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Don’t quit your day job! 6 months of working part-time to focus on music

Photo of Naz & Ella. Naz is on the left looking directly into the camera and Ella on the right looking away from the camera

“Don’t quit your day job!”

It’s what our school music teacher says to us every time we see her at Christmas to sing carols with the choir she leads at a Crisis centre in London - it’s sound advice.

In an ideal world, we’d be able to quit our jobs, spend our days writing and nights performing around the world. We’ve met musicians who have done this and some are doing well, but most are struggling to make ends meet.

Practically and financially, we knew that quitting our jobs to become full-time musicians wouldn’t work for us, so we decided that reducing our hours at work was a good compromise and started working part-time between July to December 2019.

We get a lot of questions about how we spend our time and if we’re making enough money to sustain ourselves, so we thought we’d address some of those questions in this post.

If you’re thinking of working part-time to pursue music or other creative interests, check out the guide we wrote on how to go part-time and whether it’s for you.

Why did you choose to work part-time?

Naz: We’d been discussing working part-time for a few months as it had become quite challenging for us - especially me - to balance music and other commitments once I finished my master’s and started working. We felt that we weren’t progressing in terms of songwriting and releasing music and we wanted more headspace to address this. So, one day I went into work and told my manager the situation and they let me reduce my hours to 3 days a week and soon after Ella did the same and started working 4 days a week.

Ella: Doing music as well as working full-time and balancing a social life is very hard. We wanted to spend time to focus on songwriting as we haven’t been able to write as many songs as we’d like to for our follow-up EP - our last one was released in 2017! We also wanted to be able to have more time booking and practising for gigs, particularly as we like to perform more over summer.

How were you able to afford working part-time to pursue a career in music?

Naz: We’re both very lucky to be able to live at home rent free. I was in a sightly different position to Ella as I’d spent 2 additional years at uni meaning I didn’t have as much saved up, but I’d saved enough in the 1.5 years I was working full-time that I didn’t have to worry too much. I’m also a bit of a hermit and don’t go out much, so I’ve also saved in that respect, too!

Ella: Living at home and working for the past 3 years has allowed me to save money that would otherwise go to renting. I’ve started using Emma, a money management app to help budget and save money on certain things, which has also helped.

What were your goals for working part-time?

Naz: My major personal goal was to just start writing again and write 2 finished songs. I did start writing again, but completing songs has still been a bit of a challenge for me on a personal level. We both also wanted to attend more events and network and were able to immerse ourselves into the London music scene a bit more - particularly the queer and womxn musician scene.

Ella: Primarily writing new songs and developing them. We were hoping to record a track and we are currently doing that and it will be released in March, so keep your eyes peeled! It’s also given us time to go to more gigs and events and meet others in the scene - we planned to go to at least 2 per month. The music industry is all about who you know, so it’s been good to build up our connections.

Are you making enough money from music to sustain yourself/quit office jobs?

Naz: We wish! That’s the dream, right? Working part-time has allowed us to accept some amazing paid opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do, like playing at the Southbank Centre, but we’re definitely not making enough to sustain ourselves - yet! It’s definitely possible, but would require for us to do a lot more function gigs which is something we don’t want to spend too much time on.

Ella: Not quite, however that’s not to say we haven’t earned money from music, we have, more than ever before! Which has got the ball rolling and helped us afford new equipment. But it wouldn’t be sustainable on its own. In fact, we’d have to do a hell of a lot of gigs to earn enough to live, which would mean spending more time on function gigs and less on working on our own music - not what we want.

Do you plan to return to working full-time office jobs?

Naz: Sadly, yes, although I’m currently unemployed! I didn’t do the gap year thing, so I guess I’m doing that now. I’m working on another project at the moment and using this time to focus both on songwriting and other creative pursuits.

Ella: I just started a new job at the beginning of January which is full-time (eek!). However, work life balance is very important to me and I've been so lucky to find a company that values that and allows for flexibility.

What’s been your favourite gig this year?

Naz: We’ve had a few highlights over the past 6 months, but I think we’ll both agree that our performances at the Southbank Centre have been our favourite. Dancing in the rain after our Riverside Stage gig with The LOL Word at Southbank Centre was a moment. We’re so grateful for every opportunity we had last year.

Ella: I really enjoyed the lunchtime slot at the Southbank. We played for an hour and it soon filled up with people and passers by. We sold a few CDs and chatted to a few people afterwards who had seen us play. Someone said they loved our sociopolitical lyrics - it’s nice to hear that people are paying attention to our lyrics.

The Southbank for the L Word comedy collective. It was summertime and it was raining but the atmosphere was really electric, with people listening intently. The other acts were good too and we ended up dancing in the rain.

How did you get to play at the Southbank Centre?

Naz: We get asked this a lot, so we thought we’d answer that question here. We were contacted by The LOL Word comedy collective who saw us perform at L Fest 2018 asked us to perform at their Southbank Takeover. Through that, we were contacted by a programmer at the Southbank Centre who needed a queer act to perform after an event (this was actually our first gig at Southbank Centre).

We can’t stress enough the importance of networking and making use of your contacts in this industry, because through our connection with one of the wonderful programmers at the Southbank Centre, we secured a Friday Lunch gig. We’d previously applied for one of these slots and never heard back!

What were your biggest achievements in 2019?

Naz: We’ve had so many achievements in 2019 from releasing a single in Feb and working on our next single, to performing some really fun gigs. For me, one of our biggest achievements is knowing our worth. As artists, we often fall into the mentality of ‘we don’t make music for money, we do it because we enjoy it’ - which is true - but that’s also meant that we’ve not always been able to see when we’re being taken advantage of. We make music because we enjoy it, but we also invest a lot of time and money into it and it’s now more than just a hobby for us. Knowing our worth - not just in monetary value - has helped us develop into well-respected musicians.

Ella: Probably the fact that we made more money from music than we ever have before, we played 3 fab gigs at the Southbank Centre AND we’re recording a song that I wrote which is really coming together. I can’t wait to release it!!

What are your plans for 2020?

Ella: Well, the next big task is to release our single! We’ve just finished the artwork as well which we can’t wait to share. Other than that, we have a really exciting project we’ll be working on this summer, but for now, it’s top secret.

Naz: We’re also looking to experiment with our sound a bit more using pedals and other instruments. This is something we’ve been talking about for a while, but haven’t released or performed new music to reflect this yet! We hope you’ll like the slightly new direction we’re taking our sound into. And because of this, we’re also in the process of setting up a small home studio to record better demos.

//Photo by Poppy Marriott

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