As an independent musician, you usually have to wear multiple hats if you are going to have a financially sustainable career. Unfortunately, many emerging classical (and acoustic / fingerstyle) guitarists are unaware of all that is involved in building a professional music career. Simply put, we are trained to play, teach, compose, arrange, et cetera, but we are not taught how to build our music business. One of the hallmarks of a professional musician is developing multiple streams of income. Although having to perform many different tasks or be employed in different types of jobs can be challenging, it can also be exhilarating and invigorating.
The frustrations that many classical guitarists feel having to have multiple jobs in order to have a thriving career are certainly understandable. For example, a private studio instructor doesn’t just teach: they need to market themselves and their studio, find appropriate teaching materials for each of their students, monitor business expenses, liaise with parents, arrange recitals for students, prepare students for festivals, et cetera. It can feel overwhelming to even the most organized individual. It can also be aggravating to perform a number of tasks that are seemingly unrelated to what inspired us to become classical guitarists.
The realities of having to play multiple roles means you need to have excellent time management skills, which means creating structure and that can feel or be uninspiring for many artists. However, if you think of structure as an enabler for your creativity, it becomes an asset to your inspiration and artistry rather than a hindrance. For example, most jazz performers improvise within the structure of a chord progression. Similarly, performers of Baroque or Renaissance music are guided by certain rules when it comes to improvising a passage from a Sarabande or Allemande. In other words, structure isn’t a bad thing when it comes to your music business and, in fact, can be the framework that will allow your creativity to thrive.
Another challenge of having multiple jobs is that you can easily work way too many hours and eventually the quality of your work begins to suffer. Similarly, it is difficult to get a day off from all the jobs at the same time. You may have a day off from teaching but you could be doing various administrative tasks that you don’t have time for during your normal work week. To get away from it all can be really tough.
Although having to do a variety of tasks can be challenging and complex, there are many benefits. Having multiple jobs means you are diversifying your income streams. If you are a talented composer and place your compositions in music libraries for film and commercials, your work may not be what a film production company is looking for. However, if you have another income stream from, let’s say, performing, having that second source of income means you are less dependent on the first. If you have four or five income streams, the dependence on one is less and like most creative businesses, they are cyclical so when one stream is not performing well, usually two or three other income streams are.
Another advantage of having multiple jobs is that you are also acquiring and developing another set of skills, which means your diversity may become an asset to another organization. You might be hired by another company because of that new skillset and what you can bring to the table. Similarly, having a second set of skills may expand your network and, in turn, create new opportunities for you. For example, my reputation as a guitar instructor often led to a number of casual gigs (e.g., performing at family gatherings and anniversary celebrations).
Finally, having to manage working different jobs and cope with different responsibilities means that you are less likely to get bored or find yourself stuck in mindless routine. The change can be revitalizing to your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Feeling refreshed means your creative juices are heightened and you can be far more productive—even if you are a person who feels change is scary.
How to Cope with Wearing Multiple Hats
The strategy for performing multiple tasks is a bit counter intuitive. In fact, the concept is quite simple. The execution? Maybe not so much. The Key? Do one thing at a time. The first example illustrates the multitasks within one job. Consider the cycle of the project you are currently working on. The trick is to focus on the particular stage you are in. For example, when you are creating a music video to support your latest recording, you really shouldn’t be thinking about Promotion when you are shooting. In other words, let your attention should be devoted primarily to the stage you are in. Similarly, when you are in the promotion stage, you should have completed all the tasks in the administrative stage.
Although it seems obvious to focus in on the task before you, it is easy to get drawn into thinking about the other stages. It also goes without saying that we do have to think ahead, especially when planning a new project, but once we dive into the process, we must stay focused on the task before us. If you have ever been a member of multiple chamber ensembles at the same time, when you are rehearsing with one particular group in the morning, you are focused on the music before you. It is only when you are finished rehearsing with the one ensemble in the morning that you allow your attention to switch to what needs to be done to prepare for the afternoon rehearsal with another group.
But what about when you have developed multiple streams of income from several different activities (e.g., performing, teaching, and artist management)? How do we juggle the different roles and the tasks that need to be done for each job? Although the aforementioned time management principle might seem to be even more critical in this situation, it is actually “self-management” that is of the utmost importance. We all have just twenty-four hours in the day; there is really nothing to manage. However, how we use that time is of great consequence.
Theory is much easier than practice so how do we actually manage wearing many hats?
First, accept your limitations. Your resources are limited. Your day has only twenty-four hours and you don’t have an endless supply of money (if you do, can I be your new best friend?). There is only so much you can do so be realistic about it.
Second, understand that you basically have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The important activities lead you to achieving your goals. The urgent activities usually demand your immediate attention but are often distractions from your goals. Learn to distinguish between the two. (If you want to learn more about Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle, read the Chapter titled “First things First” from Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.)
Third, your productivity is dependent on your ability to concentrate. Extremely efficient individuals are able to place their entire focus on the task before them. It is so easy to let your mind wander (it can be a form of procrastination) but staying focused results in getting more done and a higher quality of work.
Fourth, avoid distractions. In a career where many of us work from home, the distractions are endless. Turn your email off if you are working on a project on your computer. Turn your phone off while you are practicing. There will always be distractions that will cause your mind to wander. When it does happen—and it will—don’t judge or berate yourself, simply nudge your mind back to the task at hand.
Fifth, work in blocks of time. I like to practice in one hour and twenty minute blocks. But even then, I break those down into four twenty minute sessions. If I have set aside twenty minutes to practice technique, when the timer goes off, I switch to another task. The point is to group your tasks into blocks of time so that it is easy to switch tasks while maintaining your concentration.
Sixth, take breaks. You can’t schedule twelve hours of activities and expect to be at the top of your game in the eleventh hour. Remember, you need to effective, not just efficient.
Finally, we are all human; none of us are perfect. We are all going to slip up and fall short of the mark. I also guarantee that all of us will even fail miserably from time to time. Don’t judge or punish yourself. Get back up, dust yourself off, and be better the next time. You are not comparing yourself to others, you are comparing yourself to who you were yesterday. Each of us are our own mountain. Only use the achievement of others as inspiration.
The beauty of life is in planning for your future but living in the moment.
Be safe. Stay healthy. Be real.