Music Career

In the event of a global pandemic…have a portfolio career

With the end of coronavirus restrictions well within sight, it might be a little late to say this . . . but it turns out, having a portfolio career – of any kind really – is a very useful thing. And that goes for musicians too.

Read more: What is a portfolio career?

Coronavirus and me

My story is that I went from 3 days a week teaching to ZERO – at the drop of a hat (and I missed the last week of teaching too because, well, it seems like I actually had Covid then; seemed sensible to get it out of the way). Gigs dried up and got cancelled for months ahead, and suddenly I was doing full-time Daddy Day-care at home because my kids of course couldn’t go to school or the childminder.

Now, for sure we benefited from my wife getting a full-time job just before all this kicked off – the timing was near-well freaky – but these lessons apply to musicians married and unmarried. I still had to do some work, and the good news was, I had a portfolio career, and that meant come the evenings when the kids were down, I still had things I could do. And eventually, when some restrictions began to lift and I was no longer on full-time Dad duty (hurrah!) there was more time for some new lines of work that had developed.

How a portfolio career saved my skin

So most of my income PRE-lockdown was from tuition. I work two full days per week at a school where I’m an employee, which really boosts things financially. That’s my main music ‘day job’. Aside from that, 90% of my income pre-lockdown was pretty much equally divided between self-employed teaching, gigging and ‘production’ – my catch-all word for work done at home in my studio setup – remote recording, notation, arranging etc. (The final 10% was CD Sales and song royalties, or in other words, passive income, which I’m working on growing too.) Suddenly that 30% production work – which could mostly be done remotely, of course – was looking really, really good, for providing a continual source of work. I began some remote recording projects which helped churches air their services during lockdown; worked on some notation for a music publisher; and produced a 28-track album of lullabies with musicians and artists sending in material from as far away as New Zealand! Consequently this last year, ‘production’ went from 30% to 90% of my income. And overall, earnings were only slightly down on the previous ‘normal’ year. I was so lucky to have it as a fall-back.

Change is the only constant

By developing a portfolio career, I had inadvertently put myself in a good position to be able to ‘pivot’ when everything ‘went south’ as the pandemic hit. Though I was left without some forms of my work, I wasn’t left without work entirely, and was able build and strengthen those areas where I could still work.

That is not to say that there aren’t benefits to be had by thinning out your commitments so you can just focus on what you really want to make work. I think that will continue to be the tension as I write this blog, and I will write another post in the near future addressing the question of how many plates you can realistically keep spinning. It’s a fine balance to strike. All I know is, when it all ‘hit the fan’, having options was better than not having options!

Besides, as Heraclitus said, ‘change is the only constant.’ Change is good in our lives. You don’t want to get stuck in a rut. It may not be a pandemic; it may even be positive circumstances that bring change to your life – a relocation, a new relationship. Being ready for change means it doesn’t catch us off guard. And a portfolio career can help us adapt when the time comes.

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