly production) with 1,000 kinds of work credits on my resume when I was freelancing, to now working an office job and choosing the theater projects I work on. I echo the others that there are a lot of jobs that can fit your schedule and needs. For talking about your work history/balance: 2 pieces of advice:

      1. for talking to full-time employer about why you have a work history and your background as a singer – can simply say “I trained to be a musician, put together a career as a freelancer doing that and other paid work, but I’m looking for something steadier that speaks to my skill sin X, Y, and Z to simplify my work/life balance.” If you’re worried about them thinking that your singing is going to “compete” with your work for them, don’t get deep in the weeds on that. Focus on the skills you learned because of that breadth of work, and how they apply to the job you want now. It might take a bit more explaining, but not too much. Five kinds of customer serivce/tourism jobs? Great with people and ever-changing environments. Farm labor? Great at working independently and not afraid to tackle hard work. etc.

      2. Even if you don’t end up in a day job with lots of coworkers in the music industry – like a music school or arts nonprofit – focus on employers who value giving employees the work flexibility you need to meet your gigs, or just really, really emphasize work-life balance. Having a job that you like enough to keep and do well at but isn’t your *whole* life because you’re a person with hobbies, interests and (in your case, another line of work) will be normal there.

      I recently quit working as a theater fundraiser (where everyone had some kind of arts background) to go write grants in another sector entirely; my first non-arts job in 10+ years of professional work. I kept the fact that I still do paid theater work myself for a while, but was pleasantly surprised to find that many people have side projects or gigs, including several artists. In interviewing, I focused my energy on finding a place with good work-life balance. Turns out there are plenty of writers, artists, and musicians who feel the same here.

  9. Powerpants*

    I am a professional musician who has worked full-time in education alongside the music career. Things are very flexible for me in the summer giving me the opportunity during some years to tour. Working school hours allows me to load in or rehearse as early as 4 on most days. Fortunately, my work is also very supportive so if I have a unique opportunity – something big – they are generally very happy for me and allow me the time off to do those things – once even traveling to another state to write new music and perform it with a dance company. That was a two-week gig. These things are possible. I have been doing it for 20 years. I spend almost as much money making music as I spend on it so even though I appear very successful from the outside, the pocketbook is another story. Working F/T is a necessity.

  10. Sharks Are Cool*

    Seconding this question: “And how do you maintain the balance between your art and your regular job, without being torn apart?”

    I’m a painter and a writer, and I’m finally in a place in my life (early thirties, higher ed admin job that pays enough for art supplies, not currently injured) where I’m able to prioritize the art in my off hours. I find that now that I spend more time doing the things I want to do, spending the 40 most focused and well-rested hours of my week doing things I don’t care about (but need to do to eat) makes me *furious*.

    1. Magda*

      I think your last sentence means that you still feel angry, right? If so, preach!! It kills me that our society doesn’t value artists and wants them to starve. It’s bad for diversity and it’s bad for art. At least in the writing field, things have gotten measurably worse even in just the last decade. Advances are more broken up and spaced further out, for example. Yet people loooove books and other media that depends on writers. I have had people explain to my face that they shouldn’t have to pay for these things, stealing books from pirated sites etc (even Alison has encountered comments like that here, on her own blog).

      1. Sharks Are Cool*

        Right??? It’s amazing how many people have blind spots about this—I recently got into an argument with a friend who is very pro-social justice issues generally but somehow thought I wouldn’t be offended by her saying that she didn’t think artists should charge for their time.

        It’s so depressing in general–I have this big pie-in-the-sky life-goal of maybe someday publishing a novel through a traditional publisher, but I know that won’t mean I can quit my day job. And it’s not like the creative stuff isn’t *work*, even if it’s the work you want to be doing.

        1. Magda*

          I hate that “designing widgets for a website” is a valuable in-demand job that our society is willing to pay 200K/year for, but “writing books people love” is not valued at all because in theory it’s a privilege to be able to do it. Of course this is a wider issue that goes beyond the arts in terms of teachers, social work, any so many other valuable not not valued jobs.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            I hate that “typing things in to the computer for money” and “fixing broken things in the computer for money” is my ONLY worth in the world…but that’s the truth. My job isn’t expendable. My personal interests absolutely are. You can go without new books or new art or whatever if you have to. The pandemic especially made it clear as to what areas of the world got thrown out the window.

            I don’t have the exact quote, but Stan Lee said something about art being worth something when they’d pay millions for it. Well, yeah, if it’s that popular/you’re that famous, THEN suddenly your art is worth money. But for most of us, that’s never going to be the case.

            1. Sloanicota*

              That’s crazy, so many people endured the pandemic by escaping into fiction, either by diving into books (the publishing industry has made huge profits … writers less so) or TV/movies/comics/whatever. There is a writer behind all these media.

    2. CanadaGoose*

      I haven’t been in you position, Sharks Are Cool, but I hear that many writers find that the first hour of their day is an excellent time to write, even if they have a day job to get to. If you can’t change your work schedule, could you change your sleep schedule so that you have that first hour or two of the day for your creative pursuits?

      1. Sharks Are Cool*

        I already do this to a modified extent! It’s all about committing to time, and guarding that time from other commitments. It doesn’t change the fact that the writing is work, albeit work you’re more invested in, and now you’ve given yourself a 9+ hour workday and still need time to wind down, see friends, wash the dishes, etc. I can’t do that every day without sufficient recovery time. It’s possible I need more recovery time than some people due to my own personal cocktail of burnout/ADHD/depression/lingering coping strategies from recent chronic injuries/etc. Ultimately I’m going to do what it takes to have a creative life, and I’m actively prioritizing and strategizing to fit it all in, but the whole setup still makes me angry.

    3. oona*

      I feel your last sentence so strongly. I don’t care about my job. The fact that I spend 8 hours a day on work and, best case scenario, 6 hours on things that are actually meaningful to me is frustrating to no end. And that’s 6 hours assuming I neglect my life admin duties for the day.

    4. LW who sings!*

      Oof, yep, I feel this very strongly. It’s heartbreaking sometimes – people need music and art and writing and all these things, and yet for those of us who do this work – for the most part, as far as I can tell, we’re all just barely scraping by. It’s not enough for us to be good at our craft – we also have to be good at [insert collection of unrelated things we do to pay the bills]. Life is hard for everyone, of course – but there’s a special type of unfairness to being in the arts, and putting so much time and energy into things that society values (apparently), but (mostly) refuses to pay for.

      1. Properlike*

        I headed an arts organization for a bit, and a school asked me to find them a speaker who could talk to the children about their career writing books for a living. I had to tell them that this doesn’t exist. (And if it does, it’s because their speaker fees are high.)

      2. Aggretsuko*

        I hear that. I am resentful AF that my only worth is fixing broken things in a computer and no matter how “talented” I am elsewhere, I have to waste my entire life doing other shit, or else starve for art. I always knew that was going to be the case going into life, but the older I get, the worse it feels actually :/

        Society *sorta* values those things, but we have to remember that art is always expendable. It’s the first thing out the door when the budget cuts come, and that’s why unless you’re super famous, it’ll never be valued for much. Everyone needs food, housing, math and science. Nobody biologically needs the stuff that feeds the soul :/

    5. Gumby*

      Considering where this thread has gone, I want to be clear that I am not arguing that artists are not, by and large, underpaid or undervalued.

      But also? I’d guess that the majority of people spend their work lives doing things that they don’t particularly care about in exchange for money needed to eat. The idea that work should be some sort of personally fulfilling outlet is, in many cases, unrealistic. I am very happy for the people who find a career path that they find personally fulfilling but I honestly believe that they are the outliers and most of us just find something that pays the bills.

      1. Sharks Are Cool*

        Gumby, I don’t think you’ve actually contradicted me at all. The idea that work should be personally fulfilling IS in many cases unrealistic—that’s what I’m mad about!

      2. Harpo*

        Even people who don’t full time spend a good part of their day doing things they don’t like just to pay the bills – see Properlike’s post just above yours about being a speaker when you’re a writer!

        I spend a lot of time invoicing, pitching gigs, finding music for pieces that clients have requested and arranging/learning them, maintaining my instrument, DRIVING to h*LL and back, updating a website, writing thank you notes, playing Moon River for the umpteenth time, going to the chiropractor for the crick in my neck from playing/hauling my instrument.

        I still recognize that I’m incredibly lucky to do this. It’s just that anyone going into this needs to recognize that they aren’t going to spend all their time in bliss. There’s a lot more drudge work than people expect and sometimes people end up hating this work because it doesn’t meet their expectations.

        1. Sharks Are Cool*

          Harpo, exactly—doing the admin for things you care about is still admin, it’s still *work*. I don’t think of the creative stuff as a relaxing hobby, which is why it’s so hard to do the creative work and also have time to recover from the pay-the-bills full-time work.

          1. Harpo*

            Yes, I actually left gigging for a while because of the drudge work. I had gotten to the point where I only cared about how much $ a gig paid. Now I’m back with a better attitude about the drudge work and doing a lot better, both personally and professionally. Having accurate expectations made all the difference for me.

  11. AlltheWorldsaStage*

    Find something music adjacent. I work in theatrical lighting. Our staff is comprised of lighting designers, stage crew, comedians and actors who regularly take outside work that is their creative work and work for us during the week for stability. We have semi flexible hours and want our staff to be happy, but also to keep their expertise in our shop. The comedian isn’t scheduled for Monday night work as that’s their open mic night. The actor occasionally takes off for auditions, but comes in around those to make up the time. The lighting designers are referred when people call and ask and blocked off the schedule for extra work if they’re working their own design gig outside of core hours. We also do provide some design work under our umbrella and pay them for their design work at design rate rather than their office rate.

    Music adjacent: voice work although still gig work often (it is your instrument after all), music shops, licensing groups, advertising, etc. I know a large amount of actors who are in sales. The musicians I know are in computer work or handyman work for paying the bills. If you can find something with specific hours (like you’re always done by 4 PM, then you can schedule your signing outside of those hours. It seems to work out better for the people who can find 1 main gig to do outside of their passion.

    What do you need to put music first? Do you need a completely flexible remote job that you can pick up and put down in between music? Do you need something where you can go in to the office and leave the work at the office?

    As for finances, it all depends on what you’re comfortable with. Some prefer to budget solely on their regular work and use the money from their art for savings. Others factor in a their gig work to their regular budget (for example if you make $300 dollars a month on a slow month, so you would have my salary X + $300 for the budget for example).

    1. Magda*

      One other thing I would suggest re: budget, is that if OP truly wants to live an artistic life and keep music centered, it’s best not to get into the habit of living on a higher budget. Right now OP is a college student; I set habits then that I still live by and I don’t miss the higher money my peers make, for the most part. Your standard of living is whatever you get used. At times where you do make more money, just put it into savings, as you will probably need it later.

  12. old curmudgeon*

    OP, have you investigated work that is tangentially related to your primary focus of classical music performance? There are multiple professional ensembles that have all sorts of related jobs, like music librarian, community outreach, education, development and the like.

    I can’t help but think that your work history, which shows a whole lot of versatility in your skills, plus your specific knowledge and experience in classical music would be very, very attractive to a city or regional symphony, chorus, opera company or chamber ensemble. And such an employer would be far more likely to not only understand but also embrace your primary focus on music performance, too.

    Good luck – and selfishly, I hope to hear you perform sometime, as I adore classical vocal music!

    1. theothermadeline*

      As an arts person, a danger of this is that the busy times will frequently be simultaneous if they stick to work in the same field.

      1. Florence Foster Jenkins*

        Yep, I was coming here to say the same thing. I work for a symphonic choir, and it would be impossible to be on the admin staff and in the choir simultaneously, as the two workloads are directly overlapping at concert time. It would also preclude a lot of work for other similar orgs, since there are only so many evenings and weekends to go around.

  13. A*

    If you enjoy teaching, I would recommend trying to start your own business giving one-on-one voice lessons. And if you are at all proficient with an instrument, say the piano, teaching beginner lessons in that as well. That way you can set your own schedule/rate and hopefully with time, develop a steady income. I did this for a time and charged a little more if I had to drive to a student’s home and less if they came to me.

  14. anon24*

    I can’t speak for myself, as I have no talent whatsoever as a performer, but I have a relative who is an aspiring actor. They work as a barista and make enough to support themselves (as in, lives alone in their own apartment) while still having time to audition and perform in shows in the evenings and on weekends.

  15. Arco*

    This used to be me—had a corporate job to pay the bills while pursuing music in the evenings/on weekends.

    I found a long-term gig as a project manager, where that “Jack/Jill of all trades” skill set is an asset. I think you could easily frame your work experience in that way—that you know how to get things done no matter the task, and that you’re looking to do that in a more stable manner.

    1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      I am now a Project Manager and can confirm that a lot of my experience from performing and teaching makes me exceptionally good at my job.

    2. Arco*

      Also YMMV but I preferred working in an area that had nothing to do with music…I felt more balanced doing work in a totally different field, with different personality types/styles.

    3. LW who sings!*

      Ooo, thank you, this is very helpful – it’s good to know that there are places where varied skillsets like mine are useful!

  16. Fernie*

    I live in a “music town” and I know many people in this situation. Their day jobs include:

    – Graphic artist, at a small design company that is understanding about time off for touring
    – Engineer at a big software company, working remotely, with gigs on weekends only
    – Financial Planner, focusing more on composition and studio work
    – Professor at a Music Conservatory, with a studio of students
    – Music teacher of junior high and high school students, directing musical theater in summers
    – Adjunct teacher at a local Arts high school, with contract gigs in the local Symphony and pit orchestras for traveling Broadway shows
    – One touring performer runs a very successful YouTube channel and Patreon page, featuring interviews about music history and travelogues from their tours

    Our local Con teaches a class called Musical Entrepreneurism, which focuses not just on monetizing one’s performance work, but also on how musicians can connect with their community and advance society.

    There’s no one model that fits everyone, but I’m sure you will find your way!

      1. Also a musician*

        Just to add on to this – this is SO common, to be an active musician and have a full-time other job. Teachers, engineers, IT, coding, private tutoring, working at a bank or pharmacy, those are just the first couple that come to mind. Do you ever sing in semi-pro or community groups? I’d honestly just start asking around the people singing with you!

  17. Kowalski! Options!*

    I’m gonna sound like a total old person here, but: I went through something similar in the 90s. When I was living in Toronto and trying to make a go of it in the theatre world there, my technique at the time was to compartmentalize like crazy, which always made me feel guilty when I tried to hold down regular full-time jobs. (Every so often, I’d have interviewers question how my dedication to theatre would end up messing up my work life – they didn’t state it exactly that way – but I got the sense that they’d be worried that one would tip over into the other. I got around it by temping, which paid about $15 an hour, which was enough to live on in Toronto at the time.) Anything that allows you decent money and time flexibility is a good place to start, and it’s not out of line (I think) to talk to other artists to find out how they make ends meet – there’s always the chance that they might have an in for you.

    And don’t let my experiences with nosy employers put you off finding something that’s more than part-time. My cousin, who’s an opera singer in Toronto, worked for years as an industrial chemist before she made the jump to a full-time opera career, and she once made a good point: very few jobs know or care about every detail in your life, so you don’t have to share everything about what you’d be doing if you weren’t at work. What matters is what you bring to the table at work: your knowledge, your initiatives, your skills and your smarts, and you might have an edge over other candidates because your experience of trying to make it in the arts in Canada definitely requires you to have all four.

    Anyway. Just an old person’s $0.02. :)

    1. LW who sings!*

      Thanks for the $0.02! I feel you on the guilt from compartmentalizing – I think it really speaks to how much society expects us to give everything to our jobs, no matter what. How I wish $15 was still a living wage…

      1. Kowalski! Options!*

        This is slightly off-topic, but it BLOWS!! MY!! MIND!! how people keep expecting Toronto to be a creative hub and a centre for the performing arts when a one-bedroom goes for $2200 a month, the old creative spaces that were integral to arts groups keep getting razed for more bleeping condos (lookin’ at YOU, Liberty Village and 800 Dupont), and the possibility of any kind of artistic experimentation is limited to either nepotism babies or people with trust funds.

        And I don’t think it’s going to get better many other places. Vancouver’s been stupidly expensive for well over two decades (a high school friend who teaches playwriting at SFU knows of at least two students of hers who are living in the library because they can’t afford to live anywhere legal), rents in Montreal have doubled in the last decade, and even in Ottawa, there are civil servants who can’t afford places of their own. And we’re supposed to be creative in the middle of all the economic uncertainty?

  18. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I know a few musicians who are in creative industries 100%, and others who are musicians in their non-work time. Here’s what they do:

    – Theatrical music director
    – Playwright/dramaturg
    – Choral director
    – Music teacher
    – Professor of (a subspecialty of) music
    – Bartender/manager
    – Clothing boutique owner
    – Computer programming, system administration, IT training, etc. (so many musicians I know have gone into tech, it’s almost uncanny)

    1. Nikki*

      I’m a musician/software engineer and have a lot of musician friends who have also gone that route. It’s not as uncanny as you think! There’s a close relationship between music and math/logic so people whose brains are wired for music already have the similar wiring needed for tech jobs.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I do database admin for a nonprofit and am a freelance classical musician. I never quite got into programming (hated the class I took in college) but I am fairly computer savvy so when I made the switch from teaching music over to an office job, I was able to learn the database very quickly.

      I see a lot of folks mentioning teaching as a possible day job for OP. I don’t know if OP has considered it and decided against it already, but I found that the problem with teaching music on top of being a professional is that I got *really* sick of music being what I did all day every day. Having a non-music day job means that I can choose which gigs I accept, and that I don’t have to listen to bad music all the time (I am still terribly triggered whenever I hear beginning music students, 15 or so years after I quit teaching). I also got tired of working nights and weekends all the time because that is when kids want music lessons (unless you teach at a private school or university, when kids can have lessons during the day); I had to reschedule lessons all the dang time because evening lessons interfered with evening rehearsals. If you become a general music school or chorus teacher the schedule will probably work out better but you might have to get additional training and/or certification to do that; I don’t know what the laws are about that in Canada.

      In any case, I do recommend finding a job where the mentality isn’t butt-in-seats (as others have mentioned here) and where they won’t mind your taking time off during the day if you need to for a rehearsal. Good luck!

      1. LW who sings!*

        I feel you on the dangers of teaching! In Canada music teachers in schools need additional accreditation in the form of a B.Ed and I’m not sure I’m up for that. I’m spending a lot of time right now trying to figure out if it’s a field where I do have something to offer but deep down I have a feeling it might not be the best choice for me…

    3. kicking-k*

      My BIL is an actor with an improvised comedy troupe. That is his main job, but he has also learned video editing and now puts together all their promotional videos and social media, and does some freelance video editing gigs as well.

      1. kicking-k*

        Oh, and further to the discussion below, his wife has a salaried job, though not a super-high earning one: she’s an architect.

  19. Desert Dweller*

    My husband is a musician (drums and percussion). When he was looking for a full-time job, we walked through what he needed in order to make a full-time job work with his music career. Since music is mostly evening and weekends, retail and restaurants were out. He needed a set schedule that he could then schedule gigs around. One of the biggest employers in our area is the public school district which is always desperate for employees. He found his fit as a school bus driver. Set hours, no weekends, holidays off, etc. It was an out of the box choice of job that has worked out well for us. It meets the non-negotiables he needed to be a musician but the “real” job allows him to be pickier about the music gigs he takes. He is actually happier as a musician because he only takes good gigs.

    1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      This is really great suggestion! And school bus drivers are wildly in demand these days.

    2. BlueSwimmer*

      I was also coming to suggest school system jobs that aren’t in the classroom, like front office, finance tech, administrative assistant, library assistant, or even in the classroom jobs with less responsibility than teaching, like substitute teacher or instructional assistant. If you aren’t a teacher, you can usually walk out the door by 3:30 or 4:00 every day, and get lots of holidays/summer off when you can really focus on gigs. With any job except subbing, you get school system benefits too.

  20. Sunshine*

    Hi OP!

    I’m an actor in my mid-thirties who has also worn many hats and has the eclectic resume to prove it—among other things, I’ve been a “sandwich artist,” a receptionist, a legal assistant, a drama and music teacher for preschoolers at a day camp, a nanny, a tutor, and an admin assistant. I’m currently studying to become an acting/public speaking voice teacher, with the hope that that can be my day job.

    For me, narrowing down a day job has been a process of trial and error about what feels too draining/exhausting to leave me enough time and energy to pursue my acting career vs how much schedule flexibility there is. (For instance, I really liked nannying, but I eventually went back to the office world because there just isn’t much wiggle room to take time off for an audition when someone else is relying on you for childcare.)

    It’s all really hard to balance and to be honest, it feels most doable when I’ve been able to work 25-30 hours/week, whether because I found a great deal on rent or because I got married and my wife is working a full-time, higher paying job (she’s also an artist, so there are lots of trade offs and negotiations—it’s all a work in progress but much easier to navigate together than separately).

    Sending you so much love and solidarity as you navigate this parallel career thing too! I’m happy to chat more (and will check back in the comments) but have to run to my day job now!

    1. Magda*

      The thing I noted, and that OP should think about, is that the demands of the pocketbook wore on me more as I got older and older. I didn’t really mind being poor when I was in my 20s and most of my friends were in the same boat. We bought everything used, none of us had nice things or nice places or nice vacations. We didn’t mind (except for those who had terrible student debt – hopefully OP in Canada won’t have that). But in our 30s it got harder. Medical expenses piled up, and people wanted children – you can’t cheap out with kids – and they saw friends who had married software engineers having great vacations, buying houses, etc. I was grateful that I had developed some marketable skills that allowed me to at least scrape into the middle class by midlife.

      1. LW who sings!*

        Oh man, I feel this so hard. I’m in my late twenties now, and I’m really worried about what the future looks like. I’m pretty sure I can get through life without owning a car, but holy guacamole would I love to stop renting at some point. And I’d love to not judge myself every time I buy the nice cheese, ya know?

  21. Brain the Brian*

    “Unfortunately, the economy in Province X meant that many of my prior jobs were seasonal. I’m hoping to use the array of skills I attained from them and my recently completed degree in Paperwork Management to find a more stable career now that I’m based in BiggerCity.”

    …along with…

    “My training and experience in classical music have also taught me perseverance and excellence, and my hope is that I can find a way to remain an active performer alongside a day job.”

    Basically, be honest. An employer who won’t hire you based on this isn’t going to be a good fit anyway!

    I’m in the US, but we had someone at my Very Decidedly Not Music company for several years who was as brilliant at financial analysis as he was at leading operatic tenor roles, and my company granted him the flexibility in hours he needed to maintain a dual career like the one you describe. He went out of state — and, if I recall correctly, out of country — several times to perform with major opera companies in other cities, and he was able to work remotely for us during those stretches of time. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that nonprofits are more likely to grant flexibility like this, and — as you probably suspect — it’s more likely to go over well if you have a specific, valuable nonmusical skill to market. Perhaps that’s part of the reason you went back to school?

    Best of luck to you, in any case! This sounds like a fun dream to be pursuing.

  22. urguncle*

    My partner is in music and currently in school full-time as well for the moment, but has worked full-time non-music jobs and we have a ton of friends in the industry who work a variety of full-time jobs that aren’t performing. Here’s what we’ve seen work best:
    – Industries and jobs that expect you to have a life outside of work and/or being a working musician. Academic administrative jobs, church administration jobs, administrative or operations at larger venues (someone has to do payroll for the orchestra, someone has to be the music librarian for the opera) or recording studios.
    – Do not get sucked into teaching music full-time unless there’s a base salary, guaranteed hours and it’s not contracted. We did that for many years and stayed afloat only because I have a full-time job with benefits and it still strained us financially. The schools that do this do exist, but they are few and far between. Even with a full load of 8 students, 5 days a week, the take-home pay was just above minimum wage.
    – Even 9-5 jobs can end up requiring time that you’d rather spend finding gigs, so try to stay away from things like event planning where there are evening events that you’d have to attend and run, recruiting where you have to work around your prospects schedules or jobs with many tight deadlines.
    – Factor things like networking into your time as well. We spent a lot of evenings going to other people’s gigs and then out for a drink afterwards. It’s not just the times that you perform, but also the times you get performances by being somewhere else.
    – Try and still manage to get some actual vacation time in. So much of our time “vacationing” is still technically my partner working for at least part of the time. We’ve been together for almost ten years and we’ve had maybe one or two actual vacations that weren’t festivals that they were going to.

  23. Zan+Shin*

    Hi! I had a dual career for 40 years as a part time RN and a visual artist. I didn’t draw or paint during the four years of uni, or during the first year or so after graduating while I gained professional chops as a nurse. But living fairly frugally as is my wont, I could easily pay my bills on what I earned as a registered nurse 24 hours a week, and it was different enough from painting that they didn’t interfere with each other energy wise.

  24. Imp*

    Not quite a one-for-one, but my fiance is in two bands (he co-writes all the music, records, mixes, and publishes/promotes for the bands). He also has a side hustle where he records and mixes other musicians. He also works a full time job as an AV service technician. His job offers him a lot of flexibility and perks; he has a work vehicle, and is only dispatched when needed. Sometimes he has one 4-hr dispatch in a day, and then nothing else. Sometimes he has no dispatches at all, but is still paid for his full day. He has past experience in AV and live/event audio, so he’s able to use some of the skills from those past jobs and his passion for music as a whole to get to his current position. The flexible schedule allows him to go to his studio and work on mixes/songs/projects during the week without worrying.

    Since you’re more classically trained, are there other jobs where you could use some of the skills that go along with singing that could be leveraged for a different job? You must be very organized and adaptable to do the variety of jobs you had, and self-manage your singing career. Those are desirable traits in many jobs! If there isn’t a singing-adjacent job that would make sense, then prioritizing a job with a good culture and ability to take time off/flexible schedule is the way to go. We’ve all been brainwashed a little bit as a society to think that our passion also has to be our job, but that’s not the case! All you need is a job that you don’t hate and that offers you the flexibility to do the thing you actually love. Good luck!

    1. JustSomeone*

      My spouse also works in AV. He’s not a creative type, but several of his colleagues are. Traditional AV tech jobs can be very nights and weekends focused, but he works for a giant company doing corporate AV. He’s slightly higher up the ladder so it’s definitely not a strict 9-5 type of situation, but the entry level positions are, and the pay is pretty good because it’s a skilled trade.

  25. DisneyChannelThis*

    In terms of how to address it in interviews and on your resume:

    You can always section your resume with subheaders. So instead of multiple lines for seasonal retail , you can do a subheading “Seasonal Retail, Oct-Dec 2015-2021 (Company A, Company B, Company C)” then a new line with the achievements eg “Raised customer satisfaction, improved efficiency blah blah”. Then a diff subheading for however you want to describe the singing gigs, maybe “Performer – Soprano Dates (Orchestra A, etc)”. This works best if you’ve got some relevant to the job work experience you can highlight too. It mainly just saves you from having 20 lines of work history that aren’t relevant eating up too much resume space.

    In the interview itself, highlight it as showcasing how great your time management skills are, you can navigate demands for all these different tasks at once. A lot of people have side hustles or hobbies that make them money these days, it’s not going to seem that weird to employers. Their main concern is going to be are you focused when you’re at their job.

  26. debbietrash*

    LW your situation sounds eerily the same as mine, down to location and vocation (I’m also in Canada and an artist). I’m currently in the thick of figuring out a similar situation for myself and am possibly a couple months ahead of you.
    Echoing a lot of others advice, my recommendation is to find a job that has consistent hours that don’t overlap with when you’d be performing and/or offers you flexibility should you need to book time off during regular business hours. I’ve also found that I have to consider what I am possibly giving up by working a fulltime job + putting hours into my practice (time with friends and family; paying for meals because I don’t have time to cook; travelling to and from gigs; etc.) and if the creative work I’m getting is worth it.
    Also, schedule in downtime! Being a creative person takes a lot of mental and emotional energy, and when you’re trying to flip a passion/hobby into a source of income things can get stressful. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself, which again may mean turning down going out with friends because you’re working on a project or just too damn tired. Also, this resource might be useful as it’s a tangible guide on how to possibly go from “regular job” to “paying bills through your art”:

  27. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    I was a professional belly dance performer and teacher for 10 years, most of which I worked at other full time jobs (in the middle, I took a 3 year break to dance full time). Alison even did an interview with me a few years ago!:

    It was kind of rough to balance both, and further complicating things was the fact that I had a house, a husband and a tween/teen to also fit into my life. I didn’t sleep much, and had almost no leisure activities. It was worth it at the time, and as I was in my mid-30’s to early 40’s I still had the energy and enthusiasm to “do it all.” Towards the end of the 10 years I got extremely burned out, and sadly it mostly destroyed my interest in Middle Eastern Dance. I don’t have any involvement with the community any more aside from being friends on Facebook. Still, I don’t regret a single moment of it, as they were some of the best years of my life, at a time when I was at peak health and fitness. Now that I’m 51, a pandemic later, and a year out from a Stage 1 colon cancer diagnosis, I look back and marvel that I was able teach and perform at such a high level. It’s almost like watching a different person.

    I will say that the only reason I was able to make it a full time job was because my husband’s job supported our family during that time. If I were single I could have never swung it, on my best year I made about $12K, which was far outweighed by costs (costumes, props, workshops, travel, etc.). But to be totally honest, the only time I really felt like I had it together was when I wasn’t trying to balance a traditional career with a creative one. I might have had better luck if I’d been single and childless, though, so please take that into account.

    I hate that this sounds so discouraging, and I hope there are other commenters who were able to find a way to balance things much better than I was, and can share those tips with you. I wish you the very best of luck in pursuing the art that puts joy in your heart – there really in no other feeling like it.

    1. LW who sings!*

      Thank you for this! I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t work so well for you financially, but I’m glad you had the opportunity to teach and perform and pursue the art that you loved.

  28. Seal*

    Every library I’ve worked in for the past 30+ years had quite a number of performing artists who took the job as a side gig to support their passion. Worth considering!

    1. LW who sings!*

      I’ve worked in two libraries, actually! Both were good jobs but unfortunately not permanent (contracts! argh!)

      1. Cellocat*

        Orchestra librarian and cellist here! I play, teach lessons and run an orchestra library. You likely have very transferable skills from years of studying and performing, as well as your “real” jobs. I’d say steer your search towards artistic non-profits or music schools, as they may offer flexibility. FWIW, my husband is a bassist and does subbing for music teachers as his supplement for playing and teaching. Lots of options that can keep your performing side alive! Best of luck!

  29. Lauren*

    I worked for an advertising agency that kept musicians on a list for all commercial and radio work. A soprano is hard to come by, contact a few of the bigger agencies in the US and Canada and ask if they maintain a list for musicians and how can you submit yourself for consideration.

  30. OyHiOh*

    I am (mostly) a visual artist, although I do some acting and writing as well. My “adult” job is project/program support in economic development. Project/program support (look for “associate” and “support” in job postings) can be a really good way to bring all of your experience into a cohesive package. In the organizations I’ve worked for, my role is flexible and rarely requires after hours commitments. The days leading up to a project visit can be hectic but once the clients actually arrive, my work is mostly done. I’ve so far been fortunate with decent managers and flexible PTO/out of office work arrangements that allow me to pursue my interests and get my work done.

    Economic/community development is an odd beast of an industry. Most people do not plan to work in ED/CD. In my organization alone, there are several people who came here from the theater world, a couple who came in by way of music, and a couple of us who are artists and writers away from the office. I’ve worked with a former journalist, military retirees, and also with someone who had decades of experience writing and administering grants. It doesn’t require specific degrees (“a bachelor’s” is frequently required for leadership positions) and there are certificate programs that are pretty accessible, and lots of professional development available.

  31. Magda*

    I want to say something that will probably be unpopular and that I have mixed feelings about myself. I’m an author and couldn’t figure out how my peers were making a seemingly good living while writing full time. Nice vacations! Nice houses! They were so much more productive than me, too! Books every year. I have come to realize that many of them are married to high earning spouses with insurance provided. The money they make or don’t make as authors is not essential to the household. They are probably doing childcare / housework. A few also inherited money or come from money. A) Don’t compare yourself to others and feel bad about your own situation. B) If you want to pursue marriage / children, perhaps pick a spouse whose lifestyle goals are compatible with your own.

    1. Dav*

      Yeah, my partner is pursuing a writing career and I have a job in insurance. A number of my peers are married to teachers and nurses. I don’t think I can exactly suggest it as a strategy, but it’s nice when it works out so that the societal value placed on the two careers averages out to a good standard of living.

    2. Anon for this one*

      This, basically. I fantasize about living on my partner’s stable income and writing full-time. In my case, though, I make more than my partner, and neither of us wants to give up that DINK lifestyle*, lol.

      *literally just being able to afford rent with no roommates in our VHCOL city, would love to move away but…Academia

    3. Not Your Author*

      I have come to realize that many of them are married to high earning spouses with insurance provided. The money they make or don’t make as authors is not essential to the household.

      This, this, this! I’ve been professionally published off and on for over three decades (mostly off; I’ve never actually wanted a career as an author). Through all the connections I’ve made in the publishing industry, I’m very familiar with two hard truths: first, even the most famous authors rarely make enough from books alone to rise above the poverty line each year. Second, if they’re writing full-time and not working a separate job, someone/thing else is pretty much always paying the majority of the bills, be it a spouse, trust fund, inheritance, or whathaveyou, Seriously, if you get a couple thousand dollars as an advance, and your book earns a grand total of a few thousand more until it goes out of print, you’ve done very well for yourself in the publishing industry.

      Now break it down: you’ve just spent a year, and probably more, of your life getting this book from imagination to market, all for maybe a grand total of $5,000. Not even per year. Total over the lifetime of the book in print. And that’s considered a great total payout. You could make almost six times that in a single year working full-time at minimum wage where I live. You can see why I never staked my future on writing.

      1. Magda*

        Plus, even with the “fun” part that maybe you were happy to do for $5k (writing the book, editing the book with a professional, oohing over your cover, visiting your book in stores, maybe doing readings or events if that’s your jam) – there is a whole other half that in most cases people PAY for because it is WORK not fun. Managing a web and social media platform, doing cold marketing and PR, learning about ads and the sales industry etc etc. Now imagine you’re doing all *that* for … $5K over 3 years (a very realistic financial estimate, I agree).

    4. NancyDrew*

      My husband is a well known author (his 30th book just came out) and he’s one of the very very few authors who is able to make a living off his writing. However — I carry our health insurance through work, which takes a load off our minds. And yes, he’s the “primary” parent in terms of handling most of the kid dropoffs, dishes, laundry, etc.

      1. Magda*

        There was also a bit of a cliff – if you got your start back when things were a bit better, and built up a backlist over your career – you could be sitting a bit prettier now than someone who sold their first book in 2020 and is trying to repeat the trick. You can do things like sell on spec, which used to be more common, and you’re probably first pick for speaking / teaching opportunities. It’s tougher now than it was for me just since 2018.

    5. Properlike*

      Yep. Former well-paid writer, now freelance. Even with a well-paid spouse who brings in income, I was down about never having enough time to complete work compared to several of my colleagues in the field. Then I realized that none of them had kids (or, in retrospect, undiagnosed ADHD.)

    6. nonprofit writer*

      It’s totally true! I was the insurance holder & primary breadwinner for a while when my spouse was changing careers, and now he’s in a well-paid, full-time job and I do freelancing part time, along with some creative writing and shuttling the kids around after school. People often express envy about my professional set-up, but really it wouldn’t be possible if not for my spouse. If I had to make a serious living with my consulting work, I’d have to hustle and work many more hours, and I likely would be too burned out to do creative work. Sometimes I fantasize about taking a sabbatical to just do creative work. But we live in a very high cost of living area, and the money I make really does make a difference, especially with kids. I’m also mindful of keeping my skills and relationships fresh in case something ever happens that would require me to go back to a full time staff job.

    7. LW who sings!*

      I think this is huge, actually! Having background financial support, whether from family/trust fund/spouse with a high paying job makes all the difference if you’re trying to pursue some sort of creative career. I’ve run into musicians who don’t have to worry about $$ so much, for whatever reason, and it’s…interesting. (And we wonder why classical music has problems with diversity…)

    8. Llama Event Planner*

      I agree and I just wanted to echo the “A) Don’t compare yourself to others and feel bad about your own situation.”

      Not really in ‘the arts’, but I’m a horse person. Rode and showed from the time I was itty bitty up through college. Eat, breathed, sleep = Horses! One of my biggest struggles when I graduated was dealing with all the “you’re not passionate enough” crap. If I was “passionate enough” about horses I would have gotten a degree in X or Y. If I was “passionate enough” I’d take on all this debt to continue competing and training. If was this, if I was that….the bar always moved and I was never able to reach it. I struggled with that for a long time. How can I call myself a horse person, even an amateur, if I don’t meet x or y? It took me a long time to realize none of that mattered. All that mattered is that I’m happy with the life I’m creating/living.

    9. Grace*

      Yep. The writers I know either A) do it as a hobby around a job that pays bills, B) have a spouse with a job that pays bills, or C) do ghostwriting/writing-to-specification, which means they largely write about things they don’t really care about (woo, plumbing tools…) but they get reliable income. I’m in A (along with one of my parents), do occasional proofreading for an author in B (she’s in the UK, so no health insurance issues), and have online friends in C.

      There’s authors who aren’t in any of those groups, where the books themselves pay enough to support a family, but they’re vanishingly rare. And even they will often talk about the time before that – before he hit it big and started getting multi-million-dollar contracts, John Scalzi was making it work through a combination of churning out financial newsletters for America Online and his wife’s paycheck as a nurse. One of my favorite series is written by an author who started out doing ghostwriting work for one of those written-to-formula children’s series, and used her work on that to get her own contract (for a less formulaic children’s series).

      1. NancyDrew*

        I started off ghostwriting for a bestselling YA series (you’ve definitely heard of it). It’s actually not that lucrative — but it is fast, so presumably if you’re churning out lots of ghostwriting per year, you can make a good living.

        1. Magda*

          I’ve heard a good rate is 10K a book, meaning you’d have to crank out a complete book ~ every other month for life to make a middle class income. Which incidentally is about the same rate as those “just self publish!!!” people would be aiming for. That is not a minor commitment of time and passion (for example, Nanowrimo is 50K book/month. So you would be in Nanowrimo for life to produce a polished ~70K short novel. And to be honest, my friends in film and music have told me they envy the relatively straightforward path of fiction authors.

  32. Johanna Cabal*

    I’m a writer (I just finished the first draft of a children’s book and related short stories). I’ve always had full-time jobs that relate to writing and editing. I also make it a point of applying what I’ve learned from my full-time jobs to my writing (i.e., use my experience in marketing to learn how to promote books on social media, use my experience as a magazine editor to build up editing skills, etc.).

    I don’t know if other creative types run into this but I find I get more “inspired” by being at work. Every time I’ve had an extended break from work, I seem to have writer’s block. Maybe interacting with people at work feeds my creativity?

  33. taylor*

    Fellow musician here! I work in the mental health field as a therapist now, but music is my main background, and I have a lot of musician friends. One of the best set ups I’ve seen is my friend who works for a music distribution company. She works remotely, has a pretty flexible schedule with decent time off, and because it’s a music based company, they generously support her music career, to the extent that they promote her and provide her with performance opportunities. I wonder if looking in the music/music business field is possible for you? There are a lot more remote opportunities now.
    Yes, the music industry and music business is generally a rough field to be in, but there are pockets of it that could provide what you’re looking for.

  34. Charmander*

    When I was working in visitor services for museums in Ontario, there are many performers and musicians as museums pay well ($20+/hour and benefits if you stay long enough) are flexible with scheduling and positions are part time up to 24 hours so it works out well for their musical gigs and performances while paying the bills. I think one of them even became a mascot at the museum for a while.

  35. former music student*

    I went to grad school for classical music performance. I now work part time freelance (highly paid here in the USA when I work for silicon valley based companies) writing docs about software code for developers for startups. It definitely requires technical curiosity to be successful, but I love to learn, so that works out for me. Also note that before I gained the technical chops, I was dead bored for my 1st two years as a tech writer (at a large company, where I was basically just copyediting stuff engineers wrote without understanding it). I learned some basic coding/scripting skills with the help of mentors (often frustrating and intimidating but I stuck with it) and now I really enjoy the autonomy and intellectual challenge. I feel like a coding bootcamp would be a shortcut to the learning route I took, but I’m all about acquiring skills on the job, so that’s the route I took. Side note that I burnt out on performing music, but am now pursuing a dual career in tech and Alexander Technique (which I learned about at conservatory).

  36. Zap R.*

    I used to be Office Manager at a real estate brokerage in Toronto. In Ontario at least, the glut of aspiring real estate agents meant that the regulation process was recently revamped to be more difficult. It’s a very saturated market in urban Canada and we’re also in the middle of a catastrophic housing crisis.

    It’s a great suggestion normally but right now the timing’s not awesome.

    On that note, the Work In Culture job board frequently posts office admin/office management jobs for arts organizations. It’s pretty Ontario-centric but other provinces may have something similar.

  37. Danuary*

    Oh hi, I’m also a classical soprano in Canada! I wonder if we know each other. The balance is seriously so hard, and I really feel for you. I graduated in 2020, so that was about as fun as you’d expect. I worked a full time arts admin job from January 2021 to August 2022, and while I really liked it, I really struggled to find balance once the singing gigs came back. I’m lucky enough to have a YAP contract now until May, but after that I will have the same issue as you! I can’t offer specific advice since I don’t know your city or goals, but some things to think about.
    – if real financial security is important to you, in cities like Toronto it’s very easy to have a full time day job and do things like opera chorus and choral section lead positions at night and on weekends, plus a smattering of other stuff. That rep may not be your bag, and again, it means you book most hours of the day!
    – I have a tenor friend who just finished a UI training course and is enjoying that sort of work along with his singing
    – another tenor friend recently told me about how lucrative film extra gigs can be if you get your ACTRA card, and that’s very flexible. I’m probably going to look into getting into that myself once I’m off my contract
    – there’s a lot of smaller arts organizations in canada that need part time remote social media work, or even regular admin stuff, and they tend to be pretty accommodating with the gig life.
    – I know several singers that work remotely for a data entry company that seems to be very flexible easy work
    As for balance, ugh I don’t even know. When I worked admin all day and sang at night it was a lot of hours, but it really helped that my day job was remote and didn’t require all that much brain power. I think the key is deciding what your priorities are, and not trying to do everything (hahahaha easier said than done). Anyways, I am happy to commiserate with you. :)

  38. MxBee*

    Semi-pro gig musician here – I used to play in a function band and also take regular gigs playing in show bands for local productions. What was important to me was finding a company with flexible hours and that gave generous time off, so I could finish early to travel to gigs for soundcheck when needed, or start late in the mornings if I knew I wouldn’t be back late after a gig. I work in fin tech as a software developer, which at the time gave me that level of flexibility because I could plan my own work to fit into the time I had available and work with my team.

    (“used to” not because the day job took over, but because disability happened to me and I’m not a reliable booking for gig work any more.)

  39. Jessica*

    You don’t have to love the job you do for the money, but try to find something you don’t hate. I once managed a creative person whose heart was in her (amazing) artistic work, and I think she found the job soul-crushing. It was an office job with regular hours, excellent job security, and absolutely no expectation ever of doing work, responding to work, or thinking about work outside of those regular hours; it probably could have been a decent rent-paying gig for someone who found it tolerable/neutral.
    As a manager I would be glad to have an employee who did a solid good job at work, wasn’t ambitious to leave for the next rung of their career, and just wanted to get paid so they could focus their energy on what they actually cared about. As long as they were willing/able to do a good job at work, I’d be glad to have them in the position long-term and would try to provide whatever flexibility made it work for them if I could.

  40. tenor's wife*

    Hi! Thank you for giving the world the gift of your lovely voice.

    My husband has gone through this his entire adult life. His approach has always been to be clear with his employers – “I do this thing, it shouldn’t affect much, but sometimes I may have to take off half a day for a matinee, and I will probably use up all my vacation a day at a time for shows.” If jobs aren’t supportive of that, he’ll look elsewhere. A few times, he’s been lucky enough to get a boss/owner who’s into the arts, which is even better.

    We just never take vacation, is the upshot. I go places with my friends, and I have a rich and varied assortment of hobbies for when he’s in rehearsal three nights a week and/or singing all weekend long. And I do a lot of Door Dash during hell week. :)

    We are fortunate to live in a larger metro with a lot of different small theatre companies (and a couple of big ones) and my husband and his friends all network to see which groups demand rehearsal times that are not working-hours friendly – and they just don’t audition there. Community theatre often draws really heavily from retired or underemployed folks, so it’s good to know which companies to avoid. And the pro companies he does work with are used to people having day jobs, so they try not to schedule rehearsals before 6 or 7 pm on weekdays.

    It took my husband a long time to come to terms with the idea that he was going to have to act in the starring role of “regular guy” at work 9-5 so he could have his artistic life on the side.

    TL;DR version: My husband is a big dude who works in the construction field, and basically just fakes it well enough to stay employed. He’s cheerful about it – “I lift lumber all day and sopranos all night” – but resigned.

    1. Baritone's Wife*

      Hi Tenor’s Wife – I’m a Baritone’s wife!

      Same with my husband – when he’s looking for jobs (luckily we are in a city with lots of arts and artists) as soon as he says he’s a singer / actor, that explains the work history and people get it. He also relied a lot on temp jobs, all administrative as an executive assistant, so that was a nice through-line on his non-artistic resume. And, yep, nov

      Now, we are married and have kids and I am the primary breadwinner. He doesn’t have a 9-5 job or even a temp job, but takes the singing / acting jobs as they come and he’s the “housewife.” He manages the children and their pick-ups and dropoffs and does all the cooking. It really works for us. And then we he gets a gig, we make it work. He only takes local gigs now (no more going across the country) so it’s heavy commuting for him. But he’s home more and we make it work.

      1. tenor's wife*

        Hey, Baritone’s Wife! Nice to meet you.

        Super happy for you, and a little envious. :) I’d give a body part to be able to be our sole breadwinner so he could be my house-husband and work on his art.

        I am kinda glad he’s never tried to do those guest-artist traveling gigs. I salute you for having figured out how to make it work. :)

        And yeah, no vacations is totally a thing. Glad I have my gal pack to do stuff with!

  41. Ex-prof*

    Another writer weighing in. I did find it completely possible to become competent and useful in college teaching while still doing the writing “on the side” (but very much a priority; I just didn’t tell them). I think the reason it worked was that college teaching is a field where a tendency toward creative writing isn’t particularly suprising. When the writing finally started to pay, no one was surprised when I quit teaching. But I gave it my best up till then.

    So, I don’t know what field would have the same understanding about music that mine did about writing but… try to find that field. Then give the job your all for the hours you’re at work and give the music your all for the hours you’re not.

    You don’t need to tell anyone during interviews or at work that the music is your priority. It’s safe to assume that in any workplace, there are many people for whom the music or the writing or the visual arts or the film-making is a priority. Which is great; I always used to enjoy finding out what my co-workers “really” did. Writing, sketching, for one of them it was conducting an orchestra in her free time. The job is what we live on and the art is what we live for.

    And your past job changes probably won’t seem particularly surprising given the economic situation you describe.

  42. corporate sellout*

    I have a lot of friends who are in similar positions to you, and I’ve even hired a few! The ones I hired were for hourly customer support jobs at a tech company, and I do think customer support, while tedious, is a good “desk job” for a creative who wants an office job. It is easy to turn off your “work brain” when you’re done work, you can often do flexible hours, and they (should) value the experience someone gets from a varied and interesting career. All my favorite hires for that team are people who wanted a day job to help pursue their passions – a singer, a composer, a pianist. In my experience, people with your background and goals are hard-working, thoughtful, and receptive to feedback, which is what you need in a support team.
    However, it often doesn’t pay well and if you want a growth path, there’s a bit of a ceiling once you become a support manager. If you do pursue this avenue I would recommend seeking out remote customer support work for a smaller tech company. They are more likely to offer more flexible hours and better PTO.
    I have a couple friends who are a writer & photographer and work but for US state government agencies – government work is great in some ways for creatives because it has a true “clock out” mentality, but is rarely remote-friendly and hours are usually not flexible. Not sure if that’s true where you are, but worth considering.

    1. corporate sellout*

      to clarify, this meant i’ve hired creatives looking for day jobs, not that i’ve hired my friends lol

    2. LW who sings!*

      Oo, interesting! I’ve found customer service-oriented positions to be really draining and soul destroying in my past experience. Maybe that’s just my bad luck? (My last retail contract was in the thick of the pandemic, lol). I’m hoping to avoid them going forward, but I do have a lot of past experience that points in that direction so maybe I should keep trying…

      1. mskyle*

        You might want to look into more of a B2B customer service position if you haven’t tried that before. I work for a small software company (as a software developer), and our customer support people only have to deal with a handful of customers. Very occasionally there are high-stakes crisis-y kinds of things (like once a year, maybe) but for the most part it’s pretty low-key. It’s not necessarily easier but it’s a different kind of work than like mass-market call center stuff.

        I occasionally take paid singing gigs myself (I’m in an chorus this weekend for an opera with principals you’ve probably heard of, e.g.) but my goals are different from yours – I’m happy if at the end of the year the payments for my gigs cancel out the cost of voice lessons! I’m fortunate in that I do have enough vacation time and flexibility in my work to make this kind of thing work, although it doesn’t leave me as much time for proper vacations as I would like (but honestly no job could ever leave me as much time for vacation as I would like, I want to be on vacation all the time).

      2. JustSomeone*

        Internal customer support within a company might be something to look into along this line of thinking! I have a friend who supports internal users of a particular software program. All of her contact with users is via a live chat type of system. She works remotely, 7-4 with an hour lunch, and she doesn’t have to do or even think about anything work related outside of those hours. She isn’t a techie type who actually has to fix anything in the program, just someone who can tell the user “the X function is located in the Y menu.”

  43. soontoberetired*

    I work in IT, and a surprising number of my co workers are in bands playing gigs on weekends, or once a week. It isn’t ideal all the time, but it works for them. Some are contractors and have a bit more flexibility but the others are regular employees. But they don’t have gigs every week.

    I got into my current work group when someone left because he found it interfering with his music work – but he was in a number of bands, and did solo gigs so he was always busy. Terrific pianist who did rock,jazz, classical and is still doing it.

  44. Lucy*

    Hello, I work in the UK as a copywriter with a focus on the arts and in my spare time I write fiction. The following is based on my experience in London, so would probably be relevant to a comparably cultural city. I used to be the head of editorial for an arts centre which included a concert hall. We always needed writers who understood classical music to write programme notes and classical music marketing. If you’re a good writer (and in my experience, many classically trained musicians are clear thinkers, creative and attentive to detail in a way that facilitates great writing) I’d consider getting into a marketing / publishing department (I mention those departments specifically because of my experience, but also because they tend to be 9-5 jobs). Other routes I’ve observed for people who have classical music knowledge include arts programming and event management. They’re competitive, but if you can get in at entry level the fact that it’s a bit of a closed shop can work to your advantage. Roles at cultural non-profits in my experience can be fast-paced but you have the advantage that people understand the nature of your second career, and it is possible, at least in the UK, to have strong enough unions that your work schedule doesn’t become overwhelming.

  45. Beatrix*

    A few people have already mentioned administration, which I’ll echo. I took a “job, any job” in higher ed while working on a graduate degree and pursuing a career in academia, and it ended up turning into a 9-5 career that still allowed me the bandwidth for the degree and academic pursuits. Often in higher ed, you’re working with people for whom their work is their passion project, so there tends to be more support for outside the job interests than in other fields.

    I had only been in my first job for about a year when I encountered my first major conflict between being a student and an employee, so I had to “out” myself as an aspiring academic to resolve the conflict. My boss was incredibly supportive, and would actually mention my academic work as a plus in my performance evaluations! (despite my job having no overlap with the academic work at all)

    I’ve found it helpful to have an unrelated day job that utilizes one part of my brain (in my case, finance and policies) that’s completely unrelated to my non-job pursuits (history and writing). Even if the job part of my brain is burnt out by day end, I’m still enthusiastic about my extracurriculars and can find the mental energy for it at the end of the day.

    Also, the administration job pays way better than academia would have, so that’s an awesome bonus.

    1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Seconding higher ed admin as a great place to look! Especially if you can find a position (program assistant or student support, to start with) within a faculty related to the arts. Your experience could be a great basis for advising students, for example, or supporting projects or curriculum within the arts.

      My Canadian higher ed admin job is well paid, flexible, only 35 hrs per week, and very supportive. As a student, you could look for student staff positions that would put you in a great spot to get hired full time when you’re done (these can be quite low hours, at least at my uni), so I’d recommend looking out for those. Your program advisor might also be able to advise on getting jobs like theirs.

      I lived with a couple of opera singers when I was in undergrad, and I know it’s not easy to make your career in this field (especially as a yong woman, since my understanding is that women’s voices are seen to mature a bit later on?) Wishing you luck!

  46. Lindsay*

    I would look for a job that has morning hours – receptionist at a local community center/YMCA for example. The front desk at the community center where I used to work was always looking for front desk help since the building opened at 6 am. I used to run a before/after school program and we were always looking for morning help. Even working a school secretary/ed tech/paraprofessional/food worker job would be done by 3:30/4 at the latest. If you worked in a high school in a job where you can leave at school ending time, a lot of them get out at like 2:30 pm.

  47. Clorinda*

    In my previous life, before becoming a teacher, I was a fulltime musician with a piecework income from performing, teaching private lessons, and adjuncting. I had different resumes depending on what job I was applying for. If you’re applying for an arts-adjacent job, those go at the top. If you’re in the “regular economy,” prioritize your office-temp jobs. If anyway wants to know why your work experience is patchy, well, covid, and you’ve been mainly supporting yourself as a singer. I had Freelance Musician as an item on my employment history. Nobody blinked at it.
    Remember, not everything has to go on your resume.

  48. HannahS*

    From artists that I know:
    -opera singer who does church admin
    -actors who do museum work (Black Creek Pioneer Village, if you’re curious and in Toronto;) the work is seasonal and the daily hours are fairly short
    -classically-trained singer-turned musical theatre singer who runs a music studio; does a lot of parent and baby classes during the day

  49. PostalMixup*

    What about a section leader position at a church? It wouldn’t pay all the bills, but it would be at least a consistent income stream from your music. Our soprano section leader works in jewelry sales for her day job. I’m not sure what our tenor and baritone do, and we’re currently without an alto section leader.

    1. Ashley*

      If you are willing to do music through church this can be an excellent option.
      Otherwise music people I know teach during the day, and bonus points if you are teaching choir.

    2. PostalMixup*

      I should add that the time commitment can be fairly minimal. At my church, it’s one two-hour weeknight rehearsal per week and two hours on Sunday morning.

    3. LW who sings!*

      I’ve done a lot of church music! You are right, it’s one of the few places where one can find a consistent source of income from music. I currently don’t have a section lead position (because school is overwhelming) but I’m going to see if I can pick one up again eventually.

  50. SingingIntoTheRaine*

    I’m a classically trained soprano too and take voice lessons, although I’m not interested in pursuing a career to the extent it sounds like you are. But I know a lot of people who are trying to do that and this is an example of what they do to supplement income:

    1. My teacher is an upcoming Soprano and in between the gigs she gets through auditions, she also has a standing gig as “the soprano” with the symphony in our big city, and gets paid monthly regardless of whether or not they end up using her. She also has a studio where she gives voice lessons. It’s not for everyone, but I know many professional singers who teach or end up teaching in some capacity, whether it’s at universities, smaller colleges, independent music schools or forming their own studio.

    2. Two of the other professional sopranos I know are also certified masseuses. This gives them the flexibility to create their own schedules/take on clients as needed while still giving them time to train and be in shows.

    3. Another voice teacher I had – in addition to giving lessons – also became the director of a local opera company and is on salary there.

    4. This can be harder to come by, but I work in finance and at this point in my career, I’ve worked for several companies. All of them have been incredibly supportive of and interested in my musical side gig. If you can find part time work in admin or even full time work that requires little to no over time, it’s doable.

  51. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Administrative office work may be your best bet. I now work in academia and while the pay is terrible, the upside is great benefits and nobody expects me to work outside of my work hours.

    I’m older now so maintaining a full time job and doing theatre full time is more than I have the energy for, especially with a family, but this job would have been so much easier to manage than the job I had when I was in my late 20’s and doing a lot of theatre.

    1. Agnes*

      I’m an academic and when I was taking the “how to run your lab” classes, one suggestion for finding a lab manager/administrator was to look for an artist! The idea was you’d find someone who was smart and talented but wouldn’t up and leave after a short time.

  52. Violinrunner*

    Professional violinist here! I have been VERY fortunate in that my career has always been only music. However, it’s about half and half performing and teaching. Have you offered private lessons? Is that something you could do and enjoy? I love teaching private lessons but I absolutely know people who can’t stand it. I also briefly worked for a youth orchestra, which I was terrible at, but you might be awesome at that type of thing!

    However, I know a TON of musicians who also work in programming and web development, and even one who is a copy editor. Try looking into that kind of freelance work that is remote, and on your own schedule. I even know someone who plays music and has an out online business teaching musicians to be web developers.

    Good luck! It’s so hard to be a musician in this world, and it’s so important, and I hope you figure out what works for you!

  53. partingxshot*

    As someone who writes on a “mostly a hobby but occasionally I get a couple hundred bucks thrown my way” level, I’ve found certain sections of higher education administration to be good for this. The days can be hectic, but I leave my work at work and mostly the stakes of the day-to-day are low enough that they don’t emotionally exhaust me.

    The exception was student life programming. I did that for a year and my ability to write just vanished–it wasn’t even that I had no time so much that the time I DID have was irregular due to my hours flexing around weekend work. But I think what really messed me up was that the work was so emotionally engaged: students were coming to me with personal problems for advice, and I’d have to structure entire weekend retreats around getting groups to be vulnerable with each other. I think my writing muscles and my empathy muscles must overlap in some way, because at the end of the day I couldn’t sustain both and ended up leaving that job for something less emotionally intense.

  54. Salticus*

    OP this is completely Canadian suggestion, but Long & McQuade is really good to their gigging musicians, since most employees are musicians, but it’s retail.

  55. Strict Extension*

    I’m in theatre, and the type of work that appeals to me meant that even if I had a full-time gig at a theatre company, I’d still be doing side gigs for total artistic fulfillment. For me, what has worked is finding jobs that value the fact that I’m a working artist. This was also the recommendation we got in my college theatre program. One of my acting professors loved to talk about the former student who got an office job in Chicago and realized it meant she had her own fan club made up entirely of her coworkers who thought it was so cool that she actually was in plays. They were slightly in awe of her and never gave her trouble if she needed to step out for a mid-day audition.

    For a long time I worked at a local bookstore that frequently collaborated with other community organizations. Not only did they like being able to say that their staff was involved in the city’s culture outside the store, but because I worked there, I was able to bring in actors to do a reading with the author of a Shakespearean parody series, get costume designers to judge a Harry Potter costume contest, and bring students we worked with in an underserved school district to see children’s theatre productions that tied in with the books we were donating. Because I was willing to let my work in another field benefit the store, they were perfectly happy to give me the occasional morning to do a student matinee performance.

    Now I’m in admin at a community arts education organization. I’m not doing theatre work directly here, but my knowledge of theatre has given me a huge leg up in discussions with patrons and colleagues and allows me to anticipate needs in a way that makes me better at my job, even though no arts experience is technically required. Since it’s also a young artist’s training program, they love being able to say that the people working here are also the ones producing art professionally in the community.

    That said, when I’m in production, it does mean working an eight-hour day then going to a three hour rehearsal all week and giving up a lot of weekends. But I’m sure that’s not a surprise to anyone who’s already resigned to doing art around a “day job.” For me, it’s just meant I can be more selective and only take the theatre jobs that mean something to me rather than grasping at anything that offers a paycheck.

  56. CJ Cregg*

    Hello and let me put in a plug for a former classmate of mine named Dana Lynn Varga who is an extremely talented musician herself, but who has also started The Empowered Musician to help people build a classical career. Check it out here:

    She is all about artistic fulfillment AND financial well-being!

  57. OTGet*

    I’m a writer (I just signed a new multi-book contract last week with a Big 5 publisher!) and I work in communications — press releases and web content and such. My job is very 9-5.

  58. Library IT*

    I cannot speak personally, but I work in an Academic Library and we have multiple people who do gig work on the side. One of the coworkers in my department (Library IT) is a classically trained opera singer who works with the Symphonic Orchestra. We also have someone in the library who is a drummer. As long as you have decent management, academics (at least in my experience) can be a good option. There tends to be lots of vacation time and holiday time. Plus in libraries there tend to be positions with flexibility in hours. So it is definitely possible to have a “real” job and side gigs in a creative field. I think it is about finding a job with flexibility and good management.

    1. yetelmen*

      Seconding! A friend of mine is a musician and he has found a lot of flexibility working as a research tech at a university. The hours would be flexible anyway and then we get a ton of PTO.

  59. kilo*

    This may be a bit counter intuitive, but I’d recommend looking into government jobs. Generous time off, stability, often permanent (you’re very unlikely to get laid off in a recession), and in my experience have great work/life balance (there are exceptions to this, depending on which area of government). Also, we can’t pay as much as private industry, so we’re very open to non-traditional resumes. Government jobs can have rigid rules around working from home / working certain hours / leave without pay, but if you find a set-up that works for you, that rigidity will be your friend, as the rules are unlikely to change.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      In a similar vein of thought, perhaps look at manufacturing jobs. Something that is first shift (so you have evenings free) will have regular hours, is definitely a “leave work at work” job, and there isn’t any creative overlap between the job and the music (so no worries about burning out on the job and having no passion for the music gigs you want to do).

      Downsides are: it’s usually easier to get a second shift job (afternoon/evening hours) than first shift, sometimes there are spurts of optional or required overtime, and the stability and benefits are probably not as generous as a government position.

  60. LHOI*

    All the above suggestions for work/life balance are great; as for actually GETTING a job when you have what feels (and/or maybe looks) like a scattered work history, the best thing I think you can do is network. It might suck, but it’s true. You just need someone to get a hiring manager to look at your resume with maybe a slightly different lens, and the only way to do that is through networking.

    And the networking circles around arts orgs can be very tight–one sparkling convo where you present a coherent picture of who you are could open a LOT of doors at places that will be very chill with your being an active working artist. You got this!!

  61. Arts funding*

    I’m interested to read the replies, but as a side note, if this isn’t already on your radar…

    As a Canadian in a major city, you’re likely eligible for federal, provincial, and even municipal creative grants (CCA grants are up to $25K a year).

    If you haven’t already, practice grant writing, speak to grant officers, attend grant writing seminars (which are often free), etc. It has the potential to be profitable long-term.

    1. LHOI*

      I know a lot of artists who support their creative work as contracted grant writers; it can be very lucrative and flexible!

  62. AnonyMouse*

    A good friend of mine is an artist who works as a higher ed admin assistant – good benefits, union, steady hours with no take home work, and work that isn’t exhausting, so when she’s off she can still make her art. It’s still somewhat mission-driven work due to what her department does, so that she feels like she’s doing something good for the world, although the work itself can be a bit boring. Her boss and coworkers are also very supportive of her passion and even come to her shows.

  63. Akili*

    As a Canadian myself (over in BC!) I would say that there can be some pretty great opportunities in government – but the trick is to find an okay paying position in a lower cost of living place. However, the benefits can be pretty great. Personally I have flex time (every other Friday off, just work a little later on other days), 4 weeks of vacation (built up from 2 starting), pretty solid health and dental (always room for improvement of course), and as another commenter mentioned, there’s a true off switch at the end of the day.

    The downsides are, of course, actually trying to get INTO a position where you can take advantage of some of this stuff – there are many roles that are less than ideal whether due to management, location, or the actual work, but once you’re in you can hop around until you find the position or the type of work you’re cool with doing. A friend of mine is super happy in her low level paying job where she gets 100% WFH because it’s not her previous job in a grocery store (she got out just before the pandemic, thank god), but she also has a spouse with a higher paying job and between them they can manage our high COL city. And of course it doesn’t pay well unless you’re higher up the chain – and even those positions are likely to be better paid in the private sector – but the trade off is some amount of job security (yay unions!) plus all the other benefits I listed – and all of our wage bands are public knowledge, with guaranteed increases every year for five years (and then you either have to move up to the next level by getting another position, or you just get the collective agreement increases).

    Plus, if you land a spot with a good manager, you can have a fair amount of flexibility in your work – such as maybe you have to duck out early for a gig, but your boss is cool with you starting early to make up for it, or you just take a couple hours off, etc. etc. And especially if you’re supplementing your income with gigs anyway, the lower pay may be worth it to have that flexibility.

    Good luck!

    1. LW who sings!*

      This is interesting, thank you! Some of my friends work for government, I should talk to them :)

  64. Generic Name*

    Growing up, my best friend’s mom was an opera singer. She didn’t tour with a company, rather she was part of the chorus for the local opera (mid-sized midwestern city). Sometimes she had minor roles. For her day job, she was a high school German teacher. Practices and shows took place evenings and weekends. As kids, we loved looking in her box of stage makeup. Red lipsticks! Cake foundation! Fake lashes!!

  65. Sunny days are better*

    If you asked me almost 40-odd years ago what I wanted as a career, I would have answered: “a musician.” But for a variety of reasons, I never pursued it, not even part-time. I just wrote song after song, and they sat in a binder. Back in those days, there was no internet or anything like that.

    Now, with the ability to self-publish music on Spotify, YouTube, etc. I can finally share my music with others.

    I work full-time in a completely non-musical field – and always have. My music strictly exists as a hobby for me, because I know I will never, ever be able to support my family with it. I’m ok with that. I find time to spend on it evenings and weekends and that’s enough for me.

    What type of job you should get really depends on HOW you want to devote your time to music. Do you depend a lot on gigs where you have to be places on a certain day/time or do you just want to have time to devote to making music in your home? What do you want going forward?

    Once you figure what kind of flexibility you need, you can look into flexible work that uses all the various skills that you have acquired over time. I would use Alison’s resume and cover letter advice when applying to jobs and I’m sure that you can find something that you can be happy with on some level.

  66. Emily B.*

    I’m a speech-language pathologist and I think that job might be a good fit! It’s a really in demand field, you can work in lots of different settings with different populations and most likely set your own schedule if you worked for an agency or started a private practice. Also since the pandemic there are a lot more opportunities for remote work. As a professionally trained singer you probably have a lot of great skills that could translate into the job- a careful ear, familiarity with IPA (the international phonemic alphabet), and knowledge of the anatomy of speech sound production. It could be worth looking into!

    1. debbietrash*

      I have 2 SLP’s in my life — one is currently working at a university with clients who are performers — so it is definitely work that could complement being a musician. The catch is all the education and placements that are required to be practicing, and I’m not sure that that’s something OP wants to do as they’re currently in school (maybe for SLP but who knows?).

  67. HigherEdEscapee*

    Hey OP, classically trained soprano here in my 40’s. I have some answers for you based on what I’ve done and what my colleagues have done. I’m also in the US, so my job choices have always had to factor in health insurance as I’ve never had a gigging job that provided it.

    Look for jobs that are in the arts or arts adjacent, but particularly ones that are flexible. The symphony orchestra where I used to live was a place a lot of musician wanted to work but they were legendarily inflexible about letting people flex for gigs. Oh the irony…
    A lot of musicians end up working in music schools, libraries, and museums which are generally more flexible.
    Church/Synagogue/etc. jobs, not just in the choir, but in offices, can also be flexible. I’ve known plenty of musicians who have worked in houses of worship and been able to maintain a busy performing schedule at the same time.
    Consider using the marketing you do to get gigs as a part of your skill set and possibly look for work using those skills.
    Your background in multiple jobs/fields probably matters less to prospective employers than the through line you can draw that you were able to, impressively!, manage producing at a high level in those positions while also maintaining a successful music career.

    My experience is that, in the end, where I work and for whom matters far less than the company culture. If I’m working with people who delight in having creative people on staff and really believe in work/life balance, then it works. If you see this and you have specific questions, please feel free to respond. Good luck!

  68. Anonygoose*

    I’m a reasonably successful writer who’s been balancing day jobs and novels since the 1990s. The best day jobs I’ve held have all been permanent part time administrative work (“part time” being 25-30 hours/week at hourly rates ranging from $12.50/hour to $25/hour). None of them included PTO or health insurance (I’m in the US), and the early years were very tight. I worked for a wide range of companies (lawyer in solo practice who was heading for retirement; CPAs – full time in busy season, half time the rest of the year; financial back office scanning and archiving records; testing company) but what they all had in common was that they were looking for someone to do a job that was relatively dull but required attention to detail, and which had no prospects for advancement within the company. I have strong secretarial/administrative skills, I pick up computer programs quickly, and I could show the hiring manager my publication list to prove that I wasn’t going to try to move up or quit as soon as something better offered, so I was often a good fit.

    I agree with several of the above comments that it was really important to me to find work that didn’t use the same part of my brain as the writing. I could rest my writing brain during the day job, and the writing (usually!) left me energized enough to get through the day job.

  69. Pigeon toes*

    Would you consider being a school bus driver? You generally don’t have to work evenings and you get the summer off. The pay and benefits vary. It’s an in-demand job.

  70. Bbanks*

    My father-in-law is an accomplished jazz musician. For years, he has worked as an instrument salesman on the side. The peak periods are very predictable (start and end of school year, mostly), so he knows not to take out-of-town gigs during those weeks. His success as a musician also boosts his success as a salesman and vice versa – music educators know that he actually cares about giving the kids a good experience, plus they often know about local gigs before they’re publicized. Good luck with everything!

  71. Jessica Fletcher*

    My advice for the work history is to look for a common thread, if you can, that applies to the work you’re now seeking. Focus on that in your cover letter. For example, I had a bunch of little jobs in seemingly unrelated fields, but my work was all focused on working with the public – outreach, education, recruiting for research, etc. So I made that connection for them, loud and clear, when I was applying to public-facing nonprofit jobs.

  72. Dawn*

    I don’t know if this is entirely relevant to your question or not from my reading of it, but when I update my resume, I always list my creative work as ongoing through whatever period I was doing it (rather than mention individual contracts, gigs, etc) and then list everything else beneath it except a current position if I have one, and I’m up-front about the fact that I was working those other jobs as supplemental income.

    That aside, right now I’m working from home as a customer service person which also gives me time to poke away at my music when I’m not actively working with a client. You might not be able to focus-switch that easily, but it’s a good complementary job for me (and I’m in Hamilton! Hi!)

  73. Ilsa*

    For a very long time, I was an actor and an office worker, and that worked just fine for me. I have a chronic illness, so I needed the insurance I could get from a full-time job. However, as costs started rising, I had to shift to a job requiring more responsibility in order to pay my bills. And then I was too exhausted to audition.

    If you’re willing to make sacrifices in other ways–roommates, keeping your expenditures low, not saving a lot–you can have one of those office jobs that pays decently that you can leave in the office at the end of the day. But with rents rising and other costs going up, it’s getting more and more difficult.

    I ultimately quit acting in order to shift to a more creative day job, and I am still surprised to find that I don’t miss it. The benefits of being an actor just aren’t worth the struggle, for me, and I can feed my artistic needs in other ways.

  74. Thegreatprevaricator*

    The truth as I’ve observed/experienced is that you can’t have a career in both fields. What you might have is a ‘portfolio’ career where some of that activity is a job, not a career. Performers I know tend to be freelance and take on other adhoc work, or use skills developed through their performing career. Actors I know often land in customer facing roles. My partner also does work as a simulated patient or client for the professions eg medicine, social work, dentists, lawyers. I know some performers use their skills to move sideways into project management type roles, particularly within the industry or commercially adjacent sectors. Depending on location you may find some employers who actively seek out performers because of their skill set for roles in admin, market research etc.

    Some people teach and tutor, particularly with music. Commercial jobs such as cruise ships can be an option if you have low outgoings, and be worthwhile financially. I have an old friend who set up a stage school.

    Others establish additional skills that can be delivered remotely: proof reading and audio typing are a couple I know friends do via one of the growing number of sites that offer this kind of work as piece work. Read reviews and t&c and make sure you pick a reputable site however. Finance admin pays relatively well for a ‘job’ if you are so inclined.

    As for me, I wasn’t a performer but after years of freelance/ portfolio work I am now employed full time by a major arts funder. Jobs I did whilst establishing my former career and business in arts admin: waitress; admin for other arts companies; finance admin for a housing association; finance admin for a digital design agency; data input; admin for an architecture practice; seminar leader. I had several cvs focused on different career strands.

    1. still that side hustle*

      Thegreatprevaricator, I’d love to know what sites your friends use/recommend if you happen to know or be able to share? – I’m thinking about building some additional remote-work skills/portfolio too.

  75. Todaloo*

    For your work history, see if there’s a common theme in the responsibilities across jobs that you can point to (for yourself and any interviewers). I also have had a weird string of job titles, but the link between them all is that I 1. Like making things and 2. Enjoy admin/support positions. I’ve been a barista, admin assistant, large volume printer, and more. All of those jobs have an emphasis on organization and usually have some sort of tangible result.

    And too, if the area you were doing odd jobs in is known to be poor/small job pool the company you apply for probably won’t think too much of it.

  76. summer of discontent*

    Hi! Theatre major here. I spent my twenties doing theatre wherever I could while working similar contract, temp, or otherwise flexible jobs. When I got close to 30, I realized I was burning out. I thought about going the MFA route, but ultimately turned down those offers in favor of an MSW. I lucked into a therapist role at a school afterwards (and a nonprofit at that, so I am not beholden to a school district and those complexities, which is nice).

    My new career plays into my creative strengths. It definitely takes its toll energy-wise, so I’m not performing as much as I used to. But my evenings and weekends are free for gigs and rehearsals, I’ve been attending more performances (which has helped reinvigorate my desire to be on stage), and am truly valuing the times when I do a show now.

    Best of luck! I had to really grapple with my artist identity when I took on this new career. I’m constantly reevaluating that balance. I definitely miss having the strength to go from gig to gig, but I’m overall happier.

  77. ramen noodle budget*

    Former arts person here and hi OP, I feel like I could have written this question a few years ago.

    Perhaps a good stopgap but not a forever strategy: During a stint of temping, I wound up with a lucky private school office admin position with significant stretches of downtime – as long as I was at my desk and able to take on tasks as needed, I had time to do office-y aspects of my artistic practice, and the school schedule made for an earlier end to the day, which worked well for me.

    A fellow artist/server at a restaurant job I worked at gave me the very good advice of figuring out what you *can* live on at absolute minimum and what you’d *like* to live on. (I did this by sketching out two versions of a monthly budget, but be sure to build in taxes/social insurances/etc.) This would give you a target for the long run – you can figure out how many hours you’ll hypothetically need to work to make the numbers add up – and you also know your absolute bottom threshold in case you want to take time off from money job(s) for a period of time for arts job.

    I feel like the goal is figuring out how to work fewest hours at a money job to have the most time + energy for arts job. There was another AAM thread awhile back with jobs/careers coming into significant demand ( Since it sounds like you’re trying to build this for the long haul – I wonder if it would actually make sense for you to invest the up-front training in something quite niche (‘green’ jobs related? PMP certificate?) that you can command a high hourly rate in doing, so that you can work fewer hours / set your own hours down the line. Alternatively – being really good at a very in-demand skill may mean an organization would hire you and be willing to deal with your particular schedule flexibility needs (i.e. I have the feeling that a really good nonprofit development professional or grantwriter is always in demand?).

  78. Galadriel's Garden*

    I’m a violinist who used to perform a lot more than I do now (unfortunate result of a car accident), and teaches on the side of my “real” job. I graduated college with an English degree straight into a recession, so I had to be pretty, uh, flexible in the work I did post-graduation in the “Wherever pays me money” sense. I’ve always been pretty up front in interviews that I graduated into a tough job market and took what was available, but make a point to sell it as now having a varied array of skillsets (dealing with many personalities from retail, organization and again, personalities from being an administrative assistant, etc.) and being highly adaptable to any environment. As for managing both halves of your life, I definitely agree with others on finding a company that provides flexibility in terms of where and when your work gets done – although, in theory if you’re planning on gigging just nights and weekends, that shouldn’t be *too* much of an issue if you’re regimented with your work. Working from home certainly makes it easier to throw in a quick practice session over lunch, though!

  79. TurtleMom*

    I am a violinist who has a full-time corporate job, and I am also in my 20s. My best guesstimate is that the financial balance is about 30% music income (mostly from private lessons) and 70% day job income. I could probably make a lot more doing music if there were more hours in the week, but I’m in the US so the full time job is a necessity for health insurance reasons. If I had my way though, I would have tried to find a part time job – something like 20-25 hours a week on a set schedule – and leave my afternoons/evenings open for music.

    I actually find it easier to balance my music and my “regular job” because they are not related at all. My day job is basically doing paperwork all day. It’s not totally mind-numbing, but there aren’t many times where I need to think creatively. I think if I worked in an arts-related field I would just burn out from using the same “brain muscles” for my day job and my music job.

    As far as what type of job I looked for, my priorities were health insurance, reasonable hours, and day to day tasks that are at least moderately interesting – in that order! I found the best approach was to mention that I’m a musician early in the interview process and just screen out employers that weren’t willing to accommodate that. I didn’t necessarily lead with “I’m only taking this job to support my music career,” but in the first interview I did ask several questions about the typical hours for the company (including things like if employees were regularly expected to work longer than 8 hours in a day) and if it would be possible to modify my schedule to work around my private lessons. In my interview for the job I ended up accepting, I asked my usual questions and my now-manager was very happy to work around what I needed, which was a big green flag for that company. I also made sure my cover highlighted the core skills that a company would want, even though I didn’t have any direct experience in my current industry – things like attention to detail, knowing how to push through challenges or try again after I make a mistake, staying calm under pressure, etc.

  80. TurtleMom*

    Oops, that last sentence should say “made sure my cover letter highlighted how learning music taught me the core skills…” So much for my attention to detail!

  81. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    I don’t have experience in this, admittedly, but if you’re in a big city, what about a local university’s temp pool? I just applied to U of T, and maybe something like that would work? Good luck!

  82. idowordsformoney*

    I think the extent to which your music career makes you unable to have a job at the same time (as in work during normal hours and play shows in the evening vs. having to perform during the day when most folks are working) determines how to manage the balance. Remote work has definitely made this easier because you could conceptually bring a laptop on tour and maintain a job if your manager/company thought that would work. I take PTO for all my touring because the idea of having to work in the van or in venues after loadin would not be viable for me but if you have a busy touring schedule that doesn’t actually pay the bills (been there lol) then you’ll def have a tough time with a traditional job. I’ll second a lot of other folks here who mention writing. I’ve been a technical writer for over a decade now. It has offered really great work life balance and my company provides good enough benefits that I can have my career and play riffs too.

  83. Anonymous Engineer*

    My best friend is an opera singer. She got certified as an aerial yoga instructor and for awhile had her own studio, with a schedule she made that worked for her and other instructors who could sub for her when needed. She eventually sold the studio and moved to a bigger city but continues to teach, and bonus, it’s something she can do anywhere when gigs take her to other cities for weeks or months. It has taken her a long time but she has built up her expertise and a wide network of studios who love to have her as a guest instructor.

  84. Irish Teacher*

    Not sure how much reassurance this is as I’m in a completely different country, but in Ireland, two of our more popular sports are all-amateur, so some of our top sportspeople manage to win All-Irelands while also holding full-time jobs. Teaching is a popular profession for GAA players as they have the summer free (and because they can coach the next generation of players).

    Actually, there’s a whole study here that addresses it: Again, different country, different culture and GAA players do have the advantage that if they are one of the county’s top players, then sports fans in the county who are employers have a vested interest in ensuring they have a job so as to keep them in the county. If you are a hurling or (Gaelic) football fan, you definitely don’t want your county’s best player leaving the county or worse, emigrating (though there was a story of a GAA player who emigrated to England and flew home for weekends to train with his club, which was an impressive level of making it work).

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Sorry, I’m not sure if I directly answered the question asked as I was also looking at the question in the link about whether it was possible to engage in the arts while holding a full-time job and I sort of had the two questions mixed up in my mind. That study does have a whole section on what careers GAA players tend to choose though, which might be some help.

  85. sc.wi*

    This may or may not be possible where you live, but it might be worth looking at “regular” jobs within broadly-music-related companies. I knew a music graduate who worked in sales for a microphone company, for example. I also know a dancer who became an assistant for a small performance-focused magazine. Like I said, it’s not always possible, but sometimes companies that deal with music/performance can see the value in having a performer on staff, and might also be more flexible with time off for gigs.

  86. I edit everything*

    I’m a freelance editor, and I’ve just this week started a part-time job in my town park’s office as office manager/secretary. It’s very low key, low stress, work stays at work, and the 9:00-3:30 hours leave me enough time in the day to edit around it. I rarely have enough editing (for reasons) to fill my days, so this is great for some extra money, getting out of my basement, etc. And my boss is flexible enough that he says I can take time off whenever I need it, so if I do get in a crunch or have something really lucrative fall into my lap, I can adapt my schedule as needed. I’m lucky that I don’t have to depend solely on my own income, though. I haven’t gotten my first paycheck yet, but I know it wouldn’t be enough to support me.

  87. Carrots*

    Why not pick a “mainstream” career in the arts? Work for a theater, a music school, a children’s arts studio, a concert venue, a instrument store, an arts-related non-profit, a design firm, etc. I feel like arts organizations would be understanding and supportive of your need to work your schedule around your singing gigs.

  88. Random tuesday*

    Not me, guy at my company. He’s a programmer, does very few local gigs, but does tour -maybe 1-3weeks/year. I don’t know how much work he does abroad, but definitely dials into meetings while overseas. Definitely most of his money comes from programming, but he’s at >$100k/year.

  89. Ollie*

    I did it backwards. I was already doing fairly well in IT when I discovered art festivals with my photography. IT was great in some ways because I could work from home. The company I work for had flexible hours and an attitude that as long as you got your work done they didn’t care if you were heads down on the computer all day. There was an issue with being on call so try not to get somewhere that is a 24 x 7 business. I had to do 18 on call weeks a year and since there were no art festivals in the winter I would take them all at once which was very draining. As time went by I got more and more vacation hours and I used them all. Also on-call gave you comp time and I kept close records on that. I was very upfront about it at work and sometimes a few people from my job came on their lunch break and helped me set up my booth.

  90. LawLady*

    Do you like kids? My nanny is an aspiring writer, but nannies as a day job. If you regularly have daytime performances or practices, likely wouldn’t work. But if you mostly perform in the evenings and on weekends, I think nannying can be a good gig.

  91. Jen*

    I don’t know what the situation is for substitute teachers in Canada, but they are HEAVILY in demand in the States, and the major income drawback is that American substitute teachers won’t qualify for health insurance through work. In Canada, I assume that wouldn’t be a problem.

    We have a few substitute teachers in my small town who work absolutely every single day they want to, and when they don’t want to (they’re taking a trip, doing their side hustle), we can’t afford to have any hard feelings when they return. If a substitute teacher works in a smaller area (small district, only a few schools), they develop relationships with kids, and have the same positive interactions that regular teachers have, with no planning or paper grading.

    Obviously, teaching is not for everyone, but other industries might have this need for people who are ready to fill in or temp?

  92. notstrugglingartist*

    I am living this myself – visual and textile artist.

    Something that worked very well for me was switching to more “blue collar” work for my day job. That way you don’t have to make things up about having professional goals or bring committed to the job – the attitudes just tend to be more “show up, do the job, go home.”

    Finding a company that has some flexibility with regards to days off is important, even if it’s unpaid time off. I don’t really talk about my creative work at my job, so nobody knows that most of my days off are in support of creative projects.

    I rely on my day job for all of my bills/survival need and treat the money from my art as bonuses. That way if I have times where that money isn’t coming in, it’s still ok. Working part time would be best if you can swing it.

    Also, a Canada-specific tip: try applying for Canada Post. I don’t work there any more but I spent a few years there and it worked very well with my creative work.

    1. LW who sings!*

      I have thought about Canada Post, actually! What position did you have, were you a letter carrier?

      1. notstrugglingartist*

        I was a letter carrier!

        It’s a hard job to start out in because everything is seniority-based and everyone starts out as a temp. So when you are a new hire you get the crappy routes and the work isn’t super consistent. In my experience, it got way better after about 6 months. So if you try it out, have that in mind. And it can be stressful at times. I think it actually uses a pretty similar mental skillset to waitressing, in terms of balancing a lot of priorities at once.

        The good part, especially about being a temp, is that you can call out whenever you want and management can’t do a single thing about it. I stayed a temp for a few years and it was great for that.

    2. Foila*

      Ha, I was thinking of a couple well known musicians who had worked in post offices or as letter carriers, it might be a theme!

  93. nonprofit writer*

    You may want to look at nonprofits. I know that since Alison has a background in that field, there has been a lot of discussion on this blog about dysfunction and burnout in the nonprofit world–but if you pick a well-functioning, decent-sized organization with a good reputation, it can be a very solid 9-5 option. (Not sure how it is in Canada, but in the U.S., you can look at their 990 tax forms on their website to see how financially stable they are; you can also check out their page on Charity Navigator or GuideStar, and of course google them, look at their social media, etc. )

    I’m a writer and I worked for a long time at an established nonprofit organization. We had good salaries, excellent health & retirement benefits (our contributions were matched 2:1 by our employer!), good PTO, and in the mid-level jobs I had there, I didn’t feel I had to take work home with me, with rare exceptions. I can’t say it helped me pursue my creative writing while I was there, since I was doing writing for my job, and I had 2 kids during that time–but it did provide a launching pad for me to set up my own business doing part-time consulting for nonprofits, which is now allowing me to get back to creative stuff.

    My particular org had quite a lot of creative types/former creative types there and a varied job history would not necessarily have been prohibitive to getting a job there.

    Another side benefit was that I became very passionately engaged in my organization’s cause, which I think has helped me grow as a person and a writer.

    1. Anon5*

      I’m glad that worked out for you. And I truly mean that, I’m not being passive aggressive. But that’s in many ways the polar opposite experience that I and my friends have had in nonprofits. I think it’s significantly more common for there to be pressure to work 24/7/365 for a pittance because “that’s what you would do if you really cared.”

  94. Blackkat*

    Fellow artist here! I have worked in technical theatre in the USA for about 15 years. My solution has been to specifically look for PT work that is morning based, or flexible, typically Remote or mostly remote being preferred. That has allowed me to work both something that is steady to pay bills and also have fulfilling work making art. It’s not always easy, but it is possible.

  95. Magnolia*

    I’m a working artist whose work slows way down in the summer so I also have a career as a manager of a seasonal aquatic facility. Added bonus my kids get to use the pool all summer. If you need benefits I’d look into substitute teaching or working for school/colleges. In my district subs only have to work one day per month to be eligible for benefits. I know a musician that has job doing av work for local community college. Take a hard look at what hours you need for music work and what are the busy seasons in the year & of course if you’ll need benefits.

  96. buckminsterfullerene*

    I too am a musician, and I consider myself to be that before my “day job”, which is as a staff accountant for a company in something adjacent to the healthcare industry (being vague for privacy reasons).

    The best thing that happened to me was being hired at a job that is almost entirely remote/WFH with a generous PTO policy and the option to flex time. This literally just happened to me this year, and it was a game changer. I can flex my time around rehearsals, I can take PTO for gigs and recording sessions. One trade-off I’ve had to make is to try to schedule gigs on weekends only as much as possible to avoid too much disruption, and honestly I don’t really gig out so much anymore compared to before the pandemic – I’ve only done four gigs this year, but I did release an album, wrote, recorded, and released several singles, done a lot of work on promotion and getting radio play and have made sure to consciously carve out time for my creative work so it doesn’t fall on the back burner. This is so much easier with remote work compared to being in a physical office!

    The thing that may be a bit challenging for you is that you have done so many different jobs in different industries. If you can find a way to tie that together somehow on a resume it would help. I have worked in accounting and finance roles for my entire 15 year “day job” career, which is why I was able to land my current job. That said, given how many companies support remote work (even hybrid WFH/office), I would encourage you to look for work like that – I know a lot of musicians who bartend, work as servers, etc and while it keeps a roof over their head and allows for flexible scheduling (to a point), it doesn’t necessarily provide great benefits like healthcare, etc. I understand I am immensely privileged to be in the position of having a day job with more security than a service industry job (and I don’t look down on those jobs either – I’ve done them too!). If you could wrangle something akin to my situation, concerns about money and health insurance, etc, will ease considerably and I’ve found it’s made it easier to have time for music and also give it the focus in my life that it deserves.

    The other thing I would advise is to keep whatever “day job” you get separate from your music life. Only one person at my day job knows that I’m a musician, and it’s a peer – not my manager or my department head. When I ask for PTO for music stuff, I don’t specify why I’m asking for PTO – I just call it an appointment or prior commitment. No one asks me to be more specific. I do this because I don’t want anyone at the day job to think I don’t take the day job seriously (I do, and I quite like my day job!), and people who aren’t professional creatives will sometimes make assumptions like that. I need the day job literally in order to survive so that I can make music. If I lose the day job, I’m in trouble.

    I hope this is helpful.

      1. buckminsterfullerene*

        Thank you! Good luck on finding the right balance – it took me several years and a lot of trial and error but I got there. You will too. :)

  97. Art Teacher*

    I’m a professional artist but make my living as an art teacher in a public school by day. Some of my musician friends make their living as a private music teacher where they schedule their clients around their own gigs. If you choose this route, try to get on the home-schooling scene, a lot of parents hire subject teachers.

  98. Susan Lewis*

    My audiologist is a professional opera soloist. She likes working with sound and helping people hear better

  99. Heather*

    I’m a theatre artist and have worked a variety of non-profit semi-related jobs. Recently I transitioned into teaching (drama) full time and while the job is intense, it actually gives me lots of opportunities and space to make my own art. Breaks from school? Good time for intensive rehearsals and performances. Reliable end time to contract hours makes it possible to maintain a rehearsal schedule and keep making stuff. Sometimes it leads to long days with little sleep, but I genuinely get to do what I love in various iterations all day.

  100. Willow Cat*

    I’ve got several friends/family who are musicians, and they’ve all found different ways of doing this (which probably says there is no best way). My brother has a job in the music supplies business, and his musician background is a definite plus there. Another friend is a real estate agent, which gives her freedom to do her music because she’s not stuck in a set schedule. Other friends have non-related 9-5 gigs doing things they love and do their music evenings, weekends and vacations. I’m sure there are other ways of doing this, too, but they’ll all be dependent on the field you’re in, where you live, etc. Good luck!

  101. Hummingbird*

    Musician and career woman here! I’m a wedding musician with a completely distinct full-time career in an unrelated field. Though there are some soft skills that transfer, both jobs are almost entirely distinct. I love my career and my music business and want to keep both permanently.

    Right now, my music business is not nearly enough to live off of. Every gig musician I know also teaches/performs in an orchestra/publishes music to supplement gig income. I do not want to be a music teacher, so I will likely never transition to music full-time. I would love if my weddings/events could bring in 50% of my day job income so I can jumpstart my retirement savings.

    I don’t actively share about my business at work/in interviews unless someone asks, but I don’t hide it. I occasionally have events that conflict with work, such that I have to leave my desk 30 minutes early to travel, but that hasn’t proved a problem at this point, since I just reschedule that work time. This rarely happens though, as weddings are most often on a Saturday or a Sunday and only occasionally happen during the week (or I’m booked for a rehearsal dinner).

    I actually like having a career that’s completely unrelated. My colleagues think it’s super cool that I am a professional musician, and it hasn’t impacted my client experience that I work a separate full-time job. This would likely be different if I had something that was not desk work, like teaching or service work or production. It allows me to switch tasks when I get sick of one thing, so I always have something interesting to do.

  102. TootsNYC*

    a total aside:
    A friend of mine applied for a job at a nonprofit that works with mentally disadvantaged people, and when they saw that her work history in high school, college, and post college involved a whole bunch of different lower-level jobs, they got really excited.

    They needed a trainer and counselor who would help their clients learn how to succeed in similar employment. She had a breadth of personal knowledge that was incredibly valuable to them.

    Of course, even without such a need, the skills you learn at all those many jobs are real.

  103. TootsNYC*

    I think my one piece of advice would be to keep a really close eye on how much of your life you would lose to the commute.

    I work in publishing, and we’d have late nights. One of the people who worked under me was a musician who played the viola da gamba. He worked w/ me for a year and then quit because he was tired of feeling guilty when he went home and I didn’t, and tired of giving up those extra hours. As a freelancer, he could turn down work

  104. SHOO*

    Music retail can be an option, if that is an option near you. I have worked in music retail for 15 years, but always in a small business – never a large chain so I can’t speak to those. Everyone is a musician here, so time off for gigs and rehearsals and such is very normal. It’s wonderful to be close to what I love (music), and it allows me to network with other musicians I meet at work. I got my foot in the door in a teaching role, and then moved into a role managing the choral music. I now work in a more administrative role but still get to be around music and musicians AND have the flexibility I need.

  105. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

    American here! New Yorker specifically, ~20 years in the performing arts.

    The main Rent Careers are food service, office admin, and tutoring. I’ve done only the latter two. As a Canadian I think you need to worry less about health insurance than we do, and let me tell you I would’ve stayed a combination office temp/SAT tutor for at least another decade if I hadn’t needed health insurance.

    If you can get in good at a temp agency and become an in-demand temp at a large company, that is a very good set-up. For awhile there I got to wake up every morning and decide, “Do I feel like working today?” I don’t know if Canada’s large cities have as many massive companies (usually evil ones tbh) that thrive on temp coverage, but I would give it a shot.

  106. Withtheband*

    My partner is in a band that is has about2 paid gigs per week, usually late nights on the weekends. Having a day job gives him the freedom to say no to gigs he doesn’t want. He works a low stress, retail job that has is only open M-F 9-5 so he generally doesn’t have schedule conflicts, but sometims he does work 14-21 days in a row. Still, he seems way less stressed than his bandmates who don’t have day jobs.

  107. Fleur-de-Lis*

    Hello! I was a professional musician for over a decade (classical flutist here) and worked part-time in libraries the entire time. I finally chose to leave music for librarianship full-time and went back to school for my MLIS in my early 30s after landing in a supportive library environment for a full-time job that had health insurance (I couldn’t afford premiums anymore in the pre-ACA days).
    I’ll say that my library work environments were generally supportive of my need to flex time for gigs because I worked in the back of the house in acquisitions and cataloging, and then in a flexible situation for providing support to personnel at libraries in a large consortium. The groups I played in were also generally regional orchestras or chamber situations where I would rehearse on weekends or evenings, and rarely had to take full or half-days off when I got into the full-time job.
    Service industries are more difficult unless you get into some of the higher-end restaurants; one of my friends has worked for many years as a steakhouse server. He is amazing at the job and gets to name his schedule at this point due to seniority and awesomeness. It is also physically challenging, so he likely can’t do it forever while also using his body to play. I think it’s important to consider how a job will impact your body, since you sing and are literally your instrument!
    I also left music because of the toll that it was taking on my physical body. I have some serious shoulder problems and the beginnings of arthritis, and those conditions were incompatible with continued musicianship at a very high level. I played chamber music with long-time friends who are now members of prominent symphony orchestras around the US and Canada, and just had to let it go because I could no longer keep up. I’m lucky that I am in a profession that I enjoy, and that I can bring my specialized expertise to bear from time to time (hello, large opera/ballet DVD donation!). I think it’s important to consider where you want to live and the kind of flexibility you’ll need to pursue your musical career. Travel is critical for singers. Is there a remote job with flexible schedules that you can do? Your varied work history is a benefit – frame it as your ability to learn quickly and meet with success in a number of industries. Find the common threads among the jobs you’ve had that are outside of your primary reason for taking them (flexible hours that let you perform) and make those really explicit in cover letters and interviews! You can do this!

  108. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

    I see a lot of people suggesting nonprofits, and I’ve worked at several of those, but I’d advise you not to limit yourself that way if what you primarily want is to support your artistic career. Nonprofits sometimes actually look askance at candidates who betray a passion outside of work–once Executive asked me in an interview, “Do you really just want a job in theater?” (I managed not to laugh.)

    Companies driven more by capitalism than mission tend to be appropriately staffed, so they can spare you when you have a gig, and are more likely to see your relationship as an exchange of money for time and labor. They don’t need you to pretend that as a child you dreamt of answering their phones.

    It depends on the org, obviously. But nonprofits aren’t inherently more hospitable to artists.

  109. Kat*

    A musician friend of mine is a skilled carpenter and works for a small company that does projects when they’re available. I think the key here is to be skilled–which obviously takes some time, but the better you are at your niche, especially in project-based work, and/or the more able/willing you are to start your own business/be your own boss in your day job, the more flexibility and choice you will have.

    My own “passion” work is seasonal, so I do tax prep to make $ in the winter. Works out well for me and I enjoy it! Again, working for a small, local employer who is able to work with my schedule rather than H&R Block or something is key.

    Best of luck!

  110. Jasmine Clark*

    I love this question because I’m kinda in a similar situation. My goal is to be a blogger and social media influencer, but making significant income as an influencer takes time! So in the meantime, I do freelance copywriting work, plus right now I’m looking for a part-time childcare job for additional income. I love writing and I love working with children, so that’s why I’m specifically looking for jobs that connect with what I love.

    Yet I’m not giving up my dream. I like that you said you’re a musician first. I feel the same way — my dream is first and I will make it happen. You will too. Remember, this is temporary. Eventually you’ll be at a point where you can be a musician full-time and you won’t need anything else. Don’t forget that. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t happen, because it really is possible. It just takes time and a lot of effort.

    Find jobs that connect with what you love. You can find a job related to music or something else you love. As for what to tell employers about your work history, frame it in a positive way. Since you’ve worked in many fields/industries, you have a diverse range of knowledge and experience that someone who has only worked in one field may not have.

  111. Child of opera singer*

    My mom worked as a pre-k teacher and in the administrative office of a large children’s choir when she was pursuing her opera career. She also worked at a consignment store. All of these jobs allowed for half days with mostly morning work. She temped for a while, too, until she found an attorney who was kind of terrible and couldn’t keep a legal secretary for more than a few months. Every time she went on tour and returned home, he was looking for another replacement, so she would go back to him for a few months while she auditioned. Not saying you should find bad employers, just that these sorts of flexible gigs might appear in unexpected places!

  112. Springtime*

    Many years I had an acquaintance whose primary career was in show business, but between gigs they substitute taught. The teaching was much lower paid but could be picked up without a long-term commitment and at least kept some money coming in.

    Someone else I knew was more in your situation, where the day job was the moneymaker. I wouldn’t recommend their solution, which was to fake an injury every time they were denied time off to tour. Especially because they believed the only possible explanation for continuing to get away with it was that the boss was deliberately looking the other way.

  113. MeagL*

    Fellow Canadian here – i’m going to guess you were living in PEI :)
    I would suggest support service jobs in nursing/care homes or hospitals. Things like environmental services (cleaning/kitchen/maintenance) usually offer less than full time positions, and then there is the option to pick up casual shifts if you’re in a slow performance time. If you have a somewhat predicable schedule you could provide it.

    Another option could be similar roles in schools – shifts normally end early in the day and you’d have vacation/sick/family leave days.

    Education Aide I belive is a community college degree under 2 years; another option for you!

  114. Bvc123*

    Hello fellow classical singer trying to have a career outside of NYC/Chicago!

    – Try for a stable 9-5 w/a firm off switch
    – Try for remote
    – Job function matters less than low stress environment and a solid work/life balance

    I always thought getting a 9-5 would be a nightmare for singing. It turns out to be one of the best things I could do for my career and schedule!

    Balancing multiple part time gigs was hell on my budget and my schedule. Most part time gigs require night and weekend hours and trying to go to a last minute audition or rehearsal was a nightmare. A full time job with benefits gives me peace of mind when accepting gigs – I can take more because I’m less stressed, have more clear blocks of time with which to prepare,

    I currently work as a coordinator with a (non-musical) arts nonprofit. I don’t know that I’d recommend it – many nonprofits can be a mess to work for – but luckily mine is great.

    Personally, if you find something you mostly like (data entry, HR, operations, doesn’t really matter) at a company with a firm off switch and good work-life balance, that’s ideal. I’d also encourage you NOT to do something too creative if you find it saps you emotionally. Save it for the stage! The company has proven to be more important to the work itself, for me. Teaching or customer service may be too taxing – FYI.

    Working remotely is also great because you can sneak off to warm up or practice for a few minutes in your down time (something you CANNOT do in an office lol).

    Good luck!

    1. LW who sings!*

      Ooo this is so helpful. Yeah, customer service is super taxing and I think I’m going to have to stay away from it in the future. Thanks for the super clear and helpful advice!

  115. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I have friends who are published authors but that doesnt pay the bills so they have other jobs. Look into customer service type of roles, or data entry. I’m not sure what type of music you do but if it’s like playing at clubs and stuff like that having an earlier job (8-5) might help you be more flexible.

    Is there anything within your school that you could apply for?

  116. Rain's Small Hands*

    I have known a lot of artists – musicians, writers, visual artists, actors.

    I knew a guy who is a Fortune 500 VP and also in a band. Work was not all encompassing for him. I actually know several people who work demanding corporate jobs and are in bands – although for none of them has the band been their highest priority – its always a hobby band, not a “and we will make it big” band. You get and keep these jobs by downplaying your commitment to your art, and then you do have to compromise on the art to continue moving ahead.

    I know a few people who teach – a sculptor who was a public school art teacher. An actor who taught community college (they do have a MFA), which doesn’t pay well, but pays. A few musicians who make the majority of their money teaching guitar, piano or voice. The public school teacher and community college professor had a very demanding (and low paying) careers until they retired – but they had good benefits and paid bills and still did their art. The others are more in the gig economy, working for themselves.

    I know a few people who have taken “disposable” jobs rather than have careers to pay their bills while they concentrate on their art. Security guard, bank teller (bank tellers have really great hours for musicians). For these jobs, you don’t really even need to mention your passion is music – no one expects your passion to be being a scheduler for a doctors office.

    Two who make their living within the arts world – one is a grant writer and the other manages an arts non-profit. The grant writer fell into it (she’s an actor). The non-profit manager has a business degree in addition to being really involved in the arts community that she practices in – so she was sort of a natural when the position was open (she’s a visual artist).

    And a few that married well and do their art while their partner pays the bills and carries the insurance. And one trust fund beneficiary who doesn’t “need” to work to pay their bills.

  117. Sara M*

    Hello, I’m in an adjacent creative field. This is hard! May I recommend a book? Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd might help you out. Some of the book is for college kids trying to figure out what they want, but there’s plenty of stuff for mid-career creatives as well. Good luck!

  118. Katie Hart*

    I’m a theatre artist – stage manager, actor, and lighting and sound designer, mostly. I don’t have a ton of work experience due to graduating college the year before the pandemic, but in my job search I prioritized jobs that had consistent daytime hours and no expectation to bring my work home with me. For me this has meant teaching preschool. I’ve found a center that I love and can be fully engaged during the day, but I have a hard stop when my shift ends and don’t need to grade assignments, respond to parents, or do anything else until the next school day. This of course depends on if you like kids, and there are required certifications depending on your state, but I have found it to be rewarding and it does fit my needs. I like to joke that corralling actors isn’t all that dissimilar from toddlers, but it actually is true that many of my communication skills transfer between the two, especially when I stage manage.

  119. WillowSunstar*

    I do photography as a rather serious hobby, to the point where I have sold some and once made $500 from it. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to quit my regular job. If you can find an hourly job you can tolerate where they’ll actively discourage overtime (because they don’t want to pay time and a half), then you will at least have evenings and weekend to work on your true passions.

    I wouldn’t say in an interview for a job totally unrelated that my real passion is photography, for sure. Too much honesty in that area generally will get you not hired. Learned the hard way when I was in my 20’s.

  120. KS*

    I used to work at an industrial supply company where somewhere along the line management realized that many many smart people wanted to do art, and if they hired said artists to work on the loading dock or in shipping or whatever and compensated them well, those artists would work at the company for decades just to keep a 7-3 shift where they could leave at the end of their day and do art. Meanwhile, all of those smart people would improve the company as a whole because smart people on the loading dock would come up with smart ideas to make their jobs better. That company can’t be the only one to have realized this.

    I say this to suggest that people sometimes think that 9-5 jobs which leave room for art need to be in education or retail or administrative desk work, but there are other options in more “industrial” worlds, and if you look around for well respected companies with a reputation for treating employees well, you might find a good fit.

  121. Jen*

    Hello, musician in my mid-40s here. Earlier in my work life, I also did a lot of things like retail/seasonal work, and could usually find a way to talk about those jobs in interviews in a way that made sense to new employers. So don’t be afraid of continuing to do that if it works for you! Then, about 10 years ago, I started working in the public sector (state employment), where the benefits include paid time off AND the expectation that people will utilize it. I’ve managed to find state work in an area that has a distinct busy season, and I prioritize my performances for all the other times. We have the ability to bank a portion of our busy season OT as comp time, and when I was lower on the org chart, I was able to take up to 6 weeks off in a given not-busy season to tour or otherwise work on music things. It’s basically the more stable equivalent of seasonal work, and it comes with health insurance, too! So if you’re in the US, I highly recommend looking at public sector employment and/or jobs with defined busy and slow seasons. Good luck!

  122. TinySoprano*

    Hi OP, you are literally me (but younger). Pre-pandemic I was a gigging soprano doing whatever jobs I could fit on the side (admin, bar work, barista work, visual art side-hustle, you know the drill). During the pandemic there was pretty much zero opera work in Australia, so I made the decision to go back to uni and train in psychology. Financial stability is a real priority for me now, as I’m really over being a starving share-house denizen in my early 30s. Interestingly, a decent diet and lower financial stress has done wonders for my voice, so if I want to sing on the side I’m more likely to pick things up now.
    When I was trying to pivot, people always suggested music-adjacent careers. I know many singers who’ve done speech pathology and been really successful, for example. Other ones that get suggested are arts admin, education, and music therapy. I wanted something completely separate from music because I feel like I can compartmentalise better that way, which helps with balance for me.
    The thing is, you never stop being a soprano. I could have a full research career and still be a soprano in a lab coat. I agree that this can make resumes and job hunting a bit difficult, because you’ve got seventy thousand other things on there, and there’s the chance that employers will see you as a flight risk. I’m fussy about what I include for each application. I flag the opera thing, because it will come up, but I don’t over-emphasise it. I make sure I have really good referees. The cover letter is key, because it explains all the weird stuff and puts it in the context of how you’d be an asset to whatever organisation you’re applying for. And once I’ve got it, I keep the singing on the down-low for a while so it doesn’t become my sole personality trait, and then casually invite everyone to a show down the track.
    You’ve got this, LW. We’ve got this. We can sing AND afford to live.

    1. LW who sings!*

      “a starving share-house denizen” made me cackle. I too am over this stage of life, haha. Good for you! I’m glad you’ve landed in a good place :)

  123. Medieval Prof*

    A lot of people that work in department admin in higher ed are artists/creatives! My graduate school coordinator was a publishing poet, and I have a friend who’s a dancer who did admin work in a different department as her “day job.”

  124. LM*

    I’m a classical violinist! I’ve been living this for a while. Honestly it’s so much trial and error and I still wouldn’t consider myself as having figured it out even though I’ve been out of school for about 6 years now. Private teaching is pretty lucrative and has always been my side-gig. Truth is, until this year, I didn’t have to work a regular job other than that because my husband also had a full time job and combined we made enough. This year, my husband is going back to school full time, so my work is more important. I found part-time entry level job in HR. I like it, I think a lot of skills fit with what I’ve developed as a freelancer and contractor for gigs, and it’s a great balance to my teaching and gigging. I’m also benefits eligible which is so great since the school my husband is attending doesn’t offer insurance. I’m obviously not as flexible in schedule for gigs as I would be if I didn’t have it, and if I compare my hourly rate to my hourly private teaching rate it’s a little low, but having the stability of a certain amount of money per week alongside PTO and health insurance is amazing.

  125. Baribaby*

    As someone who started down the teaching path and burnt out, I love the idea of a correlating career
    Arts admin is great if you can find it. Otherwise, in demand shift work- hospitality is desperate for workers, a locum nurse can take on short term contracts in different locations, working the checkout at a grocery store is unlikely to come with an expectation that it’s your forever passion…

  126. Oh January*

    I’m a writer and dramaturg, and I’m also physically disabled. I was struggling with the “grind” of balancing an early theatre career with (multiple) side jobs… so I went back to school to get my teaching degree. Substitute teaching is flexible, you can do it anywhere, and the way you “use” it to supplement your arts career can change over time (permanent part-time, on call, contract positions, etc). That might not work for OP depending on their background, but it’s worth thinking about. Or OP’s equivalent with their own skills.

  127. Forgot my name again*

    I have friends and family in the music industry. Of the many, three have “made it” sufficiently that they can live on the money they make solely from performing (one is a classical double bassist in a permanent orchestra, the other two are jazz trumpeters who play anything from big band to grime). Most everyone else has a “side hustle” to greater or lesser degrees. The majority teach, and as they’re self-employed there’s some flexibility to how much teaching they take on. Some are in music-related areas, eg music shops, concert management, music librarianship, recording studio techies, instrument repair. Others have chosen to pick up whatever random jobs they can – much like you have done, doing what they need in order to survive so that they can focus on what they really love. I think you’ve got to decide where your energy needs to go, and there’ll be employers out there who understand and are only looking for someone who can do the job, not necessarily someone ambitious to progress. Good luck!

  128. commentor35*

    My partner is a musician with a “real” job. He works at a CSA (community supported agriculture) warehouse. The job works for him because he has Fridays off and flexibility in his schedule – there are enough people doing his job that he can miss work for a day/leave early to play a show and he is able to make up missed hours on a different day if he wants to.

  129. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    I can really relate to your challenge of marketing yourself with such a wide variety of experience. Personally, I’ve leaned into that and positioned my wide range of (some times odd) work experiences as allowing me to bring a fresh perspective to the table. Sometimes I notice things that other people wouldn’t. One strange example: I was working on developing test bank questions for a new edition of a textbook that was related to my degrees in social science. I found two errors in the book that nobody else had caught, because I am also a musician and I speak a particular foreign language that is uncommon in Canada.

  130. LAF*

    I’m a poet, and struggled with these questions for years. After graduate school I ended up developing a skill set that positioned me well for arts administration, specifically community-oriented arts program development and engagement, as well as some grantwriting. This struggle is so personal to you as an artist and a person: some people figure out that they don’t care how they pay the bills as long as they can keep room for their art, and others (like me) find that they need the stability and added meaning of a decent role and some growth in their paid work in order to be able to continue to pursue the art piece at all. I have a busy job now and can’t write as often as I’d like, but I continue to do so (and publish) and things like paid time off allows me to not stress as much about the impact of my artistic pursuits on my health and family. I also have found ways to take time to do artist residencies every few years, even with full time work. It’s all about seeking the support you need, I think, whether that comes from your own prioritization or from an employer who understands you.

  131. lex*

    Hi! I’m also a musician, also in a large Canadian city, also lost work during the pandemic. I pivoted to a 9-5 job during that time (and am loving it!) Before the pandemic I lived of teaching and gigs, I still do a small amount of teaching just to stay in the game, and now that gigs are coming back I’ve found it’s not that hard to balance. Most of my gigs are evening/weekends anyway, and my coworkers find it all very interesting. I work at a company that is flexible and I haven’t had any problems taking the odd afternoon off for a symphony rehearsal.

    When I was interviewing I played up having been self-employed for 15+ years, managing all aspects of my career, staying organized, compared managing students and their parents to keeping difficult clients happy, that kind of thing. Having a music background shows that you are creative, organized, responsible, and able to work well alone as well as in a team. All skills any company would love to have!

  132. Not Your Sweetheart*

    I am not a musician, but many of my friends are. One of them is a drummer, and has performed at the Superbowl pre-game, and with some big name artists. He’s a valet at an upscale hotel by day. He started out working the overnight shift, but has been with the hotel long enough that he can choose his schedule. He likes meeting people, and has gotten to drive some amazing cars. Then, he plays with his band(s) on the weekends and the occasional event.

    The trick is to find somewhere that offers enough scheduling flexibility for your gigs. Remaining with the same company for years certainly helps with that, but there are plenty of jobs/companies that offer it right away.

  133. LR*

    My brother is a musician and a web designer (freelance) on the side. He also teaches his instrument privately and leads workshops. I think the key for him is having the flexibility with his more lucrative side careers to schedule around his performing/touring rather than vice versa. He has always been his own boss and it works for him. (He also keeps an insanely low cost of living in a rural place, and sometimes goes without insurance to save money, so not sure how advisable/applicable this is in a major city…but it can be done!)

    When I’ve tried to do creative things outside a 9-5 day job I just didn’t have the energy; even a non-demanding fulltime job still takes a lot out of you. Just know there’s more than one way to patch things together, and having one plan not work for you doesn’t mean you can’t make another iteration successful!

  134. BI Geek*

    Professional Temp Worker

    I had a temp in my office that was an actor first, and a temporary worker second. He was with an agency that got him the 3 week to 6 month jobs, that allowed him to take leaves of absence when he ended up with a major part where he needed to focus on that and then return afterwards, and were delighted with his work and stellar reviews.

    We were delighted with him too. His caliber, intelligence, attention to detail, and work ethics we’re all substantially above what we would expect from a temp, and made him worth the top dollar his agency charged. He made it clear that he did temporary work because he was an actor first, and it was a win for everybody involved.

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