A couple of weeks ago, Fox News confused itself with TMZ and published an article about a picture a woman took of the actor Geoffrey Owens working the checkout line at a Trader Joes in Clifton, New Jersey. Fox received a lot of backlash for what seemed to be a shaming of Owens for his current occupation. In the end, it turned out all the better for him, Tyler Perry offered him a role in his current project. What really impressed me was the way Owens responded. He never accepted the shame. Yes, it was a job much less glamorous than acting on the Cosby Show but it was job. He was earning a living and supporting his family. “Every job is worthwhile and valuable,” he told Good Morning America.
The truth is most artists need another source of income to pay the bills. It’s always bothered me how America defines individuals by the way they earn a living. When you first meet someone, one of the first questions in the conversation is “What do you do?” They don’t want to know your talents, passions, or general contributions to society. They want to know your employment, how you make money to pay your bills or buy your beer. In all the years I’ve been performing, I can honestly say I’ve never been able to completely support myself creating and playing music. And there are lots of talented folks out there that can say the same, but they’re ashamed to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a “day job.” There is this myth that you have to make loads of money as a musician to be considered successful. Wrong. That is a myth created by and for the music industry. There is a “1%” in the music world, and those are the artists who have large teams and labels behind them. Those people are talented and work hard. Much of the other 99% are just as talented and work just as hard.
I’ve had so many different jobs over the years, but I’ve always been a musician at the same time. A lot of musician friends of mine have day jobs or very supportive spouses that allow them pursue their careers on various levels. Yet they seem ashamed to let anyone know that. Why? Because we’ve come to define successful artists by their income and popularity. If we don’t have much of either, why would we broadcast that? Geoffrey Owens working at Trader Joes didn’t make him any less talented as an actor. It didn’t erase his being defined as an actor. It didn’t mean he was unsuccessful.
Sometimes I’ll play a show and afterwards a listener will come up to ask if I lived in New York or Nashville. I almost feel ashamed to say that I don’t, because they’ve attached musical talent to industry locations. Locations that are more impressive to listeners. Locations where “real musicians” live. Not every artist wants that, to “make it,” whatever that means. The truth is, there are a lot of successful artists who still have to work a “regular” job to sustain themselves. It’s hard to earn enough when streaming gives you fractions of cents and venues don’t pay anymore than they did 20 years ago. That’s why current popular artists make more money selling merchandise or designing a clothing line. The term “starving artist” is ridiculous. You don’t need to starve to make great art. Musicians, artists, consumers: it’s okay for us to have day jobs! Sometimes that job can give you something to write about. If anyone takes you less seriously because of it, ask them if they want to be your patron, so you don’t need the day job.