What It Really Means To Be A Working Musician

by Jason on March 8, 2011 · 36 comments

in Business, Thoughts

Takin' what they givin' 'cause I'm workin' for a livin'

As the title of this blog suggests, I pride myself on being a working musician. This year marks my 10th anniversary of making a living through my music and I couldn’t be happier with how my life has turned out. When I quit my day job in 2001 I had no idea what my life would end up looking like, but I knew that whatever the outcome I’d be happier if I at least tried to build my life around my passion for playing music. From where I sit now, I can’t imagine it turning out any other way!

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that most people have no idea what it really means to be a working musician. Even musicians and music industry “experts” seem to have no real grasp on the day-to-day lives of what I like to call the “musical middle-class”.

In the last few days there has been renewed discussion of this topic because of an article NPR wrote about the band Cake, and their dubious distinction of having the lowest-selling #1 record in the 20-year history of calculating record sales (it sold 44,000 copies in one week, FYI, which still seems a staggering number to me!). In reading the responses to this, and writing a few of my own on various blogs, I’ve formulated a few ideas I’d like to share with you about what it really means to be a working musician.

I Have A Job – Just Like You

Artists often like to talk about the time we quit our “day job”. I even did it 2 paragraphs above. It’s a nice way of delineating our pre-artist life from our post-artist life. But in reality it’s a misnomer. I still have a day job. It may not look like yours or the doctor or salesman or barista or truck driver, but it’s a job nonetheless. My job is playing weddings. That’s what I do to make a living. And just like the doctor and salesman and barista and truck driver, I work hard at my job so that I can make money. I do it so that I can use that money to live the kind of lifestyle I want. And like anyone else, much of my time and energy is devoted to this pursuit. In a comment I left on a blog post over at Hypebot I mention that I make 75% of my money on 10% of the days of the year. In reality, that was me stretching the truth a bit to make a point. While it’s true that I average about 35 weddings (and corporate events) a year, which translates to 35 workdays, or 10% of the year, the fact is that I work a least 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, hustling to find, market to and land those gigs. That is my day job.

In that same Hypebot post I linked to above, Suzanne Lainson of Brands Plus Music laid out her ideas about how “most non-famous full-time musicians make a living”. Here’s her list:

  1. Playing in multiple bands so that they gig as much as five times a week.
  2. Playing at weddings and other gigs that come with a guaranteed $1000 – $3000 per gig.
  3. Teaching music, as much as 20 -40 kids a week.
  4. Church music director.
  5. Being in a cover band.
  6. Playing on cruises or in dinner theaters.
  7. Playing in a house band or being the solo piano player at a bar.

While there are certainly other ways musicians make money (composing, arranging, copying, licensing, etc), her list is pretty sound. I’ve done all but # 4 & 6. And while I agree with Suzanne’s facts, I do not agree with her conclusions. She goes on to say that:

The problem with all of the above is that the musicians who do it tend not to get a lot of respect, either from the music reviewers or from other musicians. Being a wedding musician tends not to be something musicians proudly announce. It’s not considered very prestigious. The non-famous musicians I know who are making the most money are viewed rather condescendingly by local music critics and by up-and-coming musicians who think that kind of thing is akin to selling your music soul to make a buck.

But playing original music that the bloggers love tends to be the least lucrative kind of music you can do.

The advantage of having a [non-musical] day job that pays the bills is that you can do the music you love without regard to whether it pays the bills. That can be very creative.

The problem with Suzanne’s conclusions are that they are about respect, prestige and what other musicians and bloggers think of all this. Frankly, I couldn’t care less what anybody thinks of the way I make my living except for me and my family. Granted, I’m a little older than your average wanna-be rockstar, and I’m a jazz musician, but I am wholly unconcerned with what anybody thinks about my chosen day job. Just like the musician Susan refers to who supports their music through a non-musical day job, I’m doing what I can to survive. Unlike those folks, my day job allows me to play music much of the time. And while most musicians with non-musical day jobs are busy complaining about all that entails, I’m building my chops, practicing and playing with musicians I love and respect.

Now, just because I don’t care what people think about my day job, that doesn’t mean I don’t care what people think of me as an artist. Which leads me to my next point…

Art Vs. Commerce

Artists are always talking about this perceived dichotomy. It is a constant source of frustration and anger with many artists I know. I choose to look at it a bit differently. While I do see a distinction (i.e. playing a wedding = commerce, writing music for my quartet = art), I don’t see it as black and white polar opposites. In my world, commerce serves my art, and art serves my commerce.

Weddings may be mostly a source of income for me, but I can say with absolute certainty that I have learned something about music and art at almost every wedding I’ve ever played. That’s because I approach weddings like I would any other gig. I hire the best musicians I can find (usually my working band), I try to play as musically as I can, and I try to have fun. Similarly, I know that when I’m composing a new piece of music, that music has the potential to end up on a CD which I will sell and therefore make me money. It’s all a means to an end, really, and that end is the lifestyle I’ve chosen.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that there are people out there who do art for art’s sake. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those people. The world needs artists who are not concerned with anything but their art. However, I would say that those people make up a tiny fraction of the artists in the world, and those people probably won’t call themselves “working artists”. Just artists.

But remember, even Mozart made money writing and performing music for the royals who hired him. And Michelangelo totally resented the commission he got to paint the Sistine Chapel. But they did it anyway, because they were working artists, and great art was created in the process.

David Hahn over at Musician Wages wrote a great article recently about working as a musician. It’s a good read, especially for the last part, where he spells out one way you can make $50,000 a year:

How to Really Make $50,000 a Year

1. Get a church job (3 services a week @ $100/service) = $15,600
2. Start a teaching studio (12 students @ $50/lesson) = $31,200
3. Play background music once a month (@ $250/gig) = $3,000
4. Play in a band twice a month (@ $50/gig) = $1,200

That’s $51k a year. That’s how it’s really done.

That’s just one reality for you. There are many other scenarios that can add up to 50k a year. The important thing is that it’s based in reality. Which leads me to my next point…

There Was No Golden Age

Many folks who decry the state of the music industry these days point to some mythical “golden age” when they think it was easier for a working musician to make a living. I don’t believe such an age ever existed. All working artists have had to struggle, hustle, be creative, roll with the punches and piece together a living doing multiple jobs. It’s never been any different and it won’t ever be. That’s the plain and simple fact. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Rather, all evidence supports the fact that it is entirely possible.

The good news is that today, we have tools at our disposal that make it exponentially easier to be an independent working artist. Which leads me to my next point…

Technology Is Your Friend

For the history of recorded music and the “music industry” (which is all parts of the music world that don’t relate directly to making music), there have been gatekeepers between the artist and the potential fan. Mostly, the record labels. This is because they controlled the distribution. If you wanted to get your music heard outside of your town, you had to have a label help you get it recorded, released, promoted, played on the radio, placed in record stores, etc. There was almost no way of doing this yourself. That all started to change when Derek Sivers created CD Baby. This was the first major avenue of distribution that was open to every musician, with or without a label. What Derek did was to remove the middle-man. This has led to a total shift in how independent musicians can reach their fans directly.

Since then, literally thousands of other tools, companies, websites, etc. have sprung up to help us indie’s get our music out to the world. Nowadays, we can record, distribute, promote and sell our music without ever leaving the house! It has never been easier to find your potential audience, connect with them, and get your music in their ears. With a little research, hard work and ingenuity, you can be a fully self-contained and self-sustainable music business yourself. But you have to think of yourself as a business, and use both the time-tested best business practices and the new emerging technologies to help you succeed. If you don’t want to do that, that’s cool, but that probably means you’re going to have a tough time being a working musician. Which leads me to my next point…

Working Means…Working!

I once took a trumpet lesson from the great Brian Lynch, and he said something to me that I’ll never forget. He said that practicing is the job, and that if you don’t truly enjoy practicing then you may as well find another job that you do enjoy, because life’s too short. I really took that to heart and it changed the way I feel about practicing. These days, however, I realize that there are other parts of what I do that are “the job”, from blogging to tweeting to hustling gigs, etc. And I’ve found a way to enjoy all these things. That’s the only way I can be happy at what I do.

If you want to be a working musician (or artist or doctor or plumber), you have to work at it! That’s a simple concept that’s not so simple to execute. But like all things that are worthwhile, it takes effort, commitment, drive, enthusiasm and a positive attitude to achieve. As I mentioned above, the internet is a great too to help you achieve your dreams. But it’s also a place where lots of people will tell you its not possible and give you many reasons why. Don’t listen to them. Instead, search out the people who are actually doing it and listen to them! We are out here and we are willing to help.

I’m Always Working 😉

If you’d like to help me continue to be a working musician, I invite you to check out the single from my upcoming CD, Five Leaves Left: A Tribute To Nick Drake. If you like what you hear, you can pre-order the music on a Pay-What-You-Want” basis:

Postscript: While writing this post I came across a number of other great posts on the subject. Here’s a list. They are all good reads:

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob Michael March 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Here here.

It’s all about finding ways to achieve objectives rather than wasting one’s time listing the reasons something seems impossible.

Allen Wentz March 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Very good article. Informative & realistic. I will tell you however, that there was indeed a “golden age”. I, and many friends & associates lived through it. There were LOTS of clubs, bars, dancehalls, etc. that hired live musicians,, and much more studio work. I made a comfortable living just being in rock bands for years. Playing pop/rock/contemporary music. The thought of hiring a DJ would have been thought ludicrous (we have a jukebox for that!)

I do know that things have changed drastically, however, and your article here was very thoughtful, and I hope helpful to many.


Monica Shriver March 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

This is a great blog post. I hope you don’t mind if I post a link to it in my blog. I really like how you keep everything positive. It can be hard being a musician and even frustrating trying to make a living at it, but ultimately it’s an incredible profession to be in. I couldn’t live any other way, personally. Keep up the good work and I can’t wait to listen to your CD when it’s finished! (I was a kickstarter donor.)

Michael Owcharuk March 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm

To quote Tesla: “Call it what you want, it’s all music to me.” At the end of the day it’s about an art-centered life. Wouldn’t trade that for anything. Love the track. Sounds so good.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 8, 2011 at 7:12 pm

@Rob – thanks! Was happy to be in good company with you on Baker’s blog.

@ Allan – I’m sure there were times when gigs were more plentiful and I’ll bet that’ll come around again. It’s the myth of a time when it was easy and musicians didn’t have to hustle to find work that I was referring to. Like anything else, it always has and always will take work.

@Monica – thanks for your support, and by all means please link to this post! I’d be honored.

@Mike – all cleaned up. 😉

Phil Freeman
Twitter: pdfreeman
March 8, 2011 at 7:34 pm
Katy March 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm

A very thoughtful and well-written post, JP. It’s also very hopeful. I think that the “technology is your friend” sensibility is also true for writers. In years past, we too had the middle-man syndrome; the gatekeepers were publishers and editors. Now, we can take matters into our own hands. Utilizing blogs. e-books and various other forms of digital entrepreneurship, we speak directly to our audiences and we control when and how our writing is released into the world.

I think your advice about aligning with people who believe in what you’re doing was spot-on. Working at your passion takes some guts and as much love as we can muster. (And give!)

Congratulations on a great post and also on a successful career. You’re an inspiration to all of us!

David Adler March 8, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Great post. I spoke to a struggling rock musician recently who looked down his nose at playing weddings. It’s baffling to me – playing Donna Summer and Kool & the Gang and stuff like that, and playing it well, is actually one of the biggest challenges there is. It’s probably *better* music than most of what this fellow plays for his “art.” Add the money argument, and his refusal starts to look kind of insane.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm

@Phil – thanks for all your support!

@Katy – you certainly have embraced the technology. Digging the new blog!

@David – yeah, it never ceases to amaze me how closed-minded people can be. First off, why should anyone look down on someone doing a good job and living their dream? And second, if you bitch about not being able to make a living in music but feel your above the more “working class” music jobs, you need to pull your head out…

Matt Erion March 9, 2011 at 5:41 am


Great article. I must admit I’m getting a little tired of seeing all the other blogs about “being a Church music director”. I really think that’s easier said than done. And I think that for most instruments it’s not really an option. I’m sure you could put together a fine brass quintet, but is that really going to give you 2-3 services per week. And for a bass player who can only barely sing, it’d be hard for me to get the gig. I can direct, but they are going to want someone who can sing their hymnal front-to-back. Congratulations on your 10th anniversary! Here’s to many more!

Twitter: teledyn
March 9, 2011 at 9:40 am

mrG stands up and applauds loudly. he pauses briefly, smiles, and applauds loudly once again. “Bravo!” he shouts. Privately he so hopes more than just the Choir was listening to the sermon. Later he says …

but there really is a ‘Golden Age’ of the middle-class musician. It is today. Benny Goodman said they almost never played the same venue two nights in a row, and staying near home was unthinkable. Artie Shaw said it was great that the fans dug The Beguine, but you can only play it so many nights in a row after only sleeping on busses. Johann Sebastian Bach used to sing in the castle grounds for tips and sleep back in the shack outside the wall, the first Toronto Symphony was funded by the musicians themselves, all concerts and rehearsals done on their dinner hour away from the day jobs, and lets not discuss how Beethoven and Liszt (ahem) got their funding.

Today, you can play any genre you like and still stay close to home, see your kids grow up, get to know your neighbours, most ‘ordinary’ musicians (to borrow Faulkner & Becker’s term) can get a C-note gig a month in their own town without much trouble, very few approach the road-weariness of the old Territory Bands, and then with the modern commodity recording gear and the internet, there’s no evil drugged up bloodsucking bastard record company taking you for a ride (other than yourself that is 😉 Hey, you can even do a video on a $99 flip camera and get a million views! I mean, really, what more could any musician ask for, really? This is it.

Twitter: teledyn
March 9, 2011 at 10:02 am

I think a footnote here should tip a hat also to the musicians who opt not to do the weddings parties and bar mitzvahs but instead do something else to pay the bills. This too is honorable and perfectly valid and does not make them any lesser of a musician of its own, they can still be no less ‘professional’.

Charles Ives, for a very famous example, said that he truly felt liberated and began to really produce a new music that was his own unique and fresh style once he freed himself “from the necessity of inflicting my music on other people” — and Ives threw himself into his chosen day-job career with the same serious gusto he applied to his music, so much so that his guides for Insurance Sales are still used to this day!

Andrea Wolper March 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Excellent, Jason! And thought-provoking. Wanted to add a few of my own provoked thoughts —

1. The average person who enjoys listening to a couple hours live music probably has no idea that the musicians’ work doesn’t begin at downbeat and end with packing the gear. What makes those few great hours possible are the unpaid hours of practice, writing, rehearsal, commuting, organizing . . . (no pity party here; just an observation).

2. You and Suzanne are both right! Each of us has to determine how to make our lives work, taking into consideration our personalities, emotional and financial needs, familial responsibilities, and so on. For some people a music “day job” makes the most sense, and for others a non-music day job is the way to go. Either choice can be an honorable one.

3. You’re probably right that the majority of working musicians has always had to cobble a living together from many sources, face financial uncertainty and, yes, roll with the punches. But there’s another factor at play, and that is that the $50 -100 gig of fifty years ago may still pay 50 – 100 real (non-inflation adjusted) dollars. In that sense, then, things probably were a little more “golden,” in that in those days a working musician would have been better able to live well enough just by playing several club gigs a week. That’s no longer true (at least not here in New York!).

Thanks again, Jason. Good stuff!

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 9, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for chiming in, Matt, Andrea and MrG! I appreciate your comments.

And let me state that in NO WAY was I trying to disparage musicians with non-music day jobs. As Andrea points out, we all have to figure out what works for us. I know many incredible musicians with non-music day jobs who play their butts off and are professionals.

I was just trying to point out that if you DO want to be a working musician, there are many ways to make it happen. And the musicians who look down on those of us that work at “day job” type music things (weddings, cover bands, what have you) should really look inside to find the root of their resentment.

Thanks to all for contributing to the discussion!

Vince Brown March 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Thanks Jason!

Thought about writing this article myself and then read yours and realized I didn’t have too!. Hopefully your article will reach the ears of some folks who will take it to heart and realize they CAN devote their lives to music and pay the bills. Who could ask for anything more?

Skiff March 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I’m into my 11th year of making my living being a musician. A bulk of my income comes from teaching, and a little from gigs. I spent most of my 20’s and early 30’s touring with a regionally popular band as well as doing freelance work(recording sessions, social gigs, sideman work) that all contributed to my income in addition to teaching. But music to me has always been about art and pushing my imagination and there came a point where I became very uninspired and unmotivated by the kinds of music that I was playing, primarily because of it’s reverence to idiom, which I grew tired of. I realized that if I was going to focus my musical energy on creating the kind of music that i wanted to make then I was going to have to teach more but I’m not dead set on believing that it has to be that way forever. I don’t look down my nose at that music(it had to be invented too) or the idea of playing weddings or gigs that pay money(still do them on occasion) though because for one, being broke is tough, and two, it was necessary for me to play those gigs to develop my chops and also to allow myself an experience that lead me to what I’m doing now. Informing your music is important and I’ve always found that any music I play in one situation informs the other music that I play, especially when you try to play it at your very best effort.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Well said @Skiffy! It’s great that you’ve identified the kind of music and circumstances under which you want to play. I know that over time, one’s ideas of that can and do change. And I think it takes lots of introspection, wisdom and guts to figure it out and act on it. It sounds like, for you, teaching is your “day job”, your means to the end of playing the kind of music you want to play. We all would love it if we could just play and be taken care of, and hopefully one day we’ll all get there!

Praverb March 10, 2011 at 9:11 pm

I constantly read these articles and I notice that they are intended for “actual musicians.” I am an emcee/poet and I find a lot of this information to be beneficial. Unfortunately the genre that I am immersed in does not create many opportunities to generate income due to the saturation of the game. I do believe that artists that rely on vocal presentation should focus more on the development and the globalization of one’s brand. Thank you for sharing this interesting article with the masses…


Twitter: arodjazz
March 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Prescient observations, as usual. I’d like to challenge you to consider, however, the dynamics in the jazz music industry in particular that have created the mindset that you decry. There was, in fact, somewhat of a “golden age” for the “musical middle-class” with which you identify, particularly for instrumental musicians such as yourself. Speaking as a trombonist, let me say that the economic environment for making music has changed DRAMATICALLY over the past 30 years, and there is a generation of musicians, including some of my former teachers and mentors, who have watched that happen and adapted accordingly (mostly by affiliating themselves with institutions of higher education.) Those who have adapted poorly are left to complain about it, and you have certainly hit the nail on the head in terms of what those complaints sound like.
But I am not convinced that the model that you have established for yourself is a scalable and sustainable solution for those who struggle to make a living through music, as you present it. I made a similar decision to yours in 2007, after graduating as a music major from a liberal arts college, to pursue music as a profession. It didn’t work out for a number of reasons, and I am now pursuing a career in music academia.
If more Seattle-area musicians were running their careers like you do, they would quickly realize that there are only so many wedding gigs to rake it in on. Part of your success lies in having been able to create and exploit a very specific niche market for your services, and that is an incredible testament to your tireless work in promoting yourself, cultivating relationships and providing excellent customer service. These are unique skills that you have nurtured that many musicians have not developed.
It also bears mentioning that, as you say yourself, there are a lot of more musically talented and innovative jazz trumpet players than you in the Seattle area, let alone around the country. Yet you imply that if only they acted more like you, they would have more money. Rather than backhandedly chastise these musicians in these blog posts, why not use your considerable network and success in the wedding band industry to help these gifted musicians actually achieve the goals that you are promising? I know that there are plenty of phenomenal jazz musicians being trained by the Seattle school system, and your insights and talents could potentially add tremendous value to the broader ecosystem of professional jazz musicians if more energy went in that direction — I love what you’ve been doing, for example, with the podcast promoting the Seattle jazz scene. It seems like the jazz community there could really use someone like you to help bring people in who would otherwise be on the margins of jazz interest.
Rather than merely trumpeting (pun intended) your laudable professional success, I encourage you to think carefully about how to mold your very worthwhile perspectives and lessons into something that can concretely serve the jazz community. I agree with your call to being REAL when it comes to talking about playing music professionally today. Now let’s expand that to the reality of what obstacles lie in many musicians’ way in terms of finding the success and balance that you have managed to find during your career over the past 10 years.
And of course, I hope that you keep on keepin’ on with what you have accomplished! You’ve certainly earned the right to be proud of that!

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm

@Alex – Thanks, as always for your thoughtful comments. I know you’ve been through the struggle and are finding your own way to make a living in the music world, even if it’s not playing. Kudos for that.

First, let me state that I never intended to imply that people need to do it my way. I give examples from my own path because, a) it’s the path I know, and b) to show just one way to go about it. I gave David J. Hahn’s example to show one other way to do it. But there are countless ways to make a career in music. That’s my point.

And yes, it’s true that I may have some marketing and promotional skills other musicians haven’t or don’t want to cultivate. That’s why my way won’t work for everyone. However, I don’t believe nor live by models of scarcity. In fact, I believe that there are PLENTY of gigs to go around. I would be thrilled if more Seattle trumpet players jumped into the wedding biz. There’s work for all of us, and I’m constantly looking for folks to farm out the weddings I can’t or don’t take myself.

To that end, and to speak to your point of helping the community, my friend and business partner (and JPQ pianist) Josh Rawlings and I started J&J Music (http://www.jandjmusic.com) in 2006 to do just that. We got so busy with wedding/corporate gigs that we started farming the out to others, and that resulted in the beginning of our business. Since then we have paid out over $200,000 to musicians in Seattle. I’m VERY proud of that fact.

And yes, much more needs to be done to help current and future aspiring jazz musicians. The good news is that, at least in Seattle, it’s happening in spades. Cuong Vu over at UW is not only giving his students an amazing education in music, he is also encouraging and actively helping them create sustainable business models so that they may take charge of their own destinies. There’s a new record label launching this weekend made up largely of Cuong’s students (http://jazznowseattle.com/jazz-now-seattle-table-chairs-records-launch-special/). And Josh and I have been talking about doing regular workshops with younger musicians on all sorts of subjects, from creating a business plan to touring to recording to booking gigs, etc. (much like the Ustream video I made about touring a last year: http://oneworkingmusician.com/the-nuts-bolts-of-touring-free-video-seminar). We are also actively looking for ways to connect with like-minded folks in other cities to help promote this kind of community building.

I’m all for sharing every bit of knowledge I can, and truly believe that what helps one of us helps us all. We’re all out here fighting the good fight, and we’ll always be stronger if we fight together. If you have any other ideas I’m all ears!

And for clarification purposes, I’m not trying to chastise musicians at all, ever. Everyone makes their choices and I certainly don’t want to judge anyone for those choices. I wrote this blog post, and most of this blog, actually, to counter the notion that it’s all gloom-and-doom out here, and that it can’t be done. It can be done. And there are multiple ways to do it.

Ian Tordella
Twitter: iantordella
March 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

great post – I also have been doing music full-time since 2001. I’m going to forward this post to those friends who say: “Oh you play sax? Do you play in a band? That’s awesome! So you just get to hang out all the time and drink beer and play music?!”… yeah…

Nice blog-keep it up! let us know if you are down in so cal (san diego) again to play.

Lawrence BaTTEY March 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Hey Jason, very nice brother. You are ABSOLUTELY right. No barrier to enter to get your music in the hands of fans direct with no middle man and at a low cost. What does that mean? Artists get the creative control and that leads to great music.



Rich March 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Nice blog! I work for a small record label and am always trying to get our artists to embrace the internet and technology, usually to no avail. I did do a blog series outlining what I do on a given week balancing out my day gig working for the label and my playing/music life. Here’s a link to the final blog that has links to the 7 previous posts: http://blog.owlstudios.com/blog/owl-studios-blog/owl-studios-a-day-in-the-life-part-7

I dig your blog and look forward to reading more!


Cameron Mizell
Twitter: cameronmizell
March 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Kudos Jason, great post. As someone that used to work a day job (or several part time jobs) to make ends meet while only playing my original music, I realized that I could spend that 40+ hours a week working with a guitar in my hands playing all kinds of music for about the same money.

The easiest gig ever is playing your own music, but once you start having to play other people’s music, you end up honing your craft and improving all aspects of your musicianship. It takes far more skill and work, and I’d argue that it’s much harder than any of the day jobs I’ve ever had. But it makes you a better musician in the process.

You’re proof of that, as your playing is superb and your own projects are always creative. Keep up the great work!

Todd Dunnigan
Twitter: todddunnigan
March 29, 2011 at 7:55 am

Hey Jason,

I found your blog through some comments you made at Hypebot. It was cool to find out you were in Seattle, I was gigging around Seattle from 2004 – 2010. I read Suzanne Lainson’s list and thought I’ve done every one of those things to keep financially stable over the years. Her comments about respect from other musicians and reviewers are similar to comments I’ve heard all my life. I’ve felt that before, I’ve wanted to be the cool guy who’s known for writing and performing my own amazing music and gets glowing reviews in the Stranger, but I’m not, and I wouldn’t trade lives with 99.9% of the people who are.

And respect? There’s a wedding band leader I know who just paid cash for a new Lexus, I wonder if he worries about the respect he’s getting from the indie band who can barely play their instruments and live in their van. I know there are other gauges of success besides money, and when I was 20 living in the van was kinda fun, but I’m 45 now. I take the Lexus if all you’re asking me to do is show up to your wedding and play Sweet Caroline and Livin on a Prayer.

I always like to mention how important it is to your career, whether you’re working musician or struggling artist, to be on time, be nice to everyone, do the best you can at every gig, be prepared, and in general, be cool, and your phone will ring again and again. We all know really talented people who will never have any sort of music career because they don’t have they’re act together in some non-musical way; they’re late all the time, their gear sounds bad, they drink too much, they’re assholes. Don’t be one of these guys and you’ve just increased your chances of getting a gig 10-fold.


Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm

@Todd – amen! It’s amazing how far being cool will get you, and how many folks aren’t…

Glad you found the blog and thanks for your comment. Are you still in Seattle?

Todd Dunnigan
Twitter: todddunnigan
March 30, 2011 at 8:59 am


Not in Seattle anymore, I had a regular gig at Chopstix in Queen Anne but I’d been there a while, it was time for a change sold we sold the house, bought an RV and hit the road. I’ve been finding tons of great gigs in California, Nevada, and Arizona, not as many in Seattle unfortunately. I want to come back this summer but I’ll probably go to Vegas instead, I’d much rather swim in Green Lake than melt in the desert heat but I haven’t been able to pick up enough gigs there to justify the trip.

Great blog, glad I found it.

Derek Lorimer
Twitter: dereklorimer
June 10, 2011 at 4:19 am


I am really enjoying listening to your interpretation of Nick Drake Five Leaves Left. Your band has captured the melancholy of the work beautifully.

I am a big Chris Botti fan and I just saw him play in Canberra and he was excellent.

Susan Tordella July 1, 2011 at 10:32 am

Jason- you are following your passion, not your drive for prestige, status and fame. Weddings are joyous occasions that are the party of a lifetime. What an honor to have talented musicians to play at them.

My mother had nine children and this bumper sticker:
The best things in life are not things..

Keep following your passion and hustling. Playing music & practicing are the joy — marketing, or hustling as you put it — is the b!tch.

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