You’ll never have it all figured out (and that’s okay)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my time in the music industry, it’s that I’ll never have it all figured out.
When I first started writing about music, I didn’t really care about getting paid. I cared about making connections in the music industry and building a portfolio. I had a lot to say and I wanted to say it, so I started a music blog. Then, for the entirety of my junior year of college, I wrote a weekly column for the school paper spotlighting different local musicians. At the end of the semester, I got a (small) check- enough to have some fun over the holidays- and I was sure I was on track to becoming a successful journalist.
Suddenly, graduation was looming and I didn’t have any full-time job prospects in the music industry. If I couldn’t get a full-time job after graduation, would I have any place in the industry at all? I ended up going on tour for six months almost immediately, which was hard work but a dream come true. When I got home I didn’t have any plans and felt pressured to seek stability, so I took an office job outside of the music industry.
I hated that job from day one, and broke down crying on the way home from my first day. I felt stifled and like I didn’t belong; my coworkers didn’t care about my passion for music and with the expectation of regular overtime and corporate event work, I had no time or energy to pursue the things I actually wanted to do.
I sunk into depression, and after just two months at the job I took a leave of absence to get proper help. I didn’t want to ever go back to that job so I started applying for positions in the music industry. No one was responding to my applications, until the day before my very last day of treatment. I had a phone interview for a part-time beat writer position for a major website. The interviewer offered me the gig at the end of our phone call, and when we hung up I emailed my boss to tell him I quit.
When I got that opportunity, I felt like someone was looking down on me. Someone was going to pay me to write about and photograph music, and it was for an outlet where I had a chance at landing some pretty major coverage! The gig wasn’t full time so I worked other jobs- tutoring, babysitting, dog walking and pet sitting- to fill in the gaps, but I didn’t mind, because doing these things allowed me to do the one thing I actually cared about.
Over the next year and a half I got to do some incredible things, like cover big festivals and interview plenty of rising stars. I photographed one of the biggest popstars in the world at a stadium full of tens of thousands of people; the two other photographers there that night were men twice my age, and as a 23-year-old woman I felt on top of the world, and completely unstoppable. If I could do this, I could do anything.
Of course, life still threw things at me. I got in a car accident- I wasn’t hurt, but my car would need expensive repairs- and then my phone broke. I emailed my boss at the pet sitting company to tell him I wouldn’t be reachable while out walking dogs, and when I refreshed my inbox, there was an email from my boss at the outlet I was writing for: I had lost my status, and therefore my pay, as a beat writer. The company was restructuring and reprioritizing how they handled editorial content, and would no longer be paying beat writers as they had been.
I was crushed. I wasn’t ready to stop writing about and photographing music, but if my writing and photography were no longer worth it to the outlet, were they worth anything at all? For years it was all I wanted and when I lost the first major opportunity I had, I questioned if it was worth it. I’d put so much time and energy into writing and photography, and formed so much of my identity around it, but suddenly the payoff was gone. I couldn’t imagine doing anything outside of music, but all of a sudden I didn’t know what my place was in it.
In a time where I felt lost and completely confused, music was what I needed most of all. I continued to run my blog and two weeks after I lost the beat writer position, I did an interview and photoshoot that reignited my passion, and reminded me why I cared about doing this in the first place. The artist was down-to-earth, incredibly open and willing to get deep in his answers. I started working retail around this time, which sucked, but I continued my writing and photography efforts in hopes of more interviews and photoshoots like that one.
In January of last year, I realized how much I missed being on tour. I reached out to a nonprofit I’d previously toured with and with less than two weeks notice, packed my bags and left for four months. I loved every second of it and halfway through the tour, got an email that I was hired to work for them on Warped Tour that summer.
Getting a job on Warped Tour had been a huge goal of mine for years, and I almost couldn’t believe I was finally doing it. It wasn’t until I got my laminate on the first day that it actually felt real. Over the summer I reached thousands of people about a cause that’s very important to me; I learned a lot about myself, touring, and the music industry; I met some lifelong friends; and I even got to see my favorite band several times. My body hurt and I was always sweaty; at the end of the tour I was exhausted but immensely proud of myself for surviving- and thriving- on such a difficult tour. Warped Tour was the best thing I have ever done.
I had every intention of returning to Warped Tour this summer- I was even offered a promotion and a raise- but sometimes life doesn’t care about our intentions. While traveling over the holidays my right knee started to hurt. I’d had three previous knee surgeries and when I went to see my orthopedist, I had assumed he’d tell me there was nothing to worry about, but from a quick examination, he was pretty sure I had torn my ACL again. He ordered an MRI to make sure, but told me I’d most likely need surgery and wouldn’t be able to do Warped Tour.
For a month and a half, I didn’t tell anyone about my knee. I wasn’t sure what was wrong and I wasn’t sure when and if I’d need surgery, so aside from some very close friends, I kept it to myself. When I found out I would for sure need surgery, I was devastated. I didn’t want to go through months of physical therapy and I didn’t want to- and couldn’t afford to- take several weeks off work (I had two jobs: one in retail, and one in the office of a music video promo company).
I told my boss in the office that I would be out for a few weeks, and I called my bosses at the nonprofit to tell them I wouldn’t be able to do Warped Tour. I felt like I was letting them down and I felt like I was letting myself down by not being able to return. They were completely understanding but talking to them made it feel real, and I cried the whole drive home. Warped Tour was such a major goal for me and to not be able to return was crushing. My entire work and financial situation was up in the air: I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to work for the music video promo company from home, I certainly wouldn’t be in shape to work retail for a month or more after surgery, and I wouldn’t have the job on tour.
But then the very next day, I got a call from one of my bosses at the nonprofit, asking if I was interested in a temporary administrative job helping to organize volunteers and local reps at concerts around the country, and find new tours to partner with and sponsor. I would be working from home part-time, and wouldn’t have to skip a beat after surgery. I immediately accepted, and quit my retail job.
Recovering from my fourth knee surgery hasn’t been easy. I couldn’t drive for three weeks so I was pretty much stuck at home. I’m a very extroverted person and when I wasn’t able to socialize, I became very lonely. I was also in a lot of pain. Even when I could walk without crutches or a knee brace, it hurt to stand or walk for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t go grocery shopping and I didn’t have the energy to go photograph concerts. I was certainly in no place to be on tour.
I’ve been diligent with my physical therapy since day one and in May, I started feeling the slightest bit better. I felt strong enough to- with my doctor’s permission, and while wearing a knee brace- return to the photo pit. It felt so good to be back, and while it may be a cliché, you certainly don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
I have two jobs that I love right now, as well as my blog and occasional freelance work, but I still don’t feel like I have things all figured out. I used to look at people older and more established in the industry and assume that they had it all figured out, but I’m starting to realize that they don’t either. And honestly? That’s so reassuring. I used to feel so inadequate because I didn’t have things all figured out, but now that I know no one else does either, I don’t feel so bad about it. Life- and the music industry- hits us all in different ways. I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never have things all figured out, but finally that’s starting to feel okay.
Molly Hudelson is a career music journalist. She is the founder of Circles and Soundwaves, one of our absolutely favorite music blogs, and she constantly doing her best to encourage the next generation of music professionals to find their own course through this crazy industry. We highly recommend you follow her on Twitter.