My Day Job Was Great but Now It’s Time to Move On Taking the plunge to full-time musician

Monica Schley - Pyragraph

Paul Coelho: “A boat is safe in the harbor. But this is not the purpose of the boat.” Photo by Stephen Schildbach.

This post was originally published at Monica Schley’s blog and is reposted here with kind permission.


DISCLAIMER: I am writing this post to spell out the logic of my negative thought patterns and debunk them.

Every musician has heard it. “Don’t quit your day job.”

Yeah? What was that? I just did.

Let me say that again: I QUIT. MY DAY JOB.

This decision was not arrived at lightly. I should say I was raised in a Midwestern family where work defines you. Work is something you persevere. You may like it, but that’s not necessarily going to happen. Consider yourself lucky if it does.

I started working part-time at age 14 doing housecleaning, babysitting and playing church organ (Dana Carvey’s SNL “Church Lady Church Chat” came at a VERY unfortunate time for me!). By 16 I worked two part-time summer jobs. I was not unique to my peers.

Through this job, I’ve learned a heck of A LOT about the Seattle music scene.

I haven’t even told my own mother this news yet, because I know she will worry. Not to mention what the rest of my family will think, fueled by the lack of value our society places in art and the artist. I know they mean well, but the time as come for me to step it up a little and do something bold.

This past Christmas, my aunt asked when I was going back to work after the holidays. I said I haven’t been on a break, I’ve been playing and teaching and working on music. She said, “No. When do you go back to your real job?”

(SIGH!)

Music IS my real job. It’s a calling. I’ve tried to avoid the knock at the door, but it won’t go away. That’s sometimes hard to explain, hence this blog entry.

As John Zorn said, “Music is one of the great Mysteries. It gives life. It is not a career, not a business, nor a craft. It is a gift…and a great responsibility. Because one can never know where the creative spark comes from or why it exists, it must be treasured as Mystery.”

And I’ve been trying to say something like this for years, really. Maybe I haven’t been very good at it. Or maybe no one wanted to listen. And after a while, I started to believe it too.

These naysaying voices were the reason I could never pull it together. I would hear the self-doubt in the back my head saying I wasn’t good enough. Or that I was foolish. Or that music can’t be a career. I was raised on a tough love work ethic and served myself the same medicine. This sort of cautionary view is prevalent in our society. Art and music programs are being gutted and privately funded in public school. One of the reasons I moved to the West Coast was to escape some of that outer-criticism and lack of fitting in. But then, almost by accident, I landed a really good day job. Something that was music related.

Many friends and colleagues know, I’ve had the same office job for years, a decade to be exact. My position as office secretary at the Seattle Musicians’ Union offered me security during the 2008 Recession, comfort during a maternity leave, healthcare insurance, and I even got paid jury duty leave two times, not to mention holiday pay and wage increases. It has been more than fair and diplomatic with reasonable hours. A job like this doesn’t come around every day, and in the wake of Right to Work, a job like this has little chance at being created outside of the labor movement (unless something systemically changes in our country on how we value human beings versus how we value hoarding money and power). Through this job, I’ve learned a heck of A LOT about the Seattle music scene, contract negotiation, wages, bargaining, workers’ and musicians’ rights, the labor movement, PROs (performers rights organizations) etc.

Right now I’ve got students coming to my home studio.

But you know what? It’s not my calling to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life. I’ve liked this job. It’s taught me a lot, and now it’s time to move on. I have never taken it for granted, so it’s been a difficult decision to leave, but I need to know what it feels like to fly on my own.

Negative chatter be damned.

So, what am I going to do? Well, for the past four years, since having my daughter, I’ve said I’ve been working quietly behind the scenes. This is code for: 1) steadily increasing work and 2) hashing out a business plan!

(As an aside, I think it is terrible that so few universities and conservatories require business classes for Art, Music and Creative Writing majors. It is a total shame to our society. I think many more artists would make the break and be successful if they knew how to start. And I know it wouldn’t have taken me this long. If you’re thinking like I’m thinking, read The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee.)

So, here’s my five-fold business plan:

P—Performances (public shows, concerts, restaurant gigs, orchestral/band work, or music held in large venues, halls, lounges, museums, galleries, something where there’s a cover). I’m VERY EXCITED about my new project, The Daphnes, which is a modern harp quartet of original music. Check out my Concert Calendar please!

R—Recordings (either my own CDs or others.) Some musicians’ albums I’ve recorded for include: Ahamefule Oluo & Soulchilde; Hey Marseilles; The Parenthetical Girls; Jherek Bischoff; Secret Chiefs 3 (for John Zorn’s Masada); Bill Horist and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. I want to create more room for this sort of work with other musicians and take The Daphnes into the studio very soon!

E—Events, Weddings and Funerals—corporate and private events (usually I play solo harp or duet combinations of harp+bass; harp+cello, harp+flute, etc. But there’s so much more I’m open to and capable of). This is a guess, but I think I’ve played around 250 weddings. Indoor. Outdoor. On the side of Snoqualmie Falls.

T—Teaching. I dig it. Right now I’ve got students coming to my home studio on Monday afternoons/evenings.

H—Healing. This is my new path! Next month, I will have a certification for playing therapeutic bedside music. My title will be Certified Clinical Musician. Right now, I’m playing Thursdays at a general hospital. I’m looking for more work, particularly with hospices. This new path is wide open and I expect to expand this aspect of my business, and maybe even form an LLC.

I have other little things up my sleeve, but this is the bulk of my news. As of March 31, I will be a free agent of music and writing and other creative happenings. I’m expecting to fly.

I’ll close with a quote by Paulo Coelho that’s inspired me to take the leap: “A boat is safe in the harbor. But this is not the purpose of the boat.”

Monica Schley

About Monica Schley

Monica Schley is a musician & poet living in Seattle, Washington. Her poetry has appeared in Burnside Review, Cranky, Cream City Review, Seattle’s Poetry on Buses and KNOCK. Her poetry chapbook “Black Eden: Nocturnes” (Pudding House Press) was published in 2010. As a classically trained harpist, she steadily works on recording, teaching, playing private events and public shows. She has performed with jazz luminaries, pop stars and indie rockers. She sings and composes for her band The Daphnes and she’s also a Certified Clinical Musician.

2 Comments

  1. I Quit My Day Job A Year Ago - Music + Poetry on June 14, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    […] year ago I quit my day job. It was easy to make the announcement and write the first part of my story, because I was excited! However, writing this follow-up has been a lot more […]

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