Day Jobs: The Lives of Musicians & Creatives In The Workforce

This piece was published at AltPress on September 15, 2015 as part of my short-lived column on morality and creativity in the music industry.

The day job: a time-consuming soul sucker that financially fuels the creative person. Many of us commit ourselves to 20 to 40 hours a week of work that can leave us creatively stifled, as well as offer little leftover time to actually pursue these artistic endeavors. Some of us dwell in this misery, while others avoid the drag by finding work they enjoy. In either case, until you can be fully supported by your art, finding the time and means to push yourself creatively hinges on the day job.

In my experience, clocking in at the beginning of a shift means that the next nine hours of my life are then dedicated to the machine. I work in retail for a great company that treats me well. I’m paid a decent sum of money, given compensated days off and a healthy discount for the product I sling. My job is like most day jobs, and I find stability in that. Within that security blanket, however, I feel smothered. It’s not that I hate the job or the people I work with—it’s the spirit of the thing. I clock in, I do my work, I clock out and—for the most part—that’s the end of it. Those 40 hours are cut out of my schedule without much of my input, leaving me with precious little time for my side hustles, creative projects and the ever-elusive social life I try to maintain.

When I’m not working retail, I’m either sending emails to press for coverage of Other People Records’ fine roster of bands or writing. This column is a result of “free time” away from my day job. For many creative types like me, this surely strikes a familiar chord. It’s hard to make a living doing what you love. So, we work around the job. Music photographer and actor Connor Feimster works two jobs, but makes it work. “I’m lucky for the fact that I rarely work nights at either job. The evenings are reserved for rehearsals and for shooting shows. Days off are used for editing and running lines. I have a pretty substantial schedule in terms of fitting everything in accordingly,” he says.

Breathe Atlantic owner Anthony Galasso has a similar mentality when it comes to promoting his clothing line after his shift as a social media copywriter. “I like to live my life thinking I have a day job with several night gigs. My day job pays the bills, so I dedicate a majority of my time to that when I’m clocked in, but I find myself working nights and weekends a lot more. I don’t mind it. If you’re truly passionate about your creative endeavors, you’ll make it work,” he explains.

I try to keep up appearances with my friends and family. That’s been especially hard lately as I pick up more and more projects, but it’s not easy to forget—I’m reminded of my absence by those people every day. In the end, I have choices to make. We all do. Bad Racket Recording Studio engineer and Envoi guitarist Steve Perrino is working hard to kick off his own recording business, Compass Audio, this fall and his leisure time has taken a hit for it. “I don’t have a social life and that’s okay. Other people are going out after work or going to shows while I’m mixing or testing new techniques. It’s a passion, so I am doing something music or recording related whenever I have free time,”

Of course, the day job and the lack of spare time it allows isn’t always a sacrifice for a creative person. While most of us toil away, bemoaning the imbalance of time between what we love doing and what we have to do, others find themselves content with their place in things. Corey Long is a father, a mobile apps product manager and a writer who recently started producing vidcasts in his spare time. “My job is definitely not a fallback. I love it and I worked hard to get to this point. Does it completely capture my inspiration and interest? No, but it is an amazing opportunity and supports my family and my other interests. I would love to have my creative endeavors supplement my income, but it would take a large amount of popularity before they could replace it.”

“My job is definitely a means to fund my creativity and my life,” explains music photographer Andrew Wells. Andrew spends his days managing the online store for CLE Clothing, a burgeoning Cleveland brand. “I’m able to pay my rent and bills, eat good food and buy records because of my job. I’ve lived as a starving artist and it wasn’t fun. It’s great to have a job that I love to keep me afloat as I continue to work to build my portfolio without worrying if I’m going to be able to eat or pay my rent,” Wells says.

Putting in time after-hours is an unavoidable part of a creative life, but doing so comes with a certain level of risk. Burning out is an ever-present danger in the working world and a lot can factor into it. For most, the day isn’t done when the clock is punched. A drive home, cooking, a few quick errands and a couple of chores at home take up even more time and expend additional brain power, leaving the creative outlet that much more difficult to do. Finding something in the work you do that can alleviate day-to-day stress build-up can be helpful and possibly even a source of inspiration for your art.

Before he burned out as a formulation chemist and compounding supervisor, Two Cheers singer Bryan Akcasu found something in what he was doing at his job that helped motivate his songwriting. “I learned a lot about my own psychology as a creative person. For instance, I would come up with dozens of formulas per week for months on end, some of which would be rejected outright, others would take several tries to get approved, while some would be hits right out of the gate. I kept a healthy, accepting attitude about it; I never took it too personally. I saw it as a process with a natural progression. I was the complete opposite with my music: perfectionistic, judgmental, insecure, ego-driven, rigid and prone to ruts. Working that job helped me see a different way to be creative with my music; a different energy to tap into when making music that has more finesse to it. Once that clicked with me, I started writing songs that the people around me really loved, that I really loved.”

There are a lot of preventative measures for burning out, but most can be circumvented by simply finding a day job that stimulates you. “I think if you have a job you hate and that doesn’t make you think, you’re just wasting valuable time,” explains Squid The Whale drummer Jon Wagoner. “If you have a job that inspires you to think creatively, you’re going to have an easier time trying to reach that creativity when you need it.”

If you find yourself depressed, unmotivated or creatively unfulfilled with what you’re doing with your life, I encourage you to think about what you love doing. A day job may be necessary to get by—at least for now—but it doesn’t have to own you. Instead, define your strengths and motivating factors and look into work that facilitates that. Doing so will positively impact your daily state of mind and keep your juices flowing so that you don’t have to put your art on hold. What you create has the opportunity to outlive you and inspire the world around you. Make art happen, but not at the expense of your sanity.