Is This All You Do?

Have you ever heard that question as you’re setting up for a gig, or in polite conversation with the person who booked you?

It’s often followed by a bit of backtracking:

“Or, you know, I mean, you must have another job too?”

How to be a full-time artistFor those of us who perform full-time, we’ve gotten quite used to this one.

And, of course, it’s an entirely well-meaning bit of conversation, often started by someone who doesn’t know a whole lot of professional entertainers or musicians.

They’re really just trying to be friendly, making a bit of small talk with someone they assume they’ll have little else in common with.

Doing Music Full-time for a livingAnd because what they’re really thinking is “you couldn’t possibly make a living doing this, right?” – but they’ve stopped themselves because it sounds too blunt – what comes out instead is “so, is this all you do?”

Unfortunately (for them), they quickly realize “is this all you do?” sounds an awful lot like “you don’t do anything more important or consequential than this?

Then the backtracking begins.

The Answer is “Yes!”

I take great delight in telling people that “yes,” this is my full-time job, and I support my family of four doing it.

“That’s amazing.”

“You’re very lucky.”

Being a Full-Time artist and making a livingThose are some of the typical responses.

Taking It A Step Further

Working in schools as a visiting artist as much as I do, I get the “is this all you do?” question pretty frequently, but I’ve noticed that my answer seems to take on extra gravity in deep, late winter.

This seems to be the time every year – somewhere around February/March – when overworked, underappreciated teachers start wondering (briefly, for most) what else they could be doing with their lives.

The carefree, “doing what you love for a living” lifestyle starts looking awfully appealing to worn out educators, and they really want to know how it all works.

Make a living doing what you love with musicSo, we talk about the logistics.

The conversation doesn’t usually last long.

Once I start to describe how I buy my own healthcare, have no pension or 401k plans from my employer, spend more time on marketing and administrative stuff – and driving – than I do actually “doing what I love,” the reality starts to set in.

(See the article 7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Became a Full-Time Musician.)

It’s A Dream Come True

It’s just not ALL dreamy…

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my life as an independent performing artist for anything in the world.

Being your own boss in musicI’m my own boss, I design my own shows, make my own hours much of the time, set my own rates, and lots more.

But I also deal with all the computer malfunctions, booking arrangements, insurance, accounting, travel logistics, correspondence, advertising, marketing, PR, taxes, retirement plans, and everything else related to running my own business.

So, Yes, This is All We Do!

But we also do it all, don’t we?

Let me know how you do it in the Comments section below.

For more, see Julie Balzer’s article On Being a Full-Time Artist

And Carolyn Edlund’s How Being a Full-Time Artist Will Change Your Life


About The Blog

The Largest Online Gathering of K-5 Classrooms for Connected Educator MonthSince leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.

Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.

The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.

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13 Responses to Is This All You Do?

  1. Michael du Preez

    I live in South Africa and it’s the same here. You’re introduced to someone and they ask,
    ‘So, what’s your line of business?’
    ‘I play the piano and write books.’
    ‘Oh, that’s very interesting, but what do you actually do for a living?’
    or, during a break at some solo gig at a posh venue. ‘I see they feed you here,’ I usually sigh at that one. But if I’m feeling nasty, I reply, ‘No, as you can see I’m feeding myself.’
    Then there’s the writing bit. ‘I have such a good story and I’m gonna write a book someday. But starting, that’s the thing. How do you do it?’
    ‘One word at a time,’ is usually a good answer.

    Yes, full time music and writing has served me well for over fifty years, but it’s work nevertheless. Keep your articles coming, Dave.

  2. Vicki Richards

    It’s a loaded question. For me it brings more questions and the need to define what the questioner is Really trying to figure out.

    Making a living seems harder than ever. I am thinking I lived in a Golden Age in NYC in the late 1970s when there was much work and always an audience for innovation.

    Once I was no longer a symphony player (which helped pay the rent, that was my Day job), it seemed like I am working hard to explain and legitimatize a profession that was revered back in the Day when Churches and Aristocracy hired and maintained their musicians.

    (Depends on your type of music making)

    If you are raising a family there might be limits to travel time. The musician within is not gone and the skills are transferrable…the organizational part. Maybe teach for 10 years while working on recording projects. My Day Job was raising a family and I wore many hats to pull that off well.

    Tour before and after the kids need you full time. Or on Spring Breaks. But lecture/demos at Universities occurred mostly before beginning a family.

    I say I have 2 children and 5 recordings as my body of work as well as a lifetime of performances with amazing musicians.

    If you are an independent musician and not a household name the next question is typically, “So where do you play?” “What kind of music do you play?”

    After 40 professional years, I’ve just about done most everything in 2 or 3 genres.

    Where?…name a hall or a state or a city or country.

    What Genre? name a stye, a time period, a country.

    I feel a growing gap in understanding between the listeners and performers of music that is purely instrumental

    Sometimes I say, please visit my website, it’s all there. OR check out this book, my story is there. You can listen at…..I don’t have a great paragraph summing up my Bio.

    I no longer have the “elevator speech” I had to have to get the gigs.

    Interesting post! Thank you.

    • Dave Ruch

      Vicki – yes! It should be such an easy question to answer (“where do you play?”), but it never is for me. I’ve always assumed what they’re looking for is “I play every Tuesday at the XYZ club” – something they can latch onto, and perhaps even try to come to at some point. It’s a completely reasonable question, but since I’m so diversified and specialized, I’ve just never figured out a succinct answer to the question.

      • Vicki Richarda

        Maybe you are right- The question is simply where can I go hear you every Friday night?
        There are few, if any, permanent jobs for performing musicians.

        If your hometown location does not have a venue or audience where your music is valued, and only major well-known venues on the national level seem to spark the look of recognition, that’s how I’m saying it today. (It probably sounds egotistical but i’m just trying to expand the limited question. (We are much more than a couple of Carnegie hall performances or the busking on a street near there in the old days.)

        But that answer omits some important aspects of my playing that also shaped my musical evolution: Indian Raga, electronics, chakras : )

        Guess I will have to write the memoir. I’m retired and have the chance to look back and see how it all went down for me.
        Thank you for the discussion.

  3. Gary Lee

    Yup. Sounds familiar. I say I teach and play for a living, but someone will ask what my day job is and I say I do this full time professionally. It’s what I do and I’m kept very busy doing what I do.

  4. Chris Austin Martinez

    Lol. I do get that question often. It always makes me smile. I am a private event singer/guitarist. I perform mostly cover music. I’ve been lucky enough to have been doing (only) this for almost 15 years now. I’ve became so successful that my wife quit her high paying job 6 years ago.

    Yes. We are so lucky.

  5. Marilynn Seits

    Thanks for your blog and encouragement! I’ve been performing, composing, publishing, accompanying, coaching, recording & teaching music for decades now. I began out of college in the 60’s wanting only to be a jazz pianist and quickly found out that the few paying gigs available wouldn’t be enough to earn a living and that you have to be flexible in what you’re willing to do. Today when someone asks what I do, I say that if it involves music I probably do it. And not just jazz which is where my heart is but country, folk, rock n roll, classical, musical theater etc. Flexibility, as you mention frequently in your blog, is the name of the game!

  6. Lacy Miller

    Oh yes . . , the daily question! The only part of your job most people see is indeed the fun / exciting part on stage. So, unless you are a household name, most people assume you are struggling or that daddy is bankrolling your hobby. The truth is is that there are LOTS of opportunities to be a successful working artist, you just have to be willing to to the work part. 🙂

    • Dave Ruch

      So well said, Lacy – I couldn’t agree more. There are tons of ways to do this on our own terms (as opposed to the industry’s terms) for those willing to put in the work.

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