This past week (1-28-2018) I was fortunate enough to play a show supporting jazz female artist Debbie Lennon. We performed jazz compositions that reflect the (4) seasons. It gave me an opportunity to grow as a musician, provide for my family, and be creative. This type of work is amazing and I love when it comes my way - my version of a basketball triple double, baseball grand slam, or hockey hat-trick! The gig also inspired me to leave some wordage on why and how I choose what work I do as a professional musician.
There are plenty of times when I come to a crossroads about the ratio of how much constructive to creative to supportive work I do. I have conversations with other musicians all the time about the balance of expression, work and support of others. Of course, I love to "beat the skin's" to express myself. That's why I started playing drums in the first place! At the same time, the more I build my drum vocabulary, the easier it is for me to see how I can add to any musical situation and not take away from it not matter why I chose to play it.
I've always operated under these principals that when I take a job it; provides for my family, causes me to grow musically or socially, or serves my community. I'll use these three principals to explain my thinking patterns when I'm taking work opportunities.
This idea is pretty simple. I find reliable work in work where: other musicians give me feedback about my playing, I have to learn new material, I have to elevate my skill to cover the job and/or others criticize my business/communication/organization. Like a corporate job, I get professional development this way. That makes me a stronger pro and, in some ways, helps me stand out in a sea of great musicians. As a husband and father needing provision for my family, standing out is key. I have to meet my families basic needs.
In short, to me, "steady work" = "provision for my family". In this case, I don't concern myself with expressing myself so much. I do not discount my services. As a professional musician I try and keep this kind of work at 60% of what I do. It includes teaching, live performance (wedding gigs, pit orchestra, corporate functions), and consulting/producing. What's interesting is the more I keep up my level of musicianship this kind of work often crosses with what I'm passionate about.
There are times when, for the sake of security, I've played a lot of music that doesn't allow me to express myself. Creativity is what draws me to play music and, while I realize I need to provide for my family, I also long to be creative. Not realizing I need to be creative can put me in an emotional funk. I remind myself that family comes first. From there, when I know I have contracts in place to support family, I start working on emotionally meaningful projects. These include live performances, audio and video recordings, and jam sessions and/or music expos. These environments allow me to thrive creatively both as a player and a businessman. When I thrive I also grow and growth as a pro has proved to lead to continuous work for me. Some of these projects actually compensate me fairly but not all of them. I try and stay conscious I need creativity and spread creative endeavors through out the year so there's always a season of refreshment. I spend about 35% of my time on these projects. I'm grateful that most of them help me provide for my family too but also reminded that it's not about money (instead creativity) when projects don't pay well or at all. My family is usually involved in this part of work I do.
Not everyone plays music. Not everyone likes music. Not everyone cares about my performances. Especially when I'm playing (Christian) worship music, the music's not about me. I do hope to help people appreciate it but I'm totally aware that they don't have to. I try and spend quality time supporting non-musical causes I care about like income inequality, racial disparities, wrongful death, fair wages and social injustice. In these instances I try and donate my time realizing I have provided for my family, am fortunate enough to be creative, and my community needs me. Life's not all about music to me. For me it's actually about building God's kingdom. Work wise, since I'm donating my time I try to keep this type of service to 5% of how I spend my time as a professional. This time includes work in churches (although sometimes that's paid work) and other non-profits. What I've learned from this is, when I spend time building authentic relationships, I start to see others' efforts to genuinely support my art. Also, when people don't recognize my art, it's no big deal because that's not really why we are there. My family usually get's involved in this kind of work too.
Remember, these rules work for me and my family. You'll have to tailor your own life's work. One thing that'll remain is the level of commitment it takes to lay out your goals. You'll need clarity and to make sure your actions are aligning with your intensions.
Peace and Love,