“It’s really hard to make a living as a musician. It’s almost impossible.” – Billy Joel
In order to make a living with music, we have all done what we had to. We have studied, practiced, achieved degrees, taken paying music positions, and played whatever gigs we could find so that we could eat, live, and support ourselves and our families. The problem is, it is usually on someone else’s terms. Even if we are the boss, or own our own business in music, we have clients who dictate what we do for them, and how we create or produce the music.
This has been an issue throughout music history.
J.S. Bach was mostly always employed and creating his music for use in his job as organist or music leader. At some points his job required a new cantata each Sunday! That’s one way to build your catalog! And like all of us, he knew the struggle to make amazing music and please his bosses.
“My masters are strange folk with very little care for music in them.” – Johann Sebastian Bach
Joseph Haydn had many jobs as a music teacher, a street musician, and accompanist before he got a sweet gig for the prince of Esterhazy, and rode that job for decades. But he was often little more than a paid servant, and felt that way. As with Bach, in order to have music ready every week for the music hungry Esterhazys, Haydn’s output was extraordinary. Eventually he was able to work with a publisher, gain some fame outside the estate, and later become more independent in London and elsewhere.
Mozart was one of the first composers to say no to working “for the man”. But even with many commissions and a post here and there that didn’t last very long, it was a struggle for one of the world’s best ever composers to make a consistent living.
The first to really sever ties and find somewhat lasting success was Beethoven, who after moving to Vienna in 1792, began to establish a reputation as a superstar pianist and composer. He was able to secure patronage to write and perform the rest of his life, making him somewhat the first successful “indie” musician.
Why This Matters
Getting to the music we want to make is very difficult in a life where we make or work in music for someone else. Even as a full-time traveling artist, there is booking, marketing, and other things to do besides actually composing and being artistic. It’s just hard to make music when there are so many other things to do (I’m looking at you Facebook, Twitter, and oh yeah, the next job I have to do to continuing getting paid so I can pay a mortgage, car payments, etc.)
The key is finding that balance, like turning off email and social media for the weekend to compose, or self-imposed block out times to sit at your instrument and just create.
On the other hand, being secure in a music position may allow us to create much of the works we will leave behind, just as Bach and Haydn did. We will make things we never expected because a client, boss, or sponsor will suggest a direction, a subject, or a use for a piece.
Wherever you fall on the indentured servitude scale, whether an instructor, producer, orchestral member, composer for hire, or whatever, finding the balance between the thing you love and making a living is crucial.
“If you can create an honorable livelihood, where you take your skills and use them and you earn a living from it, it gives you a sense of freedom and allows you to balance your life the way you want.” – Anita Roddick
Have a great week!
John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist, so don’t get your panties in a bunch if you think this is drivel. He’s just your everyday, full time music producer who is also pursuing a musicology masters because he wants to help all music folks and students how to make a great living in music.