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  • Writer's pictureMr. FI Musician

Free the Freelancer! Changing what it means to be a freelance musician

Several years ago, back when I was a full-time freelance musician, I was in my hometown hanging out with some friends at a bar. While there, I ran into a former high school acquaintance. Let's call him Greg. Being that we live in the United States, we naturally started the conversation by asking each other "What do you do?" (Something I've made an effort to stop asking people over the past few months, but that's a conversation for another day).

Greg said he was working at a law firm in NYC. Even though it sounded like he had an impressive career at such a young age, I got the impression he wasn't interested in talking about his work, as he quickly shifted the conversation to me.

Sheepishly I told him I was playing in a band, doing small tours around the country, teaching lessons, and subbing in orchestras, at which point he made a face that resembled something like:

This guy was blown away. He excitedly said things like:

"That's amazing! You're making a career out of your passion."

"It must be awesome to get paid to be so creative."

"I wish my job was fun and interesting."

I realized Greg was envious of me. He hated his job and was already burnt out in his late 20's/early 30's. In his voice I could sense the dread of having to return to the office Monday morning. We chatted a little bit more before heading back to our respective tables.

I often think back to that conversation, as there's a lot to unpack within it. First, seeing how disillusioned Greg was with his career, even though he was probably making a 6-figure salary, confirmed something I had been told throughout my life: Money can't buy happiness.

But this really took it a step further. This guy was miserable. I'm pretty sure his job was sucking the life out of him. I think the proverb should be updated to money can't buy happiness, but it can slowly kill you.

But more importantly, I reflected on my own career. This guy was jealous of me? He really had no idea what he was talking about.

"That's amazing! You're making a career out of your passion."

"It must be awesome to get paid to be so creative."

"I wish my job was fun and interesting."

But none of that was true. Combining practice time and travel time to gigs, I was being paid less than minimum wage. I was barely able to pay my bills. I hated most of the gigs I had and only took them out of desperation. Work wasn't interesting, and it certainly wasn't creative. And I was so busy with all of this other stuff that I didn't have time to work on my own projects. My passion for music evaporated. It was just a job.

Here's the thing. I know many of my other musician friends have felt, or still feel similar to how I was feeling: stuck, broke, and frustrated. (Funny that we call ourselves freelance musicians when we feel anything but free). Sure, a lot of freelance musicians eventually find a decent balance of good gigs, but I think most of my friends ultimately still need to say yes to bad gigs, or work part-time jobs to support themselves.

So why was Greg so jealous of me? Because he was wearing the "grass is always greener" goggles. In his mind, I was traveling the country, playing my own music like a rockstar. In truth, I was getting paid $250 to pack a van full of percussion instruments for two hours, drive 15 hours, set a stage for three hours, and perform a 90-minute concert of contemporary chamber music for a half-filled theater, to which we would receive golf claps and comments like "That was....interesting." before packing up and starting the long drive home.

I feel ya, Homer.

This isn't a knock on contemporary chamber music. I wouldn't have played in this ensemble for five years if I didn't have some kind of interest in the music. But I was tired of performing music that the only other people who seemed to care about it were other percussionists. It felt like someone writing a book titled "How to Write a Book about How to Write a Book." We were stuck in some weird circuit of percussion music, where we all just played and performed for each other, with no real effect on anyone outside of the percussion world.

I'm starting to rant a little bit. I digress...

Greg was jealous of the life he thought I had. Well he should be. That would be a sick life! Taking gigs because I want them, not because I need them. Having time during the day to sit with my thoughts and be creative. Wow...what a life that would be.

Well, Mrs. FIM and I decided we wanted that life. That's why we both took arts admin jobs and why I started a videography business. It's why I haven't really played music in over two years. stopped playing music so that you could play music?

Yes, that's exactly what I did.

Mrs. FIM and I are building wealth as quickly as possible so that we can let our money work for us. Our investments will pay us, and we will use that money to fund our lives as musicians. So for now, we're focusing on investing. Once we hit our FI number, we'll be completely free to play the music we want.

It sounds backwards, but I think musicians using this framework could redefine what it means to be a freelancer. In my mind, I'm taking a few years off of music in order to have decades of complete and total freedom to be the artist I want to be, rather than the stereotypical "starving artist".

If you're a freelance artist who is feeling trapped, stuck, or frustrated, I implore you to look into the concepts of FI. Build wealth for yourself with the knowledge that you aren't walking away from music. You're freeing yourself from the typical freelance career.

Join us on our journey to #freethefreelancer!

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