Everyone who dreams of working in music rarely pictures the day they will lose their dream position. Having spent the better part of fifteen years working in the business of music I have seen people at every level of success have the security of employment pulled out from under their feet. Some were in bands who imploded after pushing themselves too hard in too short of time, while others were brilliant marketing and publicity professionals whose employer could no longer afford their talent. Others still were let go simply because their employer realized they could hire younger, equally driven talent for less.
The is a power discrepancy in the music industry that is almost impossible to overcome. The people who have made a business out of entertainment recognize there are far more people who would love to work in music than the industry could ever support and they take advantage of that to pay workers less, demand more, and often little – if any – guarantee of long-term employment. Even the best workers will find themselves unemployed from time to time, possibly through no direct fault of their own, and each time they will have to find the strength within themselves to start over again.
With this in mind, it is important for every aspiring professional to keep back-up career plans in their mind at all times. Many professionals often have two or even three such plans, including at least one that exists outside the entertainment industry. This is not because those professionals wish to leave music. Quite the opposite, in fact. The driven professionals making the industry move today are largely hoping to continue working in music for as long as possible, but those who have put five, ten, or even more years into a music career know nothing last forever. There is always another unemployment check. There is always a need for a portfolio and/or resume.
Back-up plans for music should involve what some professionals would describe as pivot roles. A pivot role is any job that you can easily transition to using the skills you currently have at your disposal. For marketing professionals, publicity is often considered a pivot role. The same can be said for production and management jobs in relation artists.
Pivot roles make sense as back-up plans because you theoretically know the basics of your new role before you even begin. Your current efforts have allowed you to network with others in that role and you’ve seen them work. If your relationships are strong these same peers will help you seek work, and some will even answer any questions you have about getting started.
This isn’t written to scare you or to speak ill of this business. The simple truth is that no one in music is ever guaranteed their position for very long. The number of professionals who hold a single role for five years or more is fairly small, and those who make it ten years are practically unheard of. If you want to make music a lifelong pursuit than you need to develop a diverse set of skills and remain open to the possibility of change (because it’s coming whether you accept it or not). You cannot count on your job to be there tomorrow because sometimes it won’t, and the same can be said for fans, followers, or anything else tied to this business.
The only things that last are the connections we make with our fellow professionals and the skills earned through experience. Don’t take either for granted.