Self-employment in the field of music

Images of Johanna Försti, Valtteri Laurell Pöyhönen, Annika Eklund, Sani Aartela, Riku Pelo, Veera Railio, Teemu Viinikainen, Jukka Iisakkila

Musicians do not work out of necessity but out of volition. However, just like in any other industry, taking care of your finances and your physical and mental health is a requisite also in the music industry.

Senior lecturer at TAMK Matti Ruippo interviewed musicians with a long career and found out about their experiences, thoughts and feelings on different phenomena related to self-employment. The following is a summary of their thoughts and observations. You can read the complete results of the interviews here (in Finnish).

“For love, not for money”

In the music industry, gig work and temp jobs are a very common way to make your living. This entails a lot of freedom, which the interviewees named as one of the best things about their job. They get to control their rhythm of life and have a lot of influence in the contents of their work.

The flip side of the coin is financial insecurity and irregularity. However, none of the interviewees had entered the music business to chase big income. They all expressed that their greatest motivator was passion towards music and making it.

The price tag

The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn particularly sharp attention to the vulnerability of the cultural industry. From the point of view of self-employed individuals, in addition to financial concerns, arranging health care has proven difficult since gig workers do not have occupational health care.

The work of gig musicians takes a heavy toll on their health even without a pandemic: they drive huge mileages, and the danger of falling asleep at the wheel looms ever present. Then again, assignments that tie musicians to a certain place for a long time, such as gigs on cruise ships, are deemed emotionally demanding.

When asked to give advice to their young colleagues dreaming about entering the industry, taking care of your mental and physical well-being emerged as the clearly most important thing that professional musicians wanted to highlight. You need to know and respect your limits, as hard as it may be to turn down job opportunities.

Your smile is like a breath of spring

You cannot create a career in music in isolation or a vacuum. The work entails a lot of sociality, and it is difficult to get work without social skills. The interviewees emphasised the meaning of networking and persistent marketing work. They also pointed out that the social circles in the industry are quite small and word travels fast. Therefore, you should behave nicely towards everyone, and you cannot afford to be arrogant or cause trouble. On the other hand, a job well done can easily breed new assignments.

Even though professionals of creative industries cherish maintaining an artistic touch, you cannot just go with the musical flow. Ensuring your subsistence requires a methodical and systematic approach. In the interviews, time management emerged as an essential cornerstone. You need it to compile your weekly gig schedule and also guarantee the continuation of your employment in the long term. Furthermore, applying for grants and understanding contracts require a special kind of competence.

However, generally speaking, the answers of the professional musicians echoed strong optimism even in a difficult situation: ”If you take care of music, music will take care of you.

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Original text and interviews: Matti Ruippo
Finnish blog text: Miia Santalahti
English translation: Mira Kainulainen