Career/mid-life-crisis help!
February 10, 2018 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Help me consider options and alternatives for changing careers from something financially-rewarding but not in line with my personal ethics and my desire to live a creative and professional life in music.

I have a consulting-oriented job in in IT (project/engagement manager), parts of which I like very much (working with lots of different kinds of people, problem-solving, expertise and experience in my field) and parts of which I’m beginning to find soul-crushing. The soul-crushing bits are the fact that my employer has begun to evince signs of pure capitalist goals (i.e. profit-driven above all else) to the detriment of my enjoyment of my job.

Examples of this soul-crushing side:

Focus on putting the burden of revenue goals squarely on the shoulders of the rank-and-file (of which I consider myself a member) – this has been born out as commandments that our actual hours billed must match exactly the allocations to our various projects, and placing that responsibility on us when in fact our clients control much of that activity. My employer is aiming for 100% allocation to billable work, which my years of experience in this work tell me is actually not possible, so it feels like an impossible task.

Not providing any tools or guidance to facilitate this new focus – it’s just “our responsibility” to make it happen, and our compensation/bonus is pegged to this new metric. There is also an implied threat that if we don’t make it so, they will consider that a knock against our performance (further implied is that this will be a reason for termination).

I have longed for a career in a music related field for many years, but lack any degree or bonafides in the field. I do have many years of experience of formal and informal study, performance, and some recent experience teaching (private lessons). I primarily live in the traditional music world (Irish and American) but my interests range from music theory to ethnomusicology to performance and teaching. (I’m an aggressive self-learner when it comes to music and related fields.) I feel at a loss as to how to approach changing my life and career to this world at my age (46) without degrees or other formal qualifications. Add to that my current career provides me a very comfortable living – I’m afraid of the consequences of stepping into the void without the financial security my job affords me. Any experiences with taking that leap into a career change that feels more life-affirming but represents a risk to a comfortable existence would be really helpful, as would any other advice specific to the kind of changes I’m thinking of. (I think one problem I have is understanding the career options that might even exist!) Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by gorbichov to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
100% billability in a consulting company is a foolish goal. I've never seen anyone sustain at anything higher than 85%. It rules out all professional development, admin time, etc. Sounds like you've got a toxic manager. From your description above, it seems like you're mostly interested in moving FROM as opposed to moving TO.

I'd recommend finding alternative employment where you can apply your IT / PM / Software skills to the music industry; it may be a way to merge these two things together that gets you out from under toxic management, and gives you the ability to build a network of folks in the area you want to get into.

Degrees don't matter much in this part of your career- what matters is your track record and network. Getting into a music software business, or doing music-adjacent work might be a great way to move forward.

Good luck!
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:28 PM on February 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you have a rewarding, satisfying career and a shitty employer, the obvious solution is not to throw it all in for a career in music, but to change employers.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:36 PM on February 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

If you're a good IT manager, you might be shocked how employable you are in a wide variety of fields. Everybody needs IT, and everybody with a lot of IT needs IT management. I will say that, if you still enjoy IT itself (like, the field of computers and making them talk to each other and to human meat people) even a little, there are lots of situations out there that aren't dysfunctional like it sure sounds yours is!

If you feel like your current position is secure, you're perfectly situated to slow-walk a job search. Look around for firms in your area who have audio production needs. Radio/TV stations? Video game studios? Advertising agencies? Be honest with recruiters and interviewers -- honesty resonates. Tell them you're looking to leverage your senior IT skills in an environment where you can support audio production, which is a perfect lateral from where you currently are.

If you really want to make a clean break from IT then that's a bit more of a moon shot. Good luck out there!
posted by mindsound at 6:17 PM on February 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

As someone who wants to some day finish an art degree, here are my suggestions...

- come up with a spreadsheet and name it "exit plan". Tally all your living expenses, debts, savings goals, etc and find out how you can financially make this transition work for the present and the future

- max out any benefits before jumping ship - glasses, dental, hearing, etc.

- start networking with musicians in your area. Not just musicians, but anything related. Draw a chart with you at the centre and start making a mind map radiating outwards with people you know, need to know or would like to know.

You might also be surprised how needy local arts groups are for technical expertise, whether it's computers, project management or fund raising. It's been my experience that creative folk enjoy the doing or ideation part a lot - boring details, not so much. You can easily lend your technical skills to any organization.

The arts are always a hustle. You may enjoy this part or not - but you can't stay still. There may be a local small business non profit or incubator that can help with free or low cost training.

Good luck!
posted by Calzephyr at 7:05 PM on February 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

With that kind of background, you have many many many options-- you'd be shocked. I second the idea of finding a music-related company and applying for a job there which requires a similar background.

I've changed career focus several times, and each time I've done it by trading something I am really good at for a position which lets me learn what I need to know to make a successful change. It's been fairly easy to do, and particularly with your skill set it should just be a question of finding the right company. You will generally not be able to make as much money in the line as you would in consulting, but again-- scarce skills-- you may well be able to get very close. Good luck! Boss sounds unreasonable, and foolish.
posted by frumiousb at 9:04 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

If a huge salary isn't a requirement, you may find work in the arts non-profit sector to be rewarding/fun. There are LOADS of arts organizations in upstate NY, where it looks like you may be located, and it sounds like you could bring a lot of expertise that they really need.

Good luck!!
posted by nosila at 8:07 AM on February 11, 2018

I have longed for a career in a music related field for many years, but lack any degree or bonafides in the field.

There are a ton of possible jobs in music-related fields where any kind of music-related degree is irrelevant or non-existent. So don't worry about that part.

Look around for firms in your area who have audio production needs.

While "audio production" is definitely getting more and more computerized and increasingly includes some form of networking, it's really a different skillset than IT. (Source: I regularly work events in hotels and conference centers where the IT team is pulling double duty as the A/V (audio/video) techs, and what the client wants is beyond their ability to provide. Also in my earlier career working in a recording studio no small number of our clients were ad agencies, radio & TV stations who needed more complex or better audio production than they could accomplish with their in-house facilities/technicians - and from what I can tell outsourcing A/V production needs to pros is even more common these days, and said pros are usually small 2 or 3 person operations.) I don't know that I'd expect much out of this without at least some kind of work experience/portfolio (although that experience could just be stuff you've done on your own computer at home.)

If you're interested in audio/video production not only are there tons of online resources, but at this point virtually every college has some kind of "music technology" program - a degree is hardly necessary to work in the field, but taking a course or two could get you up to speed quicker.

Nthing the idea of local arts orgs - your local orchestra? dance/ballet companies? theaters? (Although as nosila notes, the money in the non-profit world is usually lower.)

Ideas for music-related industries possibly in need of IT/software employees:

Equipment manufacturers (instruments, professional live sound/recording hardware)

Music software (wide variety of these - teaching software, recording software, third-party add-ons for recording software)

Music magazines (about instruments, about genres, about music in general - which all have a web presence in addition to their dead-tree pubs)

Record labels

Artist management companies

Booking agents (they get artists gigs)

Promoters and/or venues

Instrument/equipment retailers/wholesalers/rental companies

Event production companies (who provide & operate the audio/lighting/video equipment for concerts and other events.)

There are national/international/large regional companies of all of the above, who may be looking to hire full-time IT folks, although you might need to move, and you may be working more in the "back-end" of stuff, and not so much directly related with music anything.

There are also tons of smaller local/regional companies doing the same, who might not be in a position to hire full-time, but who could definitely use some IT/software/computer tech help. You could work as a freelance consultant for these companies, either on an as-needed basis or for a relatively smallish monthly fee. This is the kind of thing you could work on developing in your spare time, so you get the financial security of your day job while building a client base large enough to eventually ditch the day job.

some recent experience teaching (private lessons)

This is another thing you could continue to do in your spare time until you build enough of a client base to try to swing a full-time version of this.

I primarily live in the traditional music world (Irish and American) but my interests range from music theory to ethnomusicology to performance and teaching.

While music theory and ethnomusicology are kinda academic pursuits - as in, I don't know that there are any relevant full-time jobs out there without you having already devoted your life to following an academic path - 1) you could certainly include these kind of specializations in private lessons; specifically teaching theory, or Irish music and its history, etc etc. and 2) my understanding is that community colleges tend to have less stringent requirements for education credentials and relevant degrees than most "4-year" colleges and universities. So you could look into seeing what it would take to get credentialed to teach at your local community college(s) - instrument performance lessons, theory, maybe even start up a course in trad Irish performance and history, especially in the "continuing education/enrichment" side of things. Again, something you could possibly do part-time without losing your financial security.

Final thought: while I talk quite a bit above about finding things you can do part-time but working towards making a leap to a full-time career, keep in mind what DarlingBri says - maybe finding a new employer for your IT/PM work is the way to go, and develop the music-related work as a secondary career. I'm pretty confident in saying there are FAR more people doing that than working in/around music full-time. Because hustling to keep your head above water in any arts-related field can be a really rough go. Believe me, having some kind of job/income security is nothing to sneeze at. If your day job sucked a lot less than it currently does, some of the part-time music work may be enough to scratch your itch without putting your ability to feed and house yourself (and your family? - you don't mention spouse or kids) at risk.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:57 AM on February 11, 2018

Just a followup for those who may be interested - I took several pieces of advice in these answers (analyzing finances in detail to quantify an "exit plan", slow-walking a new job search, doing more networking with local musicians, etc.) and while none of these have resulted a single life-altering change, they have served to give me a lot more perspective. If it wasn't obvious, my question arose from significant panic and desperation about my situation, and the level-headedness of all your responses was truly a great help. Along this little journey, I've also learned I'm significantly underpaid for my position by my current employer - and I have two new opportunities in the works (in my current field, but hey, gotta start somewhere!) that will conceivably represent a 35% increase in my salary for essentially the same work, so, nothing to turn my nose up at. One of these possibilities also has all the right things to say about how to craft a working life that is meaningful, reasonable, and has room to grow, which feels really refreshing. So, thanks MetaFilter! I appreciate your willingness to share sound advice with me, it has really helped a bunch!
posted by gorbichov at 6:28 PM on March 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

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