My husband and I recently moved to Alexandria, Virginia and love it here. Our relocation also means I have a couple of open weeks before I start my next show. After the chaos of moving and putting our house together (fun, but exhausting!) I felt ready to get back in the game and initiate a regular practice routine. It also helps that my home studio (well, I do share it with a trumpet player sometimes so I guess it's "our" studio...) is now a huge room with plenty of desk space, book shelves, etc. Being able to leave my horns set up between practice sessions makes it easy to jump right in after a break. (Yes, I do swab my horns and put away the bassoon and clarinet!). I'm also able to have a few different work stations set up at once: reed desk, practice space, and computer desk.
As a self-employed freelance musician who works from home a lot of the time (reed-making, practicing, emailing, etc.), I had to come up with a plan and mindset for my work week. Although it's tempting to go get an ice cream and walk around Old Town shopping all day, I'll reserve that for a planned day off. Today was what I consider to be my first day at work in our new home. I scheduled my work day (9:45am-5:30pm) and stuck to it. Total I spent 3.5 hours practicing and 1 hour on bassoon reeds, which is a good maintenance day for me. Tomorrow will be a bit different, with more time scheduled for bassoon reeds and errands. Here's the schedule I had for today:
9:45 - Flute & Clarinet (combined practice session)
11:30 - Bassoon Reeds
12:30 - Lunch, emails, hour-long walk with dog
3:00 - Short yoga session at home
3:30 - Bassoon
4:30 - Pick up husband from the metro
5:00 - Soprano sax (intonation practice...sorry neighbors!)
5:30 - End of work day; start dinner
Although I would have liked to start my work day earlier, I had to drive my husband to work which delayed things a little. But one of the perks of being your own boss is that you can make up that time later in the day if possible. Taking 10-15 minutes to write down your plan for the day while sipping morning coffee is a great way to get things done. Following an itinerary also helps me feel like I'm a part of the larger workforce instead of just floating around at home. I highly recommend it for anyone who works from home, whether it's as a freelance musician, stay-at-home mom, photographer, or anything else.
For more information about daily routines, I came across this book a few years ago and found it to be really interesting. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
First, I would like to say that this discussion is solely focused on reed players playing musical theater gigs- not brass or strings or anything else.
There are some theater companies that choose not to pay reed players fairly. Sometimes this means not paying for doubles, not paying for cartage, and/or not paying for being onstage (and possibly wearing a costume) while playing a show. There is something fundamentally wrong about the thinking behind this. Each instrument that you play requires work. Here is a list of that work. For each instrument played, you:
-Purchased it - this requires money and time to pick it out
-Purchased the accessories it requires (mouthpiece, reeds, ligature, neck strap, head joint, barrel, horn stand, etc)
-Devoted your time, efforts, and money towards studying that instrument (sometimes involving multiple college degrees and/or private lesson fees)
-Transported it from your house to the venue and vice versa (sometimes requiring a complicated plan involving multiple trips, parking fees, paying for a dolly, etc)
-Pay for instrument insurance (hopefully you do!)
-Spent time warming up, practicing, choosing reeds
-Spent time swabbing it and putting it away
My point here is that for every instrument played, you deserve to be paid. Sure, you can take a gig that doesn't pay doubles - but if you do, be aware that you are underpaid, underappreciated, and disrespected by the theater company. I've played gigs like that and sometimes had good experiences. I'm not saying don't always say no to these underpaid gigs. Sometimes - like if you're just starting out in the scene - it's good to take them to get out there to meet other musicians which can lead to other, better gigs. Or if you really like the show and the players involved it can be an overall good experience either way. But at a certain point in your career you need to stop taking these underpaid gigs or you'll be going backwards. Ideally, the city you're in would require you to be in the union in order to take union gigs. This would create a high quality, competitive, and healthier financial environment for the musicians involved.
I'm 26 years old and have lived in Nashville for over 2 years now. In that short period of time, I've learned some things about finances as a freelance musician. These are things I wish I had known before becoming a professional, but sometimes on-the-job training is the best way to learn.
First off, you need to record everything - meal expenses, cell phone bills, mileage, parking fees, etc. There are a few programs you can use for this to make it easier. I like to use www.mymusicstaff.com to record everything. It's not just for teaching - you can use it to record your income from gigs, all expenses, and mileage. A graph of your finances is created, which creates a great visual summary that's easy to understand. You can also get a pdf summary of your finances at the click of a button - great when it comes to tax time. I should also add that it's a good idea to record the way in which you were paid - was it cash or check? W-2 or 1099?
Another good program I've come across is www.everydollar.com. This is a comprehensive budget app through which you can record everything in your budget - bills, groceries, car maintenance, gas, etc. Dave Ramsey recommends you put a name on every dollar and stick to the budget you've created. More about this philosophy at their website. My husband and I use this app in a slightly different way - we still record everything, but instead of accounting for every dollar we see how much is left over at the end of the month and divide that amount however we like towards our financial goals. This gives us the flexibility that our freelance careers require.
Secondly, you must pay taxes. Recording everything will help you get a better picture of how much you'll owe when it comes time to fork it over. It's a good idea to put a portion (we do about 20%) of everything you receive into a special savings account solely dedicated to paying taxes. You can either do this with every single thing you receive or as a lump sum at the end of the month (or whenever you desire). A big professional expense, such as a new instrument, can be a write-off and can help offset the amount you owe for taxes.
Third, planning ahead is a very good idea. Plan your budget carefully - are there any expenses that you are spending too much on (coffee, eating out, etc.)? The more you trim, the fast you'll reach your financial goals. Have an emergency fund - just in case you have large unexpected expense, such as a health emergency or new car tires. On the smaller level, plan your meals. If you're going to be out all day for rehearsals and such, give yourself time to eat breakfast at home, pack a lunch, and then treat yourself to dinner. Every little bit helps.
I graduated with my masters' degree in May 2013. It's been over 2 years since then and I can happily say that I've mostly enjoyed figuring out how to be a "real person" after being a student almost my entire life. This post is meant to share my experiences in hopes that it will help other young professionals transition into their new lives.
After graduating in May, getting married in June, and moving in July, I was so relieved to settle down and start figuring out how the "real world" worked. It felt incredibly strange to have so much free time - I didn't have to plan out every minute of my day or scrap around for practice time. Gradually I became more comfortable with this abundance of time and learned out to use it. It's taken about 2 years, but I can say now that I feel like I know what having a balanced life feels like. Of course, not every day is a walk in the park either. :)
There are a lot of wonderful things about being fresh out of school and having minimal work. For one - you can practice! As much as you like. Or not - it's up to you. There are no lessons or recitals to prepare for. Any practicing you do now is for the real thing - making a living doing what you love. It's an awesome, totally liberating feeling. There is time to decompress all the knowledge you collected while at school. Or if you need a little break from all that - go ahead and take one. After I moved to Nashville I didn't touch my clarinet for months (instead, it was all bassoon for awhile!). I had been going 100% full-throttle with clarinet for many years and we needed a time-out from each other. Ultimately this benefited me in a couple ways: it gave me a chance to reconnect with the reason I chose to play the clarinet, enabled me to clear my head and re-configure the sound I wanted, and made playing joyful (mostly) again. Getting back in shape chop-wise took a couple weeks but I'm glad I did it. Taking a step back is sometimes the best step forward you can take.
I should also mention that there were several factors that enabled me to have this free time. One is that I'm married. Having a combined income helps a lot, especially when you're first starting out in a new city. Secondly, we had a low overhead and were just married (wedding gifts can be awesome!).
Here are some other tips I'd like to share:
-Start a group where you get to play with other talented musicians from the area. I started a wind quintet and my husband started the Nashville version of his big band
-Go out and see stuff! Attend as many free concerts as you can. See if you know any of the musicians and ask if they have a comp ticket for you. Go to jam sessions. If you can't find one, start one on your own. Most university concerts are free.
-Find a local mentor or two. This is a little trickier - at school there is literally a list of possible mentors available to you. In the real world, you have to go out and find them. This mentor could be a non-musician. In some ways, having a non-musician mentor can be very beneficial for your overall sanity. I find that taking a break from all the music talk helps me feel more grounded and keep things in perspective.
-Contact people who are currently doing what you want to do. Connect with them, ask how the scene is, play for them (duets or jam sessions are great excuses to do this without it being like an awkward impromptu audition). Don't ask what their favorite mouthpiece is (gaahhhh!! drives me nuts!) - instead, be a friendly normal person and just ask how things are going, comment on their nice record collection, etc. Small talk.
-Having a day gig is okay. No, it doesn't mean you've failed as a musician - absolutely not. I worked as a tree specialist for Warner Parks and it was great. Having a day gig can give you more perspective on where your music career sits, give you friends who are not musicians (gasp!), and most importantly give you money.
Having free time after first graduating college really enabled me to start figuring out who I am, what my political opinions are, how to work from home, what hobbies I enjoy, and many other things. When I was in school I didn't have time to do any of those things and when I did I felt very guilty if I did anything other than practice. Getting over that guilty feeling and realizing that it's okay to explore non-music things has been such a joy for me these past two years.
Now stop reading this and go practice! Or not. :)
Do your homework before selling anything on eBay - especially expensive items. Here are some tips I can offer based on my experiences (both good and terrifying).
-Realize both eBay and PayPal are going to take a chunk out of your sale. For specifics, go to their websites.
-Find out what similar items have sold for. Search for your item that you'll be selling - but restrict your search to "completed listings" or "sold listings"
-When you create your listing, include as many photos as you can, especially if it's an instrument that you're selling. Include a detailed description of the item. You should also get an appraisal of the instrument you're selling if it's worth over $1,000 or so. This is to cover you just in case someone tries to return your item after they've bought it and you've listed it as a non-returnable item. eBay likes to say they protect buyers, so any buyer can open a case against a seller to try and return a non-returnable item. This can be a real problem for you if the buyer claims the item isn't exactly as described in the listing...UNLESS you have an appraisal that states otherwise. Can you tell this has happened to me before? The appraisal I had saved me. As soon as I told the buyer about the appraisal he shut up about how the item was not original lacquer, had dents all over, etc. and dropped the case against me.
-Also when you create your listing, be sure to estimate the shipping costs correctly (if it's an instrument or more expensive item). Include the cost of insuring the item while shipping into the shipping cost. If a buyer wins a $2,000 clarinet, you can bet they're going to want to insure it while in transit.
-Do not spend the money you made on the transaction until after the time frame for buyer dispute is over (I think it's about a month or so...again, check their website). Just in case.
-List your item for a week and start the bidding at $1. People get excited and raise the price when they see a low bid on something they want.
-Pack the item well before the final day of bidding. That way you'll be able to ship it out asap after the listing ends. People love it when things come quickly and safely. On eBay your seller rating is very important so you always want good feedback.
-Don't count on your money from the sale to arrive the instant it's over. First, the buyer has to pay. Then, the money has to show up in your PayPal (I believe there are certain time restrictions for newer eBay users). After that, it takes PayPal 3-5 days to transfer it to your bank account. Keep in mind that PayPal takes a chunk out of the transaction. And you'll need to keep a little for the monthly bill eBay will send to you later. So in other words, be patient.
I've always been a hands-on, practical person. I like to know how things work - how all the pieces fit together. This blog is a collection of advice, experiences, and questions intended to be a practical guide for aspiring freelance musicians.