As in songwriting, it’s probably best to write about what you know. And what I think I know the most about right now is the difficulty of trying to be an artist and productive musician and also make a living. My method so far has been to juggle two concurrent careers: a full time job as a contractor (which generally pays the bills) and a part time job as a musician (which generally pays for itself).
There are lots of things I like about working carpentry and construction, and about the running of my business. I like working with my hands, building things. I enjoy designing spaces that really fit each individual client of mine, and hopefully improving their day to day lives with the home I build for them. I do have a passion for energy efficiency, and actually enjoy attending to all the tedious little details that bring a green built home up to the next level. I even enjoy the feeling I get when all the bookwork is done and all the expenses are categorized and everything is in its right place. The organization appeals to me. And there is no doubt that one of the primary things I love about owning my own business is having the freedom to schedule gigs when I need to and have a somewhat flexible schedule.
But the downside is that the construction industry in general over the past 3 or 4 years has been challenging, to say the least. It has bankrupted large and small companies, and basically eaten alive many of my contemporaries and contractor friends. It has been a depressing and demoralizing profession to be in, and no matter how hard one might try to stay optimistic and grateful, there are many days when it’s hard to want to keep going. But I have, and my company has stayed afloat, despite being broadsided by a wave now and then that washes across the deck and makes me worry and wonder how we’re ever going to make it.
Much of the reason I’m still in business is that I do everything. Bookkeeping, estimating, invoicing, customer relations, on the job supervising, materials delivery, vendor meetings, subcontractor supervision, and a lot of the actual hands on work, as well. It’s a lot to carry, and often I am overwhelmed with it all. Profits have been so slim lately that there’s no way I can afford to delegate any of that, at least for now.
So why stick with it, you ask? Because other than playing music, it’s the only thing I know how to do. One of my best industry friends says “You’ve got to stay in the game to be in in the game”. There’s truth in that. Closing up shop at this point certainly wouldn’t help anything. And even with the difficulty over the past few years it’s the best living I can make. Even when it is slow enough that it’s just me and a helper doing the work, a day’s pay as a skilled carpenter is pretty good. And I am good at it. It ties in with my creative side in a tangential way, too –making and building and putting things together in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
But then there’s the music. I have been playing and singing as long as I can remember, and unless I’m mistaken it’s my greatest gift and in a large part what I’m supposed to be doing in this lifetime. If the concept of “flow” or the times when a person loses track of time and has a total lack of self consciousness is the indicator of being where you’re supposed to be, then performing music is undoubtedly it. I can express myself in a way that’s impossible in “real life”, and hopefully help other people get in touch with parts of themselves and their higher purpose through that expression. I am completely lost in the song and the notes when it’s going well. Of course a 2 or 3 hour show seems like work sometimes, but it’s all worth it in the end. It feels good, and it feels right.
So I have this double life of sorts. I think if I only had one of these careers to deal with I might have some free time or less of a sense of always needing to tend to one or the other. But I have both, and truthfully I would be screwed without either one right now. Without the construction business I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgage or put food on the table, and without the outlet of the music I would be spiritually bankrupt and one unhappy human. But between the two I find myself working at least 10 hours a day, and usually more like 12. Weekends don’t mean much when you’re self employed, that’s for sure.
Don’t get me wrong, when I’m in a good mindset I am nothing but grateful, and I know I am blessed both to have a business of my own and to be fortunate enough to be a person people will actually pay good money to see and hear perform. But there is nothing wrong with having goals to improve any situation. And the situation right now is I am torn between two worlds. The door hasn’t shown itself yet, but I know it’s there. Trying to get noticed as one in a thousand other aspiring musicians is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard as an artist to know when to take things personally and when to let them roll off your back, too. It’s ebb and flow, give and take. Last week I had both the incredible affirmation of having my fan base pre fund my next CD’s production costs through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and the disappointment of my booking help dropping me because they couldn’t secure enough gigs for me to make it worthwhile. It’a a rough row to hoe.
So I’m going to keep doing the next right thing, and put one foot in front of the other. I will keep working on these songs I am recording next week in any free moment I have, and make them as good as they can possibly be. Who knows, one of them might actually be that door I’ve been looking for. And I will keep swimming upstream into this music world, and see where it can take me. It doesn’t make much sense, but I have a really strong feeling it’s the way I’m supposed to go. I can’t ignore that.
I think that’s enough for blog post #1. I’ll keep you posted, as I am sure more will be revealed.