Five years ago I graduated from NYU with my Bachelor’s and 1 year ago I graduated from Peabody with my Master’s.
As a 25 year old musician in NYC, I am fully aware that I do not know everything, haven’t mastered the freelance scene (does anyone ever?) and still have many things to learn – but – I do feel unbelievably fortunate and thankful that I have carved out a career playing and teaching.
It’s also a big bonus that my time is mostly spent on engaging musical projects that I am very happy to be a part of. I see so many people graduating and with the semester ending I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on where I am in my career – so here are some things I’ve learned and loved about my time since graduating so far.
In the past year after I finished at Peabody – I started subbing on Broadway – I made my album and started recording album 2 – I premiered over 20 new pieces as a soloist and with ensembles – I played principal on Beethoven 7 at Carnegie Hall – I played an offstage solo at Carnegie Hall – I presented a recital and led a warmup class at the IWBC – I joined a great group of people for an orchestra tour to Japan – I played a short run of a new opera at BAM with A Far Cry – I played a recital at the Mississippi University for Women’s Music by Women Festival
In this past year I also had many not so great moments. I played some rough gigs, missed a handful of notes ha ha, and had some serious – what am I doing here – life crises. Of course now I know that these things are normal – and will happen many more times throughout my career. But when I’m in the midst of questioning what I’m focusing on and spending my time doing it can be so frustrating and stressful! The good news is that I am happy to have a great system of support, encouragement and general life advice from my career coach Karen Cubides, my friends and colleagues, and my family.
Since I know I’m not the only one who may have many more frustrating experiences down the line, I thought these questions and ideas might be helpful to think back to every so often. Perhaps they will spike some curiosity in you, set you on the right path, or help you move towards what truly makes you happy.
1. The idea of Artist/Entrepreneur vs Craftsman/Freelancer
Personally, this was never something I thought about while in school yet I think about it very often now. These two identities don’t necessarily have to be completely black and white or separated so that you are either one or the other but not both – yet it is an interesting thing to think about. Most of what being a working musician is a lot like a craftsman – filling orders as requested… example Beethoven 9 – coming right up! And a lot less like “let me create a whole new version of Beethoven 9 unlike anything you have ever seen before”. Of course with new music there is a lot of creating from nothing as the starting point so it’s not a completely solid metaphor but just go with me. There isn’t a lot of creativity in this position – you are simply hired to deliver what has been asked and not necessarily build anything or make any personal decisions in how the product is being made. To me, being a soloist and actively creating new content is a lot more like being an artist and entrepreneur. I have the power to choose what music I commission, write, or program – and I can put it out into the world regardless of if someone is paying for it. Of course being an entrepreneur has its own issues – the financial one being the most important.
So in relation to my time out of school – I think about this concept because I know my position on it has changed and will continue to change. I never used to want to be a soloist. I wanted to do a million freelance gigs – show up, shut up, play, and have someone else run the show. But as that went along, I became more creative and developed some ideas for my own projects – so I continued to move in that direction. These choices aren’t final but thinking about it in this way helps me really make sure that this is what I want and helps me acknowledge and recognize the drawbacks of each position.
2. Without a Plan You’ll End up Somewhere You Don’t Want to Be
I’m not sure where exactly I first heard this but it is such an important point. When I finished my undergrad, I didn’t really have a plan for navigating the freelance scene in NYC and eventually ended up doing some things that truly didn’t make me happy. I decided to return to school and approached my time at Peabody with a much more organized and forward thinking mindset – so that when I graduated – I was on the path to making my album and already had goals in mind and plans drafted for how to get there. I’ve found this is even more important out of school. Usually sitting by the phone or waiting for an email with a gig offer doesn’t result in great success. I’ve learned to develop ideas and work towards putting my own shows together, networking with other musicians, sending a million emails, and many more things. The other thing about “making plans” that I think is often less discussed when related to our careers is the health side of things. Prior to working with Karen Cubides, I honestly hadn’t paid too much attention to how I spend my time outside the playing world – and that making plans and goals in my personal life (in everything from socializing, to fitness, to productivity) can only combine to put me on a better path to being a happy and successful musician.
3. Is this aligned with my goals and what I want to be doing?
This next question is probably the one that I think about most – yet I do realize that it is coming from a place of privilege. I know that we are not always in a place in our lives where we can decide whether or not to take a gig based on if it is the kind of thing we want to be doing, or the kind of teaching that makes us happy, or a social gathering that would be a good experience. Yet – regardless of money, age, or career position – this is a very important concept that will always be revisited and revised. We know now from my previous point that making a plan is super important and revising it in conjunction with our goals is the way to go. The idea of continuously evaluating what I do and making sure it is aligned with my goals is still a bit of a new concept for me but it honestly makes my quality of life so much better. Life is so short and ideally, it is more enjoyable when spent on certain activities that I enjoy rather than things I dread. Obviously, I am not blessed to be completely surrounded by amazing gigs and teaching opportunities all of the time. There are certainly times when I’m in a frustrating experience or sitting at home and wishing I was working – yet when creating my career, I still believe this is perhaps the most important point to continuously consider.
I hope these things inspire you to sit down, answer some questions, and do some sketching on your own and/or with your students! Again, I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers – neither does anyone else! – because we are all works in progress, always striving to improve and do better. Similarly, I hope we are at the point where it is obvious that our physical and mental health can drastically impact our career – so maybe that is old news to you – but if not, try making some changes and you will be surprised how much better and easier everything becomes. I may revisit these topics again in another post format – because I truly believe that all of these things combine into making a fully well rounded and fulfilling career. As always, I would love to know what you think – so please feel free to reach out via email, comment, or find me on social media so we can start a conversation!