Allow me to begin this post by saying that I know I am very privileged and honored and grateful for all of the incredible music I get to play each and every week. I am not taking any work I am offered for granted. I don’t want this post to come off as whiny, depressing, or unappreciative. I love my job, I love the people I make music with, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else day in and day out. ~ RBD
Being a freelance trombone player is a very rewarding career. I get to play some amazing music with wonderful musicians all over the region.
Musically this career path is rewarding.
Personally this career path is rewarding.
Financially this career path CAN be rewarding. But it isn’t always rewarding.
One of the great parts of being a freelance player is that I can choose how many gigs and what kinds of gigs I want to play. When there is a scheduling conflict between two musical organizations I’ve been asked to play with, I can choose to either play with the one that is playing better music, has favored musicians, or the one that pays the most (or some combination therein). It’s my choice and I can make those decisions as I see fit.
Making these decisions, may close some doors, but these decisions have opened up many more opportunities through the years. If/when I feel like I need to play in a different setting, in a different genre, or with different people, I can easily start making some moves, calls/emails/texts, and decisions that will open up more opportunities to satisfy that need. I never feel like I’m locked down playing the same thing, and nothing feels routine. This career is very rewarding and never boring!
Freelancing as a career does have some downsides, however.
One downside is that many people simply don’t understand what I do…AT ALL! Many people can’t even imagine a schedule as different and varied as mine. If you look at my calendar, each and every week of playing, teaching, and traveling is wildly different. Each week is an important part of me making a living. My living. My career. I try to be understanding of people’s perception of my ‘career’ and I’ll often just let comments slide. Comments like, “what do you do during the day?”, “Oh, so, what do you really do?”, “Aww, that’s fun! It must be fun to do whatever you want!”, “Must be nice having your days free”, or “I didn’t think one could make a living doing that.” Usually these comments are few and far between. Lately, they’ve been coming at me every day. It’s getting tough out there!
Yes, the struggle is real.
Seriously though, what makes it a struggle is this: just about every institution, business, and many people work/function on a M-F, 9am – 6pm kind of schedule every week, after every week, with little to no variation.
Most people get off of work, let’s say at 5pm. They will then go to bed, what 5-6 hours later? That seems reasonable, I imagine. Well, I get off of work anywhere from 10pm, or 11pm, maybe even midnight or 1am, sometimes in a different town or state. I’d love to use the following 5-6 hours after work to hang with friends, play with the kids, spend time with my wife, read, watch some TV, etc, etc…but none of that is possible because its the middle of the night! After my work, I can’t hit the local grocery store, pharmacy, restaurant/bar, or bank (although 24 hour ATM’s are great), because most everything is closed. Not only that, getting finished with work at or after the time most people are going to bed means I’m going to bed and falling asleep much later in the night, yet I still will need to get up at the same time in the morning, with everybody else, to get the kids off to school.
Sure, my days are usually pretty open, but that’s when I’m going to practice, do copywork/engraving, write/arrange music, study, do all the ‘non-paid’ work that goes into everything that it means to be a full-time freelance musician. (I’m not on a salary, btw)
Let’s talk about the weekends: having free and open weekends is a thing I haven’t ever really experienced. Playdates with my kids and their friends? Not something I can commit to most weekends. Dinner party? Sure, but I’ll have to leave early. Block party? Sorry, I’m out of town playing. Birthday parties for my children’s friends? Probably can’t partake. A regular date night with my wife on a weekend? Only if my gigs get canceled!
I don’t mean to spin a ‘whoa is me’ narrative. I really don’t. I love this career and can’t imagine doing anything else, but some days, some weeks, the struggle is real.
I want to participate in that gathering, that birthday party, that dinner, that hang! I want to go to the game, go to that concert*. I want to go on dates with my wife, I want to host a playdate or take my kids to a playdate. But, my schedule doesn’t allow it.
*…(that’s another thing! The only time I can go see a concert is when I’m not working, which isn’t that often! When I’m not working I’m not making money either, so it’s a double edge sword to NOT make money AND spend it at the same time!)
When I’m not actively playing (i.e. making money), I’m working to book gigs, preparing for gigs, writing music for future gigs (mine or others), arranging music for future gigs, practicing the trombone to sound good on future gigs, and studying music I’ll be playing. Needless to say, a lot more work goes into the gigs than actually playing, but none of that work technically is paid work. (I suppose I could break down how much I make per hour between preparation and playing, but that number may be too depressing to behold.) So, when I’m not working, I’m not making money. If I’m not making money, I can’t contribute to the family.
When gigs get canceled (more on that in a future post) or postponed for whatever reason, that is less money I’ll be earning that month. There is no PTO, no benefits, no overtime, no paid sick leave.
No gig, no income.
But, I didn’t go into this career with my eyes closed thinking I would be able to play the best music with great musicians and have a plethora of money left over. I’m a realist after all. Even though some months are rougher than others, I wouldn’t change a thing…well, a few more gigs wouldn’t hurt!
Self pity party is over. Now I’m going to get back to practicing!