Monday, July 20, 2020

How To Be A Musician With A Day Job | Music Think Tank

Being a musician with a day job is tough. 

I get it. I am one.

You may work a career position, go to school, or raise children (which I also do).

And you might feel you lack the time, energy, and focus to really get your music career going. 

Good news. There are changes you can make today to balance music with your day job

And I want to share four of those changes. If you implement them, you can shift the trajectory of your career so it’s aiming where you want it to.

Change Your Language

Language is important. It can change the way you see the world. 

Which of these two is better?

“I wish I had more opportunities for my music career.” 


“I want to use the resources I have to make the best of my music career.”

The latter, obviously.

Even if you’re not naturally an optimistic person, you can change the way you speak.

And the way you speak can change the way you act.

So here’s how you can change your language so music can be a more manageable side hustle (until it’s your full-time career). 

Say “no” more

Saying “no” frees you up to say “yes” to the things that matter. 

If you say “yes” to anything and everything that seems cool, you’ll become overwhelmed and scattered. 

And then you won’t have time to go after the really good opportunities. 

“If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say ‘no’…When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say ‘HELL YEAH!’”


So if you’re not totally and completely into the idea of a project of collaboration, feel free to say “no.”

In fact, you will feel free if you do. 

Say “don’t” instead of “can’t”

It took me 10 years to realize I don’t love playing concerts (unless it’s with a band of friends and I don’t have to do any promotion). 

Nowadays, when someone asks me to perform at a farmer’s market or coffee shop, I change how I say “no.” 

I try to say something like “I don’t play shows” rather than “I can’t play shows.”

“I can’t” sounds like you’re lacking something.

But “I don’t” sounds like you’ve made a definitive choice about your music career. 

It’s not as if you would do something but, for some reason, you can’t. You’ve decided not to do something on purpose.

I’m a musician with a day job. I only have time for so many things.

Change Your Habits

Many of us are waiting around for the motivation to hit us. Once that comes, then we’ll start making music.

But that’s totally off. What you need is discipline. 

It’s how you form habits. And habits can actually get you somewhere. 

Author James Clear has a 5-step process for forming new habits:

  1. Start with a small task/habit
  2. Gradually improve that habit
  3. As you alter your habit, chunk it into pieces (keep it reasonably attainable)
  4. When you miss a day, quickly get back on track
  5. Be patient

And as Richard Rohr says, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” 

Change Your Mentality

Speaking of thinking, you may need to change your mentality if you want to succeed as a musician with a day job.

There are certain mental barriers that can keep us from moving our music careers forward.

So let’s dismantle them.

Forget perfect

Perfect doesn’t exist.

Once you reach what you thought was perfect yesterday, your measure of perfect will have moved.

This is the nature of the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Author Jon Acuff knocks down the idea of perfectionism in his book Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job:

“90 percent perfect and shared with the world always changes more lives than 100 percent perfect and stuck in your head.”

Perfectionism is when you obsess over details until you talk yourself out of making or sharing something.

Forget perfect. Shoot for great.

Chip away 

If I could only tell you one thing about how to be a musician with a day job, it would be to take baby steps.

When I gave myself the freedom to chip away at my music career instead of going all-in, it changed everything for me.

Baby steps are the way forward for the the part-time musician.

If you need direction, baby steps help you focus on only what’s in front of you. 

If you lack time, baby steps fit perfectly into your schedule. 

And if you feel overwhelmed by the idea of making a career in music, baby steps keep you encouraged and moving forward. 

So just chip away at your music career like a sculptor chips away at a stone block.

Soon you’ll see the statue hidden underneath.

Think long-term

For baby steps to work effectively, you have to think long-term. 

Making a living from music takes many, many small steps. It takes many days strung together. 

So you have to figure out the long-term plan for your career. 

Figure out your ideal situation, what you want your career to be

Set goals. Get practical and write down tasks you can do today to get things moving somewhere. 

You’re probably not going to go from being a musician with a day job to a full-time career in music in a month. Or even a year.  

So prepare yourself to be in this thing for the long haul. It will seriously help you avoid burning out.

Create Your Game Plan

I spent 10 years being the type of musician I thought I should be. 

There are many ways to pursue music. It took me a decade to realize that.

That’s when I figured out something: I needed a plan. 

I needed to think long-term, change my mentality about “success,” and start chipping away at my end-goal one day at a time.

So I created a Big Picture for my music career. 

I set small yet intentional goals for myself.

And I laid out tasks I could do today to start moving my career forward.

That was in 2018. Since then…

…my music has been played on NPR stations

…podcasters and filmmakers have licensed my music,

…and I’ve written for CD Baby, Sonicbids, Bandzoogle, and many other music advice blogs.

But most importantly, I’m happier with my music. 

Basically, having a plan has changed everything for me.

And a big part of my plan is the One-Thing-A-Day worksheet (FREE DOWNLOAD). I highly recommend you try the worksheet for yourself. 

As you can see, being a musician with a day job is totally possible.

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Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter/producer based in Austin, Tx., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed. 


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