Congratulations. You just earned a degree in music. You and thousands of other qualified graduates are eager to enter the workforce when you suddenly realize that your degree isn’t your passport to employment. So, what are you going to do all summer? Then, after that, what are you going to do all year? You’ve got six months before that first student loan payment arrives…
When I finished graduate school, I was really thinking, okay, why isn’t my phone ringing? Don’t people know who I am? It was completely arrogant, but it was also ignorance. I was not prepared for what the real freelance world was about. I humbly decided I had to get a day job. The summer after grad school I worked at a temporary staffing agency, and during that time I got to work in some truly awesome places in Chicago like HARPO Studios, the Wrigley Company, and eventually, Monitor Group, the Fortune 500 management consulting firm where I would spend my next five years. Every day I commuted to downtown Chicago, after work I’d head to the gym, then to my practice space, then finally home. My days were horrible, commuting on an overcrowded bus with a French horn on one shoulder and a gym bag on the other, sometimes with mutes and concert clothes as well. But I kept it up and before long I won a 4th horn position with a regional orchestra. The following year I was appointed as assistant horn with another orchestra. I kept this up for five years. I had six regional orchestras, several students, and felt that was enough for me to be able to leave my job downtown. Was it easy? Hell, no, but I was getting to perform every week and I was getting a lot of rep under my belt, meeting important people, and continuing to improve my skills as a horn player.
I learned so much from my five years of corporate work, and much of it translates to the freelance world. I appreciate my time there and the people I met who were like me in that they were extremely passionate about their work, too. I grew up a lot in that time. First of all, your boss is the boss. Translation: Your principal is the principal. Just do what they say, you are not paid to make the big decisions and you will also not be responsible if the decision is a failure.
Secondly, BE. Be on time, be polite, be efficient, be reliable, and be kind.
Third, thank others for their critical feedback. I recall my very first six-month review; I was scared and defensive about the idea of my boss organizing a meeting to tell me everything I do wrong. This was the wrong way to approach it. After the meeting, I realized this is actually very helpful and if I am open to hearing about things I need to do better, then I will do them better and BE better (and get my bonus)! Translation: don’t get hot and bothered if someone asks or suggests that you do something differently, just do it and do it exactly like how they ask for it. You will feel better and so will they, and they will actually have helped you.
Fourth, find a mentor. Business-folk do this all the time. For me, it was a horn player who was about ten years older than me who was in a place that I wanted to be in about ten years. I studied regularly with this person, asked a lot of questions, and sought advice frequently.
Fifth, do what you are doing noticeably more awesome than the last person or the next person. I started as a receptionist, and I was the best receptionist in existence. I learned how to set printers up to networks, I catered events, I worked the security system, you name it, I did it. I worked hard and that led me all the way up to the Marketing Team. I learned so many skills in marketing that have translated to my music career: branding, advertising, website design, and team-building.
If you have to get a day job, don’t view it as a punishment. Find ways to transfer your skills. Listen to classical music at your desk all day long, read blogs and articles during downtime, ask others to show you computer skills that you may need to know (consultants are awesome at Excel and Powerpoint). In the end, the reason I resigned was because they wanted me to take a position working with a team in Boston with regular travel, and I knew I couldn’t travel with my music career still growing, so I made a sad, scary, and necessary decision to leave the firm.
Five years down the road, I possessed the skills I needed to become a full-time freelancer. Chances are high that you’ll probably have to get a day job for a while, so BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED! Be the very best you can be and do whatever you are doing to the highest quality. It will pay off in more ways than one.