Zest for work, zest for life: or, how to get yourself into a real pickle when you like your job

Ross’ intriguing case studies at Razorfish and 360hiphop in his book No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs essentially explore the ethos in the Tumblr-fied image above. If you’ve been able to carve a life for yourself in which you do something you like and are good at, you should be happy, right? Maybe not. Even if we’ve cast off the Puritanical work ethic that pervades the culture of the American Dream (especially “there” if you’re raised in New England, hello), it still stands that you should be working. What does this mean? Ross undertakes his research at companies that have executive boards and physical homes. What’s your story if you carry your work home on your back, if your office is your computer or the confines of your mind? We talk a lot about freelance work in this seminar, so I feel like it’s only fair to shoehorn them into this conversation somehow. But I’ll talk about something different than I usually do — music.tumblr_mpoxj1Jgds1qz4d4bo1_500

The best analogue I can draw to a traditional organization in the music world is being a permanent member of an orchestra or an opera company. You’re guaranteed a certain number of performances, sometimes work for the summer if you’re lucky (i.e. the BSO’s Tanglewood or summer opera festivals like Glimmerglass). These toe the line between white-collar and no-collar; they’re creative, but you’re still part of an institution. These performers can be overworked — I am a musician myself, and learning not only the notes but nuances of long pieces of music is hard work. Looking at the events schedule of the New York Philharmonic is daunting. Even greater is the Broadway schedule: singers perform in eight shows a week, probably only being subbed out once or twice. It’s difficult, physical labor. But, they love it, right? Just because it’s an idyllic workplace for many, finally being able to do something that they love, doesn’t mean it’s free of issues.

Freelance musicians are an interesting case. In the classical world, if someone’s not a part of an orchestra or other company, they take any gig they can get. A violinist could play at a wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, and in a friend’s show all before the week was over, and just scrape by to cover the grocery bill. This is especially an issue in cities like New York, where it’s easier to break into classical music (with the right chops), but harder to pay the rent. Ross says that his no-collar mentality “applies to knowledge workers whose high-tech skills or aptitude for problem solving wins them a measure of autonomy…” (34) But it is worth the burden of having five roommates and the lights shutting off? Perhaps. Look at the face of musicians you see busking at lunch hour. They are usually happy; they are doing what they like.

A lot of ignorant people would tell musicians trying to scrape by that they should get a real job, make their talents a hobby, learn how to make investments like everybody else. Musicians aren’t stupid — again, they are knowledge workers. I’d like to close by pointing out this post from the band Pomplamoose (known for infectious covers of “Single Ladies” and a mashup of “Get Lucky” and “Happy”). Musicians in bands, especially ones that aren’t as established, sink money into the costs of touring to make a name for themselves, hoping to make a profit (or really, break even) on ticket and merch sales. Pomplamoose, which has a pretty big Internet following, lost $10,000 on this tour, even with almost $100,000 in ticket sales and $25,000 in merch. With a big blockquote from Jack Conte:

In 2014 Nataly and I didn’t take weekends off. Releasing two, fully produced music videos per month is way more than a full time job. Because Pomplamoose doesn’t have a manager, Nataly coordinated the logistics of the tour, herself. On top of that, we recorded and released a full length album. Our music video shoots often started at 9 am and finished at 2 am. That was the norm, not the exception.

The point of publishing all the scary stats is not to dissuade people from being professional musicians. It’s simply an attempt to shine light on a new paradigm for professional artistry.

We’re entering a new era in history: the space between “starving artist” and “rich and famous” is beginning to collapse.

YouTube has signed up over a million partners (people who agree to run ads over their videos to make money from their content). The “creative class” is no longer emerging: it’s here, now.

And, to top it off — Jack Conte is the cofounder of Patreon, a website which lets fans of artists’ work fund them on a recurring basis (kind of like pledging to NPR). Go figure!

Also, watch this, seriously: it’s delightful.

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