Any artist knows that moment… it comes up so often… at parties, family gatherings.. basically anytime that small talk goes beyond your name and the weather.
“So… what do you do?”
“I’m an *insert name of art you practise here*.”
*Confused look* “You can make money at that?”
Here’s the thing, my well-meaning friend… the answer I want to give is …
“Yes, I easily fulfil all the financial needs in my life, making money is simple in the arts, in fact I am killing it financial-styles.” *drops mic*
… But the truth is often much more complicated than what you want to talk about at your partner’s 5 year old cousin’s birthday party.
I recently wrote about how THE ‘AVERAGE’ ARTIST DOESN’T MAKE THEIR MONEY SOLELY FROM THEIR ART. Which is true, but begs the question: How do artists make a living?
So… to answer this question I reached out to a few friends and asked them for a list of all the side jobs that they’ve had throughout their careers. Basically, anything they had used (or still use) to help them make a living. About 20 of them got back to me.
So now I have an answer! Apparently, this is how an artist makes a living:
Take a ton of income streams and mash ’em all together!
Here are a few overview stats (of 20 people):
– Over 65 different jobs (with a ton of repeats)
– Average number of jobs supplied per person: 9
– In total over 200 jobs listed (including repeats)
Look, I know there’s nothing definitive about my poll. It’s a small group of largely classical singers. But even from that pool we get some really cool information.
First, a few disclaimers. Like I said, I asked these 2o folks to include any job that wasn’t their ‘chosen’ artistic focus. So my list ended up including a bunch of arts-related jobs, many of them jobs that other people may be trying to do full-time! One thing I thought was really cool is that a few people mentioned how not getting the jobs they wanted actually led to them to a part of the arts industry they turned out to like more.
What’s neat about seeing all the different jobs listed, is that even though there are a lot that I expected, there were some that I never would have thought of in a million years.
Since money can still be a taboo conversation, we don’t talk about how we make ends meet… which keeps us from sharing with each other the creative ways we have all found to pay the bills.
Some people looked for more stable, secure jobs.. some people were going for anything that would give them the flexibility to go on that next audition.
But no matter what you might need in your specific situation, you’re sure to find a few ideas you hadn’t thought of yet in the bevy of jobs your fellow artists have held:
The ‘Artsy’ Side
As you can see, in my sample there are a ton of different jobs that these artists are using to scratch that ‘artistic itch’. My favourite hands down is the working on a travelling arts bus… which sounds awesome.
If you have a travelling arts bus, and need help, please call me.
There’s a ton of teaching, and music directing, as well as a lot of jobs across all levels of arts organizations.
But things really got interesting when people started to list all of their non-arts-related jobs… and there were a lot of them.
The less ‘artsy’ side:
Wow. Artists have some pretty cool jobs. Traveling arts buses! Online businesses! They’ve taken their storytelling skills to the espresso counter and to the boardroom! They’re rocking it arts style in hospitals and The Gap! They’re designing websites, fixing computers, and …
Selling knit thongs online…
Basically, I think the best thing I can do to sum up the variety of ways artists make a living is by showing it to you on this simple scale.
This is why it’s so tough to pin down the ‘average’ artist. Because we’re freaking everywhere.
Which I think is so cool.
Why does it matter?
Okay, so it’s interesting to see what people do… but why does it matter? We all do what it takes to get by, and there’s nothing particularly glorious about working 6 jobs just so you can afford a voice lesson.
Fair point, but this is the real life of a lot of artists, and too often it gets whitewashed.
It’s a real thing. We have other jobs and, frankly, I think it’s awesome. I love to see what other interests artists have, and what they spend their time doing. And if you think that it’s not a part of what makes you an interesting artist… you’re dead wrong.
Maybe it would be a better world if we could just sit in the studio and be ‘creative’ all day. But in my case, the more that I’ve embraced the ‘non-arts’ parts of my life, the more enriched and creative I’ve found the arts part of my life to be.
Every hour I spend reading about bonds and stocks, or the weeks I spend working on my dad’s farm… they fill me with creative juices I can’t wait to bring to the rehearsal room. And… to be completely honest… they also keep me from getting totally burnt out on opera.
Maybe that’s just me, but whether you like your side jobs or not, a life in the arts is probably going to involve a few different income streams.
It’s something we need to tell the generation of young artists coming out of school… because right now they’re popping out of universities, having to find a job (or four) and are thinking that they’ve failed.
You haven’t failed. You’ve joined a proud tradition.
So all you artists out there… it’s time to speak up.
Take a second to post in the comments, keep it anonymous if you want, but let’s expand this informal poll. Give people a resource to look at when they’re trying to think of job ideas, and more than that… show the amazing amount of things that artists are up to!
How do you make a living?? What jobs (side or otherwise) have you had over the years?
Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?
Financial Planner/Opera Singer
Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.
And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.
And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.
If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.
I wish I read this when I was in university. I have so many “jobs” just to keep this journey going.
Non-Singing Jobs I’ve Done:
– Summer Camp Counsellor
– Pet Sitting
– House Sitting
– Massage Therapy
– Admin Assistant
– Musical Directing
– Voice Coach
– Standardized Patient (making 1st-year medical students cry or feel really uncomfortable)
– Liquor Store Clerk
I guess I knew this was the ‘norm’ but I want to get better at managing it and getting more efficient at it, so I don’t feel like I’m wasting time. I have lessons, coachings, rehearsals, and auditions I’d like to be at.
This site such a great resource. THANK YOU!!!!!
Thanks Mark both for the comment and for the list of more jobs. I love hearing all the ways that people bring in the bucks… it’s something that students always ask about.
So glad you found the site and that it’s helpful for you!
Outstanding article, Chris. My art is writing and speaking about topics related to communication and public speaking (it’s a bit meta, I know…). Within my business, I have several income streams – there’s my paid speaking and writing (the art), but individual coaching, group training/classes, and presentation consulting form critical parts of my income. All these make me a better speaker/writer and deepen my understanding of my craft, which I can then turn around and teach to others. It’s a virtuous circle.
But in addition to my business income streams, I also work a more traditional 9-5 type job as a communications strategist. Having this job has freed up emotional, financial, and mental bandwidth for me to do better, higher quality work in my business, so that I don’t need to chase after poorly paid gigs or sweat buckets over every call with a prospective client. I can be choosier with the speaking work that I do take, which allows me to craft a higher quality body of work.
And as an added bonus, for many years I was also a belly dancer, doing gigs in Greek and Lebanese restaurants around my home city.
That is an epic list of things. You’re exactly the kind of artist that I wish more young artists knew about! So cool.
And you’re so right about the ability for some 9-5 jobs to free you up to take the creative work that really excites you (and the stuff that you know that you’ll really kill).
Thanks so much for sharing a bit about how you make a living
Great post, Chris! I like that you are creating a space for openness, non-judgement, and honesty – sadly something that is lacking in the opera world at times, since a lot emphasis is placed crafting an image (or “branding”).
To afford auditions and coaching in the early years post-schooling, I worked in retail at a chocolate store (not great for the waistline. Lol), did a lot of catering (sometimes even at the COC, which, at the time, was a real hit to the ego, but in the long term was a healthy and humbling experience), and pretty much any pick-up choral gig I could get my hands on.
Almost a decade out of school, I’m now lucky enough to enjoy a fruitful and diverse career (which, I have realized, makes me happiest) as a private voice/theory teacher at my in-home studio, as well as for a choir school, a soprano section lead at a church, a freelance opera singer for various companies, an adjudicator for music festivals, and soon to be an RCM examiner. This has also given me the freedom and flexibility to cultivate other non-music passions, such as anything relating to the outdoors/environment and humanitarian aid, and to co-convene a music camp for under-privileged (or, more accurately, poverty-stricken) children. My career has definitely taken many surprising, unexpected turns, but I wouldn’t change it one little bit!
Thanks Allison! Your story is exactly the kind of story that needs to be circulated more in the arts. There are so many ways to build a life based around this thing that you like to do…
Thanks for sharing!
Great article! I can totally relate. I am a soprano and have 15 years of training and experience behind me. I have had a number of the jobs you listed. For my “artsy” job I teach voice lessons and piano. As you say it is often not enough to just have one job.
Three years ago I started to be concerned with what I was putting on my body…. I started researching how to make face cream. One thing led to another and I now have my own company called Cara’s All Natural Products http://www.carasallnaturalproducts.com I make everything by hand and have a base line and a luxury line. I sell my products online, do house parties and trade shows. This year I did the Toronto Spring One of a Kind show, and I also sell my products to a Spa in Montreal called SCC Spa Urbain. September my products were featured in Best Health magazine. Measha Bruegergosman was interviewed and she mentioned that she uses my products . She is one of my newest clients. I met her when I went to see my husband sing in Montreal in porgy and Bess and she was playing Bess. He gave the cast a my lip balms as little closing night gifts and from there Measha approached me about trying other products in my line. It is kinda funny how things happen .
Totally Cara. Life sometimes takes us in directions we could have never planned for… but that can be such an incredible thing.
So happy for all of your success!
Great Article! I’m an artist myself and spend time making drawings/paintings but have not earn a dime for them. In fact, I would earn my living just taking regular jobs. For example, retail cashier, babysitter, and inventory associate.
That’s great Desiree. Thanks for coming by!