There come’s a time in every music creator’s life where they become frustrated at their day jobs and begin to ask themselves this question.
I encounter it on a regular basis from my students and clients who all want to know the answer.
You may even find yourself wondering it right now.
I should know – this same thing happened to me right before I quit my job in 2015 to pursue a full-time career in music.
I gave all of my best waking hours to my job at the time.
I would be on a computer all day working so when I got home, the last thing I wanted to do was more of it. So instead I’d hang out with friends, or my girlfriend, or watch TV and do something else to blow of steam. And in the process, my musical ambitions were never being realized.
At least not until I asked myself this question. I made a decision that changed the trajectory of my life, and now the question becomes, should you?
THIS IS MY STORY
Like many people, music has had a profound impact on my life.
I remember being really young and listening to classic rock songs with my Dad in his pick-up truck. I’d belt out the lyrics as he’d be driving, and some of his favorite songs became mine in those early memories. I like to think this is where my passion for music began.
Later, in high school, I knew I was destined to work in the music industry. I wasn’t sure in what capacity – but I knew that’s where I was going to end up one way or another.
If you’ve read my other articles like “Should I Go To Audio Engineering School or Learn On My Own?” you know where this story ends up.
Summary: I graduate from Metalworks with a diploma in Audio Production and Engineering. I intern for 40 at SOTA Studios briefly. I work at a few other studios in Toronto. And eventually I go into business on my own, helping music creators sound better through my production, mixing, mastering and educational services.
This highly abbreviated version of my career highlights does skip on a few details that I will share with you here:
1. I barely made any money (if any at all) in music prior to going into business on my own.
That means most of these gigs leading up to that were unpaid internships – and while it was great for learning and gaining experience, it wasn’t ideal for surviving and paying off student debt in a city as expensive as Toronto.
2. In order to cover my ass financially at that time, I got a job and worked night-shifts at a warehouse.
Because it was night-shifts, the schedule allowed for me to work the job and intern at studios.
I was averaging 5 hours a night in sleep at best. I was losing my sanity – and my health was deteriorating.
I decided I needed to make some changes. The studio life wasn’t fulfilling me anymore –and while I wanted to work in the industry, I realized that working as an intern was no longer going to serve me. I quit my last recording studio internship officially in 2014 and continued to work at the warehouse while I looked for a “normal” 9-5 job.
MY 9-5 JOB
In December 2014, I got a job as a Digital Marketing Consultant with almost no experience in that industry. I quit the warehouse and traded it for a smaller salary, but with more stability.
Of course – I made significantly less music during this time. I started to build a new career with new skills and new friends. My passion for music was still there but it was dormant underneath this heap of other priorities and obligations.
I learned a lot about digital marketing and SEO, which are skills I use all the time today. While it felt like a detour at the time, it was very much a necessary part of my journey.
As things progressed at work, I started to get the same feeling I get at every other job I’ve ever worked.
Maybe I’m just different – but I wasn’t a fan of dedicating all of my time to someone else’s priorities and spending little to no time on my own.
As they say,
“Your salary is the bribe they give you to forget your dreams”
To be honest, the salary wasn’t that great either – and I started to consider quitting. Things got interesting from there.
Aware of my frustrations, my employer wanted to renew our contract and bring me on as a full-time employee with a bigger salary.
At the same time, another marketing company had reached out to interview me for a full time position at their office. This company was offering more money than my current gig, and it was a more established company in the field.
But just to make things even crazier – I connected with an entrepreneur who was opening up his own studio in my area and looking to hire an engineer. I came highly recommended to him by a mutual connection.
This studio idea was interesting because we could set it up in a way where I wouldn’t actually work for them. Instead, I would partner with the studio and we would split the revenue evenly. They would provide the studio and equipment, I would provide the service, and together we would get clients in the door.
There was no guarantees with this gig – but it was my invitation back into making a living in the music industry, and I strongly considered it.
WHAT I DID
So there I was – at a crossroads with 3 interesting prospects in front of me.
I thought about the possibilities a lot – and I Googled a lot of crazy search queries hoping to find an article like this one that would help create clarity around what I should do next.
I didn’t find much. Apparently we have to make our own decisions.
One thing I did stumble onto Tim Ferriss’ Fear Setting exercise. I decided to do my own variation of it for my particular scenario.
I basically created a spreadsheet on Excel and created multiple columns.
At the top I listed the 3 potential options I had to explore.
Under each column, I dedicated a row to answer each of the following:
- Compensation (If any)
- Implications of Decision: Choosing This
- Implactions of Decision: Not Choosing This
- Worst Case Scenario
I then filled in each of these rows to the best of my ability. This involved forecasting and anticipating things that may or may not happen – but I had to be safe and consider everything.
In the end, it made very little sense to pursue the studio option. It had no guaranteed financial prospects after all, and I had two other offers on the table that were way more secure.
But, the prospect of not pursuing my passion and living a life wondering what could’ve been haunted me. I imagined what it would be like to regret passing up this opportunity – after all, I’m only this young once and may not have another chance to explore a possibility like this.
That fear of potential regret drove me to quit the job, not take the other offer, and partner up with the studio.
I registered myself as a sole proprietor, and was in business as the head engineer at a brand new studio in Toronto’s west end.
I got lucky. I took a chance that really didn’t make any sense at the time – but I made the best of it and managed to eventually turn that gig into my own business with my own studio. Not overnight – but over time.
If I could do it again – I would. But that doesn’t mean I’d recommend that to everyone. In fact, if I was in your shoes knowing what I know now, this is what I would do….
When it comes to making this decision, it’s important to be very mindful of the implications. A decision like this will affect you the most after all.
If I was unsure of whether I should leave my job to pursue a music career again, I would ask myself the following questions…
Am I currently making the best use of my free time outside of work?
Most people think they need to quit their job – but more often than not, they need to quit video games, watching movies and hanging out with friends unproductively.
There’s nothing wrong with these things – but if you have a passion or a goal that you wish to pursue, you need to make it the highest priority and dedicate time to it. This means sacrifice and choosing what’s important over what’s not.
In his classic book The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker states:
What gets measured, gets managed.
I took this to heart when I read it and immediately started to keep track of how I spent my time with a notebook. Every time I would work on something, or change my tasks or focus, I would write it down with the time and at the end of the day.
After a few days, I reviewed this notebook in full and realized I was wasting a lot of my most precious resource. I had to manage it better – and I have ever since.
We’re all going to be unproductive at times (like me in the picture above) – but you can’t go full time in anything with a less-than-part-time work ethic. Your livelihood will depend on it.
If you aren’t making the best use of your free time yet, focus on doing that while maintaining your day job.
If you’ve already maximized your free time, you must then ask yourself…
Am I saying no to music income offers because it conflicts with my job schedule?
I have a client that recently asked me if he should quit his job to pursue music full-time. He’s a phenomenal talent that not only makes his own music, but offers production and song writing services to other artists in the city.
One of the first questions I asked was this one.
Turns out – he’s been passing up on a lot of music work and starting to resent his job for getting in the way of his true ambition which is to make music full-time.
Most people who consider quitting are early in the process and have very little prospects. They don’t have their own clients, or an offer for potential clients. They just love making music and hope that some miracle will enable them to do it all the time while earning a living.
The truth is, until you have enough demand to justify quitting, you’ll probably struggle to make any money.
The best way to quit your job is to have so much going on musically that it’s almost obvious you need to quit. Until then, you may want to continue to work while focusing your off hours on music.
Do I have enough money saved up to carry myself financially for at least 6 months?
To confirm this, you’ll need to know the total cost of your monthly expenses.
Once you know that, you can divide your total savings by your total monthly expenses.
Let’s say you had $10,000 saved up.
Let’s also say your living expenses are somewhere around $600 because you live with family and are conservative with your money.
Assuming you are smart with your money and spending, that $10,000 in savings should be able to cover at least 16 months worth of expenses.
Chances are – you will find a way to make money during that 16-month period but at least you have a safety net in a worst-case scenario.
If you live on your own, and/or have a family and higher expenses, you need to be mindful of this and adjust accordingly.
If you have enough saved up, you may be in a position to quit depending on your other responses. If you don’t – I would recommend continuing to work at your job until you have that much saved. The more you save and have in the bank for a rainy day, the better.
Do I have any significant debt that requires long-term repayment?
Specifically, I’m referring to large outstanding debts such as credit card consumer debt, lines of credits, school loans, and mortgage payments. These debt-servicing expenses should be factored into your monthly expenses already.
If you’re considering quitting your job, confirm you can make enough income to cover these payments plus your every day living expenses bare minimum.
Debt is often stressful – and larger debt with longer repayment periods such as mortgages need to be considered for worst-case scenarios. You’ll be paying for this for the next 15 to 30 years potentially, and if you don’t, you can lose everything.
Be smart – don’t just hope for the best. Don’t quit your job until your debt is in a very manageable place. If it’s not, stick it out with your job and budget better to reach your goals.
Do I have a skill that I can monetize and use to make an income while still working on music?
In order to make money, you’ll need to be able to offer or sell something to someone, whether its a product or a service.
Is there a skill that you have right now that you can monetize to attract and service clients?
Or can you use this skill to create a useful product you can offer to someone?
If so, is there a way you can offer this now to start to build up a clientele and income stream while continuing to work at your job?
This should be mandatory before quitting a job unless you are in a really comfortable financial situation. Doing so will validate that you can actually work in music full-time, and give you the proof-of-concept you need to quit your day job.
When I quit my full-time marketing job, I had already been working with artists as a producer and engineer part-time after work. I already had a few clients and I knew that as long as I had a place to offer these services and could network with more people, I would be in business.
It’s much more challenging to quit and start completely from scratch. If you don’t have anything to offer, and/or aren’t making any money from it currently – you may want to explore that further before walking away from your job.
Who says you have to quit your job to pursue your dreams in music?
There’s a few ways to keep your job while creating more time for your music career.
1. Create A Work-From-Home Arrangement
In his revolutionary book The 4 Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferriss turns a lot of work conventions on their head while introducing you to his lifestyle design concepts.
One idea that stood out to me in the book involved convincing your employer to let you work from home one or more days per week. His rationale is if you can complete the same amount of work from home and prove yourself, you can eventually convince your employer to let you work from home full-time.
If you get really good and creative with this strategy, you can eventually systemize and outsource your work so you don’t do any of it. This will allow you can spend more time doing what you want (music) and less time working while still making an income. There will be costs associated with outsourcing – but it’s a very interesting idea that you may not have considered. Read the full book for more specifics on this.
2. Move To Part-Time Status
If you have some work coming in, and want to see if you can handle more, see if you can step down from your full-time job into a part-time role. Ideally, this role will allow you to still make enough money to cover your monthly expenses.
You’ll make less money, have less responsibility, and have more free time and mental bandwidth to take on new music work as a result.
This newfound free time should be dedicated to building up your business while building up a savings for when you quit if that is your goal. If you do that successfully, you can put yourself into a much more comfortable position and quit with no fears or regrets.
No one can truly answer this question or make this decision for you.
While I’ve been in your shoes once upon a time, every situation is unique and has a lot of considerations. Hopefully this article has helped clarify how you should be thinking about this decision. I wish you the best of luck.
If you want someone to coach you through this next phase of your career, feel free to Get In Touch so we can discuss how I can help you do that.