How I quit my job to work in music
I have been a freelancing musician since I left College at 18, with the odd dabble with employment along the way, but I've always been pulled away by my desire to work in the performance industry.
I'm a musician at heart - ever since picking up a guitar at 14 and learning to play all instruments through arranging music in early versions of Cakewalk on our first family PC. This led me onto study audio engineering at a renowned Pro school, go through the Pro Tools certifications to become an Expert and Instructor for Avid and, finally, achieve a 1st class music Degree with Honours.
My self employed life included working as a soloist, on the Jumping Jaks Duelling Piano Circuit, a DJ, entertainment host, a successful function band, entertainments management, recording and a franchised music school.
In 2009, I took a part time teaching role with a local music college to teach Degree courses in music production. This led me back into full time employment when I was offered a job as a course leader, followed by being placed in the management position a year later.
As I became more comfortable with my secure lifestyle, I began to worry about what the future might hold. The business was teetering on a knife edge - funding for FE was being cut and it didn't look good for a while. I didn't know where things were heading and where I would end up. Where would my pension come from? What happens if this job disappears? What will I do? It was a definite contributor to the stress of an already epically stressful job.
One day, I was looking back on all of the roles I'd take, all of the jobs I'd worked and all of the places I'd been and I came to a realisation that no job is ever truly safe these days. Few people want to stay in the same job for ever and moving from job to job is a part of 21st century living for many.
At this point, I started to prepare myself for the prospect of losing my job so I thought long and hard about what it is I truly wanted to do with my life. The answer was obvious; Music! All of the interest, all of my spare time and all of my education is tied up in music. What am I thinking of when I'm at work...? Music. The draw got stronger as time went on.
I built a recording studio in my house as part of my degree course so I started to invest in further equipment to make my studio more commercially viable. I started to think about the band I was working in and what do I need to do to make the band more successful and attractive. In my mind, I was almost mentally preparing for when the worst happened.
And then it did.
I was asked to attend a finance meeting where it was discussed that the business had to make £40,000 worth of savings for the coming year to be able to continue.
The meeting wasn't really that tough. I could tell the senior mangers wanted to get around to the subject of cutting management salaries to make the efficiencies - without suggesting it themselves - so we went around the houses cutting facilities, tech budgets, renewal budgets, and that crap. We had cut out Admin Staff and support staff but it didn't get to the magic number. In the end, it came down to getting rid of all full time staff and cutting the management salaries in half, along with working hours - effectively putting the two people that run the business on 16 hour a week contracts.
As the discussion progressed, it became obvious to me that by having no support staff, no administration and having the management and course leader on 16 hour contracts - the student experience would plummet and the business along with it.
So I did something I never thought I'd have to consider; I took a 5 figure pay cut in order to keep the support staff and the course leaders in their full time jobs and keep the business going! If the business was going to continue, it needed the ground staff and the business would have to be managed from a distance.
Reduced to working 8 hours a week as a manager, I was able to make up the difference by taking teaching positions in a couple of the other centres. I was also writing course material for the institution and training Pro Tools courses, so I figured it wouldn't be too bad. It was only supposed to be for a year, after all.
Leaving that meeting - I was in a state of shock for about 10 minutes. The whole 'what am I going to do now' thing went through my mind. This was followed by a clarity of thought I never thought possible.
With the future open to absolutely any possibilities now, I started to think back to what I would do if I ended up in the position I had ended up in. Of course, I had the option to scour the job pages for some other monotonous pencil pushing job that would just depress me further, or I could have confidence in my abilities and my training and use them to build a career from. This was certainly a technique that was taught during my degree course - career planning - so it came quite easily.
I thought about the recording studio and the record label I'd had in my mind for the past 12 months. I thought about taking the band forward. I'd had a thought about forming a tribute band, so suddenly I had a chance to make that work. I'll continue to write courses. I'll continue to train Pro Tools. I started writing the book I'd been thinking about...
As I listed out all of the possibilities, it dawned on me that I had a very good chance of making it on my own and my confidence began to grow.
I persevered with the music college job for a few more months following that meeting, but my mental health began to spiral out of control. The 4 years in the job had brought me to the lowest point I've ever experienced. I decided that if I didn't do something drastic, I would have a break down.
So I quit!
It was obvious to me that the business couldn't survive under me any more. 8 hours a week aside, I didn't feel capable of running it, let alone growing it. The best thing for the business, at that point, was to bring someone else in who could do a better job than me.
The thoughts I'd been having about alternate careers using my musical experience and skills were the only real times I'd felt true excitement in the past 10 years so I figured that had to mean something.
One week after returning from Christmas break - I put my notice in. I think I did it right. I gave them 2.5 months notice (despite not having a written contract following my contract change) and did my absolute best in my role until my final day.
The length of notice period gave me two months worth of planning for what was to come. I built on the ideas I've been having and spent a lot of my time business planning. After all, there's no sense in quitting and them 'hoping' stuff will happen, right? I knew exactly what I wanted to do and exactly how I was going to achieve it.
I couldn't be happier working for myself again. It's a tough industry to make headway in, but I've built up a huge amount of skill and knowledge to be able to diversify and draw income from various activities. That is how to make a living in the music industry, after all!
It's going slowly, but it's getting there. The studio is getting enquiries, the bands have a solid development plan and are rehearsing on schedule... just a few more months and I'll be back to weekly gigging again.
If you're in the same boat as me - working a life sucking day job with skills and education that have little to do with the job you're doing.... why are you not doing the job you trained for or that job you really want to do?
If you're not trained for the job you want, why not go back and retrain?
We only get one go round at this - why should we spend it in the service of someone else when there have never been more opportunities to train or retrain to get us the life we dream of. It may be expensive or it may be free... but it's out there.
Anyone can do anything they want... if they really want it enough!
"It's likely you'll see White Room Recording Studio pop up on the forums and groups. Please share it around and help me develop my business. Check out the site at www.davephillipsmusic.co.uk. Thank you for reading."