“Busy…But Broke!!”
by Rosanne Soifer

   By Guest Contributor   Categories: Career AdviceGeneral

Why does more work not necessarily add up to more money?

This is not a contradiction. Many of us creative types look to take on loads of freelance work—often on top of steady gigs or a day job in another field—without calculating the hidden costs of burning the candle at both ends.  And these hidden costs are not just about health.

Courtesy of thethreesisters

Many of us don’t plan our gigs and schedules in terms of time management—we’re usually too busy being busy. Often the end result is seeing how fast we can tread water, simply so we can brag about it. (Age does not necessarily bring wisdom in this area.)

Engineers and producers also tend to be quite enamored of the fact that they can juggle so many balls in the air at once: maybe some college-level teaching here, a corporate gig there, two weeks at a club, a music festival out of town this summer, a recording project in the fall.

How busy and diverse our talents are! We’re so busy and successful!

Then why does the compensation often not match the amount of work involved?


Many of us too often find ourselves in the  “busy…but broke!” category because we fail to adequately investigate  some crucial areas regarding a potential job.  Some of these areas may include:

  • DOWNTIME. Is downtime built into the cost of the job? For example, say a three –hour gig , no matter what type– is actually stretched into two 90-minute blocks, with a one-hour break in between. However, you are only being paid for the actual “work” time. And unless that hourly rate is high enough to compensate for the unpaid downtime, your three-hour job is actually four hours.
  • TRANSPORTATION.  Unfortunately, not all gigs automatically include cartage ( bringing specific gear and/or instruments) and travel.  Leaving aside the issues of tax deductions and reimbursements ( which are outside the scope of this article),transportation takes time…and time is money.

Courtesy of Honou

  • MEALS. Killing an hour before a gig  (or between gigs) may find you at Starbucks sipping over-priced lattes in flavors unknown to Mother Nature. Afterwards, if it’s late and you’re tired, you may stop for some takeout. Ask yourself if the gigs warrant the extra food expenses.
  • PREP TIME/ MATERIALS AND SUPPLIES. Extensive prep time may involve any or all of the following: researching the best kind of gear needed for a specific client as well as purchasing other materials and supplies,  pre-production meetings with others and creating a production schedule ,  hiring or sub-contracting out parts of the job, visiting a venue to obtain reliable specs, etc. This can wind up being  non-billable—especially after the fact– unless you specifically include it as part of your quote .
  • HOME AND PERSONAL ADMINISTRATION. This lofty euphemism basically describes cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry– more commonly known as housework .  If you become too busy to do routine household tasks , you’re forced to hire ( and often supervise) a person or various services to complete theses tasks. Often they are not cheap.  Do you really have the money? Or do you not have the time?


Ask yourself the following after you’ve been doing all sorts of additional gigs for a measurable amount of time:

  1. Are they leading to more frequent –and hopefully better—work from the same source?
  2. Are they leading to other work from outside referrals and new contacts?

At the beginning of a career, we often take whatever comes our way—to get ahead, to make some bread, to get our name around.  Some gigs never change, but you do.  And part of that change is knowing where to say yes, how to say no…and when to move on.

Rosanne Soifer is a professional musician and published writer in NYC. She can be contacted at SRJRSD@aol.com.

Adapted from an article written for Allegro, July/August 2007

The views and opinions featured in this article are those of the guest contributor


No Comments

Tell us what you think!


The Latest From Routledge