Trying to find balance as an Artist? Stop taking every gig that comes your way!

We’ve all done it. We’ve taken that gig that seemed like a great idea six months ago. Now, we find ourselves sitting in traffic much like the photo above, wondering why we made the decision in the first place.

Yesterday, I wrote this post about how artists could find balance using Pareto’s Principle, also known as the 80-20 rule.  In it’s purest form, the 80-20 rule makes good sense. Unfortunately, when it comes to gigs, we often toss in other variables, like the desire to make great art and the fear that your phone may not ring the next time around if you turn something down.

Too many of us are blindly taking gigs and not thinking about balance. Here are some thoughts as you consider your work:

  1. All gigs are not created equal. Don’t take every gig that comes your way.  I often hear from people that the most frustrating gigs are the engagements that are artistically compromising.Action: Stop participating in gigs that are artistically compromising and spend that time practicing, reading, learning, or being with family.
  2.  Don’t have a scarcity mindset. I remember being fearful that every gig I took might be my last, so I took them all. That mindset came at the expense of my sanity.Action: In the next six months, be strategic and make yourself turn down at least one gig that is taking you away from finding balance in your life.
  3. Consider the economics of traveling for a gig. Let’s say that a regional orchestra—located an hour away— asked you to perform on one of their masterworks series. The pay for three rehearsals and a performance is $500.At face value, this seems great. $500 for ten hours of work is $50 an hour. However, when you account for travel, practice time, meals on the road and gas, the rate quickly goes down.  Here’s a hypothetical break down:
    • Hours in rehearsal and performance: 10
    • Hours on the road: 8
    • Hours practicing the rep: 2
      • TOTAL hours spent on the gig: 20
    • Amount spent on gas: $50
    • Amount spent on food: $40
      • TOTAL amount spent on all expenses: $90
      • $500 payment – $90 in expenses = $410
    • $410/20 hours= $20.5 dollars an hour, TOTAL
      Action: Use the formula above and consider a threshold for the minimum you would need to make in order to commit to a gig. This is about finding balance, so it’s important to be selective.
  4. Your career is not defined by the percentage of income you make doing your art. I think there is a misconception that, in order to be a successful artist, we must be performing our art 100% of the time for 100% of our income.  If you want to find balance, throw that idea out the window.Looking at our above example, I can think of many things I could do in order to make more than $20 an hour. Your private studio is a great example. Let’s break it down:
    • The gig mentioned above pays you $20 an hour.
    • You charge $60 an hour for each private lesson.
    • In order to make the same amount of money as you did on that gig, you would only need to teach for 7 hours.
    • That’s 13 hours of time you just got back to find balance.
      Action: Take 30 minutes and break down every instance where you get paid. Remember, you’re looking for balance. Don’t be afraid to pursue more deeply the areas where you make more money in less time.  That is a great way to find balance.  

Pareto’s Principle is a great way to help you achieve balance. Just remember that not all gigs are created equal and turning down a few from time to time might actually allow you to take a breath.

Have you turned gigs down in order to achieve balance? I’d love to hear about your strategies in the comment section below.

(Photo Credit: JonbGem)

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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