Drummers (and other musicians), actors, artists, writers and creative people of all types have probably all thought about the idea of the “back-up plan” at one point or another. It is difficult to make money making art of any kind. It’s a winding path with no map and it can be overwhelming.
Often, these creatives give up. When they do that, or when they are considering it, a frequent reason for doing so is money and stability.
Making art is fun, but struggling financially can take all the joy out of it. It’s hard to focus on being creative when you’re concerned about whether or not you’ll have enough money to pay your rent. If you’ve ever experienced the stress of financial concerns, you understand how all-encompassing the worry can be.
And so, there is the often discussed “back-up plan.”
When I was a kid, maybe 12, I was faced with the decision about what high school to go to. It was a good problem to have. I had choices. I had been accepted into three great New York City specialized high schools.
The High School for the Performing Arts, also known as the “Fame” high school, accepted me for drama. The High School of Art and Design accepted me for art. Finally, Stuyvesant High School, long known for its high level of academic rigor, accepted me as well.
My mom asked me, “where do you want to go?”
“Performing Arts,” I said. “I want to be an actor.”
“Do you want to wait tables?” asked my mother.
Ouch. Thanks mom.
So, even at 12, the idea that creative aspirations are not achievable was planted in my head. I had to fight against that. And I did. I practiced drums and I played professionally. But I also went to school. I went to a top college and eventually I got an MBA.
I’m glad I did. Because even though I didn’t really have a true back up plan that would eradicate my dream entirely, I prepared myself to be able to make money in other ways.
That’s what I think is important. My advice is to put yourself in a position to be able to earn money in other ways if you want to. You might not want to ever give up on your artist endeavors. I know I don’t. But because I learned how to make money in other ways–by being entrepreneurial–I never have to stop.
I’ve put myself in a position to be able to play drums for my entire life. If I want to go on the road, I can go on the road. I can run my business without being there. I can go practice for hours during the day if I want.
So, yes, I considered alternate ways to make money.
But not really in a “back-up plan” kind of way.
A back-up plan usually plays out a bit differently. A back-up plan seems to imply that the initial plan will be to “go for it” and pursue the artistic dream vigorously to the exclusion of all else.
But, then, if the artistic dream doesn’t work out sufficiently, the back-up plan will replace the dream at a certain time. There is an artificial deadline.
For example, you might hear someone with a back-up plan saying something like this: “I really want to be a drummer, but if it doesn’t work out by the time I’m thirty, I’m going to go to law school.” To me, that’s a back-up plan. That seems like the usual method. It’s an “either/or” type of plan.
I also think that people with those plans usually wind up being lawyers or whatever the back-up plan fall back idea is.
You know why?
The arts don’t follow a schedule in that way. There is no true career path. You can’t predict when something is going to happen that will take your career up to a level where you can earn good money.
Take for example, the story of Ann Dowd. She is a pretty well-known actress at this point. You’ve seen her in “Handmaiden’s Tale,” “The Americans,” “The Leftovers” and other movies and tv shows.
Ann Dowd toiled for more than 30 years as an actress with very little recognition. But she stuck with it. She never gave up. Did she have to work other jobs that weren’t related to acting? Absolutely.
But did she have a back-up plan? I don’t believe that she did. If she did, I don’t think she would lasted more than 30 years to get to the role that broke everything open for her. Read more about Ann Dowd HERE.
What I’m proposing is that you are smart about this. Don’t box yourself in with a back-up plan that has an artificial deadline. But create other ways to make money. Going to music school as well as business school might seem like controversial advice but I actually think it’s a good idea.
Become an entrepreneurial artist. You’ll have flexibility and money and you’ll be able to pursue your art forever.
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Joel Klein says
By back up plan, what you are really saying is have another vocation that you can fall back on if and while you are pursuing a music career.
I was a Communications major in college. I played drums all through high school and college. When I got out of college I could not get a job so I played drums on the road and locally for a living. I was lucky. In those years I could always find work playing. Today it is a lot harder to do that. The Catskill Mountain resorts are gone. So are the wedding and bar mitzvah gigs. You can’t make a living by playing in a band 4 walling gigs. The recording industry is completely different today as it was 50 years ago. Even CDs are going away to online downloads.
Many musicians had back-up vocations. The best one for a musician is getting a gig teaching music in schools. Doesn’t pay much but at least you are free to play in bands on weekends and rehearse in the evenings and are playing your ax. You can also get a paying day gig outside of music and keep playing in civic bands and orchestras for free. Go to school and learn a trade or a profession you can fall back on.
The moral of the story is find a profession that you really like, other than music. You never know what twists and turns life brings.
Mark Feldman says
Hi Joel –
Thanks for your thoughts.
I agree that it is very difficult to make a living playing and that education is very important. For me, the best solution was to create my own businesses that are related to drumming. That gives me more flexibility to play drums, practice and play gigs when I need to…. To me being entrepreneurial is the ultimate solution.
I also want to make sure I mention that having to do something other than just playing drums for a living does not equate to failure. Lots of artists now have to cobble together a living from different sources and many in the past have had to do the same.