This can be a bit of a controversial topic. The reason is, there are a lot of different perspectives on this, which can be very personal. However, healthy discussion is good. Sometimes, as working singers & musicians we get stuck in our tunnel vision and don’t spend enough time exploring and discussing these topics. You might be thinking,”Wait, what? How can doing what I love be counter productive?” Well, it’s not. Not always. Especially for newbies in the biz. Living off of gigs is a great way to understand the reality of sustaining yourself from your craft, winning over crowds who aren’t there to see you, expanding your vocal skills, and learning to work under all kinds of conditions. Therefore, I express that this is the conclusion I came to after years of working in the industry and ending up living a life of late nights, smokey bars, laryngitis, and an exhausted body. This is MY personal account on living and quitting the gig life, and how I battled counter-productivity.
First, let me give you some brief backstory. I was fortunate enough to begin my professional career as a songwriter with a major publisher after being “discovered” after a colleague cut one of my tunes on a whim. Mind you, this came after 10 years of networking, training hard, and working around town as a child and teen in commercials, live events, theater, etc. It didn’t fall from the sky. It was earned, but, it was still fortunate. And, during that time as a songwriter, I worked alongside some of the best in the biz, as I honed the skills that I now use as a mentor, vocal producer and artist developer. Somewhere along the line, however, I got so caught up in the hustle of other opportunities coming up here and there (some in television, some as a touring backup singer, etc) on my quest to “make it” (whatever that means) that I neglected the stage and started to miss it.
(image courtesy of Getty Images)
After some cool experiences as a writer, I seized other opportunities and ended up becoming part of a series of incredibly promising (and then failing) projects (a very common industry experience). This roller coaster eventually led me to discovering the opportunity to work in cover bands, which was a career first for me. Even as a small child, I always performed original music. Nonetheless, I was incredibly grateful because I needed to sing, I needed to work (I was starting over yet again, and couldn’t rely on residuals and advances anymore), and I felt like I was somewhere I belonged again…on stage. BUT, something shifted after a while. A) I fell out of the “industry loop.” While everyone was at events, I was working them. Plus, I was too tired to hustle during the day. Which led to B) which was WAAAAY worse than (A)…. I got comfortable. Comfort is the enemy of progress. Then, in order to keep up with the things I wanted to invest in like gear, and mixes, and extra content, I worked harder and harder. Sometimes 2 in a night, which included 3 sets of 45mins at one venue, and then 4 sets of 45mins at another, and sometimes after shooting with a latin tv show house band all day. The thing was, I didn’t know how to treat it like just a “gig.” I only knew how to give 1,000 %, which, in this case, was way too much value for the money, energy, and end goal. See, I was always good at working HARD, but not working SMART. You know what the difference is? Results.
One of those usual nights, or mornings rather, I was going to bed, two weeks into laryngitis (a first for me in 15 years), with blisters on my feet and achy muscles, and I started to cry…and cry….and sob. I felt like I had put so much blood, sweat and tears into an under appreciated and under paid situation. How was it that 3 years had passed me by and I was still in the same spot where I started on the day of the first gig? Where had all my industry “credentials” gone? Where were all the plans I had started and didn’t finish? I was lost. I had hit a wall. I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I knew I wasn’t fulfilled, so I wasn’t happy. That made me so sad. It made me so sad to know I was unhappy doing what I loved the most. Why? Cause I wasn’t fulfilling my calling. Loving to sing didn’t mean I had to love it this way. I also knew I had basically given up on my bigger goals. Time was passing me by at a rate faster than I could grasp and that is the saddest loss ever. I needed to take a major leap in a different direction. But how? I had let go of all my other opportunities and got stuck in the work rut. Now, mind you, I know many music entrepreneurs who end up owning entertainment companies and do very well in this avenue. Corporate and wedding bands can be very lucrative. But, I knew that wasn’t where I wanted my career to be, for myself. Keep in mind, this is about seeking your own personal fulfillment. And, if you feel unhappy, you’re not living it yet.
So, what did I do? I quit. No other job waiting for me. I just quit. I was scared, yes. Very. But, in my experience, drastic measures are the only ones that work for me. Look, this tactic isn’t for everyone. We all have major responsibilities and some of us more than others. I don’t have a family of my own to support. It’s just little ol’ me. So for me, sometimes I need a fire lit right under me so I can hit the ground running. This led me to have no other choice but to figure things out. I started to realize that I could get back to working again in the studio with artists, get paid to write (I have a resume, damn it! Why not?), vocal coach, etc. All the things that I did at one point started coming back to me, and the new ways of doing them led me to think more like an entrepreneur, which was what I was always missing. I was missing the creativity to realize that there are numerous ways to make money in this business if you just think outside the box. Even though it is a different business than, say, opening a retail store, the fundamentals are the same. However, the way you make your own lane is up to you. I also realized, that maybe having a day job, as many do, is not a bad way for an artist to put their focus into the things that will be more PRODUCTIVE for them. For example, I noticed that my social media content was reaching way more people than my gigs were. So, I broke it down:
-Was gigging making me the money I wanted to make? No.
-Was I gaining fans? Not really.
-Was a taking my career to a new level? Nope.
-Were people seeing my real value based off of what they thought I was making on this gig? Not a chance.
I took action. I realized that -by the hour- my time- which is the most valuable thing I possess- was best spent making content to reach people that could help me monetize much more efficiently than playing out. Let’s face it, original gigs don’t make money. Sure, they’re important. I mean, performing our music is why we do what we do, but, finding a way to do the gigs that matter (the gigs that turn some of the above answers into “yes”) requires some financial freedom to do so. Now, I do the gigs I WANT to do. I’ve found joy again in the process. If your experience is similar, my suggestion is, get creative. Get out of the tunnel. Look at the bigger picture and start thinking long term, not short term. I know it’s hard, but if you want to find your happiness, you have to stop banging your head against the wall like I was. Don’t kill your body, your voice, your morale, and most importantly, don’t waste TIME. Wasted time is way worse than wasted money. You’ll never get that back.
By: Liza Quin
(Grammy Nominated Singer/Songwriter/Vocal Producer & Creative Director of All Access IDA)