How I developed my portfolio career

When I began my first Bachelor of Music degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career. I knew that I could play clarinet and bass clarinet pretty well, but never really saw myself playing in an orchestra full time. While I do enjoy it, I was interested in many different types of music and also wanted to do my own thing. I also played saxophone, guitar, and bass guitar. Besides orchestra, my playing life has included chamber music, solo performances, pit orchestra/theatre music, jazz/rock/world music bands, making electronic music, and recording sessions for albums, television, and film. Focusing myself in one direction was difficult, and any time I did I found myself missing the other aspects. But not having the stability of a single job is tough, so I’ve always stayed diversified with my work. I’ve had a “portfolio career” in the “gig economy” long before we made trendy terms for it. 

Along with playing, I was also always interested in the technical side of recording. I had learned some basics while playing in bands in high school, and during college I worked for the Recording Services department where I honed my skills in concert and session recording, mixing, and production. When I moved to Amsterdam to study at the Conservatorium, I discovered that there was no comparable facility at the school and decided to fill a hole in the market. I began offering recording sessions for my fellow students for their recitals and auditions and ended up making hundreds of recordings over the years I was there. My recording experience has since led to engineering credits on albums and film soundtracks, work in sound design, and work as a live sound engineer for concert venues and theatres. Besides providing work, recording engineering has also helped me save tens of thousands of dollars over the years by allowing me to record and mix my own projects rather than paying for studio time. 

My college piano teacher introduced me to my first teaching job. Her daughter’s middle school needed a clarinet teacher and she put me in touch with the band director. Teaching is something that most musicians do in some capacity or another. I knew that I never wanted to be a school band director, but I found private teaching to be rewarding and helpful to me as well. Finding ways to articulate to a student how to improve has been very beneficial for thinking about and understanding my own playing. 

Writing about music offers the opportunity to have feet in two sectors of the arts at once. Content writing can include blogs and websites, or contributing articles to books. Proof-readers and editors with specialist knowledge are also needed for academic texts.  

There are many other paths one could take. Arranging, engraving, transcribing, arts administration, exam board judging, event planning, music librarian, sales, consulting, instrument repairs, case making, and computer programming for electronic music are all possible sources of additional income directly within the music industry, but there are fields adjacent to music as well. Photography, videography, graphic design, web design, Alexander technique, and taxes are just a few of the other services that musicians need, and I have colleagues in each of these sectors using it as their additional income stream.  

The gig economy is not easy and not for everyone, but it can be the ideal environment for those that seek independence in work. One of the most important things is to assess the things you like to do and can do well, and find ways to monetize it! 

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