Tag Archives: Freelance

From diverse sources.

I’ve recently stumbled across three articles that are swimming around my head in a interesting manner.

This is the first. That’d be a heck of a pie chart! But now, as I look back at the ways in which I’ve spend the approximately 32,000 hours (!) I’ve likely worked, it’s still difficult to characterize much of what I’ve “done.” And, as I let this blog languish and stall on other, non-professional writing projects, I’m reminded that I need to work a few hours a week on the things that make my heart sing.

This is the second. I read it in the print edition, and found it fascinating, mostly because one of the traits they illustrate concerns living in the moment, not projecting…and it sounds a lot like mindfulness, doesn’t it? Here’s a quote:

“I think the problem is that people spend so much time worrying about what might happen, what might go wrong, that they completely lose sight of the present. They completely overlook the fact that, actually, right now, everything’s perfectly fine.

“So the trick, whenever possible, I propose, is to stop your brain from running on ahead of you.”

(Now, if you read that in Yoga Journal? O Magazine? It’d be easy to turn into a mantra of sorts. But the context makes it a bit stickier for me to wrap my head around, somehow.)

This is the third. There’s an clear analogy here for a performing career; the Eagle Scout level of preparedness needed, the brutal slog of little money and an expensive vocation, the uncertainty surrounding each occasion, the crazy desire to fly. The luck that accompanies the right day, the right waft of air, the right conditions for an epic flight.

Happy Monday, all. Hope the week is great.

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Reading List: One Person/Multiple Careers

My friend Claire (she is my new go-to for great books – her mom is a librarian, and she’s supremely well-read.) turned me on to Marci Alboher‘s book One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success.

Now, I’m not usually a highlighter of books: when I find something interesting, I’ll either stick a piece of paper (gas receipt, junk mail, business cards…even twist-ties and rubber band serve on occasion) in the pages of a hardcover, or, if the book is mine and a paperback, I’ll dog-ear the page. (Book purists, I apologize.) So I took the book to the gym, to motor through some reading while on the elliptical.

Here’s what the poor, poor book looked like after an hour:

You can tell that I’m finding a lot of value in this particular tome. I’m tempted to just copy all of the bits and pieces that ring true to me, but we’d be here all bloomin’ day.

The most liberating takeaway is one that flies in direct opposition to what many of us have been taught: the concept that we don’t actually need to specialize for a lifetime in one discipline and ignore everything else that we enjoy in order to find success. For some people there are parallel tracks; others commit to a discipline for a number of months/years, and then either leverage that knowledge or skill set into a different career or turn that single-minded focus towards another discipline that they’re interested in. But all of the permutations are valid, and frankly very interesting. And it’s not much of a surprise to see a high number of artists and musicians’ stories represented within the pages.

There are strategies for finding your ‘slash’ (or, rather ‘slashes’ – why stop at one?), interspersed with real-life case studies of folks who have successfully explored both parallel and sequential tracks.

It’s worth the read, I promise! (And thanks, Claire, for the recommendation!)

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Career Scaffolding

Rather than posting a personal profile this week, I’d like to direct you towards a post on Creative Infrastructure by Linda Essig, the director of ASU’s Arts Entrepreneurship Program.

(Side note – Arts Entrepreneurship? How awesome is that? While the 17-year-old-Me might’ve been all about performing, the [mumblemumble]-something Me is totally entranced by this program of study.)

She writes, in reference to a chance meeting with an arts worker in a metropolitan sushi bar:

The story of J is a good example of a person who uses his talents, skill and training in the arts to build a career, albeit not one he would have envisioned as an art student. Students enter study in the arts with many dreams and aspirations. […] If J had kept his head down, looking only toward the world of studios and gallery shows, he might not have seen the opportunities that have led to what became an enjoyable and sustainable career.

I can vouch for the undergraduate nearsightedness, and also for the value in keeping one’s eyes open to opportunities. If we think about our undergraduate (and, in some cases, advanced studies) as the scaffolding upon which we build a career, rather than the than the gun barrel through which we cast our aspirations, it free us up to look in any number of directions. Sometimes the straightest, most direct route is simply the easiest route, and not the best. Maybe we should co-opt Lysander’s words of wisdom for this little corner of the internet:

The course of true love ne’er did run smooth.

Amen…whether in love, or relationships or vocation or avocation…sometimes those crunchy places are trying to catch our attention. Listen. Look around, lean into those bumpy, rocky spaces.

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Mark Bradley Miller

Mark is a professional photographer, specializing in portraiture, and more specifically headshots. (Those pictures that professional singers use as part of their calling card.) Here’s how he found his path:

Where did you go to school? (Please include program of study, and degree awarded)

I studied music education (vocal certification) at the Crane School of Music, part of the State University of New York at Potsdam. I earned a Master of  Music degree from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh in vocal performance.

What drew you to your chosen field?

My high school music teacher, Diane Abrahamian MacNally was an amazing human being. I was just floating around school – there wasn’t anything special about me, nothing I did really made me stand out. I auditioned for the school musical because there was a girl that I had a crush on, and because any guy that auditioned was guaranteed to get in. One day I was goofing around and really sang out – and caught the teacher’s ear. She  jumped on my potential, and I trusted her enough to do anything she asked. I always wanted to give back, to do for another student what she had done for me.

I got a degree in music education with a vocal performance focus from SUNY Potsdam, and while I felt I learned my craft, I felt like I was unprepared to teach. I wanted to perform, and so I applied for grad degrees at NEC, Curtis and CMU; I wanted the opportunity to study both operatic and musical theater literature.

After graduation from CMU, for several years I made the majority of my living as a singing actor. Sure, I took some supplemental jobs (hotels, restaurants, catering), but I was doing tours South Pacific, Beauty and the Beast, regional theater & off-Broadway shows. But the closer I got to Broadway work, the more elusive it became…and the harder it got when the in-room confirmations didn’t materialize into contracts (Or worse, when the contracts dissolved.)

In October of 2004, I had a turning point. I had a small operation, and planned to take the following holidays off, intending to re-evaluate the whole career thing after the first of the year. But something went wrong with the operation, and I was in the hospital for 5 days with collapsed lungs – resulting in 50% of their original capacity. I felt like my decision was made for me.

I had a gig that I had been hired for before the surgery that I was committed to – a production of The Fantasticks in North Carolina. I struggled – the breath that was so fundamental to my technique, to my ease onstage was gone. I made it through the production, but realized that I couldn’t do it anymore, nor did I feel the same desire and drive I once had.

So, what did you do next?

A friend in Charlotte asked me to help decorate her beautiful 100 year old home. I had done similar projects for friends and family, but she finally said “You’re so good at it, and so happy doing it, why don’t you do it?” I couldn’t think of a good reason not to.

I went to work at Marshall Watson Interiors, a design firm on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It was a small firm specializing in residential design. I remember applying: I had no formal training in design, but had a little portfolio of the work I had done for the people I knew, and a friend got me an interview. I got the job and worked there for almost three years. After living a freelance performer’s life, the predictability of the schedule was wonderful! I had a full-time job, a place to go every day, something to do. I didn’t have to be self-motivated. And, most importantly, I felt really needed. There were always so many people clamoring for singing gigs that they never felt secure: I knew that there was always someone waiting for the opportunity, who would kill to be in my shoes.

While the schedule and the work were both really gratifying for a while, both the predictability and eventually the lack of autonomy started to wear on me after a while. When I started feeling really frustrated, I began taking photography classes. I found it really gratifying, and spent a year doing it as a creative outlet before deciding to make it my vocation, rather than an avocation.  I’m currently a headshot photographer, working with people who are, in many ways, in my old shoes. I love shooting performers (with a camera, obviously!) My education background and work as a vocal coach helps me to see the best in people; it was always one of my strengths, and I can capture those positive aspects of them on “film”, as representations of their best selves. And my experience in the business comes in handy: I know what’s expected and how best to portray them.

The freelance schedule really fits me better than the traditional office schedule did: I needed the structure for a while, but I truly love project-based employment. And I love being my own boss! I’m confident with money, so that helps – my dad gave me a good foundation, both in finance and in being handy – and I rely on all of those skills as the owner of my own business.

The thing that I miss the most from performing was the family atmosphere: being in a cast, a group of people with lots of commonality. There was an instant connection on a deep level. And those rare moments when I was onstage, really creating and connecting with the audience – I miss those, too. But I get some of those moments back in shooting, in creating those strong, and very quick, connections to people help me to parse out how to show them in their best light. I get positive feedback, rather than the cold “thank you” of the audition room. And I get to be creative on a daily basis. But mostly, I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile: by staging a comfortable, relaxed shoot, having a good time, and then seeing my clients so pleased with the end result solidifies that my choices are worthwhile, and what I do has value.

Any advice or parting shots?

I don’t regret studying music: it’s made me uniquely suited for the professional niche in which I find myself. I count myself lucky to have been successful in three very different creative career paths, and to know that I can carry forward all three in some manner throughout my life. Nothing’s off the table.

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