Musicians Guide: How to get and keep a good day job

Working for others doesn’t have to suck – plus, you can even learn to make any boss love you …

The situation – (need to find a good day job for musicians)

Many players, composers, and engineers start their careers in music and find they still need that day job while they get going. Others might find themselves without a gig for the first time in years and need something to fill in the gap. Getting better at our craft is a life-long pursuit, one full of ups and downs. We have all been there. So here are a few tips we hope will help keep you on the path toward growing your career in the music business.

The interview: Always make a good first impression

Don’t spew all your hopes and dreams at the interview. The manager at Best Buy doesn’t want to hear about the summer tour you are hoping to book. Remember, at the start, you likely will have to overcome some anti-musician prejudice, especially if you’ve got long hair, tattoos, and piercings. In addition, if the first impression you make as a prospective employee is “Hey man…but I’m gunna need some time off next summer,” you might not even get past the first interview, never mind the job.

If you have problems interviewing, try to use your music experience to display the qualities the job requires. This is especially true for younger guys who have way more time logged in the practice room than they do punching a clock.

For example, here are sample answers for a couple of common interview questions:

Q. What management experience do you have?

A. Well, for the last three years, I have been the group leader for “MY BAND.” In that time, I have been responsible for organizing band practices, booking shows, and creating a budget for special projects like the recording of our album that came out last year.

This kind of response is genuine and won’t sound awkward or rehearsed because you actually did those things. Anyone who has been in a band knows that getting your crew organized is no small feat.

Q. Tell me about a time you had to resolve a problem between coworkers.

A. Last year, I was working as the producer with the group “MY FRIEND’s BAND.” When we were in the studio, some disagreements came up between the guitar player and the drummer about how to end the song. The drummer wanted a hard out, while the guitar player had an ending solo and wanted to play over a fade out. The song was better with the hard out, but the solo wasn’t something I wanted to discard. The solution was to extend the outro riff, allowing the solo to play out, and then execute the hard out. The song was better for it, and the guys both left happy.

Now you might not want to get into so many specifics, unless you are prompted, since the person you are talking to might not understand some of the terminology. What is important is to remember that recording music, playing with bands, or doing live sound offers tons of experience in developing interpersonal skills. If you can demonstrate this to your prospective employers, you will seem interesting and useful.


Be the best 

Listen, you have been practicing and honing your craft for years. So you sure as shit can learn how to sell iPads to your friends’ parents. No matter what new day job you find — own it! You know that someday you’ll be asking for a week off to go into the studio or three weeks to go on tour, therefore your boss better love your butt. Make sure that he or she wants to keep you around. You don’t have to really care about the job, but you need to give the impression that you do. Remember, the better you perform, the more your boss will cut you some slack.


Working remotely 

There are increasingly more options out there for musicians who are looking to pay the bills while still leaving room for their music. Today, a few “civilian” managers have begun to experiment with work-at-home and other freelance options. These can give you total control over your work time and location. If you already have an office assignment, you’ll have to convince the boss that you actually can be more productive from home than at the office. But it’s worth a shot.


Work where other musicians work

What local music stores are in town or close by? Are there audio installation companies or sound reinforcement rental companies in your area?

Places like these will employ a higher percentage of aspiring tour managers, audio engineers, and musicians. Also, the managers at these companies are more likely to grant you needed time off for a gig. You might not always earn the best wages at some of these businesses, but you will be more likely to find a sympathetic response when you want two weeks off in May to tour the Northeast.


Teach music lessons

If you have been playing for a while, chances are you have something you can pass on to players who are just starting out. Look for opportunities at local music stores, or promote yourself independently as a teacher. Some stores may hire you to work for them; others will rent you a teaching room. This option allows you to run your own independent business out of their store. Other choices are to work out of your home, over the Internet, or by teaching students at a time and place that works for them.



Don’t look at needing a day job as a failure. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn new skills and save up some money for your next push into the music business. Focus on work that will give you a degree of flexibility, including extra time off. Then try to supplement your income with freelance work you can do from any location and on your schedule.

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