Taking a dayjob versus singularly pursuing your dream career
March 15, 2011 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Is it better to prepare for a stable and tolerable day job that allows you to pursue your true passion in your time off, or to singularly dedicate yourself to that passion? I'm a college sophomore who is currently wrestling with this question.

Over the past year or so, I've been spending 90% of my free time playing or producing music. I've identified music production as a hobby I can spend infinite amounts of time on, I pore through audio engineering and music production guides and I've developed an ear for production techniques in recorded music. In short, there's nothing I'd rather spend my time with than music production.

However, there is definitely something liberating about paying the bills with a dayjob. It takes pressure off of the creative process, because you no longer have to worry about paying the bills with the craft, but can focus entirely on enjoying the process.

I'm in my second year of college and I'm finding some of my science courses to be interesting - especially chemistry. This has led me to consider going to pharmacy school and to support myself as a pharmacist while spending my free time with music. A career as a pharmacist appeals to me not only because of the 7-on, 7-off schedule you can work (7 12-hour shifts followed by a week of vacation), but also because it is a pure application of the knowledge you acquire in pharmacy school. It never really devolves to busy work and office politics.

My dilemma here is that I could easily put together a stellar transfer application to a place like Berklee or Tisch (Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music.) My grade point average is hovering between a 3.9-4.0, I belong to three different music organizations on campus (one of which I founded) and take piano lessons, and historically I've been high-achieving. If I were to do something like that, it would be trivially easy to get a job in the recording industry after the fact. The job would most likely be in audio engineering or A&R, not necessarily in music production, but it would be at least related to my passion.

Up until very recently, I had been set on pharmacy school. I had reasoned that the 7-on, 7-off shift would allow me to dedicate myself exclusively to music every other week, and that the high salary would allow me to live comfortably. Now I'm wondering whether I should simply work my way up from within the industry itself. Even getting a job as a pharmacist will require so much time spent studying for the PCAT, volunteering in health facilities, and studying in pharmacy school (a 3-year commitment, during which I'll probably get to work on music for a negligible amount of time).

Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated.
posted by Wanderboy to Work & Money (42 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
In theory the 7 on, 7 off is great, but in reality it's hard work and you may get burned out. I would say really think hard about pharmacy school. If it is something you really like and want to pursue, go for it. If you are just looking for something to pay the bills, then think hard about it because it's extra school and alot more work which will take you away from what you love to do- music.

I would say that since you are passionate about music, follow it. I work a job that I don't feel strongly about and am not passionate about just so that I can do what I love, ski and climb, and I'll tell you, I yearn for the time when I can ski and climb. Those aren't nearly as easy to monetize as music is.
posted by TheBones at 10:12 AM on March 15, 2011

You are young, you have plenty of time to figure things out. Focus on what you love and don't worry so much about your career. The best thing you can do for yourself is following your passion (this coming from someone who is still searching 10 years out of college).
posted by TheBones at 10:13 AM on March 15, 2011

I think it depends on how burnt out you'd get with your passion, if you had to rely on it to pay your bills.

Some people are very motivated by this, and will ditch everything else in order to force themselves to "make it" in their passion of choice. Many struggling actors, comedians, and musicians wouldn't focus on their art if they didn't have the need to make money doing it.

Others like to be relaxed when working on their passions, so having a day job that's less stressful but high paying would be ideal.

I think you first have to figure out where on this spectrum your motivation lays, and then act accordingly.
posted by xingcat at 10:13 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

A career in the arts, such as music, is notoriously unpredictable. You might be an absolutely brilliant musician, conceivably even the best musician of the 21st century, and only attract a cult following. Chances are you are not as cute as Justin Beiber. The realistic answer is not to count on music as a career. However, it can work the other way, too. Weird Al Yankovic actually has a degree in architecture, yet never worked in that field, after his career in humorous music proved to be unexpectedly successful. Studying architecture was largely a wasted effort for him (but who knows, perhaps someday he will design his own house). Still, the odds are that it would be a shrewd move for you to be a phramacist as well as a musician.
posted by grizzled at 10:17 AM on March 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Both perspectives have their merits and flaws. Xingcat has it right, though. Will struggling and maybe starving as an artist or constant immersion in the music business suck the life out of something you love? There's only one way to find out.

If you want to achieve financial success through your music though, I think you're going to have to quit. Artistic industries like music and film really only reward hard work. Talent isn't even necessarily a pre-requisite, though it helps. If you really want to compete, I'd focus on it.

Give serious thought to going full-time with music. You have the grades and can go back to school for something far more meaningful and rewarding than pharmacy work if the music biz turns out not to be your thing.
posted by Hylas at 10:21 AM on March 15, 2011

Seriously, only you can know the right answer to this. Some people are about no compromises ever and the singular pursuit of their dreams. Others are more interested in security and for them, the pragmatic approach is of course more appropriate. The part that I am concerned about for you is the notion that getting a job in A&R would be trivially easy. Can that really be so in an economy where people have trouble getting jobs as baristas?
posted by Wordwoman at 10:24 AM on March 15, 2011

Get the day job, self-teach the passion and practice it on the side. You're happiest when you have food in your stomach.
posted by litnerd at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Much of scalzi's advice is specific to writers, but I think most of his "don't quite your day job" arguments apply to musicians as well (See #2: Don't quit your day job.). Basically, if you don't have a day job, the time you save not having a job is used up worrying about making sure you have enough to eat tomorrow. Either way, artistic free time is not impacted.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:26 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where to start?

"You went to Berklee? Great. Where's my coffee?" You're a freshly minted second engineer in a mid-level studio. You can do that now while studying for something else. Intern. Walk into a busy studio and start being useful.

It's not a passion if you're not already doing it. Everyone in the biz is there because they couldn't *not* be there.

Engineering pays crap. There's plenty of people who now go to school to engineer.

"...Busy work and office politics"? Welcome to A&R.

You'll rarely have stability. You'll struggle for a long time. Realistically at best you'll rise to the top of a very broad heap somewhere no one cares about polishing turds for local broadcast or self-financed artists.

The biz is full of crusty old dudes ridden hard and put away wet, who do nothing but bitch about how they're disrespected and really helped [famous artist X] that one time in a way no one else possibly could, but got cheated and left by the wayside. If they're lucky, they're union somewhere that does a lot of corporate theater. But they're still looking for a way out, while talking big and trying to keep the new guy from ever touching the board.

There are so many people with insane levels of talent and skill. This is a field that self-selects, winnowing out the wannabes. Like writing, you do it because you can't not.

And if you're going to do this, and be a success, none of my comments here will dissuade you. You'll know they don't apply to you.
posted by lothar at 10:27 AM on March 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would refer you to Grumblebee's excellent treatise on pursuing your passion and living.
posted by readery at 10:28 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pharmacy school can be awfully intense. I worry that you wouldn't be able to devote enough time to your music *while you're in school*. Which is only three or four years, but... three years.

On the other hand, I think you're probably overestimating your chances of getting a fulfilling job in the music industry right out of Berklee. Lots of people don't.

It's a tough choice. Good luck!
posted by mskyle at 10:32 AM on March 15, 2011

Tough decision. Really tough. I can relate. My #1 passion in life is music. But I'm 30 years old, have been working in the legal field since I graduated from college, and expect to do this for the rest of my life.

Myth: your #1 passion in life must be the same thing that gives you your paycheck. Nope. It can be nice to have your passion separate from your means of paying the bills. I can still play my guitar. I now have exactly 0% chance of ever becoming a rock star (instead of the 0.00001% chance I would have had if I had pursued music). But I don't have to worry about getting sick of the music industry. And I can afford any new guitar, amp, etc. I want.

Now, none of that is a definitive answer to your question, since there's no need for you to be like me. I don't have a definitive answer for you. But please, consider these relevant points of view:

1. blog post by Penelope Trunk ("One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only gotten but given is to 'do what you love'...")

2. AskMetafilter comment ("Long story short, by prioritising my actual happiness, rather than what I thought would give me happiness. I have - surprise! - become quite happy...")

Now, with all that sober, rational thought out of the way, if I were in your specific situation, and assuming you're being 100% accurate in assessing your prospects, I couldn't imagine doing anything other than music production!
posted by John Cohen at 10:33 AM on March 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

It is unclear if you are interested in pursuing audio engineering in such a way that you help artists to produce and refine their albums or if you are primarily interested in producing your own music. If it is the former, you should spend some time with audio engineers and ask them what they love and hate about their work. It is a competitive career path but the odds of success aren't astronomical.

Making it with your own music on the other hand... others have answered that question pretty well already.
posted by dgran at 10:34 AM on March 15, 2011

I work with (adjacent to) a lot of former and part-time sound engineers. This is their day job. A few do regular sound editing on a more full time level, and they use their day job as their healthcare proxy. (minimum number of hours to qualify for coverage). There are others who work here principally, and are simultaneously trying to get enough side work to pay for some extras. Then you've got the set that works here and no longer work as a sound engineer - maybe every once in a while they'll record a track. Lastly you've got the last set which are people who were sound engineers, landed gigs in places like in "one of Puff Daddy's Studios" and realized that their gigs their were so underpaid that they had no choice but to take a real job.

Of those guys, the guy that made a business out of it enough to just use his work here as a healthcare proxy was the happiest - but he came here as quickly as he could when he found out that he wasn't going to be rich working under someone. It took ten years of his own hard work and sidework to really launch his own business.

For what its worth - its a good technical skill to have, but these guys are relatively stuck in their careers here, because they have very little besides an audio engineer's education for forward advancement. Also, take a look at the recording industry's sales and you'll see there is less and less profit out of it these days (even among small publishers) - meaning it is largely a drying up profession.

I also know a whole mess of engineers (as in electrical and mechanical) who did professional sound in college as a hobby. They also know ProTools inside and out and make killer recordings of their own gigs. They have money to pursue that hobby and any number of other expensive hobbies. Yeah, they aren't living the dream - but they enjoy themselves.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:35 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It never really devolves to busy work and office politics.

how do you know this? I'm not saying it's not true, but I'd be careful of making statements like this without asking some actual pharmacists.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:35 AM on March 15, 2011

I don't think there's an easy answer to this, but there are two positives to the day job + hobbies choice over the make your hobby your job choice. One is that if you don't worry about making your day job your passion, you have a lot more options. As long as you get a steady paycheck and don't hate going into work every day, you can be happy, no matter what work ends up being available to you. If, say, you switch into more of a managerial role and do different day to day activities, it's not the end of the world.

The other is that if your passion turns out not to be something you are into for the rest of your life, you are not stuck doing it as a career. If 10 years from now you don't care as much about creating music and would rather be doing something else with your time, switching to something else just involves picking something new to do rather than something more drastic like changing careers.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:36 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

A career as a pharmacist appeals to me [...] because it is a pure application of the knowledge you acquire in pharmacy school. It never really devolves to busy work and office politics.

Talk to some pharmacists before making your decision. I have a good friend who's a pharmacist and all she does is bitch about busy work, office politics, and (most of all) the stupid people she has to deal with constantly. Never do I hear about any joy of the actual craft of being a pharmacist.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2011

I'm definitely in the same situation. I'm a visual artist and a musician, and I go to school part time, while doing freelance design and temp work to support myself. While I'm far from saying that I've found success, things are slowly building. and to do that, you need TIME. As much free time as possible. If you have these two competing focus point of your attention in your life, one or the other is going to suffer and live up to its potential. I'm not saying totally give up your career goals, but you do have to sacrifice a lot of time and focus towards your creative growth. My advice: give your creative dream a shot and figure out what it is that you have inside you. If you believe there's something to be found, take the time and follow through, but if not, go be a pharmacist.
posted by feastofviolet at 10:39 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

You seem to have a good handle on the dilemma already. I'd only add these comments:

1. The problem with making your hobby into your job is…then it's your job, which can drain the joy out of it (doesn't necessarily, but the risk is high). At the least you've got to make the compromises that go along with doing it as your day-to-day job. Maybe you'll find yourself on your 40th birthday thinking "you know, I really don't want to remix the 1000th toilet-paper jingle of my career today."

2. If you know audio production, then you know one thing. If you know audio production and pharmacy, then you know two things. 2>1.
posted by adamrice at 10:43 AM on March 15, 2011

I agree with those who've said you should talk to some pharmacists before you go to pharmacy school - it often involves a lot of management (supervising techs, etc.) and bookkeeping stuff. I've worked at pharmacy schools for the past six years, and have seen my share of disgruntled young pharmacists and old pharmacists who complain about how the whippersnappers just out of pharmacy school can't be bothered to do customer service or business planning kinds of stuff.
posted by mskyle at 10:43 AM on March 15, 2011

I studied audio engineering and interned pretty much right out of high school and I'm still working on music production as a career, though no hits yet. I also recently dated a pharmacist for about a year. I couldn't think of a better day job than pharmacy to support a music production career. You can work part time and still make plenty of money, and music production takes money. You'll have so much more leverage and creative freedom if you can fund the projects you work on as a producer. Also keep in mind, few people succeed as a music producer before the age of 28. The most important quality a music producer has is taste. That takes time to develop , and doesn't necessarily happen faster because you devote 40 hours a week to it.
posted by jodawo at 11:01 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also think you should explore the pharmacy career a bit more. It's not always 7-on, 7-off. A very good friend of mine went to pharmacy school and started out being a nuclear pharmacist for the local hospitals. Being the newbie she had to work some overnight shifts, but when you're young you can do that. She didn't deal with the public...if a hospital needed some radioactive whatever to inject in someone for a test, she would prepare it for them. She eventually got married, moved on, had kids and now works as a relief pharmacist a couple of days a week for Walgreens or some such. While her husband's income gives her flexibility in choosing how much she wants to work, it's definitely not a set schedule.

I absolutely don't want to dissuade you from your passion...I think you should embrace it and work on it as much as possible. I do want to encourage you to really dig around and find out more about the pharmacy career though...it's not all what you see at Wal Mart, Walgreens, etc. It may be more manageable than you think.

I also think you should think about how you define "success" and "happiness". You can work as a pharmacist on your own terms (being a relief pharmacist for a couple of different stores in town, or finding someone in a privately owned pharmacy to work for) and while you may not make as much money as a full time pharmacist, if you make enough to give yourself the opportunity to do what you want then that's a winning solution too. The most common path isn't always the best path....and money isn't quite everything.

Good luck on your search!
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:01 AM on March 15, 2011

Normally I would say, "get a day job" and redefine your concept of success. But your situation is unique - if what you say is right, then you have a good chance of getting a paying job on the ground floor of your dream industry. So I say, go for it. You may decide that it's not for you, or that you don't want to spend the time working your way up, but that's fine. You can always go to pharmacy school later. The whole point of being young is taking these sorts of chances! (Just stay out of credit card debt, etc.)
posted by yarly at 11:16 AM on March 15, 2011

(Oh and also - if transferring to NYU means incurring $100k in student loans ... don't do it!)
posted by yarly at 11:22 AM on March 15, 2011

If you do decide to go for a career in music, be practical and discliplined and make your situation work for you financially. I've known some people who seemed to think that getting into the arts and following their passion meant they could totally live for the present and just be creative and blow any income they got and it would all work out. And now they're pushing forty, are working temp jobs, and have nothing.

So if you follow your passion, don't switch off the left side of your brain. You will still need to eat and have a roof over your head. You may want to own your own home so you can put a sound studio in the basement. You're still going to get too old to work some day, and you may want kids. And you don't want to be working a minimum wage job at 40 or later.

So don't rack up debt. Live as simply as you comfortably can. You may need to develop some kind of skill set or learn a trade in order to be able to pay the bills with fewer hours of work. If you're buying sound equipment, think about it as an investment that has to pay for itself and make sure you get a tax deduction for it. If you do come into some serious money at some point, make sure to spend it wisely because there may not be more where it came from. Plan for retirement and for a family if you want one. You're basically going into business for yourself and you'll need to be business-like and pragmatic.
posted by orange swan at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I went with Option B (do something else to pay the bills) and have never really regretted it, although I think it's a very personal decision and what worked for me might have been soul-crushing for other people. (But ever since my first employer removed my soul this has not been a problem.) I can't necessarily recommend the path that I took for anyone else.

What I can say as general advice, based on what I've seen friends go through, is that you have to set a get-out point. If you're going to make a go out of having your art -- whatever that art might be -- pay for itself, you need to do so keeping in mind that you will probably fail. Sorry, but that's just the numbers, and it's true for almost anything: music, painting, sculpture, photography, acting, [fiction] writing ... most people crash and burn, and chances are you'll probably be one of those people. If that scares you -- and it scared me -- go with Option B. But even if it doesn't; even if you have total confidence in your own awesomeness and ability to take the world by storm and break the critics and have them sniveling at your feet for attention or whatever, you should probably still have a backup plan.

And that plan should probably involve some sort of timeline and/or an idea of how much you're willing to sink into your art before deciding that you can do better by not trying to squeeze a living out of it.

A professor I once had, in response to a spectacularly impertinent question on why they'd gone into teaching (rather than do professionally the art that they were teaching about), told me something that I've always remembered: they wrote a letter to themselves when they graduated school, a sort of consolation letter, with the idea of either opening it when they turned 35 or burning it when they 'made it'. They ended up opening the letter, realized they were spinning their wheels, unhappy, and on-track to retire destitute, and changed direction.

I thought that was an interesting idea, if you want to have a go at your passion; go for it balls-out for some period of time and see if you can get anywhere, but keep in mind the point (be it an age or an income / debt level or something) where you're going to call it off.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:35 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I entered college 10 years ago with the same sort of mindframe that you've had... I enjoyed programming computers well enough, and figured I could live with it as a day job that would pay the bills and give me the financial flexibility to do what I wanted with my free time...

I graduated cum laude with two programming/engineering degrees about 6 years ago, but I don't program anymore. There's a reason that some of the happiest people on the planet are the ones that are doing what they truly love for their job. If you have that much natural ability in music production / audio whatever, as someone on the other side of college I would highly suggest that you follow your passion.
posted by Glendale at 12:36 PM on March 15, 2011

You only spend 90% of your time playing music. Until it reaches 100% or you somehow get invariably lucky to know all the right people, I would stick with a stable job that will give you free time to spend it on music.

Many others have said what I've noticed in the music industry -- very unstable, about luck, insanely hard work, etc. There are so many other industries in which if you even have a bit of talent and work hard, you will be successful. Whereas with music, even if you are really talented and work hard, it's really a spin of the bottle if you are crazy successful, barely getting by and in debt, or worse off, homeless.

I'm lucky enough to have interest in web development to score me a stable job with enough free time to pursue my musical hobbies. I play in a band, and I still can feel like a rockstar when I have those weekend warrior tours or gigs. The thing about the full time job is that, you are comfortable. You get to pay your bills, not worry about having to afford equipment, etc. However, if I have the break to go on a full tour -- I would gladly have a leave of absence or quit my job to pursue that. That is, if a "big break" ever comes I will take it. But I won't have to be miserable and in debt if the stars don't align for me.

Following your passion doesn't mean you HAVE to pursue it as a full time job or making money off it. Passion is what fires up your heart. Passion doesn't have to mean risky. And what it boils down to, is life balance. If you have a regular job, you'll look forward to your free time of music production. It certainly beats waiting tables just to be able to afford your equipment, and getting burned out if it ends up that you can't take 24/7 music production.

Good luck!
posted by xtine at 12:37 PM on March 15, 2011

A pharmacist makes six-figures a year straight out of school. What will you make as a recording engineer?

Have a backup plan to hedge against a life making peanuts.

a) get your pharmacy degree

b) Have a steady income and do whatever sh*t you like on the side.

c) Hope that your passion works out so that you can ditch having to give out drugs.
posted by jchaw at 12:40 PM on March 15, 2011

I come from a family with more pharmacists than one can count, and I'll start off by saying you'd be better off applying chemistry elsewhere. The field has become more commoditized in the past 10 years and will only continue to get worse.

But, passion-as-jobs! I think the big question to ask yourself is "where will I be if I stop liking my job?" If you want to do a lower-paying gig like music and you end up disliking it, you're stuck making little money in a job you dislike. If you, like a certain parent of mine, decide you really hate a higher-paying job like pharmacy, you can tough it out for a while to build up some cash and then jump ship into a new profession without worrying about money.

Personal use case: I'm a programmer who went to school got comp sci. I don't always think it's the best job ever, but the freedom that comes from such a varied field and the security of a well-paying job makes it really really worth it. It might not be for everyone, but if you can put yourself on a path toward a "better" job I highly recommend it as opposed to rolling the dice with a possible passion.
posted by soma lkzx at 12:45 PM on March 15, 2011

My thoughts:

(a) I don't think I'd want to live on a 12-hour-work week for one week and "vacation" for the other week. I don't think it'd be vacation-like. I think you'd spend at least half of the week exhausted and recuperating from the previous week, not to mention catching up on the grotty little chores of life like grocery shopping, going to the DMV, doctor, blah blah. It also limits what you can do on weekends when your friends are off having fun if you're at work every other weekend. In short, I don't think it would be as much of a "whee, time to create!" experience as you think. Hell, if I feel like a blob after 8 hours of regular work and need the extra 4 hours to give me a break before I go back to it, I don't know how anyone could handle that schedule. It doesn't even give you much of a mental break at any point in time from what you are doing, and mental breaks are important!

(b) Unless you really love the idea of being a pharmacist at least MOSTLY as much as you do music, do not go into debt to go to pharmacy school, or any other kind of school. If you decide to go the "day job" route, there are plenty of jobs that will give you "day job" money and security without racking up money. Going to SCHOOL for a particular special job is a hardcore commitment, at least to paying off that school debt whether you end up working as a pharmacist or not. You'd better like doing it, rather than picking it as a practical job compared to your impractical love. You better LIKE dedicating most of your time to it for the next few years and letting music fall by the wayside. Are you okay with that?

(c) With regards to day jobbing: as far as I can tell, the optimal job for the creative person who works at a day job is one where (a) you have a lot of free time to write, like night shift at a hotel or something, or (b) one that clearly runs from 8-5, M-F, isn't one that requires overtime, and you can leave it behind guilt-free at the end of the day to do what you want. I call it the "Harvey Pekar Life Plan." You don't want to pick something that requires Big Time Commitment, unless you also like what you're doing as a day job as much. To pick an example in this thread, I hope The World Famous really likes lawyering as well as being a musician (sounds like it?), rather than picking it for the cash for his sweet studio. If TWF is cool with doing both, then that's awesome. But if he was picking it as a default practical career and hated it, that would probably not be something you also want to do. Because then you're (a) hating what you do all day, AND (b) not having the time to do what you want on the side.

So... if you want to go day job, there's a lot to recommend it on the "yay, I know where my money's coming every week and I can afford to get sick" level. I just think you need to pick the right sort of day job, and I am not clear from reading this as to whether or not you'd love pharmacy school enough to make that your main job in life. If you're picking it because your classes are cool AND for the 7/7 schedule...I'd say to investigate this further before you lay out the money.

Also, can you STAND to do something else with the rest of your life that isn't music all day? Will your heart be okay with that? Are you okay with never making it as a music production person your entire life long because you chose to be practical?

In my experience: the day job thing mostly works great for me (I have the 8-5 variety), but there is a certain amount of frustration that comes from "I wish I was working on X but I have to be here till 5, dammit." On the other hand, I'd probably enjoy creating less if I had to make my living off of it because I couldn't afford supplies and would be stressed like hell. It also probably helps that I don't have one burning passion screaming at me to pick it, and I never could decide on a creative field and way to pursue it as a day job either. You, on the other hand, know what you'd like to do, and what you might do is still more practical than my various fields. So... hey, you could make it. Hell, you might end up doing both over the years, the way that the world is going. Nobody knows anything jobwise any more, do we?
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2011

Do you want a wife and kids? Do you want to be able to support them? Do you want to be able to own a house? Do you want to be able to retire when you are older?

If music is more important to you than those things, than you should pursue it. Just know that you may find yourself at 40 with no money, living on peoples couches when you can't afford rent, and wondering why things didn't go the way you want them to.

I tried to pursue music as a career for a long time. In the end, my relationship with my wife, being able to own a house, and being able to support children led me to work in non music jobs that had a good paycheck and health benefits. I am now able to stay at home with my son and watch him grow up, and work part time during the evenings and weekends. I was only able to do this because I spent many years doing music on the side, and putting the extra money we made into a mortgage. I was also able to build up my home studio, so now I still write music and do production work for people, but instead of it being a full time job, I do it on the side. I do enough to keep myself happy and to help pay the bills, but it never takes time away from my family, which is more important to me in the long run.

So, if you would rather sleep out of a sleeping bag or live with your parents for the next 10 years (which is a possibility), than music may be the choice for you. Just keep in mind that no matter how good you are, and how smart you are, there are thousands of other people just as smart and just as good who will be fighting for the same positions, so any career in the music industry is as much luck as it is talent.
posted by markblasco at 12:59 PM on March 15, 2011

Follow your passion. You can always change course down the road. My sister graduated from Duke Medical School at 45.
posted by mareli at 1:36 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question a while ago that might be of some use.
posted by Acey at 2:48 PM on March 15, 2011

I think it's really tough to find any job that involves human beings without having to deal with some amount of office politics and busy work. Pharmacy is certainly not that job. I have talked to national park fire spotters who seemed to more or less have that aspect of work beat, but on the other hand they spent months without any interaction with any human beings at all.

I don't think you should become a pharmacist unless you think you might enjoy it at least a little bit. If you can't take any joy in a career as a pharmacist, you'll be an unhappy, therefore bad pharmacist, and that will affect your ability to extract money out of it.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 7:09 PM on March 15, 2011

Be bold. Now's the time.

Taking talent for granted, succeeding in professional work in music - in any capacity - requires bloody-minded determination, passion, physical energy, and a certain synchrony with the zeitgeist. These are all vulnerable to aging, and the things that go along with it.

The artists I know who've achieved even moderate success are the ones who committed to their art. I know two who've done brilliantly well - one producer started his own company, has won awards, works with commercial artists; a writer has published two books and regularly contributes to national publications. Others have done well locally, and make a reasonable living in their love-fields.

Other (equally happy) artists relegated their ambitions to avocational pursuits, but have accepted that their craft will be marginal to their lives - it's a weekend pick-me-up, or a way of unwinding after work. Still others who are content have shifted focus to related professions (e.g., music teacher, arts administrator).

The most tortured can't shit or get off the pot - they're always on the verge of a break, but can't tour, when there's finally interest, because they can't get the time off; they don't get promoted in their day jobs because they've got rehearsals, gigs, or hustling to do. That's a kind of hell.

Right now, you've got the juice to at least try. You'll regret it if you don't. Keep your grades up, take a chemistry minor, and in three years - or whatever, maybe decide on that now - you can switch gears if needs be. (It might be worth taking a few electives in business, to help your musical ambitions along.)

In terms of the viability of music production in 2011 - one niche that's surviving is composition/production for film and TV. You could even offer your services, right now, to production houses, through www.mandy.com. Try theatre and (contemporary) dance companies too - they often look for original, unlicensed music.

As for politics, people and purity - the first two are inherently commingled, the last is a chimera. Best to get used to that idea now.
posted by nelljie at 9:13 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also - you become what you do every day.
posted by nelljie at 9:28 PM on March 15, 2011

it seems you've got choices, yes? ones you've consciously identified?

if you may, truly, do such a thing then perhaps passion is not so rooted as stated; that quality of will is so intense that choices are not primarily abstract, future constructions but threads of an unstoppable flow of direction.

but only you know you, it is certainly possible you've expressed yourself in a way that reflects not yourself and your heart but the methodological processes of this part of the internet, and that the passion i've called into doubt exists fully.

luck to you and apologies if i've offended
posted by past at 10:14 PM on March 15, 2011

Life is the time you spend on a bridge slung between the pole that provides your livelihood and the pole that provides your life. You design and raise the pylons yourself and you build the bridge you'll use to travel between the poles. This is not easy, it takes a lot of thought to figure out how each pole is supposed to be built for your purposes and how to facilitate your movement between them.

Some people have managed to build their pylons so close together they appear to be one thing; maybe they were lucky or incredibly smart when they built that way, or maybe they are just trapped. Most people are moving between what they love and their job which might or might not be dreadful; others live a very unbalanced life too close to one side or the other. For some, one pole collapses altogether from too little attention.

If you care enough to talk about your passion in life and a professional career, you need to face up to the effort and the time it is going to take to figure out how to place your pylons and how to make them strong enough to carry the weight of your life. You also need to learn what weight is likely to need supporting -- how much do you actually need coming in to support your desired lifestyle and leave a sufficient amount for involving yourself in your passion. It's very easy to make that income side of the bridge so important that the pylon on the side you're suspending your dream from just gives way and you find yourself spending your life precariously perched on one end of the bridge looking across a chasm at what used to be.

The best favor you can do yourself is to stop trying to nail this down and go talk to people and explore what jobs and passions there are in life in the real world. That's part of what you're in college for and you could spend a lot of time talking to people who do some of these things you're interested in to gather enough information to make better moves now to secure your future. Chemistry does not automatically equal pharmacist. Another secret, most people don't have a clue how they are going to get anywhere until they just happen to run across someone somewhere and a series of unplanned events takes them to the next thing. Look into everything. Learn to keep your eyes open instead of trying to label the future. Life has a way of presenting possibilities we'd never be able to imagine.

You're going to make this trip just once, this life, and you're right to take it seriously and put some real work and time into it because that's the only way you've got a ghost of a chance of having the life you want. Everybody has to build his own. Don't start by thinking it's easy for anybody.
posted by Anitanola at 2:04 AM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dude, really? Six months ago you were an English major who wanted to be an actor.

What happened to that dream?

Whatever your passion, if you're worried about 'starving to death' or 'paying the bills' you're probably not passionate enough to make it work. Following passions is great, but it's no picnic.
posted by j03 at 2:56 AM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: @j03: I feared that someone was going to look into that. My pursuit of acting was a misstep at best. I loved it, but I was doing it concurrently with my music production, not in substitute of it. Even then, though, I guess I was wondering how to balance a creative and unpredictable career pursuit with a more stable one. I'm not sure why I defined myself as an English major there. I had taken a few courses in English that I enjoyed and I suppose I thought I could load up on those particular courses.
posted by Wanderboy at 3:58 AM on March 16, 2011

My mother was a theatre director and used to get people asking for her advice about whether they should try to do theatre professionally.

Mom's advice was always, "If there is ANYTHING else you can imagine yourself doing for work and being happy doing, DO THE OTHER THING. You should only go into the theatre if you are like me and there was nothing else you could see yourself doing."

My aunt the jazz musician said the same thing. My grandmother the violinist said the same thing. My other aunt the cellist and my uncle the trumpeter and my stepmother the flutist all say the same thing.

And to quote the bumper sticker, "Real musicians have day jobs", which has applied to every professional musician and performer I've known. Some were waiters or bartenders, some cleaned houses, some gave instrument or voice lessons to junior high and high school students. But none of them were or currently are able to support themselves by being a performer. The degree of professional success that's necessary to be able to support oneself financially without having a second job is much higher than most people outside of the business realize, I think.
posted by Lexica at 1:45 PM on March 16, 2011

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