by Sammy Johnson
Each year, the world receives a brand new class of highly skilled and trained musicians. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world said, “Hey, music college graduates! Let me hand you 27 different musical job opportunities and let you choose!”? Yes. That would be lovely. Reality usually hits sometime during the middle of your senior year of college and you realize, “I haven’t won any auditions, and I have no idea how I am going to make money.” Well, there is always the fast food option, but there are plenty of other mentally challenging jobs that musicians tend to overlook because they simply aren’t musical jobs. Musicians think a non-musical job is a step down or somewhat less. However, musicians can learn quite a bit from being employees in these types of positions. I had a wonderful opportunity to work at a biopharmaceutical company for two years in their Operational Excellence department prior to beginning my doctorate at Indiana University. Here is a sample of some of the skills I was able to develop and how they have helped me as a musician and benefited The Novacane Quartet.
Basic Computer Skills and Technology
If you happen to land an office or administrative job, you can bet you will be using a computer! What better way than to practice your Microsoft Office skills? Microsoft Excel is often shoved to the side, but it truly is one of the most powerful tools you can use to track action items, analyze data, and organize workloads. I was exposed to a great Microsoft platform called SharePoint, as well, that has sparked several ideas for improving Novacane’s current Google Drive setup including the addition of an Excel Action Item List to keep track of our tasks and hold ourselves accountable for completing our tasks in a timely manner. I added a reminder add-on for Google Sheets that will send us reminders when an action item is either due soon or overdue. SharePoint also offers powerful workflow capabilities for approving documents or items, so Novacane have started an approval workflow through Google Doc add-ons that allow us to review and approve each other’s blog posts prior to posting (you can bet this blog post went through this process!).
Business processes, manufacturing process, musical processes. All processes must be created, documented, trained on, and improved. I learned quickly how to think logically, recognize gaps, and offer quick suggestions. The great thing about being a musician is we are detailed oriented. We notice gaps quicker than most people and we are problem solvers. Being able to change your thinking about processes helps with such musical processes as learning a new piece of music, memorization, practicing, and pedagogy. I have been able to help Novacane with several of our administrative processes from the experience I have gained over the last two years as well as review my own practice, memorization, and teaching processes.
Financial security can play a huge part in one’s stress level. Musicians already operate under mass amounts of stress between auditions and competitions, so why should financial issues be one of them? Even though I worked 40 hours a week, I still had time to rehearse, travel, and perform with Novacane because I MADE it possible. I planned out my practice schedule accordingly and the group worked to plan many of our events on weekends. I was also lucky enough to have a great management team that understood I was a professional musician, so they were flexible with my schedule as long as I completed all assigned work.
Efficient Practice Habits
Although I was still able to gig with Novacane and work 40 hours a week, this meant my practice time was dramatically reduced. I learned how to make practice time efficient and meaningful. A few of my tactics include:
Changing our attitudes toward non-musician jobs can open up a plethora of opportunities to grow not only as people but as musicians. A non-musician job can only ruin a musical career if you let it. I would highly recommend to any musician to consider all types of employment if the opportunity is set in front of you because there will always be time for music if you take the initiative to make it happen.