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May 23, 2010

Artists, Quit Your Day Job! (tmi3rd)

So, after Nancy Pelosi's remark that artists can quit their day jobs to concentrate on being artists, I figured I'd weigh in... as an artist who's walking away from the profession towards something more normal and relatively more lucrative. Don't worry, the link is to MKH's column in the Examiner. More below the fold...


As many of you know, for the last ten years, I've been a professional opera singer, doing the equivalent of playing in the AA and AAA minor leagues of the profession. I'm now trying to get into medical school (great timing, I know).

So why punch out of the business? A few reasons: for starters, even though I love what I do as a singer, it sure as hell doesn't pay for itself in the minors. Now add on a wife, a delightful dog, and a brand new baby, and life just got more expensive.

One of the things that doesn't get mentioned doing most of the jobs in the arts is the copious amount of time one spends on the road. To give you some idea, 2008 was my most successful year (8 gigs in TN, TX, AR, WI, LA, NY), and I spent well over six months on the road. And, of course, to hell with the expense- being on the road that long with so little time home makes me feel like an absentee husband, to say nothing of being an absentee father. There are more, but this post isn't supposed to be another episode of This Is Your Life. Bottom line- I made more money than I've ever made in the business, and still had to maintain my day job in TV news in order to keep the bills paid.

That's not unique to me- I have more than a few friends who sing at the Metropolitan Opera of New York who still have to keep their temp jobs in order to pay the bills. Many singers I know who are world-class have given up on living in NYC (even though that's where all the auditions are) because it's just too damned expensive.

So how does this apply to health care?

It varies from gig to gig. For instance, on Broadway, you have to belong to Actors' Equity- one of the few unions that actually accomplishes anything- and they provide health and unemployment benefits. These are the requirements to get into Equity- you'll notice that it's rather subjective, as you typically can't audition for Equity work unless you're already Equity! If you belong to AFTRA (that's the TV/radio union) or AGMA (the completely useless opera singers' union), you can buy your way into Equity.

So if you're already playing high AAA ball or in the majors, you can solve a lot of your problems that way. Roughly 5% of performing artists do this or have the option of doing this (and that includes the orchestral and stage hand unions). Unfortunately, if you're playing in a band, if you're a visual artist, and so forth, that isn't really an option until you crack into the majors.

Take away the need for benefits and what are you left with? Well, there's still the problem of paying rent... transportation... food... clothing... and all of life's usual expenses. So what can you realistically expect to make on solid minor league gigs?

The typical contract in opera, for a three-week rehearsal, two-performance engagement for a major role in a AA-level house is about $2K-$3K (we call those Level III and IV houses). That's for a title role (Figaro in Barber of Seville, for example). So let's say you're on the road for three weeks and home for one... in order to keep your bills paid, you'd pretty much either have to go from one big gig to another (and believe you me, you have to be be the flavor of the month to do that), or have a day job at home. That's before even thinking about getting sick, having a retirement fund, or anything else. And, as any of you who've lived in NYC know, that just ain't enough money to live on.

So what? Well, it's just another cheerful fisking of the BS that spills out of Nancy's mouth. Yea, verily, she knows not of what she speaks, even being from Berkeley. Not that any of you needed help to figure that out- it just helps to keep firing facts at the problem.

Post approved by the AoSHQ High Command. Open Blog has NOT been declared.

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posted by Open Blogger at 08:03 PM

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