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Working for the Weekend

What do you do if you can’t make ends meet on your local gigs? Get a day job!

By Kathryn Lurie


It’s 3 AM and you’re at Valentine’s, watching your favorite band wrap up the last couple songs of the night. What happens next? Do they go to the bar for a few post-show drinks, go home and pass out, waking at 2 PM to drag themselves to the nearest coffeeshop to get their first jolt of caffeine for the day and then skulk off to band practice? Or do they have to go home to get some sleep because they, like the rest of us, go off daily to their jobs to make a living? To find out, we polled some of our musical friends to get the scoop on where they are employed, and to see how their gainful work meshes with their creative output—or crushes their spirit.

Some lucky performers actually have fulfilling day jobs, while others putter around their cubicles, peering over dividers and under their desks for a muse, any muse. Complicated Shirt’s K Sonin works as an intern/temp for a state agency that conducts high-level policy analysis. (Sonin says that by high-level he means, “requiring advanced training and intelligence—please do not read the term ‘intelligence’ as any sort of elitist categorization—I’d rather it be taken as an inherent state that causes suffering and alienation.”)

Sonin says that his day job does sometimes influence his musical conceptions, because “there is . . . a great deal of alienation and a sense of the futility of positions in the public sector and a malaise that sets in that could describe the ‘dead-end mazes’ concept that inspired my last album (hence the government envelope packaging).”

Soul rocker Bryan Thomas is the Web master for New York State United Teachers, a job he says is an ideal one for him with or without his music career. “Web development is the perfect mix of left brain and right brain for me.” Unlike Sonin, who uses his isolation for inspiration, Thomas tries to keep his day job separate from his music. “It’s not always easy, but doable with effort,” he says. “The music kinda pays for itself, and because I don’t have to worry about the music actually feeding me and paying the rent, I can do it on my own terms. That’s important.”

Some songwriters are lucky enough to have jobs that help motivate them to write. Jeb Colwell of Lenox, Mass.-based Hector on Stilts works as a server in two restaurants. “I used to believe that having a day job seemingly unrelated to music, like waiting tables, could lead me to being less creative,” he says. “In my experience, however, now going on 11 years in the food-service industry, I have come to realize that this work keeps me grounded in reality.

“At work, I am not a rock star: I am your servant,” he acknowledges. “It is humbling. But it is the kind of work that allows me to observe people’s behavior all day long—great fodder for songwriting.”

Another songwriter who “benefits” from his day job is Steve Gaylord of the Wasted. The computer programmer says that “the boredom and isolation of sitting in one spot all day with little social interaction manifests itself in my lyrics.” Gaylord says that though his job adequately supports him, he’d prefer one that’s a little more social.

While Mike Vitali, of Albany-based thud-rock group Greatdayforup, says there probably is no ideal musician’s day job, he says the closest would be to work at a music store or for a multimedia company. “You know, either Parkway or Overit,” he says. “Those are the guys that I would beg for a job if I had a really busy touring schedule.”

Vitali says that he loves his job as a social worker in a hospital, and that it probably influences him more than he realizes. “My day job helps me to stay balanced and fully appreciate my life. I feel very fortunate every day.”

Singer-songwriter Erin Harkes manages Artie’s River Street Stage in Troy, where she also bartends. She likes her job, and it affords her the flexible schedule needed to be able to perform. “I love bartending, and I love the money,” she says, “but the frustrating part is that the biggest money-making nights are also nights that you would most commonly get booked in a club. So you have to decide what your financial situation is sometimes before you can decide if it’s worth it to take a gig. For example, if I take a Thursday off to drive an hour away for a $30 gig, it’s tough to say. Sometimes the love of music isn’t enough when the rent is due.”

Troy-based recording engineer and musician Jason Martin agrees, “Sometimes I fantasize breathlessly about nine-to-five shifts, an office with a teakwood desk and some fountain pens, and having a 401k.”

K Sonin refers to Scarlet East owner John Delahanty as someone who he feels has a groovy day job: “[He] has a great job in terms of having a studio, engineering, and getting to be involved in all aspects of music as his day job. This also allows room for touring; any job which is more freelance or consultant-oriented would be ideal in this respect.”

“The day job is a mixed blessing,” says Mike Grosshandler of the Velmas. “I can finally afford more of the toys I’ve always wanted. I am not a ‘starving’ musician any more, which does wonders for my health! But it also hurts, in that I spend 40 hours a week sitting in a cubicle, instead of working on my music.”

Let’s face it, put anyone in front of a computer, and there will be browsing of the Internet. Grosshandler works as a computer programmer at the University at Albany, and admits that he finds time to work on things music-related online. “I can network online, promote online, book shows online, work on the band’s Web site, even work on lyrics. I’ve learned to be a great multitasker.”

Grosshandler says that the most ideal job for a musician is to be a musician, because “any other job is just a distraction at some level.”

“Work is work. You don’t have much of a choice,” says Matto, of Kitty Little fame. “If you’re lucky you can find something you like. If you’re not lucky, you’re just like everybody else ‘working for the weekend.’ ” Matto, who worked at the Honest Weight food co-op for five years, gets by on jobs like screen printing and house painting.

“Sax players have it best,” Martin says. “In their saxophone case they can fit their instrument, a shirt and tie, and some money. Plus, they don’t need to plug anything in. This allows for sleeping on park benches and subways when necessary, foregoing the day job.”

Speaking of sax players, jazz phenomenon Brian Patneaude spends his days teaching saxophone lessons at Blue Sky Music Studios in Delmar. “Teaching music allows me to reevaluate everything I’ve ever learned musically in order to pass it on to someone else,” he says.

Advice for musicians who want nothing more than to be able to support themselves on their music? “Careful what you wish for,” says Martin. “Don’t open a studio. Unless you’re making commercials for a successful company, you’re gonna be broke. Go back to school.” Matto’s a bit more blunt. He says, “Get a day job.”

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