Jun 15, 2020
Something that I've experienced over the last decade or so is people saying to me so what do you actually do? Like, during the daytime in the week, what are you doing? Have you ever had a friend or even family member say to you ‘so when are you going to get a proper job?’. The title ‘freelance musician’ can sound quite airy fairy, and the concept of being a freelance musician is alien to many people, so these are understandable questions. For many people being a freelance musician has never entered their circle of possibility, they’ve probably never met someone with a freelance career, and the image they have in their head could well be of a broke rock band travelling the country in a battered minibus, living off greasy takeaways. But even amongst musicians there can sometimes be misconceptions around what this kind of career can look like - maybe you want, or already have, a freelance lifestyle and these misconceptions are still lurking at the back of your mind, holding you back from achieving your full potential.
Misconception number 1: It’s not possible to earn a living and support yourself as a freelance musician
I would say without a doubt this is the most common concern that exists when it comes to freelancing. Why? Well probably because in some cases it’s been proven true. As humans we like to focus on the scary stories, the stories that reinforce our fears and concerns and tell us to play it safe. But guess what, if we set out to do something believing it’s not really possible, then all we are going to do is prove ourselves right. Limiting mindset = limited success.
Now I’m not saying you have to constantly be feeling positive and continuously succeeding, because of course there will be days when you struggle, days when you feel disheartened and days when you want to give up. I have them all the time. But if your core belief is ‘I know this IS possible’, then you will be able to overcome those feelings, push through those down times and keep striving towards your goal.
So where does this belief that it IS possible come from? Where do you find that underlying resolve? You look at the evidence! How do I know it’s possible to earn a living and support yourself as a freelance musician? Because I’ve done it! My husband has done it, I have many, many friends and colleagues who have done it. Am I a millionaire with a 10 bed mansion, swimming pool and tennis court? No! Do I drive a fancy sports car? No! (I actually really love my little ford focus!) But I’m not talking about reaching the dizzy heights of fame and fortune, I’m talking about earning enough to make a living and be self-sufficient.
Now let’s just take a moment to establish something that is crucial here - being easy and being possible are two very different things. I’m not saying that earning a living and supporting yourself as a freelancer is EASY, I’m saying it’s POSSIBLE. Because it takes a lot of hard work, a willingness to do the not so fun jobs as well as the exciting ones, self-discipline to put in the hours and manage your own schedule, and a determination to keep going when something doesn’t work out. Because for every idea that works there will be one that doesn’t, and there will be many downs as well as ups. But the evidence suggests that it is possible, so making the decision to freelance does not automatically mean you take a vow of poverty.
And the beauty of freelancing means that you’re not just restricted to doing one thing - you always have the option to diversify, to be creative and use all of your skill set. Which, in uncertain times such as the current coronavirus world pandemic we are going through, is crucial. If part of your freelance portfolio is not music related, because you have another skill that you can develop as an income stream, this does not in any way mean you are not a credible musician, it means you are a smart entrepreneur.
Misconception number 2: Life on the road is exciting, glamorous and insta-worthy.
While some people have the battered minibus, greasy takeaways image as their definition of freelancing, those of us who are dreamers might picture a jet setting lifestyle, visiting glamorous cities, exotic destinations and luxury hotels. Let me be honest with you, since 2012 I have done a lot of travelling as a musician, through performing with my flute and piano duo and working as a music examiner, both abroad and all over the UK. The first performing contract we had as a duo saw us flying out to Tahiti and joining a luxury cruise ship for 10 days. We visited Bora Bora, and then sailed across the International Date Line to New Zealand where we stopped off at several beautiful locations before flying home from Auckland. In many ways this was the trip of a lifetime, BUT I spent the first five days feeling really ill from the jet lag and adjusting to being on a moving ship. And two back to back 13 hour flights is not fun! There was the time we had to do a 36 hour journey home from Punta Arenas at the very bottom of Chile, and I had a massive panic attack before boarding our second flight due to just being completely exhausted. Or more locally, when I spent a couple of weeks working near Belfast in the middle of winter, staying in a really grubby B&B having gone through a break up just a week before, and all I wanted to do was go home! My husband and I regularly have to spend chunks of time away from each other, and this isn’t easy. Neither is having to miss big family occasions of friends’ weddings.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for every one of my travelling experiences, however near or far they have been, and I would do them all over again, but it is worth having a balanced view of this kind of lifestyle, and knowing that with the glamour and excitement comes the need to make some sacrifices.
Misconception Number 3: The best musicians get the most work
I could almost hear your shocked intake of breath when I said that - ‘what do you mean, of course the best musicians get the most work!!’. Let me explain: if you leave music college with an attitude that says - ‘I know I’m an incredible musician, come on work, come and find me!’ - it’s not going to happen. As a freelancer, work doesn’t come to you, you have to go and find it. You have to put yourself out there, do the networking, send the emails, make the phone calls, put in the hard graft. And when you start to see results, you then have to turn up on time, be reliable, be nice to be around, give your best to the job, so that you'll get booked again. It doesn't matter how great a musician you are, if you are unreliable, disrespectful and shoddy in your work ethic, then no one will want to work with you. Now this isn’t an excuse to not practice, to not keep improving your skills as a musician, because of course being the best musician you can be is always going to play a big part in building up your freelance portfolio. But it’s not the ONLY factor, and I think sometimes these peripheral elements get forgotten about, when in actual fact they are the glue that holds your freelance career together.
So there you have it - the top three misconceptions around being a freelance musician! Have these ever crossed your mind? Has someone told you that a freelance career isn’t possible? Share this post with them and maybe it will open up the door for a helpful discussion.
If you’re keen to know more on how you can establish a successful freelance career, I have a free mini email course which teaches some of the key elements you need in place to do just that. All you need to do is sign up at bit.ly/freelancemusicianworkshop and it will land straight into your inbox.
Dream big, work hard and go share your gifts with the world!