How To Do What You Love (Music)
“Do what you love,” they say. Yeah, it’s easy to say that. But how do you actually do what you love more often?
You love making music, but can you actually do it for a living?
How To Balance Your Day Job With Music
If you’re like me, it’s so hard to do something when I’m not interested in it. If it’s boring, it takes so much effort to just get it done.
Paul Graham, a computer programmer, writer, and investor, wrote an essay about doing what you love. And he presents a predicament for those of us who are determined to do what we love for a living.
“If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do,” he writes.
But what happens when you don’t like what you do? You pretend you like it, he says.
“The main reason [adults] acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you’re supposed to,” he writes. “It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.”
So you might think you’re in a career you love, when really you’ve just tricked yourself into thinking that.
And when you have a career you don’t love, it feels like work.
But instead of viewing “work” as not fun or something you have to like or “just your day job,” there’s a better way to view it.
Work is what you give to the world.
“The definition of work was now to make some original contribution to the world, and in the process not to starve,” Graham writes.
So if you’re looking to have a healthy work-music balance, view both your day job and your music career as contributions to the world.
You already appreciate your music-making time, but also try to appreciate your day job too. Find something about it that matches with your life values. Then, keep going, at least until you can quit and go full-time as a musician.
On the other hand, you have to be careful about your passion becoming your paycheck.
Doing what you love doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want all the time. Work is still work, even if you become a full-time musician. Some days, you won’t want to do it.
“[Doing what you love] doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second,” Graham says. “But what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.”
In other words, doing what you love means doing what is most rewarding. Hard work that leads to a positive contribution will make you happiest.
And sometimes that means not going full-time in music, at least not until you can.
Do You Actually Want To Be a Full-Time Musician?
If you want to make music for a living, you have to make sure you would actually like music as a career, not just the idea of music being your career.
Graham uses the example of people who think they want to write a novel because they like reading novels.
“What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist?” he says. “But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it….”
So, you must enjoy the process of making music if you want it to be your career. But also, you need the motivation to do the “boring” parts of being a musician, like emails and metadata and marketing and contracts.
If you truly believe in your contribution to the world (your music), you’ll do the tasks that help get it in front of more people, even if those tasks are mundane.
If you truly want to be a full-time musician, you have to do things that will help you make money, even if you don’t love those parts of it.
“The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it — even if they had to work at another job to make a living,” Graham says.
Would you make music and do the boring parts of being a musician even if no one paid you? Maybe you already are. That’s what it will take to build a successful music career.
You may have to do music while breaking even for a while until your income can replace your day job.
How To Do What You Love
To be clear, doing what you love for a living is difficult. It takes sacrifice.
But if you’re ready to pursue music for real, here are two practical steps to get you started…
The best way to do what you love is to start doing what you love on the side.
Graham suggests you “always produce.”
“For example, if you have a day job you don’t take seriously because you plan to be a novelist, are you producing?” he says.
“Are you writing pages of fiction, however bad? As long as you’re producing, you’ll know you’re not merely using the hazy vision of the grand novel you plan to write one day as an opiate. The view of it will be obstructed by the all too palpably flawed one you’re actually writing.”
So just start doing music. Do a little bit every day, even for 15 minutes.
You’ll never do what you love for a living if you never do the thing you love.
Choose one of the two routes
Graham presents two common routes you can take toward doing what you love: the organic route and the two-job route.
- The organic route: “as you become more eminent, gradually increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don’t.”
- The two-job route: “to work at things you don’t like to get money to work on things you do [like].”
If you know exactly what type of musician you want to be, what path to take to earn money, then take the organic route.
If you know you want to be a musician but you don’t know what type of musician specifically, or how to make money at it, take the two-job route.
“Whichever route you take, expect a struggle,” Graham says. “Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties.”
The key is to know what you want. Where do you want to end up? What type of musician do you want to be?
“…If you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it,” he continues. “If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.”
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Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, Tx. He also runs Musician With A Day Job, a site that helps part-time musicians build a career on the side.
Audio Business, Keeping Track