My morning coffee message today to the musicians of the world is this: It’s all achievable
A little under 20 years ago, I woke up considerably earlier than usual to go to my first day as an admin temp for a loan company in Wolverhampton (the DREAM, right!?). I sat opposite another temp and all around us were huge stacks of envelopes with customers’ addresses on them – it was our job to enter the surname and postcode from these letters into a database.
These envelope piles never shrank as they were constantly being refilled – it was the job equivalent of collecting water from a sinking ship and throwing it overboard.
Was this really it? Is this what the previous 13 years of my school education had been leading to?
Apparently so, as a lot of the staff in this office were my old schoolmates!
To my surprise, these people presented a diverse selection across both the higher-level and the lower-level classes from school – this grey building we found ourselves in did not discriminate against the intellectual or the intellectually challenged. It didn’t matter how hard we’d worked or what grades we had achieved – we’d all ended up here in a desperate attempt to make £5 an hour, and because we didn’t know what else to do.
By day three I had proved my worth and I was promoted to another desk to perform a slightly different kind of soul-crushing admin. Sat on the desk opposite me, over a divider, there was a girl who hardly looked up from her desk – I recognized her. She was one of my classmates from the previous three years of high school! At this job, we never said one word to each other. I’m pretty sure she was feeling the same life disappointment I was.
So, I gave it two weeks, figuring it would surely improve.
Nope. It was a prison for those of us that didn’t go to university and for those who were too scared or inexperienced to attempt our dreams.
So I quickly applied for other jobs and landed an interview for another admin job for the civil service in Birmingham. I got the job – and even though it was admin, and it was dull, the people were nice and I got to spend more time with my Dad, as he also worked there in a more senior position.
This still wasn’t cutting it though – my whole life I’d told myself that I was going to be a musician, go on tour, release albums… do the whole ‘band’ thing. I felt that in this job, in any office job, I was the cliche ‘guy in a band‘, trying to convince my colleagues to come to my shows so that we had an audience. I was so invested in my identity as a musician that I refused to wear appropriate office attire, instead opting for ripped jeans, band t-shirts, and vans shoes. Somehow, I got away with this and no one ever called me out.
For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being this person. I’d just like to help you reinforce the belief that you can make music ‘THE’ thing you do, with enough perseverance.
I kept this job for a couple of years. I invested pretty much all of my money into buying musical equipment and paying for a practice space. I even joined a band with a group of my co-workers, mostly playing blues covers. While it wasn’t the type of music I was into or trying to turn into a career, it was fantastic practice for me.
I eventually had to make some pretty big decisions though to give myself a real chance of making the life I wanted.
I’d joined a band that was based in Reading, UK, which is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from where I lived in the Midlands. I know that in some parts of the world, this is no distance at all but for most UK dwellers, a 30-minute drive requires a packed lunch, so rather than making this journey for rehearsal every week, I decided to move to Reading.
The significant part of this move is that it wasn’t for a job – I moved to be closer to my creative passion. Fortunately, the universe had my back – I’d managed to negotiate a transfer from my Birmingham office job to an equivalent role in Guildford, in the south of the UK, and my boss was amazingly flexible with all of this.
There’s one game-changing decision I made, without which I would have struggled to commit to TesseracT in the early years…
Alongside my 9-5 job, I was building my own business that would eventually enable me to leave the office job to focus on my career as a musician. This business was four rehearsal studios: The Rhoom Studios – which are still open today under new management since I moved to the US.
I would finish work at 5pm then head straight to the studios to clean and set up for the bands – and did this for a couple of years. I even built three of the studios myself, arriving at 6pm every day after work, building walls, hanging doors, wiring lighting circuits, etc, then leaving around midnight, until the studios were built and ready to open. This was hugely tiring and presented a considerable risk as I was pouring all of my money into these studios and borrowing money too.
But the hard work paid off. The studios were a local success and gradually grew into a business from which I could pay myself enough to not need to hold down a day job.
So when my entire office was made redundant a month before TesseracT’s first North American Tour in 2010 – I wasn’t worried. I had an established backup plan and, to be honest, I was stoked! I was going to need to quit my job anyway to do this tour. I’d even written out the letter I was going to hand to my boss. By being made redundant though, I was given a severance package equal to three months’ salary – thank you very much. Byeeeeeeee.
This all comes around to a point.
For almost all of the musicians I know, the band is not the sole thing they do.
They also run their own businesses or offer some sort of consultancy service alongside the main musical project that they’re known for. These businesses are often something they can do remotely. It’s not unfair to say that these businesses are the reason they’re able to maintain their position in the band – because they have a reliable means of income regardless of whether they’re on tour, in the studio, or at home.
Even at the level TesseracT is at, we take home a very small amount of money from the band itself. If a tour brings in a quarter of a million dollars, you can guarantee the production costs and commissions come to $249,999. Any money that we make is mostly reinvested back into the project, into our production and equipment to make the next tour and album an even larger experience.
Without having developed my drum lesson website, hosting live streams and clinics & occasionally offering session work, as a self-employed musician relying solely on income from TesseracT, I would struggle – massively.
Without having had the experience of building my rehearsal studio business and running it for 10+ years, I doubt I’d be the drummer in TesseracT at all. I wouldn’t have the discipline or work ethic needed to be in a band.
Whatever your creative passion is, in my experience, it’s absolutely possible to make it your career. But you must be prepared to work harder than you ever thought you’d need to work to make it a reality, and you must be willing to make big decisions on risks.
One thing you can guarantee is that if you stop working on your dream, on the career you want – there’s a 100% chance you’ll fail.
If you keep working on it though, if you keep investing in your skills, in learning, in your tools and discipline – you stand a far greater chance of ending up in a favorable position.
Please comment below or drop me a message if any part of my story resonates with you.