A Day in the Life

This is a question I get a lot and it doesn’t have a straightforward answer. That said, it may be a surprise to you that a day in my life is probably not incredibly different than a day in other professions as far as the contents. They’re just at different times of the day and in a different order and I’m in charge instead of someone else.

A day in my life will have some combination of these three categories:

Work at Home:

  • Practicing – I aim for two or more hours a day but sometimes a good warm up is all I can get.
  • Writing music – I lead three bands. We’ve got to have stuff to play.
  • Working on my websites – This one and Drummers Transcribed.
  • Managing Social Media – I’m super bad at this but I’m getting better. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Research – Listening to music, watching performances, checking out equipment and reading. This research is enjoyable but its still research.
  • Emails & other forms of communication – I bet you and I get the same amount of pleasure out of this. This is not fun.

Work Away from Home:

  • Teaching a class – I get hired to teach high school and middle school percussion and jazz classes all around the county.
  • Teaching private lessons – I’ve got seven students that I meet with throughout the week.
  • Meetings – Discussing future plans with schools that I associate with and bands I’m a part of.
  • Picking up supplies – Printing music and buying sticks etc.
  • Rehearsing – Polishing the product.
  • Playing Gigs – This, of course is what its all about.

The Same Stuff You Do Every Day:

  • Sleeping
  • Cooking
  • Buying food
  • Going to the bank
  • Exercising
  • Relaxing
  • Washing the dishes
  • Laundry
  • Etc.

The main difference is while someone with a more “normal” job may be relaxing at 7pm, I might be relaxing at 3pm. While their work day might begin at 9 and end at 5, my work day could start at 2pm and maybe end at 1am when I get home from a gig. If there’s not a gig that night my workday might be really short. I usually get to cook my breakfast and my lunch where they might only get to cook their dinner.

Weekends are when I work the most and I have no prescribed days off. So I might work 11 or 12 days in a row before I get what most people call “Saturday.” Sometimes I’ll get 2 or three Saturdays in a row too.

I don’t normally wake up early unless I have an appointment that requires my physical presence or church. Yep, you read correctly. I’m pretty much only waking up early for Jesus.

We musicians drive a bunch too. Far more than most people. The most I’ve driven for a gig is 3 1/2 hours. 2 hours isn’t uncommon and 1 hour is typical. So a 3 hour gig when you include leaving early (lateness is unacceptable, people – construction, car accidents and snowbirds will make you late if you leave on time) driving there and driving back, a 3 hour gig is really at least a 5 1/2 hour commitment.

As you can see, most of this is self-directed work and that’s the way I like it. I like the feeling of holding the responsibility of my success in my hands. I also like the feeling of being able to measure my success the way I want to. For some people success is money and “moving on up.” For me success is autonomy, being able to do the work that I want to do, being able to give of my time and money to those who need it and being creative on a daily basis.

Aside from some obvious differences, we musicians aren’t terribly different from what everyone else does. That said, I don’t know that many of us really have a “day in the life,” to offer. Every day is an unexpected adventure. I don’t think I’ve duplicated the schedule of any given day since I started making my living as a professional musician.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hard to Understand

I haven’t quite figured out how to explain what I do for a living.

Most occupations need no explanation or maybe very little, but that’s just not the case as a musician. Being a musician comes with the stigma (perpetuated mostly by movies, books, media and fearful parents) that artists are probably poor and starving, possibly lazy, maybe uneducated and certainly impractical.

Not the actual case. But since that’s the assumption and I’d prefer not to be thought of in those terms, it requires some explaining.

I think it comes from the foreign nature of an artistic profession to non-artists. If the primary exposure to musicians has been to the two polar opposites of Beyonce and that starving artist trope, of course someone making a blue collar living as a professional musician might be unsettling.

After I tell someone “I’m a professional musician, I play the drums,” they say “Do you teach?” Or when I get to the part in my explanation where I mention teaching they say “Oh you teach!” Like maybe I was being a bit deceptive when I said I play the drums for a living because that’s, you know, impossible and they figured out the truth like Lieutenant Columbo or Adrian Monk.

People. I’m not exaggerating this happens like clockwork.

It’s when they hear that I’m a teacher that they become relieved, even excited. They can now wipe the nervous sweat from their brow saying “Whew, turns out he’s on the conveyor belt like me after all.”

Full disclosure, I actually charge super low when I teach and its not my primary source of income. I teach to have a part in sharing music with young people. Music did a lot for me, great music teachers did a lot for me too and I’ve found a way to teach that fits with my life priorities. I don’t teach because I cant play (“Those who cannot do, teach” is another trope that’s got to go in every subject, not just the arts), or because I don’t make enough playing. I make enough playing, but I want to also be a teacher.

Anyway, once people hear “teacher” they latch onto that and suddenly feel very comfortable. I can see their posture normalize and their face un-scrunch. From then on the questions revolve around my teaching, not my playing, even though that’s not actually the focus of my profession.

This particular misunderstanding is just one example of many. I’ve just come to embrace the fact that this occupation is a bit hard to grasp if you’re not a part of it. We’ll always get questions, some accusatory in nature, because we’re doing something out of the ordinary. This used to really bother me but now I’ve come to understand that it’s just one of the costs of living a creative lifestyle.

Totally worth it.

When I Realized the Value of Money

I’ll never forget March of 2016, the month I drove and worked way too much. The way it normally works is if someone says “Hey, can you play March 9th?” I check my calendar and if the date is empty I mark it and commit. I just committed to way too much this time and it really wore me out.

There was one day during the month where I was going to be driving about two and a half hours both directions to make some decent money. I didn’t at all feel like making the drive. I wasn’t even that excited to play the gig. I don’t mind driving long distances and the gig was a good and fun gig, I was just so tired and worn out from the amount of work I’d been doing already that the only thing I wanted to do was sit on my couch and relax.

This moment caused an important realization. This gig paid well, but did it pay as well as sitting on my couch right now would? Absolutely not. Sitting on my couch instead of getting in my car for a gig I wasn’t excited for with the amount of exhaustion I had going on was worth $300, maybe $400. Like if I could have paid to not to do the gig, I would have paid up to $400 at that moment.

Money is nothing more than a tool that enables us to craft the things we want into our lives. Without a direction money is nothing more than potential. I needed rest more than I needed more potential. I’d made good money for the month already and there was good money waiting for me in coming weeks. I had the potential I needed. My living expenses were more than covered, I didn’t need the money from this gig. I didn’t need more potential, I needed to rest.

The value of money is giving us the potential to do what we want with it. It’s a means to an end, it’s not an end. The end that I wanted was to vegetate on my couch but the end I was going to get instead was more means. This is backwards.

We’ve got to be guardians of our time, no one else is going to guard it for us. If we guard it well we can avoid burnout, if we don’t we might have to drive two and a half hours to a gig instead of recharge our batteries.