The Modern Multitasking Artist

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The path from student to "professional musician" is notoriously poorly-paved. Composers, vocalists, instrumentalists and songwriters have supplemented the early stages of their careers with everything from arts admin to (in Philip Glass' notable case) plumbing and taxi driving. Yesterday's paper had a kind of lovely opinion piece which detailed the early lives of five successful professionals in various fields, one of whom was David Lang, who early-on worked as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit arts management company, a job which ultimately provided him with a bit of career-kickstarting jealousy.

"I did the books; I reordered supplies; I opened the mail; I photocopied stuff; I went to the bank; I kept the calendar of the fun things all the other people were doing. This was not what I expected, or wanted, when I got the job. I had wanted to meet artists, to help them make their art, to be on site at the events, to help set performances in motion. But instead I was in an office, making copies."

I've always found jealously to be an extremely helpful emotion -- not the that-person-doesn't-deserve-success-I-do type of jealousy, but the what-that-guy-does-is-so-super-rad-I-need-to-do-THAT-THING variety. Sometimes you don't know what you'd like to do until you encounter it . I loved reading this series of narratives, Lang's in particular, which also contained this kind of great thought:

"The paradox of a musical education is that the more sophisticated you become about how it all works, the further away you move from the things normal listeners actually hear. It’s like car mechanics talking about the wiring under the hood — good wiring is essential but cars exist because ordinary people need to get places. So I was feeling isolated from the audience, and itching to get back into the real world, where the real listeners live."

I think that statement was meant to refer to musical composition, but I'm also seeing echoes of the realities of the modern, multitasking artist here. These days, musicians often have to spent as much time on arts admin-y tasks as they do on their art (actually, perhaps this has always been true? Do you think it was ever simpler to be a working artist than it is in the 21st century?). I loved reading about the various ways people have carved out successful lives. And anyway, if things went super linearly, life would be boring.