Monday, April 4, 2011

Don’t Quit Your Night Job: Musicians moonlight at regular jobs

Being in a band is really glamorous, right? There’s the adulation, the creative expression, the travel… and the ball-busting assistant manager looking over your shoulder at your day job to make sure you showed up on time. The truth is, making a full-time living as a musician just isn't a reality for even the vast majority of those in successful bands anymore. You might be surprised at just how many of your favorite musicians find themselves chained to a desk, retail or restaurant gig in order to pay the bills when they aren't living the dream on the road. The lucky ones find day jobs that tap into another side of their personality that they don't get to express through music. For others, it's a grind just like it is for the rest of us. We asked a bunch of bands about what they do for work, and whether or not it measures up to their night job (aka “the one that’s a lot harder to make money from”).

All four members of Richmond, Virginia’s THE RIOT BEFORE (on Paper + Plastick Records) still work in restaurants as cooks or bartenders. That line of work makes sense for musicians since the hours at a restaurant are flexible, and it's relatively easy to request off for long periods of time. “Our jobs are the only way we can afford to pay bills at home and eat while we are on tour,” says bassist CORY MANNING. “Since we all work pretty shitty jobs, the money usually isn't enough, so we’re always just scraping by. Basically, if we didn't work, we would all definitely be screwed.”

That's a common refrain for younger bands that haven't necessarily settled into a career path outside of music yet. “For dudes in touring bands, there aren't really any other options, so it just kind of made sense,” says Manning. “The work schedules are usually flexible enough that the odds of finding a restaurant job that will allow you to tour and come home to a job are fairly good. Although that hasn't
always been the case. I’ve definitely come home unemployed and broke. That shit sucks. So I've been working in kitchens ever since.”

It’s a harsh reality for many bands. “I never dreamed of being a line cook,” says Manning. “I dreamed of being in a
band and getting rich and famous.”

bassist SCOTT WINEGARD, formerly of TEXAS IS THE REASON, works as a personal chef and has also spent time cooking in restaurants. The difference, however, is that he loves his restaurant gig. “Cooking is my career,” he says. “It's what I love to do. I love playing music, too, but it's mostly my hobby now. Don't tell my band this, but I would rather cook than play a show. [But] they probably know.”

His bandmate
JOSEPH GRILLO also works in the food and drink world as well as manager of a boutique wine shop. “I’ve always loved wine and the job has expanded my knowledge tenfold,” he says. There are some drawbacks, though, like having a slightly more sophisticated palate than your average rock dude. “It means I’m often less than satisfied with the case of Miller Light we are given and would prefer a fine Oregon pinot noir.”

Aside from restaurant work, another job that’s conducive for touring musicians is working elsewhere in the music industry.
BRANDON PHILLIPS, frontman for THE ARCHITECTS, is an indie label consultant. “My 18-year-old self would be horrified if he saw me now,” says Phillips. “He's convinced that he is no more than a couple years away from becoming Elvis Costello. Poor, dumb kid.”

But the reality is that life on the road and life at home both require income. “Sooner or later, there will be a stretch of four to six months when there is no tour, no new album and people have to find a way to stay alive until the next tour,” says Phillips. “I recommend [playing] online blackjack.”

of Maryland thrash-punk unit DEEP SLEEP also keeps a day job within the music biz as owner and operator of Celebrated Summer, a record store in Baltimore. It's the ideal job for a musician, he says. “My job is to stay up on all the music I love and talk about it with kids and music fans all day. I can take off work when need be and promote my job through the band on occasion.” And moving between the two is seamless. “I'm not sure I consider what I do as a ‘regular job.’ Both things involve me making new friends and doing what I love.”

“I recommend [playing] online blackjack.”

Other jobs aren't quite as conducive to a musician’s lifestyle. BRIAN PRZYBYLSKI of SHORES works as a closed caption editor and finds the early hours a chore. “While home it's 6 a.m. mornings,” he says. “That’s not exactly conducive to anything.”

drummer BRAD PERRY is fortunate that his employers are relaxed about his frequent touring for weeks or months at a time. At home, he works regular hours for a nonprofit organization called the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “It's probably more flexible than most office-type jobs,” he says. “My usual work schedule is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but as long as I get my work done and put in my weekly hours, they're pretty flexible. I have extremely supportive bosses and co-workers who think it's awesome I play in a touring band, and they've been super cool about me taking leaves of absence to tour.”

In most jobs, though, you have to earn that sort of leeway. “I try to stay on top of my work remotely while on tour and get ahead before I leave so that I don't bum out any of my co-workers,” says Perry. “I try to make it easy for them to be stoked about the touring thing.”

He says making the switch back and forth isn't too jarring of an experience, since his band aren't a household name. “Occasionally, [other members of Worn In Red who work in the restaurant industry] get people coming up to them being, like, 'Dude, I love your band!' which is always cool. But I don't think anyone's primary motivation for playing in this band has anything to do with a need for the spotlight. We just really like making this type of music together and sharing it with folks who are interested. So there isn't really an awkward transition out of the spotlight and into obscurity when we get back from tour. The only tough thing about returning from tour is getting back on a regular sleep schedule—and getting used to getting sleep
at all.”

Speaking of no sleep,
HAVE NOTS drummer STEVE PATTON works nights as a sleep disorder technician at a Massachusetts hospital. “It really couldn’t be more perfect for being in touring band,” he says. “I’m able to take time off whenever I need to go on tour, and have a job waiting for me when I come home. Working nights keeps my schedule really flexible even when I’m at home.”

MAKE DO AND MEND frontman JAMES CARROLL—who works as an account manager for a business development firm—also has it pretty good when it comes to time off. “My bosses are incredible, and while it is a very demanding job, they respect and nurture my need to travel and play music, so they do their best to make it as easy as possible for me.”

drummer DALLAS TIDWELL, a senior graphic designer for Kicker Performance Audio, solves that problem by having a job that he can often do remotely while on tour. “Obviously being an audio company, Kicker is already involved in certain aspects of the music industry,” he says. “In addition to that, many of the employees are musicians. Luckily, I have a job I can do from the road. People don't realize that most of your time [on tour] is spent either driving or waiting around for the show to start. I usually take a laptop and fill that free time with work. It makes it a lot easier to pay my bills when I get home.”

He brings up a good point about creativity as it applies to careers. “The majority of my childhood, I always got in trouble for two things: drumming on things and 
drawing on things. I’ve been lucky enough to make careers out of both. I find it incredibly humorous that I get paid to do the things that I was told were a waste of time by my teachers when I was young. I always tell parents to pay attention to what your kids love to do and instead of telling them to stop wasting their time. Support it. You never know where it will lead. I was lucky enough to have parents that nurtured my interests.”

I don't know many punk-rock bands that can afford to just live off of their band.”

Sure, being in a band is an amazing experience, but sometimes parents are right about keeping your expectations in check when it comes to getting rich from it.

“I don't know many punk-rock bands that can afford to just live off of their band,” says Perry. “I think there's a whole mythology that being in a moderately successful band means being able to 'quit your day job,' but it's time we exploded that B.S. with a dose of reality. There are bands I know who most people would consider 'big' whose members still tend bar, cook at restaurants and temp at offices when they're not on tour. You have to be in a pretty massive 
and savvy band to avoid working while home from tour.”

The numbers just don't add up, he says. “The band would have to be making so much money from merch, record sales, licensing and touring that it can pay all of the band members' monthly rent, utilities, car payments or repairs, gas, food and rent and utilities 
while on tour. Most all of my friends and I decided long ago that if we want to make the type music we love, it's probably not going to have mass appeal, which means we'll all probably have to have day jobs. But that's okay because we're all stoked on the music we're making.”

It’s better to have a backup plan, perhaps, says Tidwell. “I've always been very realistic about my music career. I realize that very few musicians make it to a point where they don't have to work a day job, which is why I got a college degree. I'm almost more surprised by the fact I'm in a band that people care about and I have the potential to make this my career. I'm very blessed to be in the position I'm in because a lot of people don't get this opportunity. If I can get to a point where I can pay my bills with music, then the day job is gone. That said, I will always be involved in graphic design and art to some extent—whether it be artwork for bands or freelance work for a little extra cash.”

The type of job you take when you're in a band depends on what your expectations for a lifestyle are. It's a lot easier to live on no money when you're 20 and still flexible about things like hygiene, eating and paying rent. “Absolutely anyone could just buy a guitar, start a band and play house shows for
food and a place to crash,” says Pence. “The built-in support network that exists for punk and alternative musicians is one of its greatest attributes.”

Not everyone wants to do it that way, though. “It all depends on what you want,” says Carroll. “If you want to be sleeping on a futon pad in the closet of your friend’s place, you can probably afford that by playing in a slightly known touring punk band. But I really like having my own place, a nice bed and a comfy couch. So for now, I need to stick to my day job.”

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