Taking a pause can be good. I don’t mean taking a break, although that is also necessary in order to do your best work. I mean pause as in, “to consider”, or “to take a step back” in order to improve or even change the way you see and do things.
It can be stressful especially when it’s not planned. I had just returned to the freelance scene here in Utah after working at a music store because I was getting a lot of gigs. Finally.
It had taken me many years to get to this point, but when I looked at my calendar for the next 6 months, I saw I was booked nearly every weekend, as a violinist and a conductor, and the amount of students I was teaching were also picking up. It was time to take the chance and make the jump. I made sure my relationships at the store were good. My last day was December 31st, 2019.
Having lived this life before, I knew that you can’t completely depend on gigs. You have to supplement your income with something steadier. Most freelancers have a huge teaching studio, or they contract orchestras, or a day job in the schools and universities, or something else that gives them the flexibility to be able to drop everything when the call comes. All of these were possibilities for me, and many more as well, since I am a serial entrepreneur alongside being a violinist/conductor/composer/arranger.
So in January of 2020, I wrote down and organised 8 possibilities for projects to focus on, and I gave myself January and February to investigate and research which ones would be the most feasible practically and financially.
By the end of February, I narrowed it down to two basic ideas for projects: a youth symphony, and a solo recital show that used technology in a unique way to make it stand out from the crowd of groups and individuals who compete for concerts. I would write grants to perform concerts in schools and in elder care facilities, and then go to booking conferences and network for regular concerts and weddings. The youth symphony, lessons, and the grants would provide the steady income throughout the year, with weddings, concerts and gigs providing the rest as they came in.
The most challenging aspect was the technology for the solo concerts. I saw on YouTube a few people who were able to perform the Barber Adagio by themselves. I thought, “What if I could take out the solo part from a Vivaldi concerto, and perform that part live with an orchestra made up of myself behind me on a screen?” I had never seen anything like that before!
I arranged with the local university to use their recording studio, and wrote a grant to have their communications department pay students to film and edit video. At the end of February, I did a test run with the slow movement of the Bach Double at The Ogden Bach Festival, and it was very successful.
Then everything closed down. No more gigs, no recording studio, no filming, no schools open to recruit for the youth symphony, no in-person lessons, and I now had to homeschool both my kids. What do you do when the worst case scenario occurs?
Pause. Take a deep breath. Consider.
Finances first. The number one advantage I had is something I advocate to everyone, but especially freelancers and entrepreneurs: have a substantial amount in savings. Start now if you haven’t done it yet. Have at least several months in reserve because you never know what might happen. That reserve I had was another reason I felt comfortable jumping from my job at the store – I just never knew how I would be using it. I could have gone back to the store (I was only 3 months removed from that job), but instinctively I knew I would be able to use this time to still pursue what I wanted to do.
I got organised. Again. I reconsidered all 8 of my possibilities, and added a few more. I rearranged my daily schedule to include homeschooling the kids, and simply added more hours to my day. This sounds hard, but in a pandemic lockdown was pretty easy to do. Planning and strategy became my mantra for the next month.
In the end, I returned to the two possibilities I had originally chosen, because I was able to figure out how to do them well, and safely in the pandemic. No studio to record in? Take advantage of a pandemic grant to buy the equipment you need to record at home. No crew to film? Most YouTubers use their iPhones with one of the best cameras ever made anyway. No one to edit your videos? You now have time to figure all of that out for yourself. Still want to start a youth symphony? Make it safe for the everyone, be flexible with lockdowns, and still provide a great service to the community. Don’t make reasons to stop. Stay with it.
There was much, much, more to do, but I think you get the picture. Instead of supplementing my gig income, my year turned into making these projects supercharged and ready to hit the ground running when concerts come back. With a lot of online lessons, socially distanced and masked gigs, help from the government, and a great deal of financial austerity, I have been able to stretch my savings out to September. As of now for August and September, I have 3 weddings, I am conducting 4 performances of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Nights Dream, the second season of The Ogden Camerata will start, and I will conduct and play Nutcrackers in December. If my grants come through, I could have as many as 60 concerts in elder care facilities to fulfil. Things are picking up again, and everything will pay off because I am ready to go.
Pausing can be a good thing. Be prepared, work hard, get organised, be flexible, and stay with it. Be ready to hit the ground running when things open up. Then your talents can take you anywhere.
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