The Peabody Institute of Music was a wonderful place. There I explored my passion, found incredible mentors, and honed my craft to its highest level. However, it failed to prepare me for one thing. You guessed it: real life.
Upon graduating, I gigged as hard as a good Millennial could, but opportunities were relatively disparate. This wasn’t altogether too surprising. After all, the focus of my Master’s research concerned the disappearance of the lute from public consciousness. Luckily I had my amazing fiancée supporting me. So in my downtime I took on the majority of house chores and began a myriad of personal projects.
Face, this is Brick Wall. Brick Wall, Face.
It was Winter 2017 I was in no place to look into doctorates and the window for academic job applications was still some time off. My beloved fiancée had been supporting me as I worked to get my career off the ground, but her health began to decline. Swiftly.
She was stubborn as hell and she held on, wanting to protect my chosen career. But I couldn’t bear to see her disintegrating day by day. And so I began to search for any job, anything that could support us full time, even if that meant taking a step or two backwards in music.
Suddenly an opportunity arose in Philadelphia - my home town! I had connections there, musical ones too! She’d been wanting to escape New York for years and I wanted a support structure for my fledgling career. It seemed too good to be true!
Yep, it was
I found work at a private marketing firm. The work was long and hard - mostly commissioned door-to-door work, selling wind energy. This job dominated my life completely for nearly 8 months with 80-100 hour weeks. There is great opportunity there, however, it works best for those who either want a career in marketing or who are relative “blank slates.” I am neither.
Since starting there I have learned much and have failed upwards several times. Now I have the opportunity to innovate and to fill my own role, but it remains a role I don’t want.
I am a musician who could barely practice at all for most of 2018. I lost an incredible amount of ground. As of my promotion in October, which was accompanied by a somewhat “lighter” schedule, I have been spending almost every free minute practicing, still haunted by the ghosts of my past success.
ONWARD, to Glory!
After leaving school, my confidence was high, however, to paraphrase a certain Prussian field marshal, “no plan survives contact with reality.” We adapt, we do what we have to and work with what we have. In my case, it’s been a hell of a road, getting to where I am now. Only now, with a lot of hard work and a ton of help from my fiancée (who’s doing a lot better now!), I am finally reclaiming my lost confidence as a performer.
Things are looking up! I’m refocusing my efforts on performing and am making preparations for a multi-city tour. Furthermore I’m taking steps to grow my own brand and to start churning out recordings and writings along the way. Now it’s just up to me to follow through!
Now I can’t reasonably blame my school or my mentors for this delay in my career, for not preparing me adequately for all of life’s twists and turns. But what I do believe should have been taught were strategies for creating opportunities for oneself. Some that come to mind are:
How to advocate for your music and how to create demand for it.
How to educate others in a clear and concise manner, particularly if your musical style is relatively esoteric like mine was.
How to find potential clients and how to hold effective conversations with them, leading to actual gigs.
How to find and make use of public resources, such as grant funding or community spaces.
If you read this and want to learn more about some of these strategies, feel free to use these to start conversations with your mentor. If you don’t have one, reach out to me! At the time of this writing, I am still learning myself, but I will gladly share what I have learned and will no doubt become an expert in these areas soon.
Wishing you all the best in your every pursuit,
Theodore Cheek, the Avant Bard