Sideline Careers that Feed the Soul and Pay the Rent

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume XCIX, No. 10November, 1999

Patch Schwadron, M.S.

At various points in your music life you have undoubtedly questioned how long you can or will tolerate the stresses of working toward artistic success and financial security. Like many musicians, you’ve probably taken “survival” jobs to pay your bills, but find them physically and emotionally draining. The day jobs you once were willing to do now feel deadening. You need a new career strategy – one that will allow you to integrate all parts of your life, develop personally and professionally, and realize financial security. You accept that you need to find an alternative to the big break, which will provide both professional and financial satisfaction.

It may be time to ask yourself the tough questions about your music career, as well. Consider the following questions:

  • Do I have the feeling that something is wrong with my career, but don’t know what to do about it?
  • Am I afraid to admit to myself that my career in the music industry has fallen short of my expectations?
  • Do I honestly believe that working in “the business” is the only work I can do?
  • Do I believe that I can use my talents in a satisfying way in other fields but am afraid that exploring a second career will force me to lose music work?
  • Do I often feel that I’ve given my all and it’s time to try something new?
  • Do I believe that exploring other careers means that I am a failure?
  • Am I afraid of taking action because I fear change and trying something new?
  • Am I sticking to music even though I’m not earning very much money, because I’ve invested a lot of time and training in it?
  • Would I welcome the opportunity to study something new, but worry about what my peers would think?

Addressing these questions can lead to taking control of your future. Rather than grabbing at “survival” work, it may be time to thoughtfully develop a “sideline career” with the same creativity you have invested in your art. The first step is to assess your interests, skills, and values:

  • Are you a people person, who gets energy from interacting with people?
  • Are you an idea person, who can spend hours with computers or electronic equipment without talking to anyone?
  • Are you a combination of both?
  • Do you care personally about the plight of children, animals, the environment, women’s issues, people with AIDS, literacy, or other social issues?
  • Do you write well?
  • Are there skills that you have always wanted to develop, but haven’t had the time or money to pursue?

Self-assessment will help you establish criteria for identifying potential jobs and settings you might want to explore.


It is close to impossible to navigate this journey alone. As a union member, you are entitled to join the hundreds of entertainment industry union members who have changed their lives through the Actors’ Work Program. A project of the Actors’ Fund of America, the AWP offers career counseling and job training services which will take you through the steps of career planning, including:

  • Exploring career options which tap into your interests, skills and values;
  • Setting goals by defining and focusing on alternatives
  • Identifying retraining or education options and funding sources;
  • Applying a variety of job search strategies;
  • Developing self-marketing tools, such as resumes and cover letters;
  • Learning new interview techniques.

In addition to career guidance, both through group and individual services, AWP offers free vocational training such as computer classes. Evening programs planned for the coming months include a panel discussion of corporate training and a program on proposal writing.

Ask yourself this question: Is it possible that I can be a winner in more than one field? This process starts with you.

Patch Schwadron is the Career Counselor Coordinator of the Actors’ Work Program. To learn more about the range of free services available at the AWP, register at 165 West 46th Street, 16th Floor, and attend an orientation, held every Monday from noon until 1:30 p.m. at The Actors’ Fund, 729 Seventh Avenue, 10th Floor. For further information, call (212) 354-5480, Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. till 5:00 p.m.