When I graduated with my master’s degree in jazz, I had only one thing on my mind. “I better get some gigs now or I’m not going to be able to pay rent.” Some musicians have the luxury of being involved in enough activities that it’s a smooth transition. I wasn’t one of them.
The advice we all got at university gets is to always be “hustlin”, or “getting out there.” I never quite knew what that meant. I played my share of jam sessions, and would go introduce myself to folks I thought I should meet. I left the house all the time, but it didn’t translate into very much.
I ended up getting a job playing with a latin band a couple of nights a week, and that held my money problems at bay for a while. It wasn’t my kind of music, and the bandleader was notoriously flaky. To this day he still owes me a couple hundred bucks.
A large number of my colleagues experience the same post-college frantic period, and I’ve seen two different trajectories.
First, those early jobs provide a stable base of money and things to work on. While they aren’t perfect, they offer the chance to gradually expand into better situations. If you stay alert for new opportunities and keep working hard, this can be a necessary phase that propels you forwards.
If you get dragged down by the grind, the early jobs will overwhelm your time and energy, and become a vicious circle that’s extremely difficult to exit from. Instead of working hard to get ahead, we end up working hard just to stay afloat. When there’s no clear path to advancement, this becomes a frustrating situation to be in.
My experience was somewhere in the middle. I definitely got distracted by the wrong opportunities at times. And there where others where my extra energy moved me ahead. In retrospect, selecting my opportunities with more care would have saved me a lot of headaches. It’s challenging to say “no” when you don’t have much to fall back on. But if getting the right kind of work is important, saying no to these distractions is the right answer.