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New York, New York


A New York harpist trying to figure things out - and the mishaps and adventures that inevitably ensue.

Unexpected Difficulties In A Musical Career

Kathryn Sloat

When you become a working musician, there are certain things you just know are going to be difficult. You know you won't have much money, and if you're a freelancer like me you won't ever be sure where that money is going to come from in the next few months. You're always worried about promoting yourself (and also feeling self-conscious about it), sending out your resume, handing people your card, hoping they'll give you a call and hire you for something. 

What I didn't expect was how lonely it would sometimes be. Performing musicians work weird hours - basically during the times when everyone else has off - evenings and weekends. All of my friends from college have normal, 9-5 jobs as music teachers, so whenever they plan get-togethers, I am usually working. Most of my musician friends in the city also have day jobs, so that isn't much different. I work from home a lot, practicing and writing emails and such, and on days when I don't get out of the house or really talk to anyone, I get a little stir crazy. I don't have a regular job or many regular gigs, so usually when I go to work, I'm seeing an almost completely new group of people every time. 

I'm sure lots of people my age are experiencing this, but I'm at the stage in my life where all of my friends are getting married or moving in together, and I wonder if this isn't something else I'll sacrifice in order to have a performing career. A musician's schedule can be so crazy that sometimes it's hard to do anything but work (my last relationship just ended because of this very reason). I wonder sometimes if a husband and children are just things that I'll never get to have - I'll never have enough money, I'll never have enough time, I'll never find someone who is willing to work with my bizarre schedule. I remember being told in college that if I ever wanted to have a family I should choose a different career, and some days, I think they were right (and other days, I wonder if people say this to all performance majors, or just the female ones?). 

Because my last breakup is so fresh, it's difficult, at this point, to feel much hope about this situation. But I do always take comfort in reading the blogs of two of my favorite musicians. Zoe Keating and Amanda Palmer are both performing artists who write a lot about their difficulties and adventures in balancing their performing careers with having families. Zoe Keating, in particular, has been very open about her family life for several years now. In interviews she has said that she wants her life to become normal for musicians, that we shouldn't feel like we have to give up the chance to get married and have kids if we don't want to. It's fun (sometimes heartbreaking) for me to read what they write about their kids, and how they're dealing with work-life balance. One of my personal favorites was a picture of Amanda Palmer nursing her baby in the bathroom of a bar where she was performing that night. While also getting her hair dyed. 

I'm not sure what the conclusion is here. Don't give up? Oh well, I'll figure things out? Two ideas I'm not really ready to think about yet. I do know, though, that I am really goddamn stubborn - probably way more tenacious than you would expect from someone of my size and volume level. And I really do believe that if you want something badly enough, you can find a way to make it happen. Even if it doesn't happen in quite the way you thought it would.