Monthly Archives: July 2015

Living the Dream: Making Music my Career

I’m currently running a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise money for my new hard rock recording project, Total Flower Chaos. Here’s the link:

Total Flower Chaos Kickstarter Campaign

But what I want to write about here is not so much the fundraiser campaign, or even the music that it’s funding. In this blog I’m going to discuss my decision to make music my career late in life.

When I was designing the fundraising campaign for the recording project, I wasn’t going to mention any of this. I didn’t think it would be relevant. I figured that it was the music that mattered. But in the process of writing the script for the video, and running the drafts by a few friends, I discovered that it was my decision to do leave a fairly good-paying job in the computer industry and do music full-time that appealed to people the most. One friend said that she admired me for this, and wanted to donate as a way of “living vicariously through me.” So I rewrote the video script to put that first.

The first week of the campaign confirmed this. Most of the donors are friends who aren’t really into hard rock music. Some donors have been people I used to work with, and congratulated me for “living the dream.”

Here’s how I came to “live the dream” and do music full-time.

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I began playing guitar at age 12. I was also into sports at the time– football, baseball, and later, soccer. In my last year of high school, I developed an interest in politics.

During my first two years of college, I began taking more guitar lessons, and trying to form bands. I was also coaching soccer, and getting involved in political activism. And all the while I was working part-time jobs.

It soon became apparent that I wouldn’t have time for all my interests. My parents could not afford to pay for college for me, so I had to work at least part-time. I decided to stay with political activism, and give up soccer and music. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog.) But of course I still found time to play guitar as a hobby.

I liked history and politics, and figured the only thing I could do in those fields was teach high school, so I graduated from college with a degree in Secondary Education. But I never really wanted to teach high school, so I never even applied for a job.

I worked factory jobs for a few years, and then went to a Community College and got an Associates Degree in Electronics– not because I liked electronics, but because I didn’t to teach, and didn’t want to be a laborer the rest of my life. Working as an electronics technician paid better and was a little more interesting.

Around this time, I shifted priorities in another way: the political activism subsided and I got back to music. I picked the electric guitar again, started taking lessons, and joined a few bands.

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I remember once, back in my early 30’s, after being laid off from an electronics technician job, I went to a career counselor. She talked to me, and gave me various tests, and the conclusion was that music should be my career. But I dismissed that, saying that I can’t make a living at it, playing the type of non-commercial music that I liked. It never occurred to me that the way you have to do it is, you work a day job while building up your music career. Then, when the music career is built up, you can quit the day job and do music full-time. But I didn’t understand that then, and I don’t remember the counselor suggesting it.

Meanwhile, music was growing in importance. I co-founded a band called Faded Innocence, and recorded two cassette albums at my apartment in Tucson.

As electronics work became outsourced overseas, I migrated to computers. In the 90’s UNIX was big, so I learned UNIX system administration, thinking that would get me a job anywhere, and pay pretty good. Sound familiar?

I used to hate the question, “What do you do?” because my job didn’t really reflect who I was. Perhaps it reminded me that I had failed to follow my heart for my career.

About 15 years later, in 2007, I figured it out. I decided that music would be my career. I developed a plan. I started calling my computer job “my day job”, and music my career. And from then on, whenever someone asked the dreaded question, “what do you do?”, I would answer, “I’m a musician.”

From then on, I no longer dreaded the question. I actually looked forward to it. Inevitably, the followup question would be, “You’re making a living as a musician?” And I would answer, “Oh no, I have a day job.” But it established who I am.

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Around this time, the company where I worked had been having layoffs every year. Laid off employees got a severance package, with several months pay. That started looking good to me. I realized that, with a severance package, I could live on that and do music full-time, at least for a few months, maybe a year. I wondered how much more I could accomplish musically if I didn’t have to work. How many more songs I could write. How much better a musician I could become if I had more time to practice.

About a year later, I told my boss, “next time there’s a layoff, pick me.” I also began cutting expenses and saving money. I cut off Comcast TV, which saved $75 a month. I didn’t buy a new car since mine was paid off. The stock market began rising, and and continued rising for the next 6 years, so my mutual funds were doing well.

The layoffs continued each year, and I went through 3 bosses, but none of them ever picked me for a layoff. I guess I took too much pride in my work.

By November, 2013 I had saved a full years pay. I approached my current boss and said, “I’m going to do you a favor. I know from talking to other managers that the thing they hate most about their job is having to lay people off. So I’m going to let you layoff someone who wants to be laid off.” I told him the reason– I wanted to do music full-time for awhile. He thanked me– he said that he couldn’t sleep for a week the last two years when he had to layoff people.

Four months later he called me and asked if I really wanted to do this. I told him yes. He let me pick my date. I chose March 14, 2014.

I’ve been doing music full-time ever since.

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I’m not making a living at it. Far from it. I’m mostly living off my savings. And unless I find a way for my music to make more money soon– a lot more– I’ll have to eventually take another day job.

But I have been able to accomplish a lot more without a day job. I’m learning piano and music theory. I’m practicing more and improving myself as a guitar player.

I’m playing in two bands, Scupanon and Dorian.

I’ve been composing music for my hard rock project Total Flower Chaos, and have begun recording for that.

I also have written songs that don’t fit into any of the above categories. I have three spoken word songs, recorded them at home, and am now in the process of remixing them with a good engineer. Those will be released in the next few months.

And I have written other songs– enough for a new solo album.

I couldn’t have done all that with a day job. I could have done some of it; obviously, I wrote, recorded and performed music with a day job the past 10 years; but the above accomplishments would have taken 3 years, not one.

So I’d love to continue with music full-time for the rest of my life. If I can’t make enough money from it, I’ll get another day job. But I’d rather focus on music full-time. I think I have something original to contribute.

-Rob Roper July 20, 2015