Today we’re talking career change, which is always in the top ten list of life’s most stressful events – but for me it didn’t create stress, it very much alleviated it…
I’ve been making music professionally since 1986 and working in Nashville since 1990. Twenty successful years later, by 2010, I started to feel something pulling me away from the music industry and I began contemplating the idea of doing something different.
By being fiscally responsible and well-positioned I had escaped the financial crisis of 2008 relatively unscathed, with only minor bumps and bruises, but I could see things happening in the music industry that made me realize the industry would be very slow to recover, and I began to wonder if I could recover from the industry…
The State of the State (my view anyway):
1 – The recording industry is being ravaged by digital piracy and declining physical sales in the face of free or low cost streaming options and very inexpensive digital downloads. Revenue by way of recorded music has dropped to the point where recording an album is basically considered a loss-leader and merely an advertising vehicle. It is what it is – but it is a vastly different paradigm in the industry. When was the last time you purchased a CD, or even paid for a download?
2 – Music today has become very generic and homogenized. Thanks to shows like American Idol and The Voice, a lot of music is geared toward mimicking the music the masses are consuming. Creativity in the industry is trending toward blatant imitation. Due to budget restraints, there is less time for creativity anyway. Projects that used to budget 5 to 10 days for recording, for example, are now done in 1 or 2. Speed is of the essence, keeping recording costs as low as possible. That means the shortest distance between two points is paramount, eliminating the time required for experimentation, creativity, and taking chances.
3 – By way of technology artists now have the ability to make things “perfect”. The ubiquitous thing to do these days is to zoom into the recorded waveforms on your computer monitor and make all the drums line up exactly onto a grid where the tempo is displayed, with accuracy being measured in milliseconds. A singer’s voice can be displayed on a grid showing the musical scale, and then all of his/her notes are digitally manipulated to line up perfectly in tune. Most social media photos from recent recording sessions show the engineer is not facing forward to listen to the speakers, but facing sideways to look at the screen. Efforts to make music “perfect” results in music that sounds homogenized and artificial – my job as a recording engineer morphed into highly tedious data entry…
Hope and Change:
Honestly, making music got a little boring, very tedious, and often frustrating for me. Several sessions resembled funeral wakes where everyone in the studio reminisced about the good ol’ days as we charted out the same 4 chords for another run at “the formula”. Collectively, it was as if many folks in the business continued to stare at the coffin of a once booming industry and did nothing but talk about how dead the corpse still looked. One answer seems to be continually posting pictures on social media of $23 checks from Spotify that represent 20 million digital streams instead of advancing technologies like the blockchain that could actually solve the problem, but I digress… time to make a move…
Then came the final factor, the decisive push over the edge – Obamacare – a ticking time bomb aimed at imploding my family’s finances.
We were immediately faced with the reality of seeing our health insurance premiums overtaking our monthly budget to the tune of 40% of our monthly outflow! What? I now needed to make a change before the health plan I liked became a health plan impossible to keep – despite implicit promises to the contrary.
I’d always had a goal to retire by the age of 50, but what was I up against? For 2017, the state of Tennessee approved plan increases of 44%, 46%, and 62% from Humana, Cigna, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, respectively. This after increases of over 30% in 2016 and after Blue Cross dropped me in 2015. This was not exactly the “more secure and more affordable” I was expecting – but as they say in Texas, it’s all done now but the cryin’…
I was 46 years old and all I’d done professionally was record and mix records – skills not highly applicable in the job market as a whole. Home Depot? I like power tools… Starbucks? I like coffee… Apple? Wait a second… This is a high-level company and I’ve been working professionally on Apple computers since I moved to Nashville. What would that look like?
Here is where financial freedom comes into play, and I why fiscal responsibility is so important in life. With no debt and a total monthly budget equal to what many families may spend on a house + car payments alone, my options for career change were wide open. I was not locked in by a pay-scale. Instead, my driving force was doing something fun, interesting, challenging, and worthwhile.
In early 2015 I dropped off my resume at Apple. It ended up being one of the most consummate moves I’ve made. Apple is a wonderful company to work for in terms of the way they treat their employees and their employee benefits. In taking a full time position I was able to avoid the insane Obamacare cost increases for the self-employed with an employer-sponsored health plan at a fraction of the cost, and I can now afford to have dental + vision insurance for the first time ever – and boy did I need glasses from all those years staring at that damn screen to line up those damn waveforms – hah!!!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still making music, but I’m not locked into the industry as my singular source of subsistence. I can work on the music that I like the best and not have to pursue the music that pays the best. Talk about stress relief! No more songs about short-shorts and no more umpteenth variation of that hot new worship opus! Yes, it’s a big change – instead of being a self-employed mercenary, I now work for the largest company in the universe. Obviously any corporate/retail workplace is a different environment than that of a recording studio full of musical misfits, but my stress is low and my days are fun and I have found something that is interesting, challenging, and worthwhile.
In the words of Larry David – pretty good, pretty pretty good….
A Real Life Look:
One reason I write this is because I know I have friends in the music industry considering a career change for various reasons – some the same as mine and some with other factors at play. I get the “hey, is Apple hiring” text messages and emails on a regular basis. Furthermore, I know leaving the music industry (or your chosen career path, whatever it may be) can be hard, and it carries with it a certain stigma – as if you’ve failed, or as if you were not able to cut it, or even the idea that you had to give up on your dream. Not so. My hope is maybe this inspires someone to re-think a possibility…
When I got my first business cards at Apple I took a picture of one and txt’d it to a friend. His first thought was that I might be sad. I get that, and I understand those feelings – but I can assure you, two years into pulling the trigger, that if you want to make a move – and you make the right move – you will not skip a beat. In fact, if you position yourself well, you’ll even be able to pick the pace in terms of the money you are making, saving, and investing, as I have. No sadness here – I am still rockin’!
THE MUSIC BUSINESS IS A CRUEL AND SHALLOW MONEY TRENCH, A LONG PLASTIC HALLWAY WHERE THIEVES AND PIMPS RUN FREE, AND GOOD MEN DIE LIKE DOGS. THERE’S ALSO A NEGATIVE SIDE…
Hunter S. Thompson (highly paraphrased)
A good friend recently went through a very slow spell in his music career and I suggested he get a part-time job just to ease the income stress. “No way! If someone saw me working somewhere else, it would be over for me in music!” – really? You owe that much to an industry where ‘good men die like dogs and thieves and pimps run free’? That’s a lot of chain you’re carrying on your neck for a master with zero loyalty. This is an industry that will gladly chew you up and spit you out with a smile on its face as it moves down the line toward a fresh new face or someone who will do your job cheaper and faster (“better” will finish in a distant 3rd place – trust me). Move on my friend!!
This was a great move for a Man on the Move. I stepped over to another path in order to keep moving forward – and I’m having as much fun as ever. If you want to feel young again, start working with folks half your age who possess twice the knowledge when it comes to talking about or fixing computers – you’ll get young again very quickly! This Man on the Move started doing homework and reading up on technology. I lost 11 pounds, started walking 10,000 steps a day, and I can now lay waste to a Hot Yoga class that once came damn close to killing me!
Pretty good, pretty pretty good…