My industry no longer exists. Neither does my backup industry.
March 25, 2020 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I've been lucky enough to make my living as a performing artist. I figured if I were strapped for cash, I'd go the traditional server/temp route. Now that the performing arts have shut down for the foreseeable future, I need a side hustle or day job or just a job, period. Trouble is, I have almost no experience in other industries. Will you help me brainstorm other skills I can build / ELI5 what a normal job is? Soapflakes within.

First off, I know that this is a good problem to have. It has always been slightly unbelievable to me that I've made a living in an industry that's unstable even in the best of times. I have enough in savings to get me through a few months, I have health insurance, and I don't have student debt. As diluted as the word's become, I'm truly blessed. For at least the next few months, I will be fine.

That said, after those few months my savings will be wiped out. I just took a massive financial hit in the form of canceled contracts, along with every other performer out there. I'm currently, suddenly, unemployed through October.

What I'd like to do during these months is figure out how to apply my skills to more traditional jobs. I have no idea where to begin. 95% of my working life has been as a performer. The other 5% has been doing basic administrative tasks for a family member's business (blessed! nepotism!). Even my college jobs were in my field. I've gotten help from knowledgeable friends with writing a "civilian" resume and a LinkedIn profile. Beyond that, I don't know what to do. I look at listings of jobs and don't understand what they mean or how to qualify for them. I imagine if I were a recent graduate, I could do some kind of internship or entry-level thing, but I'm in my mid-30s.

Here are some things I did as a performer: wrote my own marketing materials. Cold-emailed agents and directors of companies, looking for work. Did immaculate independent preparation, and then collaborated with diverse groups of people to make a final product. Worked under high pressure and inflexible deadlines. Was the "face" of companies for major donors and outreach efforts. Met, and learned to get along with, all kinds of people in many fields.

I'm currently enrolled in a basic copy editing course (words have always been my thing). I'm considering seeing if I'm any good at coding, which could be a golden ticket or a complete disaster or neither. I've landed almost nothing on Upwork (writing), got rejected from a couple of online proofreading sites and Lionsbridge, made like $3 on Rev. Unfortunately, I'm not a good teacher, even though teaching my instrument is the obvious option and one I might try to make work in spite of my lack of aptitude for it.

I would love any advice you have to give, especially if you are or know a performing artist who's transitioned into a second career or maintained a sizable secondary gig. I know this is kind of vague and rambling - so is my mindset right now. This has been insane, and I am not prepared.

(And in light of that, if you're able to be gentle with me, I'd appreciate it so much. I know pursuing a full-time artistic career is usually seen as irresponsible, but in my defense I wasn't expecting literally the entire field to disappear overnight?)

Best wishes, good health, and good luck to all y'all.
posted by fast ein Maedchen to Work & Money (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This isn't so much a "normal job," but there are a bunch of performing-artist types at my standardized patient gig and, after a brief break in services, the administrative team is actually getting it chugging back into motion with new and improved work-from-home telemedicine sessions. If you're near a medical school, that might be worth looking into for some dollars in the near-term future.
posted by teremala at 10:55 AM on March 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not specific to your skills but my sister was an actress and model in NYC who part time worked at Lululemon. That turned into helping to open a Lululemon in NC and managing the entire store which turned into "Retail Education" with a running store's corporate office. She even got to direct/stage/costume a photo shoot for promo materials which went into all of the retail locations (which was immensely helped by her modeling background). I don't have specific advice, but just a story of encouragement.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:56 AM on March 25, 2020

Best answer: Are you at all technical? Could you become reasonably technical in a short amount of time? Tech support is an entry-level position that has a lot of potential pathways out of it if you're competent, without requiring much in terms of credentials or even skills. One of my co-workers at a former job was, in fact, a touring musician for fifteen years before he had to get a "real job" after getting custody of his kids in a divorce. I can't say whether performing helped him at all (although it's customer-facing, and performance experience can be helpful with that), but we trained him and he learned and he's pretty good at it. Look at software support, SaaS specifically. You can then go into training, for which your performance background is a nice asset.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Ok, so first of all, you have some time. And while it is very scary not seeing what is at the end of the road you have paved for yourself, you are not at the end of it yet. While your work has dried up through October for now, and you have not got a plan for July, August or September, you do not know how those months are going to go yet (nobody does).

While I know we will never "go back to normal" after this, we are absolutely going to need entertainment and performance to bring us back together when the time is right. We are going to have to rebuild in many ways, but you have made a living as a performer because you have filled a distinct human need that has had a strong market since the dawn of society, and that need has not gone away, nor will it ever.

While it feels like the world is changing so rapidly and maybe your luck in getting to do what you love has finally run out and now it's time to do a job you don't want "because that's how it's supposed to be", I want you to listen to me now: THAT IS FEAR AND DESPAIR TALKING. It is good to think about the many ways you can earn money to live during this weird time. But please don't just upend your entire career or think you have to become someone else entirely. You are lucky to do what you love, but also the world is lucky to have access to what you do. Your work has immense value and it will continue to, whatever form it takes.

You do not say where in the world you are, but here in Seattle, there are several funds started up for grants for performers who are currently unable to gig. The point is to build a bridge to when we can get back to it. Yes, it may be longer than we all hope. Yes, it may take quite a while to rebuild. But if you're ready to start planning now for how to stretch until we can, all the world will be better for it. If you update us with your location, maybe we can help find you one in your area and you can apply for a grant.

You say that you need a side hustle or job to get you through lean times, and there are lots of those, depending on whether or not you are willing to risk getting exposed to Covid - grocery stores, warehouses, etc, all hiring in droves. I'm not sure if that's true in your area, but it's an option.

You also don't say what kind of performer you are, but I have lots of friends who are performers who have been getting by by doing their performances from their homes for tips on Patreon. It's not bringing them the earnings that they used to get, but it is something. Many of my musician friends are giving virtual lessons. Lots of kids are stuck at home right now and ready to learn new skills. Lots of people are! Could you use your marketing skills to start up a lessons businesses?

Finally, I want to say, as a consumer of performance art, and as a performer myself, who is lucky enough to work in an industry that is "safe" for now - the only thing getting me through this dark time is imagining the day when all the bars, clubs, restaurants and venues open back up. I visualize the epic global party we are going to have. I know it is a long way off. But it is a light in this dark time. You are a light in this dark time. <3
posted by pazazygeek at 11:02 AM on March 25, 2020 [12 favorites]

Another reality check in terms of switching careers: you are doing well for yourself, better than most if you can ride out several months on savings. You are very unlikely to make more in another job - wages are at all time lows and unemployment is high all over. Since you're already successful I'd focus now on figuring out how to better invest and manage the money you do make in your career. Also if you don't do studio work (assuming you're a musician from your post) maybe look into that as it's less travel and sometimes steadier work for more money too.
posted by fshgrl at 11:06 AM on March 25, 2020

I don't have any great suggestions but keep in mind that if the machines take over, your performing artist skills will be harder to replace than anything technical. Try to find something to keep those skills fresh. You're ok for the next several months and you're worried about the months later, but think about a decade from now too.
posted by Borborygmus at 11:16 AM on March 25, 2020

If you're comfortable with cold-calling, you might be able to find work as a Business Development Representative (BDR), especially in the tech industry.
posted by neushoorn at 11:22 AM on March 25, 2020

> wrote my own marketing materials. Cold-emailed agents and directors of companies, looking for work. Did immaculate independent preparation, and then collaborated with diverse groups of people to make a final product. Worked under high pressure and inflexible deadlines. Was the "face" of companies for major donors and outreach efforts. Met, and learned to get along with, all kinds of people in many fields.

All these entrepreneurial/networking/sales and marketing skills are still important. For specific industries surviving right now, I don’t know enough to say... follow business news, and check out r/supplychain and r/sales.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:48 AM on March 25, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your answers, everyone. For future respondents, I’d like to maintain focus on suggesting potential secondary careers and skills. (I plan to keep performing as long as I can, and I anticipate being able to return to it eventually, even if not full-time.) I’m aware of options like Patreon, teaching (which I’d prefer to avoid, as I said) and artist relief funds (which I’m saving for folks who are facing imminent bankruptcy). Thanks!
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 11:49 AM on March 25, 2020

Are you good with/do you like kids? Our PT nanny is an actor and I think it’s part of what makes her awesome at childcare — empathetic, lots of energy, creativity, ability to improvise... In our urban market, it actually pays pretty damn well for what can be an pay-under-the-table, flexible hours gig — more than Amazon warehouse or Uber, I bet. And there are lots of WFH parents going crazy right now that could use the help.
posted by thewrongparty at 11:51 AM on March 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Employers are now doing all their job interviews via video or phone. Presenting well is vital, as in person interviews may not come back even when the social distancing is over. So there is an opportunity for job interview coaching, which builds upon your experience. There's also general speaker coaching. Maybe even the possibility that you can start an agency for coaches so you are not limited by the hours you personally have. Job coach Abby Kohut talked about this on her latest conference call.
posted by Sophont at 12:15 PM on March 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In the short term, are there telemedicine companies in your "area" (where area is solid internet connection and you're willing to work during the hours that they have doctors available)?

All of them need administrators/ tele-receptionists.

In the longer term, it sounds like you have all the skills to absolutely rock being an office manager. We had an absolutely awesome office manager who was a self-employed photographer (she quit recently because of one person creating horrible working conditions) and transferred a lot of logistics/ management skills and brought absolutely solid soft skills.

Daily duties involved coordinating meetings, dealing with logistics of placing orders and receiving them, liaising with third party services and suppliers, took on some social coordination, and was picking up occupational health and safety stuff.

Another area where you might excel is in investor relations or marketing or junior business development for a more robust startup or a medium-sized company.

If you're a "people person," it might be worthwhile to investigate whether there are reputable online HR training and whether those certifications are respected by employers in your area.
posted by porpoise at 12:25 PM on March 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You do have copywriting and marketing experience - that can be solid. Sign up with agencies like Aquent/Vitamin T or Pridestaff - they'll network for you, find jobs that you may be a good fit for. Meanwhile, learn how to be comfortable with the most basic HTML and Markdown. Having those skillsets will open a few more doors for you without you needing to be a full-on coder. (You're looking for temp jobs, a month or two initially, possibly longer later on, but you need a track record. Short term temp roles want people who are already a little familiar with a lot of stuff, or who can learn absurdly fast.)
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 3:00 PM on March 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

It’s probably not sustainable in the U.S. but here in Mexico a lot of retirees who’s savings have been decimated are signing up to teach English online. Apparently there’s a huge market in China (with no Chinese required).

That might help carry you over for a while. And help your improv game I’d guess.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:49 PM on March 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Nanny or home tutor for a two-doctor family with kids that they need to keep out of school would be immensely valuable, could be well paid with overtime, helps the community, and might come with housing.
Entry level roles in need here include ward clerks (paperwork, the office administrator of the hospital), hospital switchboards, wardsmen (moving patients around in beds).
posted by quercus23 at 6:35 PM on March 25, 2020

Best answer: Try to learn some project management skills. The company I work for, always a believer in taking advantage of trainability, promoted a programmer who had basically run a large family and helped put together a couple of community theater productions and turned her into a project manager. You already have people skills, you’ve worked with diverse people to put together products under tight deadlines...these sound like product management to me. You just need to learn the formal methodologies and vocabularies, and there are a million online opportunities to start learning those things. A lot of companies like hiring people they can mold into what they need.

Good luck!
posted by lhauser at 7:22 PM on March 25, 2020

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