Former classical musician not qualified to do anything but be broke...?
October 10, 2009 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Professional musician going through a career change, not having much luck, what am I qualified/supposed to do? What methods do you recommend?

So, after spending 10 years working as professional (classical) musician, I'm changing careers because of economic (and physical/mental) necessity.

I'm 26, just dropped out of a performance masters program, have an undergrad in musicology (with about 23 credits of English work) from UVA, and a performance certification from another conservatory. All through my undergrad/grad years I ran a booking business to help my quartet and other friends get gigs, I was a TA in grad school, and have had multiple waitressing jobs/coffee shop gigs plus a few semesters as a library assistant at UVA. I also have been teaching lessons close to full-time for about 10 years.

I'm now living with my parents in northern-ish Virginia (close enough to commute to DC if I really need to, but far enough that I'd like to avoid 4+ hours in traffic each day if possible).

I'm subbing at schools (my mom is a reading specialist in the local school district), teaching at a local music studio and starting/conducting a youth orchestra in the area, but I need a 9-5 career-type job (Full disclosure, I would love to get into copywriting, as writing+money = awesome, and have taken a few classes through Media Bistro. I've had some experience with graphic and web design, so I currently trying to pimp out any and all freelance-type skills I have. I'm doing some Elance gigs and some volunteer things to get my resume/portfolio in shape. Music biz-type jobs are right up my alley and I'm experienced, but in VA they're hard to come by. Music education would require at least a year and a half of full-time study and the programs don't start until the fall).

I've been applying to government jobs, administrative jobs, and lots of minimum wage Target/Kohls/Walmart/Starbucks gigs, and despite trying several different resume tricks (dumbing down my resume considerably, trying my regular resume, leaving out "music", etc) for the past 7 months I've gotten a handful of interviews (maybe 2, and they were because I refused to leave without seeing a manager... stuck my foot in the door essentially).

I did try the public-school route, but I'm only eligible for alternative certification. There is a glut of certified music teachers in this area - each county's HR has to abide by the "more certified teachers we can hire, the more funds we get from the government", so I have literally been recommended by three principals to be hired (In other words, I went through the interview process, the principal liked me, called and offered me the job, then sent my application to Human Resources who called me and said something to the effect of "we can't allow the principal to hire a non-certified teacher in the current economic environment, we have to wait for a certified teacher... sorry but we're sure you'll find something!").

Well, I'm not finding anything (like many others in this economy). But I'm also feeling like I'm not qualified for anything other than teaching!

I'm really trying to get into a new, and more lucrative, career but as a "starving musician" I didn't have cash to save (for real, paying full-time tuition and squeaking by on 6-8000 a year since I was in a conservatory at 16). So I am completely tapped out, and the parents will NOT provide any assistance for schools/training programs/trainings... I'm 20, 000 grand in the hole because of grad school. It's hard to get ahead and look toward any Ad Schools/real estate, or even like, cosmetology school, when I can barely put gas in my car... or get a McJob. They're trying the "tough love" route, which blows, frankly (but I get why they're doing it).

I'm open to many different fields, so long as they are creative-ish and I can make a reasonable amount of money eventually. I can work the mail room and intern like nobody's business, so building up from nothing isn't a problem, I just don't know where to start.

Arg, help me mefi people, if you can! Being really good at something while being completely unqualified for anything else is frustrating, but I'm trying my hardest to stay positive.

When the economy was better/I was in college, I never had a hard time landing jobs, so I don't think it's me... at least I don't think so!

Oh, and just fyi I was in/first chair of several pick-up (ie weekend, one concert a month) professional orchestras but frankly I don't have the skill, patience, or physical/mental fortitude (My doctor recently told me that I would need between 3-4 surgeries to continue playing as much as I am/would need to... carpel tunnel and rotator cuff problems) to do the full-time orchestra route. I have a performance certification from a very good school and have studied with some masters, but honestly, I didn't go to Indiana or Julliard so the numbers game of "open spots v. amazing players willing to audition for 10 years until they get one" has me screwed either way.

Sorry for the length. I'm at my wit's end with all this.
posted by vilolagrl to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Arts management / arts administration? If you want to use your writing skills, grantwriting for arts organizations may also be a good fit for you.

Also, even if you have trouble finding a music related admin position in VA, your background is also appealing for dance / theater / other performing arts admin roles. I don't know much about your area, but even if there's not a bunch of professional caliber organizations, you may be able to cobble together several part time arts admin jobs for various community groups that desperately need help. I've seen many colleagues do this in the past, and although hectic, they get by!
posted by soleiluna at 2:23 PM on October 10, 2009

I don't know about northern Virginia, but here in northern Florida, there is a class of first level managerial jobs in retail, logistics (think warehousing and trucking), and industrial service (building maintenance, landscaping, property management, etc.) that actively seek young people with a degree. They're (mostly) dead end jobs, as far as real management potential goes, as the senior slots in these businesses turn over so slowly, that few, if any, of the entry level managers hired ever stay around long enough for promotion. But, they pay better than minimum wage, and mostly require simple abilities for basic worker management and leadership, simple report writing, and perhaps a limited ability with figures in taking inventories, checking paperwork, using basic business computer systems, etc. Many of these jobs require some shift work, or driving to various locations within a small geographical area, and some may even require regular overnight travel. But, if you can effectively lead minimum wage workers in getting work done, are punctual and professional in appearance and demeanor, and don't mind the downsides of such jobs (high employee turnover, upper management pressure, lack of creative opportunities), you can make decent money, often with real health insurance and other benefits.

Many firms prefer to fill these first line managerial slots with young people, who they feel, have a better ability to relate to the young workers they'll manage, and who are energetic enough to show others how to do various jobs at production pace, and to keep a team of workers productively occupied. So, if you're willing to do that kind of work, you could look for shift manager jobs at retail stores and restaurants, or supervisor/manager jobs in logistics, property management, industrial, and business services jobs, and perhaps not have to be in a position to "dumb down" your resume, or be less than candid in discussing why you are looking to get away from a music performance career path.

You might also look for jobs in business to business sales, if you don't mind traveling. Many people get started in sales, simply because a lot of sales jobs are open to people with minimally specialized resumes. A lot of sales managers are actually looking for personality, energy, intelligence, and personal motivation in their new hires, and prefer they don't come in with much, or any, industry experience; that way, what they learn is what the business that hires them teaches them, and there are no issues with trade secrets and non-compete agreements that sometimes occur when businesses hire candidates with experience at other competitors. For many of these businesses, you're just what they're looking for, and if they get a year or two of good work out of you, before you find something better, both they and you are well served.

Good luck. Keep sticking your foot in doors!
posted by paulsc at 3:35 PM on October 10, 2009

During the dot com boom, when the demand for programmers in general and web developers in particular far exceeded the supply, IBM recruited music majors, in the belief that the two fields attracted similar personalities. Speaking as a software developer and someone who practiced as much as some of the majors during college, I can see the connection- both require an obsession with precision and ability to focus on pretty abstract activities for long periods of time. I didn't know any music majors who dabbled in software, but I've met a ton of software developers who are also accomplished amateur musicians (the most talented performer in the department while I was at UNC was a computer science major/music minor who still does both professionally). And I think most software developers would say their jobs are creative, for certain definitions of creativity- mine definitely is.

I also think this field is easier than many to break into without related academic experience. I currently work with several self-taught developers, some of whom don't even have college degrees, and they're significantly more productive than many of CS majors I've worked with. The interviews for my last two jobs might as well have been for homecoming king... the interviewers were more interested in my hobbies and glowing personality than my ability to make computers do anything in particular (fortunately for them, I actually am good at my job, and fortunately for me, they usually are too).

Anyway, I'm not actually reccomending that you go into the software industry, there's plenty of general and specific reasons you might want to avoid it, just suggesting that it's not a totally ridiculous transition for musicians. Feel free to MeMail if you'd like some more specific suggestions on how someone with your background might break into the software business in DC the DC area in particular.
posted by gsteff at 4:45 PM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I second the recommendation of arts management/administration. It's a field badly in need of better people, especially ones who understand the arts side extremely well. I strongly believe that arts entrepreneurship is where the career future of many concert musicians lies, and have had students move from to performance to management very successfully. You might start by looking for staff positions in arts organizations in your area.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:17 PM on October 10, 2009

I put in a vote for totally changing fields. Because I totally understand the frustration of this situation.

The problem is that copywriting sounds good to a lot of people, can do it from your home and sit in your pajamas and make lots of money. It's doable (I have a friend who started her own business, is not so amazingly talented as a writer, and makes a lot of money). But you also have to be a monster go-getter so you can bury the competition. And honestly, I think artsy creative jobs that were hot 10 years ago are now getting harder and harder to compete with, because everyone wants to do them. Not necessarily, but maybe.

So I say consider totally shifting directions and trying something totally new. I was in a situation much like yours. I decided to try nursing school. At the moment, I'm in school, and it's hell. But when I'm done I'll be able to work 3 days a week, appreciate the work I'm doing and make a sort of large amount of money. And work wherever I want. It's a somewhat long process but it's been interesting. I'd consider something like that.

Basically what I'm saying is that I know you have a lot of experience in a lot of different things, but consider doing something totally, totally different too.
posted by sully75 at 7:46 AM on October 11, 2009

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