The Unforgiving Life Of A Freelancer
How much are you willing to sacrifice to get a wall of gold?
The era of lifetime pensions is gone, and the likelihood of anybody under 40 pocketing a dime from Social Security looks slim. But despite such gloomy statistics, many people still enjoy some degree of job security – except for drummers.
Like it or not, we are all freelancers who can depend on no one but ourselves to remain solvent. And that isn’t very easy. Okay, I don’t need a crystal ball to know what some of you are thinking: “You’re crazy, old man! Me and my bandmates are brothers! We live together. Eat together. Chip in for rehearsal studio rentals. We’re completely loyal to each other.”
Sure. You’re a band of brothers while you struggle together. But how about when the band begins to make money? Will your bandleader share his songwriting royalties with you when your debut album goes gold? And consider what may happen if Clive Davis writes a personal note to your lead singer, promising a solo recording contract if he splits off from the rest of the band. Will he really resist fame and fortune to stay true to his brothers?
Wake up. Better to accept you’re on your own sooner than later. I can remember the moment I realized I couldn’t depend on anybody else but myself if I wanted to sustain a drumming career. During my time in Los Angeles I had recorded albums and soundtracks, toured the world, and regularly heard myself on the radio.
But after seven years spent clawing my way up the ladder, I experienced a powerful epiphany that has informed my life since then. I had been playing with a band that was popular around the L.A. area, and by sheer luck, we wound up with the #1 single on the Billboard charts. It hovered there for weeks. The players in the band envisioned going on tour for months in big, roomy tour busses, playing huge venues, recording our follow-up big-budget album, and essentially racking in the dough.
The bubble burst when our bandleader informed us that he would do just the opposite. He planned to cut our gig schedule from several per week to one or two a month, while he cashed his fat royalty checks, and pursued an acting career. There was no safety net. None of us would qualify for unemployment insurance. We were literally out of work, and it happened without warning, ironically coming at the peak of our success.
I was in my early thirties, and found myself tired of my unstable life as a musician, and cynical about the entire rat race. I decided that I wasn’t cut out to be a freelance anything, and began to pursue a career in music journalism. But that still leaves you. Are you ready to be completely honest with yourself? How much are you willing to sacrifice for your art? Because you will have to trade stability for the freedom to create art. To be honest, I have equal respect for those who decide to stick with it and those who decide to move on.