Working a Day Gig
“Working 9 to 5—what a way to make a living!” was the title and opening line to a hit song, a hit record and a not-really-a-hit Broadway show. While “9 to 5” dealt with secretaries in an exploitative corporate setting, many musicians, engineers, producers and other creative sorts are singing the same tune—and none too happily.
NASTY FACT #1: A decent place to live (as well as many indecent ones), especially in places like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, London, etc. may cost upwards of $2000 a month.
NASTY FACT #2: The old (old) guideline of one week’s salary for one month’s rent is a sick joke.
NASTY FACT #3: “Real” jobs at brick-and-mortar studios, theaters, record labels, and live music clubs have fallen victim to a sometimes lethal combination of technology, real estate, and changing times and values.
Everyone is familiar with the stereotypes of the aspiring actor or dancer who waits tables, tends bar, or works a reception desk while waiting for that One Big Break. Neatly categorizing engineer/producer survival jobs into similar pigeonholes is more difficult. However, several vague patterns seem to emerge.
Engineer/producers don’t seem to gravitate towards reception, sales, or restaurant work the way dancers and actors do primarily because engineer/producers are generally less gregarious than dancers or actors. Also, the engineer/producer’s work product is not always dependent on face-to-face contact with others. If s/he chose office work for survival, s/he would gravitate toward the computer department in the back because of the often flexible hours, better pay and, just maybe, the ability to check one’s Facebook page, personal e-mail, or to log onto a current Pro Tools project.
A FIRST STEP—OR A LAST RESORT?
Engineer/producers who work 9 to 5 regular “day gigs” can be divided up, I’ve found, into two fairly distinct categories: those who expect to do a day gig until their engineering and production skills get them into the big time, and those who don’t expect to do a day gig but finally “face the music” and do (at least for a while).
Yes, it’s a shattering of illusions—especially if you’ve paid good money to go to college or an audio school—and then can’t find work outside of being an intern or working on spec.
How long you can actually keep doing a survival day gig while calling yourself an engineer/producer is another story. Can your self-esteem accept doing engineering/producing “on the side”? Are you a computer geek who’s also a music producer or a producer “temporarily” repairing computers? How long is a temporary job? These can be hard, unpleasant questions to ask yourself and finding the answers doesn’t get easier as time goes by.
If you haven’t made a living as an engineer/producer as yet, you still have your day gig and you still have hope. If however, you ARE used to making a living in some area of recording, live sound, production, etc., and then suddenly for one reason or another you’re not, the shock of a 9 to 5 can be traumatic.
Rosanne Soifer is a professional musician and writer in NYC. She can be reached at SRJRSD@aol.com.
Adapted from an article written by Rosanne Soifer in The Music Paper, 1984
Views and opinions of the contributor are not necessarily shared by Focal Press